I. Some background.Back in April, political scientist John Bellamy Foster wrote an article entitled 'Neofascism in the White House' for the Monthly Review, a self-described 'independent socialist magazine'. In his piece, he painstakingly details how what Steve Bannon calls the 'deconstruction of the administrative state' is a component of fascist ideology, disturbingly similar to what the Nazi Party called 'Gleichschaltung', or 'bringing-into-line', in which all power of the German state was consolidated into the top rung of the executive branch—in the Nazis' case, Hitler and his inner circle; in the present case, Trump and his advisers.
In the latest episode of his radio show Economic Update, economist Richard D. Wolff explains that Trump's budget proposal is nothing short of an austerity budget. It's a massive redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top and to the military-industrial complex.
His infrastructure plan, as well, consists of privatising and selling off massive amounts of America's infrastructure. As Foster notes, 'an often overlooked Nazi policy was the selling-off of state property. The concept of privatization (or “reprivatization”) of the economy, now a hallmark of neoliberalism, first gained currency in fascist Germany, where capitalist property relations remained sacrosanct, even as the new fascist state structure dismantled liberal-democratic institutions and instituted a war economy. At the time of Hitler’s rise to power, much of the German economy was state-owned: sectors such as the steel and coal industries, shipbuilding, and banking had been largely nationalized. Under Hitler, the United Steel Trust was privatized in just a few years, and by 1937 all of the major banks were privatized. All of this increased the power and scope of capital.' He goes on to quote Maxine Yaple Sweezy in her 1941 study of Nazi economic policy: 'The practical significance of the transference of government enterprises into private hands was thus that the capitalist class continued to serve as a vessel for the accumulation of income. Profit-making and the return of property to private hands, moreover, have assisted the consolidation of Nazi Party power.'
I've seen barely any discussion in the mainstream media of Trump's austerity plan nor his initiative to sell off our infrastructure. Nor have I seen a lot of coverage of the fact that Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, Trump's chief strategist and senior policy adviser, respectively, are thinly-disguised white nationalists, with the former speaking of a 'Great Fourth Turning' which would spiritually regenerate America through violence (an idea drawn from the pseudoscientific Strauss-Howe generational theory, which, fittingly for fascist ideology, pertains only to America—particularistic national myth is a vital component of any form of fascism), hinting at the idea of a new Crusade against Islam and China ('There is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global.…You will see we’re in a war of immense proportions') while praising the French Front National, and even approvingly citing Julius Evola, a philosopher and left-hand path esotericist who declared once that '[f]ascism is too little. We would have wanted a fascism which is more radical, more intrepid, a fascism that is truly absolute, made of pure force, unavailable for any compromise.…We would never be considered anti-fascist, except to the extent that super-fascism would be equivalent to anti-fascism', all at a Vatican City conference in 2014, while the latter has a background of doing such things as helping Richard Spencer set up an event featuring fellow white nationalist Peter Brimelow (who coined the term 'alternative right') while they were friends in the Duke Conservative Union and having fans in David Duke and 'race realist' Jared Taylor. The closest I've seen to that kind of reporting was when it was revealed that Sebastian Gorka, Deputy Assistant to the President, is a member of the Vitézi Rend (Hungarian: 'Order of Vitéz'), an elite Hungarian secret society with links to the original Nazi Party; this reporting almost—and I emphasise almost—got him fired.
Trump's cabinet is full of 'deconstructors'—take, for example, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who bought her way into politics through her family's donations to the Republican Party, and who would like to dismantle public education and replace it with a system of vouchers for (preferably conservative Christian) charter schools, or Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson (one of only two people of colour in the Cabinet), who recently said that poverty is caused by nothing but a 'state of mind' and that compassion somehow means not giving people 'a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: "I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me"', or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a former Exxon-Mobil CEO whose security forces committed various human rights abuses (including kidnapping, sexual assault, and torture) under his watch and who's stated 'My philosophy is to make money', or Secretary of Defense James 'Mad Dog' Mattis, who plans to betray Kurdish forces including the YPG/YPJ and the Peshmerga after the siege of Raqqa and whose bipartisan hawkishness (especially toward Iran) is impossible to overstate, or Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a xenophobic racist who wants to make medical marijuana illegal, is restoring Reagan-era tough-on-crime policies, and is escalating the War on Drugs, or Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, former Goldman Sachs Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer and hedge fund manager, who, last decade, invested in two Trump properties and whose OneWest Bank (which included none other than George Soros, a bogeyman for Trump, on its board of directors) played a role in the financial crisis by aggressively foreclosing on over 80,000 homes using potentially illegal tactics.
