Philosophically changing landscape
Just prior to the election, President-elect Donald Trump published his intentions for his first 100 days in office. It is insular and sequestered towards his take on American focused interests — from building walls to encouraging non-renewable pollution builders like shale, oil, natural gas and coal, which will result in undermining climate rectification.
Whatever your values on these intentions, what is emerging is that, since the election, he’s made statements that are at variance with the dialogue from his rallies and his initial plans. “Lies” featured in Trump and Clinton’s campaign dialogue has become par of the course for political bargaining with voters. This “post-truth” phenomena drew criticism that the Trump campaign countered with assertions that the media should not be “fact-checkers”.
Since the election, building walls, the death of Obamacare, mass deportation of illegal immigrants and the demise of the Iran peace treaty are all being quickly watered down in Washington.
At least Tony Abbott waited a few months before he instigated proposals to make cuts to education, cuts to health, change to pensions, increasing GST and cuts to the ABC and SBS. While the Senate foiled many of the Coalition’s valiant efforts to break their promises, much of the public showed their willingness to ignore Abbott’s apparent about-face.
But lies are a negotiation the public has struck with politics for decades. Unless one engages in extensive fact-checking and pragmatic reasoning, such lies remain unchallenged and many can’t be bothered to do so.
Observations of fascism
Trump’s plans or renegotiations (or “lies”) are admittedly not standard Republican ideology. His ideology is hard to pin down, echoing sentiments from across the political spectrum. Trump is something else altogether. An interesting observation was made by an American teacher, which has landed her in hot water. She was teaching students about the parallels between the rise of Trump and German dictator Adolf Hitler.
It’s an observation that has also been made by veteran Jewish Americans who fear the rise of a “new Hitler”.
Gianni Riotta in The Atlantic disagrees with the assertion Trump is a fascist. In her article 'I know fascists: Donald Trump is not a fascist', she talks of a “brand of fascism”, defined by Mussolini’s original Partito Nazionale Fascista rule. Being of Italian heritage, she is very wed to that being the only legitimate fascism. For folk like Riotta, unless they are goose-stepping down Broadway, it isn’t fascism. As though the final goal defines the process, but not until you get there. Fascism deniers hold to the rather odd presumption that, unless we have setup gulags in the manner that former Italian fascists did, we are not there yet.
Perhaps we should poll the unwilling resdents of Guantanamo Bay, Manus and Nauru.
‘Fascism does not rest explicitly upon an elaborated philosophical system, but rather upon popular feelings about master races, their unjust lot, and their rightful predominance over inferior peoples.... In a way utterly unlike the classical “isms,” the rightness of fascism does not depend on the truth of any of the propositions advanced in its name.’
So Riotta's attempt to define it as a elaborated philosophical system or fixed creed rather than a syndrome or a “beehive of contradictions“, lies on somewhat erroneous premises.
'But the debate over the definition of fascism is much richer than Riotta covered.'
Jobs and Growth
It is not an insignificant difference that America is a mature democracy, where Germany was not at the time of Hitler’s rise. Hitler was elected chancellor in January 1933, in what was a fairly new democratic system established in 1919. And in this latter American variation, there are both systematic differences and protections in place to stall degeneration into the Nazi’s historical outcomes. Nevertheless, striking similarities remain.
Like America, the German economy had hit rock-bottom and was at the time recovering. Hitler also vowed to pull out of the Versailles Treaty and repayments, much like Trump is vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and cancel the Trans-Pacific trade agreement. Both were promising to protect internal jobs and build infrastructure. In short, the familiar politico battle cry of “Jobs and Growth” was on both their agendas.
‘He suspended the gold standard, embarked on huge public-works programs like autobahns, protected industry from foreign competition, expanded credit, instituted jobs programs, bullied the private sector on prices and production decisions, vastly expanded the military, enforced capital controls, instituted family planning, penalized smoking, brought about national healthcare and unemployment insurance, imposed education standards, and eventually ran huge deficits.’
Can Trump can be similarly successful? Trump’s immediate promotion of jobs growth was very similar in manner to Malcolm Turnbull’s approach in providing jobs for unemployed friends. Trump has engaged the former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (if you go to the link, note Rudy’s interesting nickname), former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, retired General Michael Flynn, and former Federal Prosecutor Jeff Sessions.
Not unlike Malcolm Turnbull’s recycling of former MPs or George Brandis’s job stacking, Trump is “bringing jobs back” … to lobbyists and Republican insiders. One of his more controversial “jobs for the boys” decisions has been the selection of Steve Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist. Bannon is the chairman of Breitbart, the alt-righ,t anti-semitic, anti-Muslim, misogynistic, racist, bigoted, conspiracy-filled "news" website.
