Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday Essay - Trump, Sanders and fascism in the US

Yesterday's post, Saturday Morning Musings - in praise of Squatters' daughters, was triggered in part by an exchange between kvd and AC on my last Monday Forum. I had been largely absent from discussion  on the last two Monday Forums, although discussion had gone on regardless. This led AC to comment that she now felt like a squatter on Jim's unattended blog! kvd responded
Anna, I don't think Jim minds the occasional 'squatter' - provided we tidy up the chip packets and dishes and don't rearrange the furniture - and I'm sure he's busy being gainfully employed, so probably welcomes the chance of other contributions.
kvd is right, of course. A little while back, I learned that it was not necessary for me to respond to every comment when discussion was flowing. I read and enjoy the discussion, but am not a controller. The blog is a platform for open discussion. Most recently when pressures have limited my posting, that discussion has kept the blog alive. I feel really blessed in this regard.

This post reviews one element in the discussion that took place in my absence. I will pick up others in later posts. I thought it best to respond by post rather than comment since that better presents the issues raised. But first, another piece from Art Daily.

This is Peter Paul Rubens’s work Lot and his Daughters (circa 1613-1614). It will be sold by Christie’s as the centerpiece of a curated week of sales, Classic Week, in London this July. I include it because it bears upon our discussion about the changing presentation of the female form.

In a comment, my old friend Sue wrote: " I just read an article by Chris Hedges (5 March 2016) on one of my favourite blogs: Three quarks daily.I would be very interested in reading your views on this article. I also wonder what KVD would make of it. I'm still trying to sort out my thoughts". kvd responded:
"Hi Sue. I read that article but I think I'll let Jim rise to your bait first :) But a couple of things to throw into the pot: 1) fascism seems more achievable in an homogeneous society, which the US is not. Hard to see how the disparate immigrant/racial groups would all align as one. (This assumes the writer is not just throwing it out as an insult/epithet), and 2) I used to think it would be a Biden/Rubio matchup; now I think it will be Biden/Cruz - and to me Cruz is way more scary than Trump.
The Hedges piece, The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism, quotes approvingly from Richard Rorty's 1998 book, “Achieving Our Country”.He concludes:
Fascist movements build their base not from the politically active but the politically inactive, the “losers” who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment. The sociologist Émile Durkheim warned that the disenfranchisement of a class of people from the structures of society produced a state of “anomie”—a “condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals.” Those trapped in this “anomie,” he wrote, are easy prey to propaganda and emotionally driven mass movements.  
There appear to be three threads in the arguments that Hedges and others are putting forward.

The first is that the process of economic and social change that has taken place in the US and other Western countries over the last part of the twentieth century and the first part of this century has created a growing group who feel left behind, disadvantaged. The resulting angst is felt most strongly among working and middle class people who had previously shared in the benefits of economic growth during the 1950s and 1960s, who had seen advancement as possible, but who now find themselves sliding down the economic and social totem pole in circumstances of ever growing insecurity.

Arguments about overall advancement in national wealth, the argument that economic restructuring has increased aggregate wealth, do not wash with this group. In previous eras including that of the US robber barons, the great disparities between the wealthy extravagant few and the rest of the population could be more easily accepted because, after all, you might achieve wealth yourself or, if not, your children might. Even then, there was a virulence, a violence, in US industrial and class relations lacking in countries such as Australia where the social contract focused more on the collective rather than the individual.

The second thread in the arguments of Hedges and others is that this growing dis-empowered group will look to the leader, the person who promises to make things better. The argument that the leader cannot deliver is neither here nor there. If I feel helpless, if I feel threatened, if the existing order cannot offer at least some hope of solution, then I will go for the person who can. Hope is a powerful weapon, as is the promise of empowerment.

The third thread in the arguments is the way that prospective leaders find enemies that will unite their followers, the threat beyond, while comforting those followers that their values and views are right. The appeal to traditional values is comforting because it affirms the self-worth of those who perceive themselves to be disadvantaged or under threat, while the external enemy unites.

You will find these elements in many movements, including the labour movements. The distinctive feature about twentieth century fascism is that it captured the fears of large groups who had previously been dominant. The labour movements captured the fears and aspirations of groups who were marginalised at the start. The fascist movements captured the fears and aspirations of those who previously had had positions.

But does all this mean that fascism is on the rise in the US? I'm not convinced. It' a very mixed picture, with both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders drawing from the same bedrock, the disillusionment with the current. Both groups reject the previous status quo, both are seeking something new. Further, the arguments about fascism generally come for the left because of the threats posed to their colelctive views.  