Or take the new CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who in April branded WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence service, announced an arrest warrant for Julian Assange, and declared that 'it ends now.' (This happened a month after WikiLeaks embarrassed the CIA by publishing the 'Vault 7' leaks, which reveal that the CIA has a collection of hacking tools that, among other uses, can be used to spy on people from any device or hijack any car with an onboard computer (this revelation in particular revitalised suspicions about Michael Hastings' death) and that many of these hacking tools are in the hands of third-party black-hat hackers.) Assange replied by saying that WikiLeaks is fundamentally a journalistic outfit that operates on the same principle as any other journalistic outfit ('to publish newsworthy content') and has done some incredibly important work (Chelsea Manning's whistleblowing helped spark the Arab Spring and thus, indirectly, the Occupy movement), and that to attack a journalistic outfit and issue an arrest warrant for its founder is nothing short of an assault on the very principle of freedom of speech.
Trump has repeatedly attempted to implement his Muslim ban, but each attempt has been struck down by the courts as unconstitutional; he's issued verbal attacks on individual judges in what could be an effort to delegitimise their power in his supporters' eyes. In February, he issued an executive order to deport eleven million undocumented immigrants by force, without reference to length of residency, age, criminal record, or visa or citizenship application status.
Trump has inherited over a hundred judicial vacancies; to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of reactionary Antonin Scalia, he nominated the even more reactionary Neil Gorsuch. Fifty-one Republicans and three cowardly Democrats voted to confirm. The other vacancies will allow Bannon and Miller, through Trump, to restructure the Judicial Branch in their own image.
Within the National Security Council, Trump created an organization, shrouded in secrecy, called the Strategic Initiatives Group, of which Gorka is a key figure; this was part of a January restructuring of the National and Homeland Security Committees, intended as a step toward the total transformation of the Executive Branch into a militaristic organisation with all power consolidated in the hands of the top rung.
Several agencies, including the EPA, have been blocked from reporting their research. Congressional Republicans have revived a defunct 1876 law that allowed for reducing government employees' salaries to $1 per year; this is almost certainly a threat of poverty against civil servants who refuse to be brought-into-line.
Trump has called for even more privatisation of prisons (a policy Sessions is already enacting), increased surveillance of Black Lives Matter and other activists, and expanded racial profiling. A draft of a now-cancelled executive order was leaked, containing religious 'freedom' exemptions to various nondiscrimination laws, including allowing corporations to reject access to goods and services relating to abortion, contraception, and protections for LGBTQ+ people.
Simultaneously, the Republican-dominated Congress is proposing a national 'right-to-work' law which would allow workers to receive union benefits without having to pay the dues (a.k.a. scabbing), which would send unions into financial crisis. The Supreme Court, with a conservative/reactionary majority, could do the same much more quickly in certain upcoming cases. DeVos' school privatisation is aimed at breaking teachers' unions. The point is to utterly crush de facto labour power in America; this was the first thing every fascist government did.
Perhaps the three most frightening things in the litany of steps toward total fascism are as follows:
- The new VOICE office publishes weekly lists of (alleged) crimes committed by (primarily non-white) immigrants, in a clear effort to deceive the public into falsely believing that immigrants are more likely to be criminal, when statistics show the exact opposite. This measure is strikingly similar to how the Nazi-controlled press would publish weekly lists of (alleged) crimes committed by Jews.
- Trump's aforementioned budget proposal includes massive increases for the military. His administration has plans for what amount to global crusades. They literally want an American Empire. (Which would definitely please the neoreactionaries and the radical traditionalists.)
- In 2011, Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. This law allows for the indefinite military detention, ordered by the President or any military or government authority, of any citizen or non-citizen suspected of any connections to terrorism. Given what Trump and his administration consider to be terroristic, the implications of the possible use of this law are disconcerting at best.
Yet the mainstream media, for the most part, neglect these disturbing details in favour of obsessing over Trump's team's alleged collusion with the Russian government.
And here lies the problem.
II. The problem.We've seen a rapid succession of political shocks; the speed and convolution of it all is enough to make even me dizzy. The constant lies, distortions, firings, hirings, scandals…and we're literally only six months in!
Several prominent psychiatrists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists have said that Donald Trump is a textbook case of narcissistic personality disorder. He must be the centre of attention at all times; anonymous White House staffers have noted that he gets irrationally angry if he gets too much negative press or if he doesn't get enough press at all.
A common feature of narcissistic personality disorder is pathological lying, and Trump is a pathological liar extraordinaire: two days ago, the New York Times published an online piece detailing each and every falsehood, distortion, and outright lie that Trump has shat out of his mouth since his inauguration and up to this point.
Just twenty-four days after his appointment, Mike Flynn resigned from his position as National Security Advisor under political pressure for…well, for meeting with Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak and for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about it.
