The Neo-fascist Legacy of Donald Trump


After the US Capitol was attacked by his supporters, Donald Trump has become the first president of America to be impeached twice. Regardless of how he leaves the White House – the Senate won’t act on the impeachment before Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021 – the neo-fascist seeds he has sown won’t stop germinating.

Even after the brazen attempt to overturn election results, there is ambiguity among Americans on Trump’s impeachment – 38% oppose his impeachment and 15% have no opinion. These percentages are in line with the support enjoyed by him for false claims regarding rigged elections.

Polls carried out December 2020 showed that almost 40%of Americans, including 72% of Republicans believed that the November election was rigged against Trump. The acceptance of these absurd allegations came in the backdrop of overtly anti-democratic efforts to overturn the results of a legitimate election. Trump put 234 federal judges into office, hand-picked according to ideological leanings. He appointed three Supreme Court justices, with his party taking unparalleled measures to push them through against popular mandate and in violation of certain procedures.

Republican Realignments

After the spectacle at the Capitol, the Republican Party has split into True Trumpists and Back-to-Businessers. Mike Pence, Tom Cotton, Chuck Grassley, Mike Lee, Ben Sasse, Jim Lankford and even Kelly Loeffler have sided against Trump. According to Mike Davis, this split reflects “a realignment of power within the Party with more traditional capitalist interest groups like NAM [National Association of Manufactures] and the Business Roundtable as well as with the Koch family, long uncomfortable with Trump. There should be no illusion that ‘moderate Republicans’ have suddenly been raised from the grave; the emerging project will preserve the core alliance between Christian evangelicals and economic conservatives and presumably defend most of the Trump-era legislation.”

For Post-Trump Republicans, the lucrative potentials of Trumpism have been exhausted: they’ve already extracted their justices, their tax cuts, and their anti-immigration credentials. Now, they have got the perfect excuse to step off from the Trumpist bandwagon. True Trumpists, led by Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, find themselves in another political space – captains of a de facto third party that is mostly concentrated in the House of Representatives and state legislatures. Already, Trump lackeys are trying to redirect the frenzy of the fascist mob into a crusade against Big Tech which – to their chagrin – has banned Trump from almost platforms. For instance, Rep. Jim Jordan defended Trump with the farcical claim that impeaching him was simply an expression of “cancel culture” and a further attempt to silence conservatives.

The Spread of Neo-fascism

As is evident from the Republican split, an alt-right political faction will ensure that Trumpism does not wither away. At this point, it is necessary to ask how neo-fascism percolated through the pores of American society. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies reported that far-Right and White supremacist terrorist attacks in the US increased dramatically in 2017 (one year after Trump’s Election win) to 53 attacks and another 44 in 2019 – an evidence of the cultural rootedness of neo-fascism.

In the Terror of the Unforeseen, Henry Giroux neatly lists all the elements comprising Trumpism: “the cult of the leader, the discourse of the savior, white nationalism, a narrative of decline, unchecked casino capitalism, systemic racism, silence in the face of a growing police state, the encouragement of state endorsed violence, the hallowing out of democracy by corporate power, a grotesque celebration of greed, a massive growth in the inequality of wealth, power and resources, a brutal politics of disposability, an expanding culture of cruelty, and a disdain for public virtues”. From this compendium, we can observe that it was neoliberalism combined with violent xenophobia and anti-intellectualism which created a fertile ground for Trump’s political hegemony.

In the age of Trump, Giroux sees the emergence of neo-fascism in “an unceasing stream of racism, demonizing insults, lies, and militarized rhetoric, serving as emotional appeals that are endlessly circulated and reproduced at the highest levels of government and the media.”  “The United States has a long history of racist language leading to cruel and harmful practices and, in some cases, violence aimed at groups targeted by such language.” Giroux says that “the language of white nationalism and racial resentment” creates “a discourse that annihilates social codes and restrains political behavior and undermines the rule of law.”

Trump’s public pedagogy does not operate just through his tweets or statements but also through his performative silences. This was clear in the case of the 2017 Charlottesville rally where White supremacists gathered in opposition to the removal of a US Civil War statue. During the rally, a White supremacist killed the anti-fascist activist Heather Heyer. This act was heavily condemned across a broad political spectrum within the US. However, the Charlottesville rally and the killing of Heyer were initially met with silence from Trump, who otherwise is quick to tweet his opinions on similar situations. When he broke the silence with a press conference, he said that “there are two sides to a story” and asked “what about the alt left?” Even though he later condemned the racist elements in the Charlottesville rally, the initial silence and the narrative of “both sides” had already impacted the public discourse.

Ultimately, Trump’s entire political project rests on irrationality. Only in this way can he simultaneously further the capitalist class’ agenda. “The bourgeoisie,” Henry Lefebvre says in Mystified Consciousness, “doesn’t need ideas too refined and metaphysical. Carefully instigated banalities are usually more useful than metaphysics. It needs only to utilize old everyday sentiments, sentiments whose fragrance is ‘all natural’ and ‘simply itself’: faith, hearth, race, heroism, purity, duty – banalities inscribed in all our hearts.” These emotionally powerful banalities serve to craft a false sense of collective identity in a neoliberal environment of hyper-individualization. As Hannah Arendt writes in Origins of Totalitarianism, “men in the midst of social disintegration and atomization will do anything to belong”.

A Socialist Response

Neo-fascism in USA can be eliminated only through socialism. As long as neoliberal capitalism reigns supreme, potentialities for a project like Trumpism will continue to abound. Therefore, a socialist response needs to be carefully constructed. Socialist political praxis needs to emphasize protecting the population in the immediate present while working toward the long-run revolutionary reconstitution of society at large. Such a multi-temporal dynamic will allow the Left to ideologically defeat the Right on the terrain of hegemony.

Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at [email protected].



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