After more than a century, yet another Stabbed in the Back Myth (Dolchstoßlegende ) is being born, this time in America.
As is well known, Trump has never shied away from using the fascist playbook of the 1920’s.
He has already made good use of the primary fascist myth of the rebirth of the nation saved from the decadent hands of various elites (in the media, business, politics, and the universities). Indeed, MAGA is the American version of what is known to scholars (see Roger Griffin) as Palingenetic ultranationalism which says that fascism can be defined by its core belief that a social revolution is necessary in order to achieve a state of national regeneration.
Attributing nefarious anti-national designs on the part of your opponents makes up one part of the strategy of palingenetic ultranationalism. Another is calling the entire system into question as corrupt, degenerate, “sick”, “old”, etc… And finally, the relativization of the epistemology of truth is another key element in the fascist strategy for rebirth opening the door to the possibility of conspiracy and assertions of baseless rhetorical force (Tweets). This last part consists largely in the systematic calling into question and the undermining of traditional sources of information making “fake news” the modern equivalent of the Lügenpresse.
Truth has no place in MAGA, the strategy of fomenting mass resentment is all.
Now, to complete the circle of repeated history, Trump is busy building his very own Stabbed in the Back Myth
The first Stabbed in the Back Myth was created by German fascists and their fellow travelers to explain Germany’s defeat in the First World War. Then, Germany’s loss was attributed to the anti-nationalist machinations of various socialist (read Jewish) politicians who had snatched away victory in war by their cruel and cynical peace negotiations leading to the surrender of the German Army, the abdication and exile of the Kaiser, and the setting up of the widely unpopular (and eventually thereby doomed) Weimar Republic.
The new American version is not nearly so dramatic but is nevertheless still important.
Trump is creating a Stabbed in the Back Myth, this time in the form of a stolen election carried out by cruel, cynical, and corrupt anti-nationalist actors working within a decrepit system rigged against the majority of the nation. Yet again, an alleged legitimate victory has been wrongfully denied.
Clearly, the goal here is to continue to help build up the Trumpian movement (Bewegung) after Trump’s electoral defeat. To feed the movement with a potent myth of victory betrayed and resentments unleashed. It was and still is a powerful trope.
Indeed, if the Biden administration proves less than popular, it is a myth that might fuel to power another Trump administration, either under himself or a carefully picked surrogate perhaps someone even from his own family. It is an outcome very much within the realm of political possibility.
The tragic irony of all this is that there is perhaps much truth to the grievances behind the rise of Trump and Trumpianism.
Elites do tend to rig the system. Global elites do tend to disparage, disregard, and discount the discontents of those either left behind or unable to catch up within a globalizing world. And finally, cosmopolitan elites do tend to show little comprehension or sympathy for the traditional beliefs and practices of a significant portion of the nation.
Thus, it is a sad fact that the birth of palingenetic ultranationalism is due in no small part to the political and ideological failures of the institutionalized left (as it was in the 1920s in Germany), their inability to provide deep systemic change to wide swathes of the population that perhaps rightly feel themselves excluded, passed over, and irrelevant in a world of rapid and oftentimes bewildering change. In the end it is they who have been stabbed in the back by both left and right.
Dan Corjescu has a PhD in Continental Philosophy from Sofia University. Teaches at Ravensburg-Weinburg and Neu Ulm University of Applied Sciences.