There has been rather a lot of name-calling during this election cycle. One of the more recent things I’ve witness is a bunch of people calling Trump a fascist.
He’s also been described as Hitler by many, and, it really must be said, Hitler was not a fascist. (he was a socialist)
Mussolini was a fascist, and he was allied with Hitler. Trump apparently quotes Mussolini, but Melania quotes Michelle Obama, so I’m not sure it proves much.
So, for any intelligent discussion on the subject, we must start by defining our terms.
Socialism, fascism, and capitalism are economic systems.
Capitalism, properly, is characterised by what is known as the “free market” – I’m free to sell stuff, you’re free to buy (or not buy) my stuff. If I’m not selling what people want to buy, I am free to retool or remarket (“adjust to market forces”): if I do that, hopefully I can stay afloat. If I keep selling what nobody wants to buy, the consequences for that are my going out of business. If an exchange is not voluntary, then it has moved out of the realm of capitalism and into something else.
In socialism, the government (on behalf of “the people” in general) controls the “means of production” – basically business or industry. Profit, in the cases where it exists, become more tax revenue for the government to use, which is unlikely to benefit (improve, upgrade, modernise) the business or industry that is profited from. Losses are inflicted on society at large (= taxes go up), and it takes extreme losses (= same business or industry under capitalism would be out of business long before) for the government to do anything about it, and the results are generally worse than if the government had never been involved at all. Communism is basically extreme socialism.
Fascism was described as a “third position” (the first two being those already mentioned). Basically, government and business collude. In classical fascism, the government has the upper hand in the arrangement. The situation where government and business collude but business has the upper hand is described as “neo-fascism”.
Another term that has been used for fascism (and probably more so neo-fascism) is “crony capitalism”. It seems to be mostly this that people are complaining about when they say they don’t like capitalism. It’s not capitalism.
Socialism and classical fascism are pretty closely related.
With this as foundation, then, let’s take a brief look at what people mean when they talk about fascism.
I’m guessing it’s something like the authoritarianism, the heavy-handed law enforcement, the dictatorships, the xenophobia – these are not distinct to fascism. They are things that fascist governments have done. We also see that kind of thing from socialist governments, communist governments, republican governments, parliamentary democracies – I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a form of government that hasn’t exhibited these kinds of traits. The commonality is not fascism.
So is Trump a fascist?
I think it would be a fair assessment to say so. I think “neo-fascist” would be more accurate, but basically, yeah.
At the very very least, having his daughter (who has been delegated control of the Trump hotel chain) prominently in that meeting with the Japanese delegation (the Trump chain wanting to open hotels in Japan) seems a pretty big indicator.
Some of the people whose names are floating around for Trump’s Cabinet positions also seem to point in that direction, but….
One of the earliest names that came out, right after the election, was Forrest Lucas, an oil industry executive who was supposed to be Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Interior (overseeing national parks and suchlike, bye-bye ANWR). Wikipedia has now been updated to state that Trump says he’ll nominate Ryan Zinke to the position. Zinke’s a congressman who doesn’t have a stellar reputation with environmentalists – but he’s not Lucas. Zinke was announced on 13th December.
So I really want to be careful about jumping the gun on cabinet positions, and I can’t say I entirely believe that Trump’s going to nominate whoever he says today that he’s going to nominate, so I’m not really sure I want to say for definite about any Cabinet names until they’ve actually got the position.
So yes, let’s go with Trump is a fascist.
Can you smell a big “but…….” coming up?
Of course you can.
Allow me to call your attention to a meme that does the rounds fairly regularly. It’s something along the lines of “Politicians should be required to wear the names of their corporate sponsors like race car drivers do”.
Getting elected takes a bunch of money. Advertisements, campaign leaflets,, mailing, getting to places to campaign, hiring venues, it all adds up. And large cheques come from businesses, the larger the business the larger the potential income. So far, so not surprising. And if someone gives you a large amount of money, you’re not likely to ignore them if they ask for something.
But it doesn’t end with the campaign trail. When your new congressman gets to Congress, about all he can do is vote on floor votes. To do anything else, he has to pay his “party dues”. This is an amount of money the congressman has to pay his party to be allowed in the door to do anything else. He’ll be given an amount he has to raise, a list of people and businesses to get the money from, and the amount he’s expected to get from each place. Basically, you’ve elected a telemarketer. If I remember correctly, to get on a particular committee or to sponsor a bill costs extra.
If your congressman was already obliged to large donors from the campaign trail, he’s even more so now.
This is true for both Republicans and Democrats.
For more on this, listen to this interview with Patrick Barron from Defining The Machine at The Survival Podcast (introduction to the guest starts at about 9 minutes, and you can easily skip to the 10 minute mark if you want).
The problem does not end there.
You may have heard of the “revolving door” – depressing charts surface every so often – between government agencies and business.
So, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had people working there who have previously worked for pharmaceutical companies and agro-chemical companies, and has had people working there who then go on to work for those same companies. And a smaller number of people who fit both categories.
You find the same with the CDC and drug companies.
the people who tell you things are safe and/or necessary are the people making the products (or have it on their radar that at a later stage in their career they might want to work there).
And then the person who signs off that there’s no conflict of interest in this situation, is the congressman who’s had to raise money from those companies.
Think it’s only the FDA and CDC and the various chemical industries?
Think the Affordable Care Act didn’t have input from the healthcare industry, for example?
If an industry begs for more regulation, perhaps a specific kind of regulation, it’s unlikely to be for the benefit of the environment or the consumer. The company could unilaterally enact the changes and brag about how good they are in their marketing materials. The legislation might pose a burden to the industry, but one they can account for and absorb. What it does do, though, is significantly increase the barrier of entry to anyone looking to start up a business in the industry. I think that car emissions tests, and cars designed to cheat them, fall under this.
This is what is so headdesk-y about people going on about Trump being fascist. It’s not that they’re wrong about Trump being fascist. It’s that the entire government is fascist, and you’re only complaining about one man. It has been for a long time, and you’re only complaining about it now.
After voting, a friend of mine put up a pretty long post about why he voted the way he did (without using names, though it was made very clear he did not vote for Trump). One of the lines was that he voted “Against fascism. (Really? REALLY?)”
I don’t doubt that he intended to vote against fascism. I don’t doubt that he believed he was voting against fascism. I believe he voted against one fascist. I don’t believe he voted for a non-fascist candidate.
So, what can we take away from all this?
Well, I hope you’re angry.
I hope you’re not angry at me for telling you this, I hope you’re angry that no-one’s explained this to you before. I hope you’re angry at the fascism in the government, but I hope you’re angry at more than just the President-elect. Because he is only a very small tip of a very large iceberg.
More than being angry, though, I hope you start noticing more the “foxes guarding the henhouse” kind of phenomenon. I want you to be suspicious when industry praises incoming legislation that will affect it (like the mogwai begging for food in that classic Christmas movie, Gremlins).
Assuming that we’re not going to be able to change things overnight, I hope that you will be careful when you use the word “fascist” or “fascism”, and I hope you find yourself able to gently rein in your friends who throw around the words in such a way that they become meaningless (something that has happened with the less technical, more colloquial use of the term for more than fifty years).