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  • Trump, the Working Class, and Fascist Rhetoric
  • William E. Connolly (bio)


I will not focus extensively here upon the broadest political strategies to adopt with respect to the Trump phenomenon and the constituencies drawn into the dangerous movement he has intensified (It is certainly not a new movement).1 That is largely because the strategies I support have recently been adumbrated in chapter 5 of Facing the Planetary.2 Briefly, they involve articulating a militant, pluralist, cross-regional assemblage consisting of diverse constituencies who together contest the priorities of investment capital, expose Trumpian tactics, attract a larger segment of the white working class into an assemblage, and seek to reduce inequality, nurture pluralism, and cope with climate change. I call this the politics of swarming because it rolls across role experiments that help to recode the visceral registers of cultural life, to social protest movements, to renewed attention to electoral politics, and to cross-world regional citizen actions that may culminate in cross country general strikes. The recent actions against Trump tyrannies in the States have begun to encourage me that such cross-state actions could come into being.

My agenda today is to drill down into how the Trumpian politics of persuasion is joined to shock politics. First, to think more closely about the rhetorical power of the Trump phenomenon, second, to explore counter-rhetorical skills needed today and, third, to ask how to fold a larger section of the white working class once again into pluralizing, egalitarian movements that have largely forsaken them. Radicals, liberals and democrats have recently ceded large sections of that class to Trump. I treat it as axiomatic that counter movements of today must oppose exploitative race and class hierarchies with demands for sharp reductions in inequality, must counter the aggressive white territorial nationalism of Trump with the politics of pluralism and pluralization, and must counter the aggressive leadership principle that has been pursued (in different ways) by Trump, Putin, Hitler and Lenin with multi-tiered horizontal communications, charismatic democratic leadership, care for the earth, and concerted efforts to address class, race and gender hierarchies.

How can critical theorists and public intellectuals better grasp the rhetorical power of Trumpism and pursue such counter-strategies? I am sure that the thoughts I offer do not yet add up to a sufficient response to the issues posed. [End Page 23]


It is important not to downplay or ignore the ubiquitous role of affective contagion in cultural life or even to reduce affective contagion to a force that only others succumb to through the mediation of an authoritarian leadership principle. The first response misses the phenomenon or fears it so much that it pretends that affective contagion must be eliminated from public life. But that is impossible because it is, in some mode or another, a ubiquitous part of cultural life. The second appreciates the force of affective contagion in spiritual and political life but may then slide a bit too close to the adversary in combating it. Indeed, this is both a slippery and essential topic; those who engage it run risks in doing so. In making these points I acknowledge that I have much to learn on this front, hoping to learn more during a spring seminar on a genealogy of fascist movements aimed at better dissecting the peculiar shape of the present.

Perhaps we can gain preliminary bearings by listening to things Hitler said about the potent mixture he pursued of leadership, propaganda, and violence in Mein Kampf, a two-part book published in 1926 and 1927 when the Nazi movement was consolidating itself. I consult this text not because Trump is on a course that must end in death camps, or because the scapegoats he identifies are the same as those marked by Hitler, or because the institutional restraints against Trumpism are definitely as weak as those were against Hitlerism, or because Hitler launched a world war and Trump will necessarily lead us to a nuclear winter. The latter is indeed possible. But real differences between the two circumstances and drives must be kept in mind as we explore affinities in style and organization between them.

Trump, I want to say...


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