“Going Into Trump World”: Bernie’s Trumpenproletarian Brain Worm and Fascism-Denial

Photograph Source: Anthony Crider – CC BY 2.0

“Going Into Trump World”

Bernie Sanders has the Trumpenproletarian brain worm – the one that helps normalize rising Amerikaner Republican fascism by claiming that the mostly petit-bourgeois and affluent base of the white nationalist Amerikaner Party of Trump (APOT, the new name of the Republican Party) is just everyday “populist” working-class people and therefore potentially progressive.

The “independent” Senator Sanders recently told The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd that the Democratic Party doesn’t “fully appreciate” the need to speak to the struggles of the white working class. “We’ve got to take it to them,” Sanders said, referring to the Caucasian (section of the) proletariat. “I intend, as soon as I have three minutes, to start going into Trumpworld and start talking to people,” Sanders told Dowd. “it’s absolutely imperative if democracy is to survive that we do everything that we can to say, ‘Yes, we hear your pain and we are going to respond to your needs.’” If Democrats fail to do that, Sanders added, “conspiracy theories and big lies and the drift toward authoritarianism” will continue.

Five Problems

There are five big problems with Bernie’s project.

First, Trump’s very white base is not proletarian. It’s relatively affluent and petit bourgeois (see note 1).

Second, Trump’s white-nationalist base is not driven all that much by economic anxiety and potentially left anger at the bourgeoisie. It is driven mainly by the desire for a strong white male leader to smite the liberal and left elites it accuses of letting supposedly inferior, lazy, and criminal people of color (“Them”) “cut in line” ahead of supposedly superior, hard-working, and virtuous “real [white] Americans” (“Us”). The “pain” of the Trump base is primarily about revanchist white and patriarchal fears of demographic, cultural, and political changes seen as eroding traditional racial and gender hierarchies[1].

“Trumpworld” is NOT full of potentially anti-capitalist proletarians who have been tricked or “conned” into racism, irrationality, sexism, and nativist scapegoating by Trump and Fatherland (FOX) News. They are not just waiting for a “democratic socialist” (Bernie’s inaccurate self-description) to move them off those unfortunate but supposedly temporary attachments by inspiring them to join progressives in the fight for Single Payer health insurance and a colorblind working families’ struggle against the One Percent. The APOT’s base hates socialism, calls objective white supremacist corporate toadies like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris nefarious socialists and even communists, and is so strongly attached to its malignant Dear Leader that he could launch a murderous assault on a U.S. presidential election and still retain its support.

Third, “Trumpworld” will never come over to Bernie’s party (let’s be honest and acknowledge that that’s the Democrats) without significant concessions to noxious white supremacism, nativism, and sexism, something that would help move the dismal, dollar-drenched centrist Democrats even further to the right.

Fourth, the Democratic Party’s electoral problem in the neoliberal era is not that it has lost “the white working class” to the Republicans (ala Thomas Frank’s overrated book What’s The Matter With Kansas?) but rather that its Clint-Obamanite capitalist neoliberalism has led it to recurrently demobilize the multi-racial and multi-ethnic working class on whose votes it depends to overcome the Republicans’ advantage in a right-tilted U.S. electoral system. Bernie and his fans are of course free to try to talk social democratish common sense to white nationalist petit-bourgeois Amerikaners but their time would be better spent trying to organize the American capitalist system’s most truly oppressed people – lower and working-class Americans of all races and ethnicities and especially the non-white poor and working people with whom Bernie had such a hard time connecting as a presidential candidate – for a real revolution (something a lot more substantive than a “political revolution.”)

There’s a Word for This, it Starts with “F”

Fifth, after Trump and the APOT’s open attempt to subvert and nullify a presidential election, replete with armed mobs in the streets, it’s long past time to stop soft-pedalling the APOT menace as mere potential authoritarianism linked to kooky conspiratorialism. Political mob violence linked to racial nationalist goals and a cult of Dear Leader personality, combined with rejection of constitutional rule of law and bourgeois democracy, is fascism. It’s not that complicated. Anyone who thinks it is should read the veteran political columnist Dick Polman’s recent blog post titled “The Canonization of Ashli Babbit is Classic Fascism.” As Polman explains:

‘ “Who killed Ashli Babbitt?” Our top domestic terrorist keeps asking that. He posed the question at a rally last week, on his fake presidential stationery the other day, and on Fox News yesterday. He thinks it’s a real brain teaser. The obvious answer is that he killed Ashli Babbitt, by stoking her blood lust to the point where she and other credulous cultists violently stormed a citadel of democracy in order to effectuate his con d’etat. She put herself in harm’s way on his behalf, and paid the ultimate price…He, of course, purports that she fell for the greater glory of him, victimized by a mystery shooter who we should all be breathless to unmask. From his Fox News babblefest: “Why are they keeping that secret? Who is the person that shot an innocent, wonderful, incredible woman?…Who shot Ashli Babbitt? People want to know and why…I will tell you they know who shot Ashli Babbitt. They’re protecting that person. I’ve heard also it was a head of security for a certain high official, a Democrat. And we’ll see, it’s gonna come out.’

