Trump and the Fascistization of America (1/2)
Scholar Henry Giroux tells Paul Jay that Donald Trump is not an eccentric populist, but the representative of a neofascist politics that ignores evidence, believes truth is merely an opinion, and says dissent is unpatriotic
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
Monday night kicked off the Republican Convention in Cleveland. The theme of the evening was Make America Safe Again, and how will Donald Trump and his allies accomplish this. Well, according to our next clip, Americans live in fear. And here’s Rudy Giuliani.
RUDY GIULIANI: They fear for their children. They fear for themselves. They fear for our police officers who are being targeted with a target on their back. It’s time to make America safe again. It’s time to make America one again. One America. What happened, what happened to, what happened to there’s no black America, there’s no white America, there is just America? What happened to it? Where did it go? How has it flown away?
JAY: The symbol of, the spokesperson at the convention for American policing and how this safety will be regained, and how to regain the America Giuliani is talking about was Sheriff David Clarke, sheriff of Milwaukee County. Here’s what he had to say.
DAVID CLARKE: What we witnessed in Ferguson, in Baltimore, and Baton Rouge was a collapse of the social order. So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcends peaceful protest and violates the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.
JAY: People live in fear. We’re on the edge of anarchy. Sounds like the language from the late 1940s and early 1950s during McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Then it was I was a communist for the FBI, that was on television. We were all living in fear every day the world was going to explode, and we needed the American military. Now the country is about to unravel and we need a strong police force and a stronger social order.
Now joining us to talk about the Republican Convention, the candidacy of Donald Trump, and whether or not this represents a form of neofascism in the United States is Henry Giroux. Henry joins us from Hamilton, Ontario, where he’s a professor of scholarship in the public interest at McMaster University, and his most recent book, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle, and his new book about to come out, America at War with Itself. He’s also a regular contributor at Truthout. Thanks very much for joining us, Henry.
HENRY GIROUX: It’s a pleasure, Paul, to be here.
JAY: So there’s a real debate going on amongst much of America. Certainly progressive, liberal America, about whether or not Trump and his candidacy, first of all, does it represent a form of neofascism? And then second of all, this issue of greater and lesser evil vis-a-vis Trump and Clinton. Let’s start with part one of this debate, which is is this a form of neofascism? Or is this kind of a maverick, big personality, right populist who actually kind of speaks in some ways to some of the economic concerns of the American working class?
GIROUX: I think it’s very difficult to simply see Trump as some sort of eccentric populist who sort of came out of nowhere, who was able to identify so many concerns that a number of Americans have about being left out of a system that basically celebrates everything that the financial elite finds rewarding.
I mean, I think the forces at work that have created Trump have been sort of building for a long time. And I think it is a form of neofascism I would call a new form of American authoritarianism. I mean, it mimics many of the things that we saw in the ’30s and ’40s, what we saw in Argentina, now the call to make America great again, the notion that shared fears are more important than shared responsibilities, the assumption that there are people both in the United States and abroad who represent some kind of common enemy, whether they’re Muslims, whether they’re the black lives movement, whether they’re protesters, whether they’re young people, whether they’re immigrants. I mean, this is a very decisive, dangerous language.
What does it mean to have a candidate who basically celebrates war crimes? What does it mean to have a candidate who refuses to speak to the fact that much of his following, an increasing number of his followers, are white nationalists and neonazis? It’s pretty hard to simply suggest that Trump is simply an eccentric populist. I mean, I don’t buy that, and I think we need to look deep into the history of this country, whether we’re talking about its beginning right up until Reagan in the 1980s to recognize the forces at work. I mean, this is a system that radiates violence, and he’s become the most outspoken apologist for it.
JAY: The language that we just played in the clips, especially I thought from the Sheriff David Clarke, this is word-for-word out of Hitlerite language, the fear of anarchy. We must reinforce the social order. He had a fairly well-viraled article with a CNN host where he actually denied that blacks are targeted more often than whites are, either in being stopped by police officers [in] cars, and so on. You know, driving while black, as it’s called.
The out-and-out kind of lies that can be told, the out-and-out denial of basic evidence of what’s going on, they’ve been able through the various media, Fox and otherwise, a significant section of the American people, and apparently maybe half of American voters–although I think it’s important to always remind everyone that leaves out about 40 percent of people who don’t vote–but a significant amount of American people are so willing to believe this is somehow in their interest. And this tills the soil for a much more overt and barbaric form of hypercapitalism.
