Rather than being purely fascist or a mysterious contradictory collection of personalities, the Trump Administration can be best seen as a popular front reflecting and representing most of the American right-wing, argues Juan Conatz.
In the run-up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, much was written about the nature of Trump's candidacy and whether it amounted to fascism or not. Authorities on the subject were consulted. On the left, when the definition of fascism exceeded the pejorative sense, there were arguments for and against the accusation. The prevailing sentiment seemed to be that Trumpism is not fascism, but it is a form of right-wing populism that shares similarities.
Now that Trump has won the election, taken office and started to implement policies, the debate on whether he is a fascist or not seems a bit mundane. However, I do believe there are some key characteristics of historical fascist parties that shine some light on what the Trump administration is and will be.
Historical fascism is a coalition
Many people forget that fascism, particularly when looking early on in Italy and Spain, was not this monolithic thing with complete ideological conformity and free of political factions that had their own ideas and, sometimes, their own base. Early Italian fascism included artistic intellectuals, former syndicalists and socialists who rejected internationalism, demobilized soldier groups and rural business interests. In the case of Spain, the actual fascists were a junior partner in the nationalist uprising, out-muscled and out-influenced by the anti-Left military brass, Catholic establishment, authoritarian conservatives and capitalists. All of these different factions maneuvered for power within this broader coalition, with their fortunes rising and falling at different times. In German National Socialism, most of these factions were violently liquidated as the party reached the heights of power.
With this in mind, I think we should start looking at the Trump administration as a popular front of nearly every segment of the right-wing.
The parts of the popular front
The term popular front is typically associated with the Left. Although it can have different definitions, boiled down, it is a coalition of cooperation between different tendencies of the Left, usually in opposition to what is seen as a greater threat. Historically, the greater threat has been fascism.
As Sam Sacks and Sam Knight of the podcast, Unanimous Dissent, and many others, have pointed out, the current Trump administration represents different dominant aspects of the GOP. Some media commentators have been confused at the seemingly contradictory nature of some of the appointments, with speculation that Trump's motivation lies in some sort of capitalist ethos of managerial competition similar to his reality show, The Apprentice. There's probably some truth to that, but I think there's more there.
The Opportunist Right
The Opportunist Right are those that are willing to contort to anything and ride the coattails towards power. Trump is obviously the perfect example of this. His core values are self-interest and showmanship. His political ideas seem to be more based on the last person he talked to, rather than any thought out convictions. He makes accusations and calls for investigation based on tall tales told to him while golfing. Chris Christie is an example of where oppurtunism didn't work. While seen as a "moderate" establishment Republican governor of a liberal state, after his failure to get far in the primaries, he hitched what was left of his political future on the Trump campaign. All his efforts were for nothing, though, as he was pushed out after the November 8th victory.
The Religious Right
The pick for Vice President of Mike Pence, most known outside of Indiana for his extreme anti-choice and homophobic policies, was rightly seen as an acknowledgement of the traditional GOP religious base. Not that this was probably needed. The religious right seemed more than willing to overlook Trump's history of divorce, sexual assault, racism and lack of Christian convictions.
The Establishment GOP
Trump's campaign was antagonistic and hostile to the non-religious parts of the GOP establishment, which consisted primarily of aggressive neoconservatives, "moderate" neoconservatives and somewhat more isolated elements of the 2010 Tea Party movement. Scott Walker, a former darling of the anti-union, pro-business tradition was figuratively eviscerated in debates. Jeb Bush, suspected to be next in line in the family dynasty, was also unsympathetically belittled and verbally ridiculed. Some of these establishment Republicans tried to build an alliance based on "Never Trump", but as they were always more concerned with the possibility of a brutal election loss rather than the content of the Trump campaign, these figures have mostly all fallen in line. Reince Priebus, the White House Chief of Staff, perhaps best represents this part of the coalition, having served as the Chairman for the Republican National Committee and cutting his teeth on acting as a go-between for the Republican Party and the Tea Party in the early 2010s.
Back during the primaries and before the election, many prominent wealthy Republican donors and business people indicated explicitly or through back channels that they were against Trump. Since January 20th, many capitalists, particularly out of Silicon Valley have denounced, some strongly, the executive actions taken. Make no mistake, though, the Trump Administration represents business as perhaps none has before. The cabinet is the richest in history and the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson was picked primarily because of his experience as CEO of the largest non-state owned oil company in the world.
