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In Trump in the White House: Tragedy and Farce (Monthly Review Press, 2017), John Bellamy Foster contextualizes the conditions that gave rise to the 45th US president. The author’s thesis is that this billionaire chief executive arrived after four decades of income and wealth shifting from the bottom and middle to the top.
An economy of, by and for a tiny elite spawns a particular polity. This system destroys the lives of ordinary people.
Stable employment is vanishing. Americans are livid.
Trump gets it. Thus, he panders to white discontent, openly accepting Klansmen in Charlottesville while scapegoating Mexicans and Muslims.
Trump bashes the establishment. He also represents capital, with the GOP tax cuts a case in point.
Trump did not invent divide and rule, a tried-and-true politics of managing working-class discontent. Foster discusses Trump’s politics in light of historical fascism, a response to a crisis of capital accumulation in the 1930s.
Foster, editor of Monthly Review, a US-based socialist publication, unpacks this relevant and significant history. In part, he examines the thinking of Italian fascist Julius Evola, which echoes in current figures such as Steve Bannon.
Foster sees such a trend of capitalism and fascism in terms of class struggle. It is the rule for the capitalist economy and polity, which booms and busts when too much capital concentrates in too few hands.
“What paved the way for Trump’s neo-fascist strategy and gave it coherence was the deepening long-term crisis of US political economy and empire, and of the entire world capitalist economy, after the financial crisis of 2007-09,” Foster writes. Crucially, neoliberalism, a bipartisan politics of the one percent against everyone else, undermining New Deal and Great Society policies, created the social conditions for Trump’s rise.
Some might argue with the prefix “neo” in the current political landscape stateside and in Europe, Italy, the Netherlands, UK and Sweden. In America, others might opt for neo-Confederate, as the enslavement of Africans plays a central role in the nation’s history.
Case in point is Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again.” Such dog-whistle politics get traction in the US.
Foster’s first and longest section is “Neo-Fascism in the White House.” We read of fascism’s history, e.g., its 20th century evolution and current echoes. For instance, Trump’s nationalism and racism remind us of Nazi ideology.
Ward Churchill, the American Indian Movement activist-intellectual, calls out Germany Nazism as akin to the Euro-American practice and theory of land theft and murder of indigenous people in the US. Fascism did not fall from the sky in the 1930s.
In addition, Foster historically situates Trump’s bid to cow the judiciary and press into following his lead to Nazi efforts to do likewise. Germany and the US are not the same, though.
In 2018, neo-fascism occurs during a US decline as world hegemon. This process makes the American military a growing threat to the survival of humanity, Foster writes.
Trump’s threat at the UN “to totally destroy North Korea” is a case in point. Meanwhile, biodiversity loss, extreme weather and sea level rise are symptoms of capitalism’s war on the planet.
Wrapping up, the author advocates for a “long ecological revolution.” Its aim is substantive equity among and between people. Unity is the key.
That is easy to say but not so to do. Indigenous “water protectors” are showing us the way forward, Foster writes.