There has been a lot of talk of fascism, the alt-right, the New Right, the same old right, the far right, recently. This is because of thirty years of austerity imposed by neoliberal economics, a surge of populism (Trumpism, Brexiteers, isolationism, Holocaust denial, and related movements), the economic slump which has been going on since 2008, and the perennial human urge to blame the Other for your problems.
Recently, I saw two excellent articles which analysed the causes and symptoms of fascism. It pops up in different guises, and not every symptom appears in every manifestation of the phenomenon, but they are recognisable impulses.
- Umberto Eco (1995), Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt. Interglacial.
- Milton Mayer (2003), The 14 defining characteristics of fascism. Free Inquiry.
The 14 defining characteristics are as follows:
|Eco’s list||Mayer’s list|
The first item is an over-emphasis on tradition. We can see this in the attempts to reinforce the gender binary (anti-trans bathroom laws, Trump’s directive that his female aides should “dress like a woman”). The second item, rejection of modernism, follows on from this and is related to it. Trump rejects science, especially the science of climate change. May seems to want to take us back to the days of the British Empire. The third item, action for action’s sake, is a rejection of critical thinking, reflection, and intellectual analysis.
The fourth, the idea that disagreement is treason, was illustrated by a Tory MP who called for Remain voters who continued to campaign to Remain in the EU to be imprisoned; by the branding of UK judges as ‘enemies of the people’ for insisting on Parliamentary sovereignty; and in the USA, by Trump’s vicious opposition to anyone who disagrees with him.
Fear of difference and racism (item 5 on Eco’s list) is found among both Brexiteers and Trumpists. The demonisation of immigrants in both the UK and the USA, and the blurring of any distinction between economic migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants (legal or illegal) has led to an increase in hate crimes against all foreigners and ethnic minorities.
Items 6 and 7 on Eco’s list, individual frustration which leads to nationalism, are also found among both Trumpists and Brexiteers. Voters in economically-deprived areas, and those with less education, voted overwhelmingly for Trump and Brexit.
There is a rise in anti-Semitism again, and the old lies about the wealth and power of the Jews are being trotted out again (item 8 on Eco’s list). The followers of Trump have been fed on a rhetoric of struggle (9) — struggle against abortion, against having their guns taken away, and against Muslims. Despite their apparent populism and appeal to the masses, both Trumpism and Brexiteering are deeply elitist (10), in that neither of them give a goddamn about the welfare of the poor and downtrodden, who are merely cannon-fodder for their dreams of domination. The cult of heroism and death is apparent in the right’s obsession with the remembrance of war dead (11): no-one is allowed to blaspheme against their ultimate sacrifice. Machismo and misogyny and “pussy-grabbing” are emblematic and symptomatic of Trumpism (12).
The will of the people that cannot be overturned is frequently repeated as a reason why we absolutely must commit Brexit (13), and has even been invoked as the reason why Trump has a mandate to ban Muslims and build a wall along the Mexican border, despite the fact that he lost the popular vote by 2.8 million (anything else, he claimed today, is merely propaganda by the liberuhl meeja). As Eco wrote, “individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter”.
And finally on Eco’s list, the phenomenon of Newspeak: the twisting of words to mean something other than their true meaning. Alternative facts, for example, or the way Trump is now claiming that any media outlet that challenges him is promulgating ‘fake news’ – despite the fact that his campaign used targeted Facebook ads to disseminate fake news to people who were likely to vote for him. And in the UK, we are being told that lots of other countries are queueing up to make trade deals with the UK, when they manifestly are doing no such thing, and it can take up to a decade to finalise a trade deal.
On Eco’s list of fascist characteristics, I’d say Theresa May’s government scores 12 out of 14, and the Trump regime scores 13 out of 14.
Both Trump and May are currently making an appeal to nationalism (1). They are riding roughshod over the human rights of migrants and refugees (2). Trump seeks to identify Muslims, the media, and migrants as scapegoats; May and UKIP have sought to blame most of our ills on migrants. Today I saw a headline that a move has been made to block “health tourism” (allowing foreigners to use the NHS for free). This is such a minuscule amount of money in the grand scheme of things, and it will actually cost more to administer the changes and check people’s documentation. That perennially fascist rag, The Daily Mail, which has a track record of racism and fascism going back to the 1930s, has demonised migrants (2 and 3) and labelled “enemies of the people” (3) the supreme court judges who said that Parliament must have the opportunity to debate Brexit.
It is well-known that right-wingers are obsessed with military trappings and glorifying war (4) and the right-wing media’s attacks on Jeremy Corbyn often focused on his attitude to remembrance.
Trump’s rampant sexism (5) is well-documented, and one of his first moves on gaining office was to sign the abortion gagging order, preventing aid agencies funded by the USA from mentioning abortion as an option. Much of the mass media (6) in the USA is controlled by right-wing organisations (Fox News springs to mind). Despite the principle of separation of church and state in the USA, it is virtually unthinkable to many Americans that the President could be a non-Christian of any sort, certainly not an atheist. And the nauseating image of a spectral Christ standing behind Trump and guiding his hand (7) as he sits at the Resolute desk was frankly blasphemous, as Trump is opposed to everything Jesus stood for. But right-wing Christians are finally getting their oppressive and repressive agenda put into practice, so they don’t care.
Trump sought to justify the Muslim ban on the grounds of national security (8), but the only majority-Muslim countries whose citizens were barred were ones where he doesn’t have any business interests (9 – corporate power is protected).
Trump has not yet made a move to crush trade unions (10), but then unions have never been very strong in the USA. They were significantly weakened by the Thatcher regime — sorry, government — in the 1980s, and May’s government has recently changed the rules on strike ballots. And of course Brexit will probably result in a bonfire of workers’ rights, many of which are derived from EU legislation.
Trump doesn’t read books (11), and Michael Gove, one of the leading campaigners to leave the EU, famously said “I think we’ve had enough of experts”. He’s also the guy who tried to ensure that there was a copy of the Bible in every school (7). Right-wing governments are always cutting funding for the arts and humanities, in part because the arts and humanities are one of the biggest sources of opposition to fascism.
Another characteristic of the right, especially the far right, is an obsession with crime and punishment (12), and whilst Trump has not yet picked up on this theme, the industrial-scale prison system in the USA is a vivid illustration of it. And the UK is the only country in Europe with indefinite detention of asylum seekers.
Rampant cronyism and corruption (13) is already evident in the Trump regime; he has appointed several of his family, business associates, and other lackeys to positions of power, despite their lack of qualifications for the role (e.g. Betsy de Vos).
And, having rigged elections himself (14), or had the election rigged by his friends in Russia, Trump is now claiming that the Democrats were the ones committing electoral fraud. Meanwhile in the UK, the Conservatives are moving electoral boundaries around, which will adversely affect the constituencies of several Labour MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn.
So Trump fits 12 out of 14 of Mayer’s list of fascist characteristics, and May’s government fits 10 out of 14 to a greater or lesser extent, and is busy cosying up to Trump and even Erdogan, when they should be putting considerable distance between the UK and those regimes, and seeking to stop Brexit, not to expedite the hardest possible version of it.
Britain has been lurching to the right for at least five years now, and fascism has always lurked beneath the surface of our national discourse. Now that May has gone and formed an unholy alliance with Trump, we need to be even more vigilant.
The resistance in the USA has got off to an excellent start, especially with the overturning of the Muslim ban: but it needs to keep on keeping on until Trump is impeached or forced to resign because of either corruption or incompetence.
It is time for the expulsion of the blatant beast. And the name of the beast is fascism.