The last of the 5 primary right-wing factions in the Trump administration, is what has been referred to as the "Alt-Right Lite". The Alternative Right is a somewhat amorphous, almost entirely online based far-right movement that blends various fascist tendencies, internet culture and "Men's Right's" activism into a mixture that is viciously against liberalism, multiculturalism, the Left and establishment conservatism1 . While its direct involvement and influence on the Trump campaign have been exaggerated, it has gained ground with certain media outlets that exist in the blurry area between the furthest right of the Republican Party and actual fascist groups. Others in the alt-right have viewed some of these outlets, such as Breitbart News, as opportunists and dub them "Alt-Right Lite". That is probably partially accurate. However, when considering that Steve Bannon, former executive for Breitbart and current Senior Counselor to the Present, has affinity for various European parties with roots in the extreme far-right and neofascism, there's more to it than that. Rather than mere opportunism, Bannon represents the "responsible" white supremacist in contrast to the crude neo-nazi, a tension that has long existed in fascist circles.
While most Republican administrations involve some kind of coalition, I suspect that the Trump Administration contains the widest of any modern right-wing coalition and has at its basis the common ground of wanting to roll back what it sees as the excesses and constrictions of liberalism, as well as being a backlash against progressive social movements. It is because of the breadth of the coalition, and its main commonalities, that I believe it is correct to consider it a popular front.
Why does this matter?
It's important to think of the Trump Administration as a popular front government of the right-wing for a few reasons.
The first being that by considering it as this kind of coalition, we can begin to identify the competing interests of its participants. These interests will not always line up, and there will be conflict. These conflicts will be potentially exploitable by those looking to impede the administration's various agendas.
Another reason the popular front tag is important is that we are already seeing figures of the right being held up as developing or potential warriors in the battle against this administration. John McCain. Paul Ryan. These people represent a competing interest in this coalition that may object to certain things, but have their own reactionary agendas, as well. They should not be seen as friends or allies.
- 1For one of the best over view's of the alt-right, check out Matthew Lyons' "Ctrl-Alt-Delete: The origins and ideology of the Alternative Right"
Popular Front was a
Popular Front was a class-collaborationist amalgam where independent action, programs, and demands of the working class were subordinated to the needs of the "democratic" bourgeoisie.
Where is the collaboration between opposing classes in the tea party-GOP-alt-right-neo-fascist amalgam?
The Popular Front is not a tactical, or strategic agreement among representatives of the "left." It is a collaborationist linkage.
Hey S. I think that's one
Hey S. I think that's one definition, but today I see it usually deployed to describe a coalition of different political interests on the Left. In any case, what I was trying to get across was exactly that in describing the Trump Administration.
My short answer (as of 30 Jan
My short answer (as of 30 Jan 2017) is "maybe". I'm curious to see how long some of these relations last or develop. I would certainly say there is a momentary alliance of opportunists, yes.
Time will need to play some of this out cause I'm not so sure elements of the alliance might stick for long (and, then again, it might).
Interesting article. I think
Interesting article. I think it would be a mistake to confuse this new rising or rather overflowing cesspool with the old fascisms. These new rightists are aiming a different sort of civil war against what they consider as their "internal enemies". Since the Yugoslavian wars and the disintegration of the USSR, nationalists are aiming to divide states rather than uniting and assimilating minorities. They want to "cleanse" themselves by isolating and retreating into liberated zones, instead of conquering or expanding. So, this identiarianism looks more restrictive and localist.*
Contrary to the old fascisms' admiration for military hierarchies & discipline, the identitarian right seem to defend an extreme vulgarization of bourgeois individuality cult. I don't think that contradicts with leadership cults like Erdoganism. On the contrary, they look more anti-social than all their predecessors and they lack an organizational culture - hence it is totally understandable that they fetishize their little fuhrers. You encounter the most visible and militant types of this bunch in daily life as internet trolls, lone wolf terrorists, escapists, preppers, etc.
* This article - written before the election - is really great on this point: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/11/13/trump-s-man-stephen-bannon-flirts-with-a-le-pen.html
So, in short:
If 20th century fascism was: statist, sheepishly partyist, expansionist
Than the 21st century alt-fascisms look like: localist, narcissistic & individualistic, seperationist & segregationist
hey Juan I found this article
hey Juan I found this article really interesting, thanks for writing it up!
Really thoughtful piece - it
Really thoughtful piece - it explains a lot about how the Trump Administration functions
Yeah good blog. I think in
Yeah good blog. I think in general what happens in places with a two-party system like the UK and US is all of the various political factions which in Europe have their own parties which form coalition governments, instead form often unofficial factions in one of the two parties.
But yes a key difference here to usual is that for the first time in a long time the straight up neoliberal business right has not just dominated outright.
I also agree that hoping that some of the more "decent" elements within the Republican Party will act as a brake on Trump are misguided. While some high-tech business leaders may not like Trump bashing Muslims or women, they will allow it if it means he gets to create scapegoats while he pushes through massive tax cuts for business and the rich
Whether or not popular front
Whether or not popular front is the most semantically correct choice, this article is the best breakdown and analysis I've seen of the Trump administration. Thanks for writing it up, Juan.
