Here's an apt name for the real-life reality TV show that big-time Republicanism has become: The Eager, the Acquiescent and the Mostly Quietly Appalled. With billionaire bully boy Donald Trump arrogantly flashing his fascist colors as he swept to victory across much of the nation on Super Tuesday, how many supposedly big-time Republicans have spoken out against Trump's disgusting politics of racism, hatred, and aggressive know-nothingism? Too damn few. That may be changing. Or not.
Veteran Republican strategist Stuart Stevens -- top hand in Mitt Romney's close-run 2012 campaign against President Barack Obama and an old colleague of mine on the late NBC series Mister Sterling -- did himself proud at the beginning of the week by declaring opposition to Trump a clearcut "moral choice." But after that, the profiles in courage get very few and far between. (Though they do exist, and I'll publish a list of Republicans doing the right thing as we go forward.)
Maybe the emergence of Stevens's old boss, Mitt Romney, with a Thursday speech excoriating Trump, might make a difference. But only if it triggers widespread denunciation of Trump. And Romney did not call out Trump on what he really is. Perhaps it is just too close to the bone for this Republican Party, even in extremis.
At the other end of the spectrum, let's call it "The Eager," we find, not surprisingly, Trump's fellow New York media market bully boy Chris Christie, now paired up with Trump as the Blowhard Brothers. By the way, New York, thanks ever so much for inflicting these braying asses on the rest of America through your way-past-the-sell-by-date grip on the media.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump saying he didn't know enough about David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan to denounce them and disavow their support. Trump later claimed he had a bad earpiece, blaming the media outlet. As you see, there's absolutely no evidence of that in the exchange. Half the old Confederate states were about to vote when Trump refused to denounce the Klan. By an odd coincidence.
While it's amusing on a certain level to see Christie wriggle and jiggle around as he tries to avoid talking about the Duce, er, the Donald tweeting Mussolini on leadership, claiming the need to study more before criticizing the Klu Klux Klan, and threatening as president to cut freedom of speech and freedom of the press, it's really just disgusting.
Because what Trump is was quite clear long before he finally ran up the jolly roger while sweeping to big wins in seven more primaries. (Running up the jolly roger being the old saying about a ship that finally runs up its pirate flag after it has closed in on its unprepared victims.)
A complete opportunist and compleat narcissist, Trump is a neo-fascist. By that I mean that his politics exhibits nearly all the characteristics of the fascist politics employed by Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler as they swept to power -- aided by necessary alliances of convenience with conservative elites -- in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.
When you examine the characteristics laid out below from Robert O. Paxton's definitive 2004 study, The Anatomy of Fascism, you see that the only one which does not apply to Trump is the emphasis on violence in the group's success. And Trump comes right up to the edge of that as well, with his violent and hostile comments at big rallies about what he'd like to do to those who protest against him.
Fascism is more plausibly linked to a set of "mobilizing passions" that shape fascist action than to a consistent and fully articulated philosophy. At bottom is a passionate nationalism. Allied to it is a conspiratorial and Manichean view of history as a battle between the good and evil camps, between the pure and the corrupt, in which one's own community or nation has been the victim. In this Darwinian narrative, the chosen people have been weakened by political parties, social classes, inassimilable minorities, spoiled rentiers, and rationalist thinkers who lack the necessary sense of community. These "mobilizing passions," mostly taken for granted and not always overtly argued as intellectual propositions, form the emotional lava that set fascism's foundations:
* a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;
* the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual to it;
* the belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies, both internal and external; 60
* dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;
* the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;
* the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group's destiny;
* the superiority of the leader's instincts over abstract and universal reason;
* the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success;
* the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group's prowess within a Darwinian struggle.
Since it is not a philosophy with a real intellectual tradition, unlike liberalism, conservatism, and socialism, fascism is an ideal political mode for a personality that believes in nothing but itself. Like Trump. Indeed, fascism is overtly anti-intellectual. Which certainly characterizes the lying, flip-flopping, reality-denying, aggressively ignorant Trump campaign.
Trump's fave rave Mussolini was a total opportunist as well, acting as a socialist pol, a school teacher, and a journalist before turning sharply on his old lefty comrades as the leader of Italy's fascist party. The pompous and paunchy "Duce" saw the main chance in the chaos of post-World War I Italy and grabbed it.
