- Pluralizing Resistance:Connolly's Aspirational Fascism
Aspirational Fascism is a study of contemporary American micro-fascism as a political and cultural phenomenon rather than an empirical investigation of our current situation. Hence, Connolly does not bring standard quantitative political science analyses to bear to show how Donald Trump won the 2016 US presidential election. Nor, in aligning Trump with fascism, does Connolly propose that Trump has met some classic threshold for being labelled fascist, such as having succeeded in consolidating the entirety of the state apparatus as the vehicle of his ethno-nationalist policies. Instead, in the first two chapters, Connolly first looks at the resonance between the rhetorical styles of Trump and Hitler, particularly with regard to their affective and "visceral" aspects and, then, following Klaus Theweleit's Male Fantasies, at the resonances between the body practices of the post-WWI Freikörper and those of some American men. In the final chapter, he adduces seven practices of egalitarian pluralism that should, he hopes, become the basis for a turn away from Trumpism. In conducting these analyses, many of Connolly's characteristic themes appear, among them, the "evangelical/capitalist resonance machine," pluralism, fragility, the placing of humans in a natural world, and "affective contagion."
Throughout the book, Connolly urges us to pay attention to the white working class, said to be the "key target audience" of Trump's rhetoric (12). This emphasis is not so much due to an empirical analysis of the 2016 election results, which would need to weigh the effects of that sector of the American population against those of the suburban middle class. Indeed, were this book to be a causal analysis, the support for Trump by this latter sector would be somewhat underplayed by Connolly. But again, the book does not make an empirical claim as to who did what in the 2016 election, and it's certainly defensible to say that the white working class is an important part of Trump's support, and that targeted appeals to them should be included in any efforts to turn our political culture in a better direction.
Though it should be said that not all working-class whites are Trump supporters, it can also be said that from their ranks are drawn those who are most radicalized at Trump's rallies. So, Connolly's focus can be said to be more qualitative than quantitative, and I certainly agree with him that, however many working-class whites supported Trump, whether as a proportion of that group or in relation to middle-class or college-educated whites, who also supported Trump in impressive numbers, their affective political structures need examination. Further, insofar as some of these working-class whites occupy positions, Connolly reminds us, in the multiple "security" apparatuses of contemporary society—military personnel, law enforcement officers, ICE agents, prison guards, private security personnel and so on—a mostly qualitative rather than quantitative approach is justified, given that their sheer numbers [End Page 974] may not be as important as their position at critical points in the system (63–64).
In Chapter 1, "The Rhetorical Styles of Hitler and Trump," before addressing either's rhetorical style, Connolly first highlights aspects of the genealogical approach he will use: 1) searching the past to illuminate possibilities in the present; 2) realizing that stable-looking assemblages are the result of take-overs so that, having changed in past, they retain potentials for change in the future; 3) searching for aspects of the present worthy of embrace and nurture. A fourth aspect of genealogy as Connolly practices it is the claim that it is not enough to stay at the representational level, since, to fully understand and grapple with Trumpism, we need to deal with the "affective" and bodily, "below the linguistic register" (5). Connolly's emphasis on affect is said to counter a "tendency in the professoriate to downplay the role of rhetoric in politics and the ubiquitous importance of the visceral register to cultural life" (26). Certainly, there are others in...