Just last month, on 9 May, James Comey was fired by Trump for such a plethora of mutually contradictory reasons that I have no clue why he was fired. Was it on a recommendation from the Department of Justice, or one from Rod Rosenstein (which has already been shown to be false), or Trump himself? That last option seems the most likely, as it's highly probable that he's under investigation and fired Comey to take the pressure off of himself, as he explained in a private meeting with a group of Russian officials, ironically calling Comey a 'nutjob'; the firing, along with this admission, may be evidence of an attempt at obstruction of justice. I'll discuss the significance of this act of firing in the next part.
Meanwhile, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus admitted on 30 April to ABC journalist Jonathan Karl that the White House has considered a Constitutional amendment to change what speech is allowed; when asked what Trump means when he says we should 'open up the libel laws' and informed that this would require a new amendment, Priebus responded, 'I think it's something we've looked at. How that gets executed, or whether that goes anywhere, is a different story.' That answer was not a mistake, as he repeated 'this is something that is being looked at' later in the same interview. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo explained the significance of this: 'The changes President Trump wants are blocked by decades of jurisprudence which is little contested, unlike other hot button points of constitutional law. If you want what Trump wants, you have to amend the Constitution—and not the Constitution in general but the First Amendment specifically. Amending the First Amendment to allow the head of state to sue people who say things he doesn't like amounts to abolishing it.' Yet despite how extremely concerning it is that the White House even considered this—and is probably still considering it—I only saw that one interview and a few opinion pieces in the mainstream media. They talk about how alarming it is when Trump declares the press 'the enemy of the people'—which definitely is concerning, considering how such a phrase is a hallmark of totalitarian regimes—but they mostly ignored the actual plans Trump and his team developed (and may still be developing) to really implement censorship in favour of covering—you know exactly what I'm about to say at this point—Russia.
But why the Russian collusion narrative, despite only a tiny amount of actual evidence? Who actually benefits from it? The American people? The Democrats? Or could it actually be Trump and his team themselves?
III. The hypothesis.In Part I, I discussed the 'bringing-into-line' occurring in the Executive Branch to a large extent. In Part II, I discussed the mainstream media's incompetence in the face of creeping totalitarianism.
There's a very sinister purpose behind the Russia allegations and a very simple explanation.
As I noted, Trump is a textbook narcissist. All attention must be on him, all the time, and even negative attention is better than none. Anonymous White House staffers have reported that he gets irritable and irrationally angry if he's not featured in the news prominently enough. The Russia stories feed his ego by focusing negative attention on him and also provoking positive coverage of him in the right-wing media.
As well, they provide liberals with the fantasy that he can be impeached soon. Just as soon as the smoking gun is found…any day now…and maybe we can impeach Mike Pence and even Paul Ryan too!
As well, every minute spent on Russia by Congressional Democrats is a minute that could've been spent on fighting the Republican agenda. All of the horrifying things I listed in Part I and more are being developed and implemented. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the investigations are happening, but wasting too much time on them just allows Trump and the Republicans to restructure the government at a fundamental level. Do we want to fight Trumpcare or do we want another investigative session that leads nowhere?
Lastly, the allegations distract the general public from the Trump administration's consolidation of power. While ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post are covering the Russian collusion allegations nonstop, ICE raids are increasing, our infrastructure is being sold off to corporations like Blackstone, and protesters are being tortured by police before even being tried in court. We're not getting the full picture. Our democracy is being destroyed before our very eyes, but we're too distracted by the mere possibility of Russian interference to even notice!
Remember: Steve Bannon is a master propagandist, and Trump has surrounded himself with PR people. Such a team can easily spin what amounts to an alternate reality game with a mystery story worthy of Ian Fleming. They've killed three birds with one stone.
We're being duped, taken for fools on a massive scale. And if you want to get wise to what's happening, you have to divert your attention away from Russia, away from demonising the Bernie crowd, the socialists, and the leftists, away from the superficial vulgarity Trump displays, away from Clinton and her managerial liberalism, and toward solidarity with the poor and oppressed, toward an authentic left (like Corbyn in the UK), and toward the little steps to totalitarianism:
“What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.
“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security…
“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised…as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes.
“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.
“You see,” my colleague went on, “one doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.
“And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic…
“Informal groups become smaller; attendance drops off in little organizations, and the organizations themselves wither. Now, in small gatherings of your oldest friends, you feel that you are talking to yourselves, that you are isolated from the reality of things. This weakens your confidence still further and serves as a further deterrent to—to what? It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.”
—Milton Mayer, 'But Then It Was Too Late', in They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1955, pp. 166-173.