- Trump’s Savage Capitalism: The Nightmare is Real
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During the U.S. presidential campaign, most opinion polls and news outlets predicted a Hillary Clinton victory. At the time, it seemed natural—inescapable, even—that Clinton, a candidate supported by Wall Street, political elites, and the media, would defeat Donald Trump, a reality-TV star. When the final results came in, the triumph of an indecent, semifascist monster over a former secretary of state produced a vast and prolonged trauma. Prepared for a Democratic victory, many now feel thrown into a counterfactual story, like the [End Page 13] postwar America dominated by Nazi Germany and imperial Japan in the television series The Man in the High Castle. The verdict was written in advance, and, as a result, the presidency of Donald J. Trump seems like a transgression of the “laws” of history. If one thinks that things should have happened differently, it is difficult to accept that this nightmare is real.
Coming from Italy, a country that experienced 20 years of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi—a billionaire TV tycoon, our Trump—I tend to be more blasé, though I recognize that the consequences of Trump’s victory are incomparably bigger. But what the media failed to foresee was not a Trump landslide—which did not take place—but the decline of the democratic vote. Trump received fewer votes than Clinton and fewer votes than Mitt Romney in 2012; it is the Democratic candidate’s foundering—Clinton lost many millions of votes that Barack Obama won in 2008 as well as several traditionally Democratic states—that explains his victory. We are not facing the transformation of the United States into a fascist community embodied by a charismatic leader; what occurred is the rejection of the political establishment through mass abstention and a protest vote captured by a populist demagogue in a few key states. In other words, Trump signifies an upheaval at the political level, not a sudden, dramatic change in American society (as the Nazi party did in Germany, shifting from 2.6 percent to 37.27 percent of the popular vote between the elections of 1928 and 1932).
Sketching Trumpism’s resemblance to fascism involves speculation about what the latter would look like in the 21st century. Historical parallels allow us to draw analogies rather than homologies; we cannot simply impose the profile of Trump upon a fascist paradigm that appeared in the years between the two world wars. Trump is as far from classical fascism as Occupy Wall Street, los Indignados, and Nuit Debout are from 20th-century communism. Nevertheless, Trumpism and the Occupy movement represent a social, political, and even class polarity as deep as the conflict between fascism and communism nearly a century ago. This comparison seems legitimate, even if the modern-day subjects of this opposition reject the historical filiation. Unlike Sen. Bernie Sanders, who professes a form of democratic socialism, Trump does not inscribe himself into a fascist tradition. His fascist inclinations can only be deduced from his acts and declarations, not from a political culture he would consciously defend.
During the electoral campaign, many observers highlighted Trump’s fascist features in the pages of reputable newspapers. Last May, Robert Kagan—a neoconservative political thinker and one of the ideologues of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq—wrote an article in The Washington Post titled, “This is How Fascism Comes to America.” In The New York Times, Ross Douthat bluntly asked: “Is Donald Trump a Fascist?” and listed traits that bring him close to the fascist leaders of the 1930s: a charismatic conception of politics, authoritarianism, hatred for pluralism, radical nationalism, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, and a populist style that considers citizens only as a crowd to mesmerize, manipulate, and mislead.
In many ways, Trump does behave like a 21st-century fascist. Trump presents himself as a “man of action,” not a thinker; he despises intellectuals and does not accept criticism; his misogyny is outrageous; he exhibits his virility with vulgarity and aggression; and he uses racism and xenophobia as propaganda weapons. He wants to expel Muslims and Latino immigrants, depicting...