‘…None of this would be worth mentioning if not for its creepy fascist overtones. His canonization of Ashli Babbitt, his attempt to sanctify her as a movement martyr, is straight from the early Nazi playbook. And we all know how that turned out…Babbitt has become a blutzeuge. That’s German for “blood witness.” The Nazis awarded that status to “fallen” comrades who sacrificed their lives for the cause. They got a lot of propaganda mileage from honoring their so-called martyrs – particularly the 16 who were killed by police in the 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler’s failed attempt to overthrow the government. Some of his closest associates were shot dead that day; one took a fatal bullet two feet away from Hitler (darn it). Indeed, Mein Kampf is dedicated to those men: “I dedicate to them, for common memory, the first volume of this work. As its blood witnesses, may they shine forever, a glowing example to the followers of our movement.”…Trump is working the same territory…Never mind the fact that Babbitt, a QAnon sap, died while trying to breach the smashed window of a barricaded door that led to the House chamber where members were hiding in fear for their lives; what we most need to remember is that fascists need martyrs the way babies need milk…Hitler staged a huge annual march on the anniversary of the Putsch, retracing the route to where the fatal shots were fired. The fallen were memorialized in two “temples of honor.” But arguably their biggest gimmick was to take Horst Wessel, one of their dead thugs (killed in a street brawl in 1930), and conflate him into a national hero, complete with an unofficial Nazi anthem called the “Horst Wessel Song.” (No word yet on whether we’ll get an Ashli Babbitt song, but keep checking Spotify.)’

As “The Wire’s” Omar used to say, “Oh, indeed.” Replete with an absurd personality cult, the veneration of violence, and sneering contempt for what’s left of truth, legality, of law, and electoral democracy, fascism is the name of what’s going on in “Trumpworld” (even George W. Bush’s former speechwriter David Frum can see this now if all too belatedly). Trump and his backers are pushing for a world in which even constricted bourgeois party competition is ended and political power is openly and explicitly determined by the gun. If Bernie thinks he can go in to “Trump world” and bring a relevant part of the fascistic Trump cult over to Danish social democracy or even Pelosi-ite neoliberalism, he’s living in an old white guy dream world. His octogenarian energies would be better spent in other endeavors suggested above.

Bernie, as Proud Boys Marched in Washington with “6MWE” T-Shirts: “It’s Overblown to Use the Term Fascism”

There’s little surprising about Sanders’ misguided comments to Maureen Dowd. Contrary to the common identification of “fascism-talk” with the left, the “socialist” Sanders – an 80-yeard old man of Jewish ancestry with relatives killed in the Nazi Holocaust – never had the basic decency to call the obviously fascist U.S. president Trump a fascist. In mid-December of 2020, at the near height of Trump’s violent war on the 2020 election, marked by his approval of two violent Washington D.C. demonstrations led by Proud Boys wearing hats emblazoned with “RWDS” (acronym for “Right Wing Death Squad”) and t-shirts saying “6MWE” (for “Six Million Wasn’t Enough”) and “Pinochet Did nothing Wrong,Sanders was asked the following question by the progressive comedian and political commentator Dean Obeidallah:

“Donald Trump and some of his elected officials there are on, seems like, laying the path for, fascism. …with Trump, not only does he check off some of the alarming things of fascism, about hyper-nationalism and turning people against each other, but in the Fall he actually defended violence by his own supporters, the ones who went to Portland and shot people with paint balls. Do you think it’s overblown to use the term fascism [to describe Trump and his movement]?”

