Illustration by Aarman Roy
On January 6, 2021, a violent mob broke into the United States Capitol, hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The mob shattered glass and burst through doors, terrorized senators and their staff, and succeeded in halting the official ratification of votes that is a routine process in the American political system. The various senators cowered beneath benches and behind locked doors. Vice President Mike Pence and other officials were escorted from the building. Donald Trump watched the events unfold on television from a safe distance, and it’s been reported that he was in a state of excitement, only dismayed by the fact that elements of the mob appeared “low class.”
Most of the rioters came prepared, armed with chemical irritants, tasers and guns, including one man armed with a semi-automatic rifle and 11 Molotov cocktails. Later, police found pipe bombs at both the Democratic and Republican conventions. The siege upon the Capitol came after a Trump rally where the President continued his false accusations of voter fraud and incited his followers: “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong... We will never give up. We will never concede.” Just a few days before the Capitol riot, a recorded conversation between Trump and the Georgia Secretary of State was leaked to the media in which the former can be heard demanding to have an additional 11,780 votes counted on his behalf in order to win that state.
After this coup attempt, Trump posted a video reinforcing that the elections were stolen, but asking the protesters to go home. He ended by saying “We love you, you are very special…I know how you feel.” Since then, and only after facing massive pressure, Trump issued another video without claims of a rigged election. But he still ended saying “our incredible journey is just beginning” and that “for our movement…the best is yet to come”- a clear message to his far-right supporters.
Over 50 failed lawsuits and negative rulings by some 80 different judges have secured the legitimacy and integrity of the election results in the eyes of the law, but not in the polluted minds of Trump’s loyalists in Congress and his rabid followers in the public. In fact, with each successive filed and failed lawsuit, the conviction of a stolen, not lost, election took greater hold among the American people.
Although five people died and there were more than 50 arrests, it’s obvious that the overwhelmingly white lawbreakers were handled much differently than they would have been had they been Black or other people of color. Police officers were even documented opening barricades to let the fascist mobs through, taking selfies with them, and carefully escorting them away from the scene.
There is a palpable difference between the police response to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and far-right Trump protests. During the former, Trump rolled out the National Guard against peaceful agitators. In the case of the latter, the National Guard wasn’t even called until two hours into the coup, allowing the mob to break into the offices of Congress officials. The DC police brutally repressed BLM protesters, going so far as to shoot tear gas into homes. Yet, they have done little to resist this right-wing attack and siege of the Capitol. In direct contrast to BLM protests, there were no rubber bullets fired, no tear gas dispensed, and no Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) blared. Whether it is the Boogaloos or Klu Klux Klan, the police have a tainted history of collaborating with right-wing militias and turning a blind eye to their violence. In contemporary times, we only need contrast the cop response to Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and murdered two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during protests against the police shooting of Jacob Blake, to the murder of unarmed Michael Reinoehl, who was gunned down by the police.
The Capitol invasion was the logical culmination of a neo-fascist project headed by Trump. His 2016 electoral victory was synonymous with the emergence of white supremacist violence. At the outset of his term on January 20, 2017, police responded violently to protesters at his inauguration, deploying chemical and other “less-lethal” weaponry, kettling a random group of over 200 people, arresting and charging them with breaking a few windows - with potential sentences of up to 70 years. From Charlottesville to the armed occupation of the Michigan capitol, from the rise of Proud Boys to Kyle Rittenhouse, Trump’s movement has shamelessly glorified violence. Thus, the current display of xenophobic hysteria is not surprising; it needs to be understood in the wider conjunctural forces of neoliberalism which give rise to neo-fascism.
According to Samir Amin,
“Fascism is not synonymous with an authoritarian police regime that rejects the uncertainties of parliamentary electoral democracy. Fascism is a particular political response to the challenges with which the management of capitalist society may be confronted in specific circumstances.”
The importance of firmly situating fascism in the institutional configurations of capitalism cannot be understated. Only when fascism is conceptualized as such, we can comprehend its precise function and go beyond the vague use of “populism”. As Max Horkheimer said, “whoever is not willing to talk about capitalism should also keep quiet about fascism”.
When fascism is rooted in the economic contexts formed by capitalism, it becomes clear that it is not liberalism’s external other but rather always bred within liberal society. Liberalism and capitalism have inherent fascist potential; fascism is a terroristic version of capitalism. It thrives when there is a stasis within the liberal political framework: bourgeois formations become immanently incapable of breaking that stasis, while the Left, which can do so, is not in a position to break. The masses stop believing in the reigning common sense that has underpinned political domination for the last several decades, lose confidence in the bona fides of the elites and start searching for new ideologies, organization and leadership.