I don't agree with kvd on the homogeneity point. I think that US society is  more homogeneous than he allows. We are dealing here with the influence of labels. Just because one is Hispanic, for example, does not mean that he or she does not share similar concerns to non-Hispanic voters. Nor is it necessary to capture a majority to bring about fascism,

In Germany. the Nazis did not have a majority when they came to power. They were able to build sufficient numbers in the face of a strong minority opposition group, the communists, with a fragmented and disillusioned majority to gain control of the constitutional levers. They then manipulated these to gain power. In so doing, they also delivered enough immediate benefits to the majority to consolidate power. That process of consolidation is something that pays study.

I think that the biggest barrier to the rise of fascism in the United States actually lies in the division of powers within the constitution.Whoever comes to power in this round, will be constrained by that. I also think that both Sanders and Trump are delivering the message that the US requires a new political contract between governors and governed. I think that it will be interesting if sometimes uncomfortable to see how that evolves.  .      



Anonymous said...

I don't know whether fascism is on the rise in the US. Perhaps a certain kind of authoritarianism is proving attractive?

However, I read this interesting piece on what Trump's attraction is - and it's not racism. It made a lot of sense to me.


Noric Dilanchian said...

Again a tangental link (Nassim Taleb on FB), but maybe not.

Unemployment or presumptions regarding what should be and what the tribe deserves, in terms of economics and national destiny, played and continue to play (consider Turkey today) into growing fascism.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Erdogan worries me. Similar point, Noric, to the other piece above. But it's not just about jobs, it's about pride.


Anonymous said...

I read Sue's referenced article as a concern that the US, as a nation, might turn to facism - and hence end up as a fascist state.

I stand by my comment that Jim (disagreeing) quoted: while the US may well see the rise of a fascist party or parties, the US will never become a fascist state per se, because it lacks sufficient homogeneity. If you disagree, please refute that with a past example of a "fascist state" - not a "fascist party within a state" - which was not comprised of one cultural, or ethnic, or racial 'grouping'. Look it up on Wikipedia - where Australia is noted as one democracy which harboured a fascist movement; and that worked out really well - not.

LE's referenced Guardian article is well worth a read - but do please read the whole article, not just the twitterised version; do read the conclusions. Neil Whitfield referenced it yesterday, so I read it - along with another pointer to a piece by Paul McGeough in the SMH - which piece is quite laughable*.

LE's last comment above gets somewhere to the point when she ends with "it's about pride" - but 'the point' goes further than that - into a nationalism built upon a command economy, held in place by authoritarian rule with supression of dissent, all in the ostensible pursuit of some idealised version of 'we the people' - but with a leadership group, of course :)

Trump won't win; I doubt he will even be the candidate of the right, but the buttons he is pushing do bear thinking about - because as with any good lie, there are grains of truth in what he says.

* Paul McGeough's article is basically a rehash (read copy/paste) of all the anti-Trump 'fact checking' over the past few months. He seems apoplectic that such a vagabond could succeed, with his wine and steaks and magazines and lies: He tells LIES I tell you! And he might be only worth $2Bn! (Bet Paul was pleased with his righteous spleen as he drove home to his triple-fronted brick veneer bungalow somewhere in the 'burbs :)

What Paul missed is two things: 1) Trump dominated the TV channels for a good hour with his party tricks - all at no cost to his campaign; 2) Trump (and in fact every other candidate, of both parties, other than Hillary!) subjected himself to several free-form pressers after that debate, and has after all earlier debates - and I've watched the lot, by the way.

Hillary! has never done that, so when is the appropriate time to ask Hillary! why not?


Winton Bates said...

The fear that foreign competition and immigrants will continue to take jobs does seem to explain a lot about the rise of Trump and similar buffoons in other countries. This reminds me of Benjamin Friedman's argument in a book published a few years ago that economic growth has positive externalities in promoting tolerance. I wrote about it here:

The US and Europe may be reaping the social consequence of relatively low economic growth over the last decade or so.

Winton Bates said...

This brief article makes the same point:

2 tanners said...

I thought the point that the US Republican elite had more or less sown the ground in which first the Tea Party and next Trump and Cruz had thrived was pretty accurate. Trump is appealing to people across the range from "occupy/anti 1%" protesters to the Texan who drives a truck (ute) but has 2 Mercedes at home. Cruz was expected to appeal largely to the fundamentalist Christians, but has done less well with them and better with others than expected. He's widely hated in Washington, which I suspect turned out as an unexpected asset.

Republicans trying to blame Trump on the Democrats in general and Obama in particular shows a desperation that reveals that they have finally understood that they have screwed this up good and proper and the choice, absent a huge turnaround for Rubio, is going to be between the party's two least-favoured sons. Or possibly Trump will sew it up before the conference, which is an outcome I hadn't foreseen.

Fascism? No, I think the bread and circuses of the Internet will mean that the formalism of fascism will not be required. Look at the 1% figures in the US, the surveillance laws (and the fact that they are largely used on US citizens) and the waving of the word terrorism to justify everything. No need for North Korea style mega rallies. Anomie and apathy together will prevent activity.