GIROUX: I think you’re absolutely right. I think you’ve hit on something that in many ways the left has seemed to ignore, and that is the crisis of politics, the crisis of agency, the crisis of history, the crisis of ethics, it’s not being matched by a process of ideas. I mean, we don’t realize the degree to which education has become central to politics itself in ways that speak to cultural apparatuses that dominate the mainstream media and other sources that are constantly producing what I call a disimagination machine, one in which evidence doesn’t matter, reason is simply ignored, evidence, again, is thrown out the window. Civic literacy is viewed as a liability, that it’s more important, basically, to be stupid than to think.
I mean, you know, Hannah Arendt had said something interesting. I mean, among other things. She said that thoughtlessness is the [instance] of fascism. And I think the right understands this, and I think the right uses the media as a giant pedagogical machine to constantly constantly reproduce lies to appeal to the basest instincts of the American public to distort history, to erase all those public spheres where actually matters of thoughtfulness and political dialog and engagement can actually take place.
I mean, it’s part of the reasons we see the attack on schools. Schools are not being attacked because they’re failing. They’re being attacked because they’re public. Because they represent a public sphere that offers a threat to the very thing that you’re talking about: this massive right-wing disimagination machine, whether we’re talking about the media, or whether we’re talking about conservative institutes, or whether we’re talking about the corporatization of eduction, or whether we’re talking about the Koch brothers and all these foundations. These people are engaged in a massive attempt to erase history, to erase memory, to basically live in the instant, in the moment. And in fact, it convinced people that the truth really is nothing more than an opinion.
JAY: And I think there’s another piece to this which we’re starting to see more revealed during this convention, which is the ideological tilling the soil for this kind of more overt authoritarianism and neofascism, is one very important piece. But if you actually look at the political alliances Trump is making, you can see how he might execute on these things. It was only just a few weeks ago that Sheldon Adelson, the far-right Likud, far-right Zionist supporter, pledged about $25 million to the Trump campaign. We can see that’s one set of alliances.
But the fact that he picks Pence as his vice president–Pence couldn’t be more pro-Likud and pro-right-wing Zionist than Adelson. I mean, Pence is in the same political camp. Pence is also very connected to the Koch brothers, so he’s now maybe made peace with the Koch brothers, who didn’t know whether to trust him in the first place. Now the Republican establishment see Pence as sort of their man in the game, there. And Pence’s biggest message in the 60 Minutes interview, sorry we don’t have the clip right now, but essentially on international affairs his fundamental message was the source of all international chaos, disturbance, and so on is the weakening of American power. And the solution was to increase American power. That’s part of making America great again.
And part of that is echoing the, again, Netanyahu’s railing against the agreement, Obam’as agreement with Iran. And this was espoused at the convention by Rudy Giuliani, again. So let’s–here’s a clip from Giuliani about how he thinks world affairs should be dealt with.
GIULIANI: To defeat Islamic extremist terrorists, we must put them on defense. If they are at war against us, which they have declared, we must commit ourselves to unconditional victory against them. This includes undoing one of the worst deals America ever made: Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran, that will eventually–that will eventually let them become a nuclear power, and is putting billions of dollars back into a country that’s the world’s largest supporter of terrorism. We are actually giving them the money to fund the terrorists who are killing us and our allies. We are giving them the money. Are we crazy?
JAY: The number of lies in that one short clip is somewhat astounding. Clearly, if there’s any one country that is funding terrorism that is coming to attack America it’s Saudi Arabia, not Iran. And it’s–anyone that knows anything about the region knows Iran is in fact kind of a balance against Saudi Arabia, and has actually allied with the United States, both in terms of fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, fighting terrorist tactics and extreme Islamic, Al-Qaeda-type forces in Iraq, and so on. And that the agreement with Iran is probably the only real significant foreign policy accomplishment that was any good under the Obama administration. But the fact that that gets conflated with Iran is the one financing the terrorists that are coming to attack America is ridiculous when anyone knows it’s the Saudis and to some extent the Qataris, and maybe Kuwait.
As well, the fundamental issue of unconditional war. What does unconditional war mean? It means what? Massive troops? It means carpet bombing? It means nuclear weapons? I mean, that seems to be what the definition of what unconditional war would mean. Hyperaggressive foreign policy talk. And even though–go ahead, Henry.