The major converging forces that build and sustain neo-fascist Trumpism are cultural (racism, nationalism, extremist religion, anti-science irrationalism and other forms of authoritarianism) and economic (intensifying capitalist crisis aggravated by the income-polarizing results of neoliberalism). The use of the prefix “neo” is justified insofar that Trump’s political project is both different from yet familiar with the traditional fascism practiced in interwar Italy and post-WWII Germany. Neo-fascism is distinctive in the sense that it is incapable of providing, even as a by-product of militarism, any economic assistance to its cultural support base. This is because state expenditure financed either by taxes on capitalists or by borrowing - the only ways of financing through which the state can effect a net expansion in aggregate demand - are both frowned upon by internationally united finance capital. For that very reason, it is unlikely to get the kind of support that fascism had got earlier because of providing relief from crisis. Given that neo-fascism does not rely on economic concessions for the preservation of hegemony, it has to exclusively engage in hyper-aggressive cultural irrationalism - a promise to deliver security and restore stability that is emotive, not rational.
On the cultural front, Trump managed to stitch together a vicious alliance: evangelist white Christians, suburban white housewives and non-collegiate white males who belonged to a depressed blue working class – all of them politicized as someone who had been ripped off by a politics of multiracialism that “appeased” the black American and the immigrant “outsider”. With the help of this politico-cultural frame, he connected viscerally to minimum-wage-slave constituents and those devastated by the loss of farming and manufacturing jobs, many of whom live in neighborhoods afflicted with contaminated water and an opioid epidemic.
In its entirety, Trump’s electoral strategy constitutes a regressive form of nationalism, namely a fascist nationalism. Michael Mann makes five observations about fascist nationalism. First, he argues that “fascists had a deep and populist commitment to an ‘organic’ or ‘integral’ nation,” with an “unusually strong sense of its ‘enemies,”’ both in other countries and at home. Second, fascists had “a very low tolerance of ethnic or cultural diversity, since this would subvert the organic, integral unity of the nation''. Third, aggression against “enemies'' supposedly threatening this organic unity is the source of fascism’s extremism. Fourth, “race” is an ascribed characteristic, something we are born with and keep until we die. Fifth, fascists have a vision of the rebirth of an ancient nation, adapted to modern times.
Trumpism’s racist and exclusionary premises were put on full display in the Capitol siege. The insurrection was a naked declaration of white supremacist extremism: from Auschwitz sweatshirts to Viking costumes, the aesthetics of racial fascism dominated the landscape. The gun-toting, Proud Boy, and QAnon were not the only ones protesting in front of the Capitol as Congress certified the Electoral College votes. Thousands of people from across the country came to rally for Donald Trump and to denounce the progressive politicians catering to the Right’s scapegoats: immigrants, people of color, the LGBTQ community. These social sectors are an assortment of middle and working class people disaffected by years of neoliberal attacks to their living standards.
The Trump regime’s public discourse of fascist nationalism bore no relation to its actual policies. In its first year, Trumponomics involved deregulation – the virtual smashing of the regulatory state – slashing social spending, dismantling what remained of the welfare state, privatizations, tax breaks to corporations and the rich, and an expansion of state subsidies to capital – in short, neoliberalism on steroids. The capitalist class was happy to receive enormous bailouts from the three trillion dollar COVID-19 stimulus package. Trump’s close relationship with the bourgeoisie is no accident. The Institute for Policy Studies identified 63 US billionaires (having a wealth of $243.7 billion dollars) who gave a combined $33 million to the Trump Victory Fund in the last two years. Trump Victory was a joint fundraising account for the Trump 2020 campaign and the Republican National Committee.
The economic character of Trumpism shows that neo-fascism has engendered a frightening social formation: the principles and practices of a fascist past and neoliberal present merge to connect the worst dimensions and excesses of capitalism with the ideals of white nationalism and racial supremacy. Hence, Trump’s brand of fascist nationalism promotes the idea of the unity of capital and labor in the US, and advances the racist and xenophobic scapegoating of immigrants, refugees, people of color, Muslims, and foreigners.
The Way Forward
On January 20, 2021, Trump’s four-year tenure comes to an end, but neo-fascism in the US will not die the minute Trump leaves the presidency. The final tally shows that he received well more than 74 million votes – the second largest share of votes ever won by a Presidential candidate in all of US history, after Joe Biden. To comprehensively defeat this toxic movement which mystifies people’s relations to the world, socialism is direly needed. Trump may or may not be impeached but the deep-seated hatred which he has unleashed will continue to poison the American society.
Since neo-fascism is propelled to power only due to neoliberal capitalism, the latter needs to be eliminated. The transfer of executive and legislative power to a thoroughly corrupt and corporate Democratic leadership will not solve the broader problems. To reverse the trend toward fascism under a neoliberal and global capitalism, the working class – through its organizations and political leadership – must take the necessary steps to reverse the course of history and set the stage to take the lead in bringing about a new equitable and democratic world order from the ashes of the old.