From the very moment Donald Trump was elected President, I have had one overriding fear. It is a fear that no one in the corporate media will ever articulate because it is extremely bad for ratings. It is a fear that very few in the alternative media ever discuss, or even consider. It is a fear that haunts our future.
My fear is that the United States falls into the ideological morass of fascism. Not necessarily the goose-stepping Nazis and gas chambers brand of fascism, but something akin to it, uniquely American and yet unmistakably fascist. An apple pie laced with cyanide, just like grandma used to make.
I can already hear the groans from some of my fellow leftists about the alarmism, or the temerity to say that a white supremacist, patriarchal, settler-colonial imperialist project such as the United States, built on slavery, dispossession, and genocide as it was, could possibly slip further into the abyss. But it’s true.
To quote Bizarro Ronald Reagan: “America’s worst days lie ahead. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
But why do I say that no one in the corporate media will say this when it seems every day, all over traditional and social media, that Trump is a fascist? How can I possibly suggest that no one is discussing the threat of fascism in America when much ink has been devoted to Trump’s flirtation with, and embrace of, many aspects of classical fascism?
The answer is rather simple: Trump is not the fascist threat, Trumpism is.
Donald Trump, as both a president and human being, is concerned primarily with Donald Trump. To the extent that he has an ideology, it is one of individual success and narcissistic delusions. Loathsome though this human nematode may be, he as an individual does not represent a threat beyond the wide-ranging ramifications of his policies (climate denialism, racist application of immigration laws, etc.). And were that the only concern, then we could all go back to our regularly scheduled politics of corporate neoliberal imperialism.
However, what Trump has done is cobble together an array of far right, reactionary political forces that are angry and beginning to get organized. And what happens to those forces once Donald Trump leaves the political scene? Will they simply dissipate into the ether, consigning their fascist politics to some distant memory as they pack away their Gadsden flags, Blue Lives Matter pins, and Punisher’s Skull stickers in some old trunk in the attic?
No, instead they’ll be looking for their next leader, the next demagogue who, unlike Trump, will be a slick, photogenic, well-tailored and well-spoken ideologue. Not just a fascist, but a true believer. He’s out there right now somewhere, watching the political evolution of this nascent movement, thinking just how much he could accomplish with the right talking points and a clean, wholesome family image.
And he’s there. Biding his time. Waiting for his turn which he feels, with much justification, is inevitable.
From Personality Cult to Megachurch
What separates a typical political supporter and a cultist is faith; the cultist believes without question that truth is only that which bolsters, supports, or flatters the venerated and dear leader. While politicians create bases, campaigns, and networks of supporters, cult leaders create armies of fanatics prepared to sacrifice their own well-being for the good of the dear leader.
And it is clear that Trumpism is not so much an ideology as a personality cult. It is held together in various ways by some policy positions and ideological principles – extreme nationalism, racial exclusivity, hatred of Muslims, white entitavitity, etc. – but it becomes a force through the power of Trump’s words. And, as absurd as it may seem, those words carry a tremendous amount of weight.
A recent CBS News Battleground Tracker poll found that, among people who self-identify as strong Trump supporters, 91% trust Trump to give them accurate information – the truth. 91 percent! Friends & Family came in second at 63 percent. Let those numbers sink in for a moment. More than 9 out of 10 Trump supporters believe, seemingly a priori, anything that comes out of Trump’s mouth. This tells us something about Trump and his power. But perhaps even more ominous is what it tells us about Trumpists.
“Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” So sayeth his eminent holiness, the high priest Donald J. Trump.
To his worshippers, Midtown Mussolini is the master of reality itself, the judge of what is, and is not, real, true, and right.
So, what happens when Trump slithers off the political stage? It’s not terribly difficult to predict that the semi-coherent coalition he leaves behind will seek to unite behind another representative of their fears, mistrusts, and hatreds. And if that person knows how to be a demagogue in the way that Trump does, then a fascist movement is born.
Painting a Terrifying Picture
Despite the countless scandals, chirping from Democrats and liberals about treason and other high crimes, and the steady stream of pronouncements of Trump’s political demise, the Orange Beast’s base has actually grown.
According to recent Gallup data, Trump’s “own party” approval rating – his support from among Republican voters – is the second highest of any president since the end of WWII, trailing only George W. Bush who had a huge artificial boost from public opinion in the wake of 9-11. Moreover, Trump voters from 2016 seem to have remained unwavering in their support of Trump despite all the shocking scandals and revelations. This has more to do with the psychology of the Trumpist than anything Trump himself has done.
So let’s consider what comes next…
Trump inspires such antipathy from Democrats and others that the 2020 election marks a defeat for Trump at the hands of a progressive candidate such as Bernie Sanders, or even a neoliberal centrist like Kamala Harris or Hillary Clinton. The candidate almost doesn’t matter as anyone to the left of Genghis Khan would be a Muslim-loving communist in the eyes of the Trumpists. The Trump base would be incensed, likely suggesting that the Deep State conspired to destroy Trump and steal the election from him in order to hand power to a left wing, commie, Muslim-loving, immigrant-hugger who will force all young girls to have abortions and all boys to use gender non-specific pronouns and play with dolls.
What would happen is a sharp rise in far right wing, fascist paramilitary groups. And while the growth of that movement took off under Obama (for reasons that are not difficult to imagine), it would multiply exponentially in a post-Trump period, particularly when the overriding narrative will be that Trump was a crusader for America who was blocked at every turn by the liberals, CNN, Antifa, and all the other undesirables that seek to destroy the US. Trump was our hero, sent by God to clean up this country, and instead he was crucified over Russia, porn stars, and fake news.
Now consider the numbers, and what radicalization might look like.
In the 2016 election, Donald Trump received nearly 63 million votes nationally. While some former supporters have since abandoned him, many Republicans who were initially Trump skeptics have transformed into hardcore Trumpists. And while it’s difficult to gauge exactly how many hardcore Trumpsters there are out there, we could conservatively say that roughly 50-75 million Americans fit into this category.
Now, consider that if even one in ten Trumpists became radicalized to the point of engaging with non-electoral forms of political action. This would mean that there would be between 5 and 7.5 million Americans joining militia groups (i.e. III Percenters, Oath-Keepers), fascist gangs like The Proud Boys, and other far right formations. Such numbers would fundamentally transform our national and local politics, creating the first true fascist political bloc in modern US history.
In the aftermath of the August 2017 Charlottesville white supremacist rally, which left Heather Heyer dead, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 9 percent of Americans (roughly 22 million people) thought it was acceptable to hold Neo-Nazi or white supremacist views. And consider that these views have only become further entrenched as the Trump Train has chugged along from one dumpster fire to the next.
In other words, millions upon millions of Americans have already accepted a sort of fascist politics as their guiding worldview, one which would only be further radicalized by a progressive president to follow, and undo, much of what Trump has done. And that radicalization would foster more organization, as the fascists wouldn’t take this lying down. They’d continue organizing in every corner of the country. And with numbers in the millions, such a fascist movement would only need one man to galvanize and weaponize it.
And that man is coming. We just haven’t met him yet.