Thanks, Juan. Definitions of
Thanks, Juan. Definitions of the "Popular Front"* aside, I agree that it is most useful to look at the Trump regime as a coalition of the right, including all of the elements you describe.
Interestingly, one section of the Right apparently left out of the Coalition is the neo-cons. The neo-cons were the most hostile to Trump's campaign within the GOP and continue to raise concerns about Trump's approach towards Russia. (The neo-cons are also often exaggeratedly identified as heavily Jewish and ex-Leftist, which may also figure in to the hostility between camps).
Which raises another question about Trump (and Bannon's) approach to an international Coalition of the nationalist Right, and whether his domestic coalition (who mainly just want Planned Parenthood defunded or oil contracts in Russia renewed) will go along with or oppose a realignment of that magnitude.
* My understanding of the political use of the term "Popular Front" is as S.Artesian lays out above (a collaborationist coalition of classes), and as opposed to a "United Front" (a coalition of different organizations and tendencies within the working-classes). Trotskyists attach a lot of importance to this framework for distinguishing alliances, but I think it is useful as well. A case could also be made that Trump's coalition is also a "Popular Front" in the sense that Trotskyists describe - with nationalist and racist workers conceding leadership to a billionaire con man and Exxon. In any case, its not the most important thing about this useful article.
Fascism has different
Fascism has different expressions in different circumstances, but all the expressions share an underlying "corporatist" ideology that proclaims, and enforces with vengeance, a so-called unity of classes under the state. All fascist movements are amalgams serving capital, explicitly supported by some sections of the bourgeoisie, tacitly tolerated by others, "distasteful" but necessary to others of the class, and even horrifying to other sections.
Doesn't make much of a difference-- the bourgeoisie in their "revolutionary" incarnation-- say the US Civil War, depend on the petty-bourgeoisie-- the free farmers of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, artisans and shopkeepers of Massachusetts; and in their counterrevolutonary incarnation also and alwaysdepend on the petty bourgeoisie-- particularly the distressed, sloughed off, layers-- to do the heavy lifting; the hard working of smashing all the obsolete institutions and pulverizing independent working class organization.
The Popular Front was not just any coalition, it was a "strategy" of the 3rd International to protect the former Soviet Union and obstruct the prospects of proletarian revolution after the disaster of the "3rd period" pseudo radicalism: "social democracy = social fascism;" "nach Hitler, uns."
The popular front throughout its history is defined by that class collaboration, a mythic unity of interests among the working class, and the "democratic bourgeoisie," and is an attempt to perserve the institutions of "liberal capitalism."
There is no doubt that there is an amalgam, a convergence of rightists and fascists around Trump, but it's not really a popular front, and I don't think we should strip the term of its class content, it's really significance-- compare the left popular front under Allende's Unidad Popular government in Chile with the supposed "right popular front" in the US today, and you'll see that under Allende the goal was to preserve the institutions of so-called "liberal, capitalist rule;" nobody on the "right" either in Chile, or in the US amalgam around Trump thinks such institutions can be preserved and serve the "needs" of "national capitalism," not even McConnell or Ryan. They don't give a rat's ass about separation of powers, or preservation of "rights" or any of that.
A thoughtful, suggestive
A thoughtful, suggestive article from Juan, and a useful observation from S. Artesian. Owing to my original political formation in the Trot milieu, I think the distinction between popular and united fronts is one worth maintaining.
However, I'm watching all this from the UK. My question to those better informed on US politics would be, has Trump succeeded in co-opting a section of the US working class behind his project?
My impression from bourgeois news sources is that this is the case, in which case the 'popular front' analogy probably holds.
Chilli Sauce wrote: this
Just wondering if there are other rated articles that have a decent analysis on the situation? Can anyone point out some articles?
I agree with S Artesian that
I agree with S Artesian that it is a mistake to strip the term "Popular Front' of its class content. The idea was an alliance of radical & working class forces, in their own organized forms, uniting with the "center" -- liberal capitalists, Democratic Party politicians, union bureaucrats. There is in this sense no meaningful "Popular Front" on the right because there are no independent organizations of working class or left who ally with Trump & his gang. You simply deprive the phrase of all meaning.
I think this is very
I think this is very interesting but I have a small correction to make.
I don't think its exceptional that many religious right wing types have overlooked Donald Trump's racism at all. While not true of all churches and sects many of the major religious right groups have been openly racist for decades. Many well known televangelists like Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robinson not only defended Apartheid but financially supported it.
And of course white supremacy in the south was entrenched and supported by its unique form of Christianity. The KKK was formed to defend White Anglo Saxon Protestants after all.