Of course, Donald Trump is a racist. His tweet attacks telling four Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back to their broken and crime infested” countries are only the latest ugly examples of a consistent, unbroken pattern. As Washington Post journalist Eugene Robinson rightly noted, Trump’s comments to Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are not different from the white segregationists screaming “Go Back to Africa” at Black students as the U.S. integrated public schools in the 1960s.
And then it got even uglier. It could have been taken from a Nazi rally at Nuremberg: Trump singled out Ilhan Omar for special attack at a North Carolina rally and the crowd responded, chanting, “Send her back! Send her back!” After unleashing this viciousness, Trump pretended to be unhappy with the chants the next day, only to reinvigorate and heighten his assaults on the four the day after.
Racism is woven into Trump’s worldview and his political brand. In 1989, Trump took out ads in all four New York City dailies calling for reinstating the death penalty right after the arrest of innocent Black youths in a vicious rape and beating. After the ad, the “Central Park Five” were coerced and beaten by police into confessing to a crime they didn’t commit. Trump told Larry King in an interview at the time, “Maybe hate is what we need if we’re gonna get something done.” Trump would become a leading advocate of the “birther” movement that claimed Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. After the far-right Charlottesville rally in 2017, Trump gave political cover to the white supremacist assaults, claiming there were very fine people on “both sides.” Trump ranted about why it was always immigrants from “shithole countries” coming to the U.S., instead of white majority nations like Norway. He referred to undocumented Mexican and Central American migrants as criminals, rapists and “animals.” Now his regime is acting on this rant, viciously stealing migrant children from their parents at the border and locking them in cages to suffer without proper food, sanitation and care. Yes, this is all racist, and the list could stretch to pages. People with minds that think and a sense of justice and history have known this for a long time.
Trump’s “Make America White Again”
But the problem is deeper than Trump’s personal racism or even that these types of things are now being said and done from the highest office in the land, as dangerous as that is. In the wake of the House vote condemning Trump’s tweets, Trump and his defenders deny he’s a racist and say “the Squad,” as the four congresswomen have been named, are vicious anti-Americans who “hate our country” and should “just leave.” Never mind that all of “the Squad” are citizens of the U.S., duly elected representatives, and three of the four were born in the U.S. The Trumpian project is seeking to redefine those who deserve the right to stay in the U.S. and remain citizens as those who swear unquestioning allegiance to Trump and his vision of the country and the world. A central part of Trump’s program involves slamming back people of color and women, and interning or expelling people from other countries, particularly poor, oppressed countries comprised of mainly non-white peoples. To Trump and his ilk, “Make America Great Again” is about returning to a past where whites were openly dominant without apology, where women “knew their place,” and where (white) people of “good will” didn’t have to suffer to hear Spanish being spoken around them. Trump’s speeches and tweets are appealing to and cohering the most backward sections of society into a force, including those that harbor deep resentment at having to worry about being confronted for spouting racist belief. Many of these people have a deep fear about “losing our America” to “foreigners,” “socialists” or Black people. This is Trump’s base; many who want simple answers find their “truth” in conspiracy theories, and harken back to a mythical time of peace and harmony without the need for a lot of complicated thinking or debate about evidence; a past where the “white Christian” identity of the U.S. stood unchallenged.
Make no mistake, the Trump project intends to make white supremacy, white nationalism, misogyny, and unbridled American chauvinism the basis of what rules in this country and what it inflicts on the rest of the world. When Trump pardons and extols a war criminal like Michael Behenna, an Army first lieutenant convicted by a military court of executing a bound and blindfolded Iraqi prisoner during an interrogation in 2008, this is a sign of what’s to come.
The Fascism at the Heart of Trump’s Program
In the wake of Trump’s tweets and the House vote, many liberal pundits and Democrats are condemning his tweets, but saying either Trump is just trying to fire up his base for the 2020 election, or distract from other things. In a press conference, the four Democratic Congresswomen rightly condemned Trump’s racism and xenophobia, but also echoed the view that Trump’s tweets were meant to distract from issues of “larger concern to the American people,” including the inhumane treatment of immigrants at the border.
What is being missed is that there is a logic at play in Trump’s tweets. The racist tweets and attempts to marginalize and turn hatred toward “the Squad” is connected to the devastation his regime is imposing on innocent asylum seekers driven to escape their home countries. It’s connected to his attacks on the press as the enemy of the people, his regime’s refusal to cooperate with congressional subpoenas to testify, his flouting of the law and attempts to destroy it by executive order, and turning the Justice Department into a tool of presidential protection and prosecution of political enemies. It’s connected deeply with all of the rest of Trump’s racist attacks on professional athletes and public figures. And it’s connected to a broader Republican agenda to outlaw abortion, and positioning to again suppress the vote to guarantee victory in 2020. It’s connected to his slash-and-burn destruction of the environment at a time of global crisis. It’s also connected to Trump openly preparing his base to come out into the streets in the event of a move to impeach him or if Democrats would win the 2020 election. It’s connected to Trump’s lovefest with dictators around the world and floating out maybe he should indeed be president beyond two terms. Sure, there is diversion involved in Trump’s moves and tweets at times, but what is not being confronted is that all these things, including diversions, are elements of and in service to, an overall fascist program.
