by Will Denayer
I do not fear the return of the fascists as fascists, what I fear is the return of the fascists dressed up as democrats. T.W. Adorno
Read American newspapers and you will learn that Doomsday is close. These days, the end of the world is not being predicted by astrologers, but by political commentators. Because who knows what will happen if Trump, the bigot narcissist, ever gets elected as president and commander in chief? Donald Trump is perceived as the biggest danger to American democracy since the Civil War. Fascism is knocking at the door of the White House. The American Mussolini has arrived. Be afraid.
This hysteria is nonsense and it makes everything worse than it already is. While Sanders keeps losing in the South because the media ignore him so that people do not know him, Trump became enemy number One to many well-thinking Americans – not the neocons, not the banks, not the austerians, not the frackers, not the religious zealots, the man to attack is Trump the fascist. This divide and rule strategy is as old as the street.
While people are losing their minds over Donald Trump, key leaders of the Democratic Party, Obama included, are making a deal with Republicans for a corporate giveaway of $400 billion (see here and here). It is part of a post-facto tax ‘forgiveness’ for America’s companies. You can read all about the plan and which companies and which sums are involved here. Most voters heard nothing about it because the elites and the media are keeping it silent. In essence, thanks to a loophole in the tax code, multinationals do not have to pay US taxes on profits they have earned in foreign countries. According to William Greider in The Nation, altogether these companies accumulated $2.1 trillion in untaxed profits (see here). They refuse to pay until the politicians steeply reduce the rate. The companies also demand a permanently lowered tax rate on future earnings.
As Greider writes, the revenue loss from the giveaway will inevitably be dumped on other taxpayers by cutting domestic programs. It will therefore without any doubt increase income inequality. The money will end up with those who have already done fabulously well at the expense of other Americans.
No one in Washington opposes this plan, except some Democrats from the left of the party, such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who called the plan ‘a giant wet kiss for the tax dodgers.’ For the rest, there is nobody. It also shows Trump’s hypocrisy. Trump tells his audiences that corporate inversions – give us what we want or we give up US citizenship and move to Ireland – is a terrible problem, but the people that Trump is connected to want Congress to enact the monster tax reduction that the multinationals are demanding (see here). And what does Clinton think about it? No one knows. The journalists forget to ask. Are you sure that it is Trump who is the big danger to American democracy?
The thesis of nearly everybody is that Trump is different in nature from all other politicians. Trump crossed the line of what is admissible in a liberal democracy. Trump insults and belittles people. He insulted Mexicans and wants to deport them. He wants to close the borders to Muslims. He is a compulsive liar and a misogynist. Trump has these idiotic plans like building a wall between the US and Mexico and carpet bomb IS. All of this is true. My sympathy for Donald Trump is exactly zero, which is just as much as for all the others, except for Sanders, who would get my vote. For the rest I disagree: Trump is not different.
I would not want to be black in Trump’s America. But Obama, who is black, has now been president for nearly eight years. One in three black American men will still go to prison in their lifetime (see here). The incarceration rate is still rising. Half of the prison population in the US has been convicted for non-violent crime. According to the Guardian, 1.134 black people were killed by the police in 2015 (see here). Black men are nine times more at risk for being shot by the police than other Americans. To put this in an even more chilling manner, about 1 in every 65 deaths of a young African American man in the US is a killing by police. Unemployment of black men is twice as high as unemployment of white men, even when their levels of educational attainment are identical (see here). This ratio did not change in over more than a decade.
I wouldn’t want to be a Muslim or a Mexican in Trump’s America either. Trump’s statements about Muslims caused a lot of outrage and deservedly so, because they are disgusting. But how many voters agree with it? A poll found that 25% of Democrats support a proposal to ban Muslims if Trump’s name is attached to it. But remove Trump’s name and the support increases to 45% (see here). For Republicans, the percentage is 71. That does in no way excuse Trump, but it shows the hypocrisy. It is much easier to blame to bogeyman than to confront your own pathologies.
As for Mexicans and illegals from Latin America, Obama deported more of them than G.W. Bush. This is especially bad because since 2014 many people have been fleeing violence and persecution in El Salvador, Guatemala and other Latin American countries. These people have the right to ask for political asylum in the US – they are refugees. Although several senators and members of congress, human right lawyers and activists have asked Obama to stop the deportations, they have since the start of the year again increased, although it is illegal under international law to deport people and especially vulnerable women and young children back to countries where their lives are in danger.
I wouldn’t want to be a woman in Trump’s America either, although there is every reason to expect that, as a woman, I would be much better off under Trump than having to live in Cruz’s insane fundamentalist theocracy or in Rubio’s perverted world in which I would be imprisoned when there would be reasonable suspicion that I would consider abortion after having been raped. And if you want to bet on Hillary Clinton to defend your rights over your own body, you could be in for a nasty surprise (here and here). Here is the latest discussion on Clinton’s and Sanders’s views on abortion (here and here).