Jim Belshaw said...

kvd, picking up your point first. I don't think that the US will become a fascist state except perhaps via anomie, attrition and fear, to pick up 2ts point.

You appeal to the authority of "history" makes me very uncomfortable. You have to be very careful with definitions. The word fascist itself dates to the early twentieth century. If you take its meaning as radical authoritarian nationalism, there is another problem with the relatively recent origin of the concept of nationalism.

The debate about fascism is often framed in terms of, in an Australian context, White Anglo-Saxon celtics. This framing in part reflects racial stereotyping and is influenced in part by Adolf Hitler, more by recent cultural constructs. The description of the US as lacking sufficient homogeneity faces critical questions: what is meant by homogeneity, what is sufficient?

If Donald Trump phrases the debate in "white" terms, then there won't be a majority. But Trump has attracted support from Hispanics who share exactly the same problems and concerns. In Australia, the right wing of the Liberal party, One Nation and Reclaim Australia all attracted support from non-Anglo Saxon groups.

Nationalism is a powerful force in the United States. The proportion of new arrivals far lower than in Australia. The feelings of disenpowerment, economic struggle economic threat cross divides. Trump is a populist, but he doesn't have a coherent framework to unite. A fascist movement based on strong leadership and nationalism might well be more popular than people realise.

Anonymous said...

Jim, I understand you are busy, so just food for later thought:

1) "Racial" makeup of the US: 60% non-Hispanic whites; 15% Hispanic; 15% 'Black'; 6% 'Asian' - give or take. That's population-wise, but I have no idea how it translates to voting makeup, or to support for the two major parties. No doubt fivethirtyeight would know. And I'm not suggesting that the various group interests don't coincide in some sort of loose coalition on various subjects - just, not all at once, on the same subject/s. And I apologise for any offence taken for the loose labelling I've used.

2) You say "appeal to the authority of 'history' makes me very uncomfortable". I would ask what other basis of discussion would you suggest? Science fiction; neolithic farming methods? How is anyone to process what might happen other than by referencing what appeared to happen in the (quite recent) past?

3) And that we should be careful of "definitions", and "what is meant by homogeneity, what is sufficient": to which I would observe (tongue in cheek): do you realise just how many times you revert to discussion of definitions, thereby bypassing actually discussing the issues raised - even where so poorly defined?

4) You seem to agree that fascism will not succeed in the US, while at the same time disagreeing with my layman's reasoning for same. Fair enough; I guess that makes me right, but not right? Me, I very much agree with both Winton's and tanners' observations about what I would imperfectly 'define' as economic malaise.

5) Time Magazine puts it rather well:

What made the Party crisis important not only to politicians but to plain people was the deepening need for leadership in the land. The President’s leadership had been repudiated again & again by Congress, and the people’s only answer to complaints from the White House about Congress was to send more & more Republicans to Congress, to repudiate that leadership further.

This search for leadership was just as deep in Congress itself. … These, the very men supposed to generate leadership, were leaderless. The spectacle of Congress thrashing about was a significant index to the national need.

- February, 1944. (i.e. just another bit of that pesky "history")

6) tanners, nice to see you back on deck. Hopes for you it is not still the poop deck :)


2 tanners said...


Nice to be back, and once more the captain of my soul. And body.

I had a long piece here this morning but Jim's recaptcha was screwing up, we lost the power and my battery is rubbish, so I've left it. Gosh that 1944 quote was apposite - the only part that I thought not applicable was about "the people" sending more republicans. In this case, it's the state governors rorting the system with rigged electorates, making both the Tea Party and eventually Trump or Cruz an inevitability.

Trump v Sanders would have been good for a giggle. The once-Democrat jockeying for a Republican labelled presidency vs. the once-anti-Democrat jockeying to gain a Democrat presidency.

Cruz vs Sanders would have pitted two ideologues, neither well liked by their parties, against each other.

However, I'm pretty sure that Trump is going to stitch this up before the convention, which is only the fault of the Republicans who hate him but were so ineffectual. He'll face off against Hillary and it will be a dirty, dirty, election. I'm wondering if Trump already has his October surprise lined up. Like the original, it'll be a massive untruth, but I'm not so sure it would work. Most who are not committed to him realise he's a liar (water, beef, net worth, Moslems celebrating on the rooftops etc etc) and it might be hard if Hillary just adds it to the list of lies. The only people who will be believing would believe anything he says, and not all of them will vote.

Anonymous said...

Hi tanners - great to see you back! I know well the vagaries of Jim's crapdump (sorry if that triggers), so I have confidence that your 'long piece' will eventually appear. He's never lost one of mine, so I look forward to yours with great interest, and respect - I should add.