Trump and his allies in the Republican Party and at powerful levels of the ruling class are hammering into place a transformation of American society and rule from an already oppressive capitalist “democracy,” to an openly authoritarian or fascist society where obedience and allegiance — especially to “the leader” — are demanded, and where opponents are crushed. This is a nightmare future with potentially genocidal implications. Right now, many are beginning to get a sense of this, but it needs to be fully confronted by many more. Then, people’s actions must flow from this understanding.
Any regime where it is legitimate and right to characterize whole nations as shitholes and entire peoples as rapists, murderers and animals; to lock up children with no regard for their health, or the terror and harm it inflicts; and then double down on this even when children die in their custody — is headed toward fascism. Any regime that whips up hatred and fascist mobs to verbally threaten and even attack the regime’s political opponents, as Trump has done repeatedly, is a regime seeking to cement fascist rule.
After the “Send her back!” chants in Trump’s North Carolina rally, Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works, tweeted, “I am not easily shocked. But we are facing an emergency. Journalists must not get away with sugar coating this. This is the face of evil.” In his book, The Anatomy of Fascism, author Robert Paxton says 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” and a conspiratorial view of history as a fight between good and evil “in which one’s own community or nation has been the victim.” This would be an accurate description of any Trump rally speech. Paxton says, “Fascists need a demonized enemy against which to mobilize followers, but of course the enemy does not have to be Jewish. Each culture specifies the national enemy.”
In Trump’s U.S., the enemy started as Muslims and immigrants from oppressed countries. Now it’s spread to include other non-white people, and political opponents the fascists call “anti-American,” even those who believe in the U.S. but just oppose Trump. It’s very important to recognize the Nazi elements being given life and scope by Trump. We would fail to heed at our own peril, for example, the murders of 11 people carried out by an anti-Semite at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh who targeted the temple for its support of immigrants, using Trumpian language about the immigrant caravan “invaders.” This is one reason it’s heartening to see Jewish groups and movements like Bend the Arc and #NeverAgain Action building protests to shut down Immigration and Customs Enforcement concentration camps and defend immigrants, saying, “Never Again is Now” and “Never Again Means Never Again for Everyone.”
These ugly comments by Trump from the highest office in the land are a disgrace, and an exposure of the true character of American democracy. Trump is attempting to cement an unbridled white supremacy, a nativist and fascist form of rule. But this is built on the bloody and ugly history of the U.S., from its establishment in slavery, to its genocide of Native people, down to today with the routinized murder of Black, Brown and Native people, the caging and family separations of migrants and denial of legal rights, the mass incarceration of millions of overwhelmingly people of color, the genocidal wars in southeast Asia, the mass slaughter in Iraq. For the U.S., violence is, as H. Rap Brown famously said in the 1960s, “as American as cherry pie.”
What Way Forward?
We have been counseled by leading Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and liberal TV pundits like Rachel Maddow to first put our hopes into Robert Mueller, then to throw all into the 2018 blue wave, then to rely on the federal prosecutors of the Southern District of New York, then to wait with bated breath the outcome of hearings in the House, all in hopes of stopping Trump. These hopes — illusions — have fallen, one after another. People will vote, and probably they even need to in these circumstances, but relying on this to stop Trump and fascism is a fatal mistake. The only “out” in this situation, given the seriousness of the threat and the antagonism Trump has for Constitutional norms, is for people to mobilize, connect with each other and increasingly build up our organized, collective resistance, in the streets and every sphere of society. It’s time to confront the fact that the Democrats will not stop this, especially if left to their own devices. They have neither the will nor the audacity to do so. They are another ruling class party, more invested in maintaining the social order than weathering all the upheaval involved in really confronting Trump. And this is the case despite the fact that they themselves will likely be sacrificed by Trumpian fascism. But a massive uprising by the populace could break the inertia, and even potentially impact the vigor with which sections with power oppose fascism.
There are some hopeful signs of increasing resistance, in the protests against concentration camps; in global student strikes to address the climate crisis; in the Extinction Rebellion movement worldwide, including the U.S.; in the resistance to Trumpian thugs; and in the Refuse Fascism movement. But all this and much more is needed, and it needs to be taken to an entirely different level. People of conscience in the arts and sciences, entertainment, in the medical and legal realms, religious communities and people broadly, who still deeply care about justice, could be drawn in. Links need to be made, political unity hammered out to the advantage of all, and new forms created so that millions eventually get drawn into the streets and all parts of society, in ongoing protest that doesn’t stop until Trump and his dangerous regime is pushed aside. Time is short.