Republican congressman Ringell recently wrote wrote an open letter arguing that a Trump presidency would be ‘reckless, embarrassing and ultimately dangerous.’ This view is very widely shared and it may well be true. Who knows what Trump will do? Voting for Clinton, on the other hand, is not considered reckless, embarrassing and ultimately dangerous, although skeletons keep falling out of the closet – the last one is about the coup in Honduras that Clinton actively supported (see here). It has become clear that it was the first lady who pushed Bill Clinton into bombing Serbia in 1999. It was Hillary Clinton who persuaded Obama to attack Libya in 2011 (see here and here and here for two extremely detailed articles in The New York Times). It was Clinton who never relaxed her original point of view that Assad had to go, thereby making a cease fire and pacification in Syria impossible (see here and here).
It is by far not only the political establishment and the press. ‘Perhaps the only surprising thing about the populist backlash that has overwhelmed the politics of many advanced democracies is that it has taken so long,’ writes Harvard economist Dani Rodrik (see here). Something similar happened during the Great Depression. But things are a lot better now: ‘Advanced democracies have built – and retain (despite recent setbacks) – extensive social safety nets in the form of unemployment insurance, retirement pensions, and family benefits’ (see here). This is of course true. The overall situation is nowhere as bad as it was during the Great Depression. But go explain ‘extensive social safety nets’ to the millions of homeless in the US. Thousands of people, mainly men over 50, take their life because of economic factors (see here). There are inner city areas in the US where life expectancy is lower than in Bangladesh. Millions of families live below the bread-line – they are not just poor, they are too poor to buy food. There is no doubt that the system failed millions, not since the financial crisis of 2008-2009, but for the last four decades that wages have basically stagnated. But what is the problem according to Rodrik? It is the populist backlash and ‘the politics of anger:’
‘(To Trump or Sanders), there is a clear “other” toward which anger can be directed. You can barely make ends meet? It is the Chinese who have been stealing your jobs. (…) Political corruption? What do you expect when the big banks are bankrolling our political system? Unlike mainstream political elites, populists can easily point to the culprits responsible for the masses’ ills. (…) (The populists) offer a grand narrative as well as concrete, if misleading and often dangerous, solutions’ (here).
Let me rephrase: Sanders and Trump are both populists. No solutions can be expected from either side. Democracy is a great good as long as it does not endanger the position of the political elites and one shall refrain from pointing the finger at those that are responsible for the economic and social failures of the country. Because to do so smells of a grand narrative, socialism or fascism, and that is dangerous (see also here).
MacWilliams from Amherst organised a national poll last December, sampling 1,800 registered voters across the country (see here). He found that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate. Only two of the variables were statistically significant: authoritarianism and the fear of terrorism and the former is far more important than the latter.
So, now we know. People are voting for Trump because they are authoritarians looking for a strong leader, not because of wrong policies.
MacWilliams asked a set of four survey questions that measure inclination toward authoritarianism. The questions all pertain to child-rearing: whether it is more important for the voter to have a child who is respectful or independent; obedient or self-reliant; well-behaved or considerate; and well-mannered or curious. Respondents who pick the first option in each of these questions are strongly authoritarian (see here).
I do not want to pick on MacWilliams’s work, but it seems to me that all of his questions are false dichotomies. Is it not possible to be obedient and self-reliant at the same? What is the difference – and the significance – between being a well-behaved or a considerate child and why can well-mannered children not be curious? Why do these questions only pertain to child-rearing preferences? We all grow all our lives, our personalities are not fixed. People become more or less authoritarian over time. To which degree are authoritarian beliefs associated with authoritarian behaviour?
Much of this goes back to the central idea of Adorno et al. in The Authoritarian Personality. Authoritarianism is the result of excessively harsh and punitive parenting. This causes children to feel immense anger towards their parents, yet fear of parental disapproval or punishment causes them to not directly confront their parents, but rather to identify with and idolize authority figures. Adorno’s et al. major hypothesis was that the authoritarian syndrome is predisposed to right wing and fascist ideology and that it produces hostility towards racial, religious or ethnic minorities. It suffices to say that it is all way more complicated. The prototypical fascist leader was not Hitler, it was Mussolini, but fascist Italy was not characterized by anti-Semitism until Hitler forced the hand of the Italians. Even the thesis that people in Germany voted en masse for Hitler because of authoritarian submission is highly disputed. Hannah Arendt did not agree with it. It is clear that people voted for Hitler (or for the NSDAP) for many different reasons.
But the press swallows it. As Amanda Taub wrote in Vox: ‘(T)he extreme nature of authoritarians’ fears, and of their desire to challenge threats with force, would lead them toward a candidate whose temperament was totally unlike anything we usually see in American politics — and whose policies went far beyond the acceptable norms’ (see here).
Because before Trump surfaced onto the political scene the same policies were acceptable.