No doubt, some readers will find that description a little harsh, and I’d have to concede that “news site” is probably inappropriate. Trump’s choice of strategists, is emboldening the rise of identity politics in America. Reminiscent of a familiar Nazi German salutations, “Hail Trump” echoed from attendees at Richard Spencer’s recent annual conference of the National Policy Institute in Washington (see video below):
'Hail Trump!': Richard Spencer Speech Excerpts. Published by The Atlantic 21 November 2016.
Historical similarities and differences
Like Trump, Hitler was not the popular candidate. Political machinations got Hitler into power as he controlled the largest bloc of seats. For Trump, his path to power was winning the electoral college, not the popular vote. Both leaders lead a racist mass movement, along with being misogynistic and ultra-nationalistic, eliciting violent reactions from their attendees at national rallies.
The difference in Hitler’s case was protesters who tried to shout him down were ejected by Hitler’s military friends, armed with rubber truncheons. Trump was not so organised, but his followers still ejected peaceful protestors violently. Trump displays contempt for liberal democratic norms and has identified a class of people he is quite happy to direct blame for America’s failings. Muslims replace Jews as the preferred targets, despite the unconstitutional nature of his desires. Hitler, equally, had contempt for the Weimar Republic Constitution, which changed Germany from a monarchy to a parliamentary democracy.
The original Nazi party was filled with disenfranchised youth as a movement, whereas the Tea Party Republican adherents found their main support from older white men. Trump represents an avatar for their anger, marginalisation and resentment. In both points of history, the people had lost faith in the ability of their government to look after them. Coupled with a loss of faith in the civil system, they sought a political option that came from outside the “system”.
Neither Hitler not Trump spoke about exterminating the ethnic minority they were using as scapegoats in their pre-election period. Hitler only spoke about expelling Jews and removing their civil rights. Trump’s platform is to expel two million illegal immigrants, to remove birth right citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants and keeping Muslims out of America.
There are differences worth considering here too. In the 1930s, data retention machines were primitive, but still IBM rose to the challenge with a punch card sorting/cross indexing system to evaluate the census data in order to locate, identify and catalogue Jews. Without IBM’s help, the mass extermination of the Jews would have been logistically impossible.
Today’s technology is streets ahead of anything IBM had then. IBM’s census collecting apparatus is so more sophisticated and accurate now, despite the issues Australia suffered via IBM on their last census. The American government with access to the NSA’s extensive data records on Americans – as Edward Snowden has revealed – can so easily identify ethnic minorities.
Hitler promised to make Germany great and restore national pride. In echoes of Charles Lindbergh‘s “America First” isolationists rhetoric, Trump claimed, "I promise to make America great again” and then spoke of isolating America.
Hitler threatened and did persecute his political opponents, and Trump threatened to jail Hillary Clinton during public debates. He has since reneged on that, but his earlier rhetoric was worrying. Honesty among politicians in a “post-truth” and "fake news" era is unexpected, but even in Hitler’s time, a former finance minister described Hitler as thoroughly untruthful.
Washington Post gave Trump 3.4 “Pinocchios” (as compared to Hillary Clinton getting 2.2), and noted of the 92 Trump statements that were fact checked, only 11 were found to fall into the category of mostly true or neutral.
Attitudes towards women by both Hitler and Trump were quite simply appalling and deeply misogynistic. Hitler and Mussolini declared themselves opposed to feminism, while Hitler’s predominant offence was in objectifying women for reproductive purposes.
The results of fascism take time
Under Hitler, unemployment figures began to drop. Public work schemes were introduced and the German Labour Front was set up to “protect” workers. Measures to ensure the leisure time of the work force was entrenched. It was a good month after he was “elected” in 1933 before Hitler began suspending several constitutional protections on civil rights. Jews didn’t lose their citizenship until 1935, about the same time conscription was brought in. Government income increased to 15 billion Reichsmarks by 1939 (from ten billion Reichsmarks in 1928), but then spending increased too. The invasion of Poland didn’t occur till 1939. Hitler had been in “legitimate” power for seven years by then.
If Trump stays in power for two terms, he will have eight years to bring to fruition what he desires and the fact that four of the last five presidents served a full eight years is not encouraging.
What have you done?
Of course there are subtle differences. It is 80 years later, after all. But in essence, how is any of this not similar in spirit (if not in exact fact) to the rise of Hitler’s Fascist German Nazi Party? And on that point, I should acknowledge the impeccable research work of my wife, Dr Martha Knox-Haly, who provided me with far more comparative information than I could fit into this one article.
Perhaps as Jeet Heer says:
"Even if Trump is only fascistic rather than a fascist, that’s more than scary enough."
However you phrase it to make yourself feel more comfortable and sleep well at night, in the end the question remains: where will the rise of Trumpism take America and the rest of the world?
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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