There is no doubt that over the last four years American democracy has changed significantly due to the actions of President Trump. While much of the Republican base was critical of Trump in 2016, very few people, even on the left, were willing to call Trump a fascist. However, since Trump took office, people are increasingly recognizing that his administration is a fascist threat. In 2017, Marc Brodine described the historical path taken by fascist movements in his article “What Do Fascists Do before Fascist Dictatorship?”
So what has Trump actually done to take America in this direction?
1. Fascists need to “shore up support from all sections of the capitalist class, or at least neutralize opposition—providing access, reassurances, tax cuts, contracts, appointments and other sticks and carrots to force corporations and corporate leaders into line,” according to Brodine. Indeed, Trump has worked on behalf of the capitalist class to lower taxes for the 1%, eliminate regulations, and appoint moneyed interests to head up agencies (EPA chief and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler being a prime example). Using the CARES act, he directly handed $500 billion to big business with little or no transparency. This was made possible by Trump’s removal of the chairman of the congressional panel overseeing the distribution of funds. The half a trillion was disbursed to corporations that support the GOP, the Catholic Church, and possibly some of Trump’s own business interests. Meanwhile, American citizens received only a single $1,200 check, the supplemental payments for the unemployed have ended, tens of thousands of small businesses are closing their doors forever, and hundreds of billions of dollars that were distributed may never be traced. This is money that could have saved working people from losing their homes, their health insurance, and their savings.
2. Fascists consolidate their power. Trump has ensured that the Republican Party has a stranglehold on government functions by packing courts with conservative judges (218 federal judges appointed in four years versus 312 for Obama in eight years) who now will act on behalf of his administration and the capitalist class, thus destroying their function as a balance to executive power. Trump has also directly consolidated executive power by firing and replacing any members of his administration, the national security state, or regulatory bodies who opposed him in any way.
3. “Both in policy and in public utterances, [fascists] lay the groundwork for restrictions on protest, for limits on public opposition.” Trump has attacked constitutional rights to protest and use free speech in opposition to his administration, even peacefully. The attacks on protesters at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, to clear the way for Trump’s Bible-toting photo-op is one example.
4. Fascists “spew demagogy, to keep the base fired up . . . to baffle and confuse the media.” Trump has continually attempted to undermine factual discussions and even reality itself with blatant lies, labeling the press as “fake news,” and misrepresenting the historical record in favor of national myths. His constant promise to “Make America Great Again” — without specifying when that was — while also attacking the highly respected American historian Howard Zinn for “propaganda” which Trump claims is intended to “make students ashamed of their own history” are endemic of his attempts to rewrite history to meet his own goals.
5. Fascists “continue the process, already well underway, of chipping away at democratic and civil rights.” He has actively attempted to subvert mass democracy through his attacks on the postal service and mail-in voting. He has repeatedly claimed that the 2016 election contained massive amounts of fraud despite the complete lack of evidence and the fact that he still won, despite receiving 2.7 million fewer votes than his opponent. Most disconcertingly, Trump recently stated, “I think this will end up in the Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important that we have nine Justices,” and he refused during the first debate to not declare victory before certified election results are available. This shows that he plans to steal the election if he does not win. In a scenario eerily similar to the 2000 “election” of George W. Bush, Trump apparently wants to have the elections decided by the Supreme Court, where he expects to now hold a 6-3 majority of justices selected by right-wing administrations.
6. “Fascists seek to increase chaos, confusion, and uncertainty. This gives them many opportunities to rationalize their attacks on democracy, to offer themselves as the solution to chaos.” Trump has repeatedly refused to condemn white supremacist and neo-fascist organizations while providing dog-whistle encouragements to these groups. Early into his administration he stated that there were “good people on both sides” after the bloody “unite the right” event in 2017, which resulted in scores of injuries and the murder of a left-wing activist by a fascist. He ignores the violent actions of pro-Trump demonstrators who threaten public safety. Recently he went so far as to give a direct order to the alt-right “Proud Boys” organization to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate of the 2020 campaign.