That's what Trump is doing now. Linked developments in Republican politics and the present media culture combined to create a huge opening for someone like Trump, as I discussed seven months ago in "Trump's Big Money/Big Mouth Campaign Is All Too Emblematic of the Era."
The Republican Party has been prepped for the emergence of a truly dangerous ultra-demagogue like Trump for many years, as I noted three months ago discussing "The Inevitability of Trumpism." And our media culture is a perfect Petri dish for it.
The space for what I've been calling Trumpism, which is the new American neo-fascism, was created largely by developments in the media.
The Talk Radio Right, Rush Limbaugh et al, were the pioneers here, and the relentlessly execrable Drudge Report was also important, but it was really the creation, fast growth and subsequent radicalization of Fox News into a vehemently anti-liberal and especially anti-Obama round-the-clock multi-media machine that aggregated and turned on a resentful mass base.
It's a base the Republican Party has been all too eager to use and cater to. It was just so damn easy. But establishment Republicans never really delivered the red meat the Foxonian audience came to crave like a junkie needs a fix.
Where the likes of Sean Hannity presented then Senator Barack Obama as a "Manchurian Candidate" come to real life, John McCain, after pandering to the mob psychology and legitimizing and institutionalizing it with his pick of obvious know-nothing Sarah Palin as his running mate, had to ultimately back away from the mania. He finally had to tell a maddened woman at one of his last presidential campaign town halls who raged about Obama as "an Arab" that his tyro opponent was, after all, really a fine American with whom he had some disagreements.
In contrast, Trump simply eggs on this behavior at his rallies. Just as one would expect from the foremost proponent of the crackpot notion that Obama has never been an American at all. Trump has easily won over evangelical Christians despite his laughable inability to even fake a familiarity with the Bible. Doesn't matter. He's saying the authoritarian, exclusionary, exceptionalist, triumphalist stuff they want to hear.
Where MSNBC delivered angst to the left, failing in its effort to match FNC, Fox has always delivered anger to the right. Resentment and rage are more powerful psychological conditions than neurosis.
And, while Fox owner Rupert Murdoch may share the came corporate elite agenda on illegal immigration that the Bush family pushed -- what, you didn't think the Bushes were motivated by the human rights angle, did you? -- that view was always problematically at variance with deeper Foxonian dynamics about the ever threatening "other."
Add to this ideological witches' brew the ADD-enhancing and substantively shallowing effects of social media -- which, like Fox News and most talk radio, is vastly more conducive to bringing heat and hype rather than light and comprehension to any subject under consideration -- and the conditions needed for Trumpism to flourish are ripe.
Then, considering that Trump is a famous billionaire in a media culture that has long been obsessed with celebrity and wealth, the wonder is not that Trumpism works but that so many were so sure it would not.
In this bizarre cultural scene, any well-honed article, policy paper, conference, speech can be countered and even superseded by a half-baked Tweet from a half-educated megalomaniac.
When he's caught out, and it happens a great deal, Trump just counters with a false equivalence and pivots to a new distraction.
Thus Trump's ignorance and obvious lack of seriousness when it comes to the very serious matter of the Presidency of the United States are not only propped up by the media culture, they are turned into campaign assets.
Can Trump win the Presidency? Sure. A few bad things would have to happen for the Democrats. But bad things can always happen. Through fate. Or by arrangement.
Which brings us back to our real-life "reality" TV show. Will more Republican elites join Chris Christie or Stuart Stevens?
When fascism has succeeded, it has always done so in working alliance with major conservative elites. While fascist atmospherics and rhetoric, unlike standard authoritarianism, play up support for aggrieved workers -- just like Trump does -- fascism in practice has always moved to crush the left and bolster financial and corporate elites.
Indeed, there is little policy difference between the "populist" Trump, the ultra-rightist Ted Cruz, and the supposedly more moderate Marco Rubio. If anything, Trump's tax cuts for the super-rich and big corporations are even bigger than the similar massive tax cuts proposed by Rubio and Cruz. (The big problem establishment conservatives and neocons have with Trump is that he has harshly, and very much after the fact, turned against the Iraq War. At the time, the Duce was for the invasion. Rah rah.)
As Deep Throat said repeatedly in the classic All the President's Men: "Follow the money."
Trumpism, neo-fascism, is ugly. But gold still shines.
If conservative Republican elites think Trump can beat Hillary Clinton, most will slide in behind the wannabe strong man. After all, they helped create the space for him in the first place.
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