It was a good question. Sanders’ piss-poor answer amounted to saying that that yes, it was in fact “overblown” to describe Trump and Trumpismo with the F-word. Bernie’s rambling and denialist response was intimately related to his confusion (or deception) on Trump’s base:

“Look, what I would say, uh, is that to my mind it is not overblown to say that Donald Trump is an authoritarian who does not believe in democracy. It goes beyond Trump. We’ve got to ask ourselves why 73 million people voted for him, and we’ve got to reach out to those people and I think that to some degree, Dean, I’m sure a lot of my Democratic colleagues do not agree with me, but this is a reflection of the Democratic Party, because I think if you talk to many of those … working class people who voted for Trump, they’ll say, ‘Look, of course we know he’s a liar. We know he’s full of shit. But at least he does this; he does that.’ Something the Democrats don’t do.”

Krystal Ball “Good People Trying to Find Their Way”

The popular online Hill Sandersnista Krystal Ball has long had the Trumpenproletarian red-brown brain worm too. In one of her 2018 shows (more than a year after Charlottesville) with her toxic right-wing Tucker Carlson knock-off partner Saagar Enjetti, Ball acknowledged that Trump practices “race baiting nationalism” but then said we need to “keep this country together” by not hating on white supremacists. She said that Trump supporters’ “prejudices” required our “understanding,” which was “what the moment demands” because we should “give our fellow citizens [Trumpeters] the benefit of the doubt.” Ball informed her viewers that “the vast majority of Trump supporters are good people trying to find their way in a poisoned politics and through a troubling time. We are all here on the same journey, in the same boat, loving the same country.” Ball rooted the poor manipulated Trumpists’ white supremacist, nativist, and sexist sentiments in – what else? – their “economic anxiety.”

Can anyone say “very fine people on both sides”?

This remains “left” progressive Ball’s whitewashed take on white nationalists who back the Attack on the Capitol, an open racial-nationalist attempt to nullify a presidential election, and who buy into the big Hitlerian lie that the 2020 election was stolen. For good measure, perhaps a symptom of her red-brown Greenwaldian-Dorite-Taibbite-Johnstonian desire to “reach out” to the nation’s most reactionary people, Ball has recently provided support for the sickening Trumpist notion that January 6th was actually a conspiracy of undercover government agents – this in a segment that (a telltale Trumpenleft sign) diminished the terror and horror of the Capital Riot.

Maybe she should tell her and Enjetti’s viewers that the Capitol Rioters were “good people trying to find their way in a poisoned politics and through a troubling time.”

(As for “we are all here on the same journey, loving the same country,” please see my last Counterpunch essay, “Imagine a Nation Like This.” Some of us left Krystal Ball’s American Love Boat long ago for some very good reasons.)

Not Helping

How in the name of God did significant swaths of what once seemed to be an emerging Left fall prey to the insipid red-brown fascism-denial and fascism-normalization of those like Glenn Greenwald (his resume now includes at least 41 appearances on Fatherland News), Jimmy Dore, Joe Rogan, Krystal Ball, and Matt Taibbi? The answer to that question requires another essay. I’m not sure I have the stomach to write it[2]. The dismal capitalist-imperialist Democrats deserve no small part of the blame, of course.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all Bernie’s fault. (I knocked on doors and caucused “for” Bernie – well for Single Payer health insurance and heightened contradictions inside the Democratic Party – in Iowa in January of 2020.). Still, Bernie’s not helping the situation with this nonsense about how it is good and necessary to “go into Trumpworld.” If he does go there, I hope he wears an especially strong mask as the Delta Variant goes into that covidiotically vaccine-resistant milieu with a very different kind of agenda.