He has continually claimed to stand for law and order while simultaneously violating laws and democratic norms. Further, he has used his rhetoric to create outrage and disorder while promising that only he can bring peace. He insists that a Biden administration would be four years of constant battles in the streets, while his would be peaceful. Unfortunately, the irony is lost on his base that his entire presidential term has been highlighted by the chaos which he projects onto a future Biden administration.
7. Fascists “let more ‘traditional’ Republican politicians feel like they are using the victory of the fascists . . . to advance their own agenda.” Early on in his administration, traditional conservatives reveled in their apparent success with this Washington outsider. However, the real victories have consistently been for the capitalist class and the fascist right, with only token gestures to the base of supporters that Republicans typically rely on. While a growing number of conservatives have recognized this and begun to form advocacy groups behind the Biden campaign, such as The Lincoln Project, a much broader coalition is needed to indisputably defeat Donald Trump on November 3.
Many on the left have been hesitant to back Biden, myself included, due to concerns with his record and current platform, along with the belief that the DNC deliberately kept Bernie from winning the primary, especially in 2016. While there is validity to some of these concerns, the general premise that undergirds them is that things “can’t get any worse” or that four years of Biden would be “just as bad” as four more years of Trump. However, is that something we can honestly believe?
While we can’t expect Biden to suddenly support the full Green New Deal, Medicare for All, or student debt elimination, much less any move towards a socialist economy, what exactly might four more years with Trump mean for this country?
1. Trump will continue the privatization of many government services. First up on the chopping block will certainly be the USPS. Social Security and regulatory bodies also are likely to be targets in the near future.
2. Without a comprehensive, national plan, the pandemic will continue and likely get much worse. Not only does the Trump administration have no new plans for countering COVID, but with Trump’s recent release from the hospital he is already downplaying the seriousness of his own illness and of the disease in general.
3. Trump will certainly ramp up his programs against immigrants. Under his administration, the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. has declined from an Obama-era high of 110,000 to 18,000 in 2020, with a recent proposal to lower that number to 15,000 in 2021. At a time when 80 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced, this is unconscionable. Even legal immigration will have been cut in half by 2021, alarming economists and the capitalist class. Thousands of immigrants, including children, have been detained in ICE concentration camps. These numbers are likely to rise, along with the time they spend in the camps before being released if the current trends continue. With further crowding and the pandemic still out of control, it is only a matter of time before detention camps become death camps, intentional or not.
4. Trump will ramp up violence against protesters. This will likely come in the form of state-sanctioned violence by police and military, and also through refusal to condemn and curb the actions of fascist groups or “lone wolves” such as Kyle Rittenhouse. Racist, homophobic, anti-immigrant, and other forms of violence may increase, given that Trump has been giving white supremacists license to spew their hatred and violence in public. The FBI recently warned of the threat posed by a far-right militia group.
5. International conflict is possible. Trump has continually increased rhetoric against China to inspire hate both during his initial campaign in 2016 and during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has also barely avoided new conflicts with countries such as Iran, despite the U.S.’s extrajudicial killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and other provocative attacks there. Facing an economic collapse or a crisis of support from his base, Trump would not be above mobilizing nationalist sentiment through armed conflict.
6. The end goal, regardless of the steps along the way, is to install Trump as president for life. Trump has repeatedly suggested that he deserves a third term or more because of the impeachment trial and other investigations against his administration. While this may be laughable due to constitutional restrictions, it is completely within the realm of possibility after four more years of continued power consolidation under Trump. Furthermore, a third term is likely all Trump would need to fundamentally destroy any remaining semblance of democracy and establish himself as dictator. No “Reichstag fire” needed.
If Trump achieves a second term, we will need to spend four years fighting to save what little democracy and peace remains. If Biden wins, we will spend four years trying to push his administration to enact policies that will help working people.
Which situation would you rather be in?