GIROUX: I think that what’s interesting here, and what you touched upon ultimately, is that we now live in a society in which politics is an extension of war. And I think that what it speaks to is a form of militarization that not only characterizes an obscene foreign policy, one in which has resulted, as we all know, in 1.2 million deaths as a result of, since 9/11, as a result of the wars that are being waged in Afghanistan and Iraq and Pakistan. But I think the other side of this is that when war–when politics becomes an extension of war, then the war comes home. I mean, the same kind of militarization that dominates that sort of mindset, the notion that violence is basically the ultimate form of mediation and is used to address almost every problem on both the foreign and domestic front, you begin to see the countours of fascism, neofascism, more clearly.
I mean, think about what that means at home. You have the rise of a punishing state. You have increasingly a number of institutions that have been modeled after prisons. You have the criminalization of social behavior. You have a country steeped in lawlessness. You have cities being turned into war zones, particularly those occupied by minorities of class and color. You have a police force that seems to act with impunity. And then you hear this discourse. And this discourse is one that is not only incredibly distorted, but it’s one that basically is saying that hey, look, state and domestic and foreign terrorism are really the sine qua non of how we’re going to define ourselves.
And I don’t think that that discourse is simply aimed at, you know, the right-wing populace who support Trump. I think it’s also a way of saying that everybody else, watch out. You should be fearful, because we’re going to use every instrument of warfare, every militarized instrument, every war technology, every mode of surveillance that we can to make sure that you understand that dissent in this America and that America is basically unpatriotic. You’re right. It does echo the ’50s. It does echo the 1930s. But it also echoes something else. It echoes what went on in Argentina, in Chile, when people started disappearing. This is a politics of disappearance. This is a politics the endpoint of which are concentration camps. This is the endpoint here, internment centers. This is the death of democracy. This is not basically a struggle over populism, right wing or whatever. This is a struggle for whether you want to live in a democracy or not.
JAY: The big lies in Giuliani’s speech are at the same scale–never mind of Hitler–but of Cheney and Bush when they say Saddam Hussein supported Al-Qaeda. When later even they had to admit it wasn’t true to some extent, they had to admit. But it was clearly, there was no support for Al-Qaeda. This defense of not talking about Saudi Arabia, the targeting of Iran, this is clearly the agenda of a Sheldon Adelson. This is Likud. This is switch-and-bait to talk about terrorism and then target Iran, which means that’s the kind of foreign policy that we’re likely to see under the, under a Trump presidency, and this is what he’s surrounding himself with.
GIROUX: I think, though, [Chomsky] is entirely right on this. I mean, the foreign policy that we’re going to see under a Trump presidency is one in which there is an enormous potential not only for massive wars all over the planet, but also for a nuclear holocaust. I mean, there are two–the two major threats, it seems to me, that the world faces, one is the possibility of a nuclear war, and secondly, of course, the environmental crisis. And I think that when I think of how stupid Trump is, when I think of the people he surrounds himself with, when I think of the bellicosity and the lies that informs almost everything that he does, and I think of a media that doesn’t hold him accountable, except for the alternative media, like your show. I mean, then it’s not surprisingly that questions of war and questions of injustice, the United States is a breeding ground for injustice and domestic terrorism.
This all becomes normalized. You know, it seems to exist in a kind of void that neoliberals had created and which they tend to believe that economic activity has no social cost. You don’t have to talk about its accountability. When accountability dies, lawlessness emerges. And I think that’s what we have here. We have a party of utter lawlessness, in its most abject, unapologetic form.
JAY: And the media treats these, this election coverage, as they have to have a kind of sort of balance. They can’t go too hard after Republicans or they’ll be seen as being partisan to the Democrats. This is–part of what’s underneath this, I’ve been pointing out in some of my stuff, recently, they earn about $6 billion a year in election advertising, and perhaps more in a year like this. So they have a very deep economic interest in creating this supposed sense of balance in this coverage.
But both of us in our writings have been pointing out that all of this Trump phenomena, this rise of neofascism, which is more than a Trump phenomena, it’s all enabled by eight years of Obama. And then you can throw in Bush, and you can certainly throw in Clinton, and so on. And back, as you say, at the beginning of this hyper-capitalism under Reagan, it’s this massive shift in wealth from ordinary working people to the very top percentile. That is what’s created the conditions for this rise.
So this puts progressives and people that want to oppose this neofascism into sort of a rock and a–between a rock and a hard place, because it’s precisely the Clintonesque-type forces, which includes Barack Obama, by the way they manage the capitalist crisis so in the favor of Wall Street and such, even if they might throw the odd crumb here and there to ordinary people, that helps create the conditions for all of this.
So we’re going to do a part two of this interview, and in that we’re going to talk about the enablers of neofascism, and where that leaves everybody in terms of what they’re going to do next. So please join us for part two with Henry Giroux on the Real News Network.
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