Notes

1. Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu, “It’s Time to Bust the Myth: Most Trump Voters Were Not Working Class,” Washington Post, 5 June, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/06/05/its-time-to-bust-the-myth-most-trump-voters-were-not-working-class/; Anthony DiMaggio, “Election Con 2016: New Evidence Demolishes the Myth of Trump’s ‘Blue-Collar’ Populism,” Counterpunch, June 16, 2017, https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/06/16/93450/; Anthony DiMaggio, Rebellion in America: Citizen Uprisings, the News Media, and the Politics of Plutocracy (New York; Routledge, 2020); Anthony DiMaggio, “Election 2020: a Democratic Mandate or a Vote Against Trump?,” Counterpunch, November 24, 2020, https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/11/24/election-2020-a-democratic-mandate-or-a-vote-against-trump/; John Bellamy Foster, “Neofascism in the White House,” Monthly Review, April 2017, https://monthlyreview.org/2017/04/01/neofascism-in-the-white-house/; Brian F. Schaffner, Matthew Macwilliams, and Tatishe Nteta, “Understanding White Polarization in the 2016 Vote for President: The Sobering Role of Racism and Sexism,” Political Science Quarterly, March 25, 2018, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/polq.12737; Daniel Cox, Rachel Lienesch, Robert P. Jones, “Beyond Economics,” Public Religion Research Institute, May 9, 2017, https://www.prri.org/reseachildrch/white-working-class-attitudes-economy-trade-immigration-election-donald-trump/; Eric Levitz, “Democrats Should Court the Economically Anxious Trump Voters Who Don’t Exist,” New York Magazine Intelligencer, April 22, 2019, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/04/buttigieg-bernie-sanders-trump-voters-democrats-2020-election.html; Eric Draitser, “Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics,” Counterpunch, March 24, 2017, https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/24/donald-trump-and-the-triumph-of-white-identity-politics/; Peter Beinart, “Why Trump Supporters Believes He is Not Corrupt,” The Atlantic, August 22, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/08/what-trumps-supporters-think-of-corruption/568147/; Noah Berlatsky, “The Trump Effect: New Study Connects White American Intolerance to Support for Authoritarianism,” Think, (May 27, 2018, https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/trump-effect-new-study-connects-white-american-intolerance-support-authoritarianism-ncna877886; David Norman Smith and Eric Hanley, “The Anger Games: Who Voted for Trump and Why,” Critical Sociology (March 2018): https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0896920517740615; Pew Research Center, “Pew Research Center Abt SRBI Poll,” Pew Research Center, February 28-March 12, 2017;; Christian Zang and John Burn-Murdoch, “By the Numbers, How the US Voted in 2020,” Financial Times, 7 November 2020, https://www.ft.com/content/69f3206f-37a7-4561-bebf-5929e7df850d?fbclid=IwAR3CfNTs3S6j_dS0UFcPYIUO5BcqOjsUPokbgzfLf163sC5Z-UGuAVb7YX4; Jacob Whiton, “Where Trumpism Lives,” Boston Review, January 19, 2021, http://bostonreview.net/politics/jacob-whiton-where-trumpism-lives; Amanpour & Company, “Studies Show Capitol Rioters Were Majority White Men,” PBS, May 6, 2021, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/amanpour-and-company/video/studies-show-capitol-rioters-were-majority-white-men/?fbclid=IwAR0uK–H9Jo6SjIYV9em_yhtbLNZfQLChfaTVw76uUI3PFlXaum4telWhXw; Jessica Martinez and Gregory A. Smith, “How the Faithful Voted,” Pew Research Center, November 9. 2016, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/how-the-faithful-voted-a-preliminary-2016-analysis/

2. I’ve been thinking a bit lately about why I’ve had to get rid of so many “left” people who have constantly cited these and other Trumpismo-enabling writers since Trump was elected. I think I drew a lot of dodgy and stupid white folks to me because I was so critical of Barack Obama in numerous essays and books. Don’t misunderstand me: I stand by every one of my criticisms of Obama. But the dodgy Caucasians got my perspective wrong. They didn’t understand that my critique of Clint-Obamanite neoliberal corporatism and imperialism came from the militantly anti-racist and anti-nativist and anti-sexist communist Left. I did not write about Obama in order to help dodgy low-brow “left”-identified white folks (males especially) feel better about their race and gender privilege or to help them blame their failures in life on the big bad “PMC” and “liberal Political Correctness” and “Cancel Culture.” (Perhaps they missed the parts where I called out Obama as an objective white supremacist). I did not launch radical Left criticism of Clint-Obamanist capitalism-imperialism to help drunken white progressives embrace a kind of vulgar Marxian economistic class reductionism that portrays race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation as little more than divide-and-rule “scams” invented by clever Machiavellian elites. I did not write about and against the Clintons and Obama to help white folks feel okay with white nationalism, anti-vaxxery, patriarchy, and Trumpism-fascism. I did not write about and against Clint-Obamanism to set myself up for dodgy writing and speaking income (I’ve kissed off a lot of pocket change for refusing to be part of this) alongside white/red-brown fascism- bootlickers like Greenwald, Dore, Taibbi, Rogan, and others. I did not critique specifically bourgeois identity politics to dismiss the importance of race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation or to give an okay to the militant right wing identity politics of white nationalism (the identity politics that masquerades as anti-identity politics). I did not and do not criticize neoliberalism to help you deny and get comfortable with fascism. So anyway, I’ve had it, and had it out, with a number of mostly (not 100% but close) white folks (some of whom idiotically call themselves Marxists) in recent years. It is what it is.

Paul Street’s new book is The Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and Politics of Appeasement.