Anyway, so you hold it against Trump that he is a liar? And you consider that a significant distinguishing feature vis-a-vis Hillary, for instance? Hey-ho...


ps Word of the day regards Jim's view of history: "autoethnography" - hope I've got that right; never saw the need for it before :)

2 tanners said...


It is a difference of scale, not of kind. Hillary certainly glosses her past and your glasses would need ...uh... rather roseate not to see past it.

Trump appears to say whatever comes into his head, boldly uses faked or zero evidence to support whatever just got said but then doesn't wait. He goes onto the next one without hesitation. It is an absolute classic of the US invention honed by teh anti-science lobby, the "Gish Gallop".

Anonymous said...

Hi tanners, I understand what you are saying - although I think you are a little too polite re HRC - but I don't think that's to the point of his attraction to a significant part of the American conservative electorate. Yes, he lies. And so your point is...?

There seems to be a whole industry now consumed entirely with what Trump said about such and such on so and so date - and here is the proof that he lied! Meanwhile he has probably shifted/modified/retracted that position maybe three or four times, all on prime time tv. So where is the value in pointing out the original lie?

I mean, it reduces to farce when you have an Aussie pundit huffing about whether his worth is $16Bn or only $2Bn. Only $2Bn, so..., gee! (btw, for comparison, I see some hedge fund dropped $1.5Bn in 24 hours on one of its investments in a drug company)

I've been watching today's election results, and candidate speeches, and whilst doing so a couple of small gems fell from the lips of the pundits:

1) in just the past month Trump has received prime tv coverage (rallys and interviews) with an equivalent paid-for value of that spent by Mitt Romney in his entire failed presidential bid - all for free.
2) in Florida his actual paid advertising spend was said to be $2.3M - which was compared to the now failed Jeb! superpac spend directed solely against Rubio of $60M

It is all too depressing to think about, so instead let me give a shout and a smile to Catallaxy Files (a site I'm no particular fan of) in particular to Steve Kates, talking about his dealings with American billionares:

"They knew everything, and when you have a billion dollars and a boat that’s bigger than my house, it’s not hard to think that way."


Anonymous said...

Linked fwiw, written before today's results:


Winton Bates said...

kvd and 2T: I just had a look at the odds offered on a popular Australian gambling site and am finding it difficult to resist making an investment. They are offering $1.50 for a Clinton victory in November. Seems too good to be true, so it probably is. But why?

Anonymous said...

Because she will probably be facing an FBI recommend re her emails by then, but go for it :)


2 tanners said...

US markets currently have HRC at between 2 or 3 to 1 against Trump (according to fivethirtyeight), so if the bet is against Trump alone, you're being shortchanged. If the bet is HRC vs everyone, Sanders has a mathematical (but probably not pragmatic chance) at the nomination and may damage her along the way. If Trump doesn't raise 1237 delegates before the conference, the conference floor will be something to see. HRC might not fare so well against either a pure ideologue like Cruz or (least likely) a conservative in moderate clothing like Kasich. To me $1.50 seems about right, unless the FBI is going to be the Republicans' October surprise. Harder to do with Obama in office, I would have thought.

Anonymous said...

Hey tanners, just for my own interest - do you read Scott (Dilbert) Adam's blog? Here's the reference:

Pay no attention to the 0 comments stat; he's pretty popular if you open any post. Or maybe that's just a problem with my own browser?

Anyways, with the several mentions of 'Trump Lies' here, maybe read the post titled "Donald Trump - Con Man" and let me know what you think. I would very much welcome somebody else's opinion.

ps word of the day: recipe :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent interview on ABC 7.30 just now by Sabra Lane with retirees Ian McFarlane and Gary Gray.

Nothing to do with this thread; more just about how parliaments should work - for us, not them. Catch it if you can.


2 tanners said...

I don't read the Scott Adams blog often - I read Dilbert daily, but Adams annoys me. However, he called it LAST year - that Trump was going to be a major competitor when everybody else had written him off before the race started. His Master Persuader line has been consistent and borne out. The longish post that I wrote but which vanished into the maw of Captcha2 said the same thing - he lies, keeps lying and moves on to the next lie. The thing that should have staid Republicans wetting their pants with worry is that they don't know what he will do in office. Because he's probably lying about that too. They may have to pray for a Democratic Senate to obstruct him. But as I and every other pundit have said, Trump and Cruz are the inevitable consequences of the Republicans' cynical anti-science, anti-truth, gerrymandering and obstructionist tactics of the last 8 years.

Karma's a bitch, but in this case we may all suffer.

Sentence of the day: I have two devastatingly gorgeous French girls living with me, and I don't have time for cooking. :P

Anonymous said...

Sorry. I know this topic might seem done and dusted to some - but this brought a smile of recognition when I read it:


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd. Haven't read yet. Past my free page allowance on SMH! Will read when the next allowance kicks in.