Paul Street argues that it’s wrong to call January 6th an “insurrection”; this wasn’t a grassroots rank and file populist uprising by the people, it was instigated from the top down and part of a larger organized fascist effort.
Hi, welcome to theAnalysis.news. I’m Paul Jay. Please don’t forget there’s a donate button at the top of the webpage.
Is Trumpism fascism? There’s been quite a bit of debate about this over the last four years, coming to a head after the events of January 6th. Was the riot on Capitol Hill, the last act of an attempt by Trump’s forces to organize a military coup? Watch and read my piece titled Trump’s Treason and McConnells Mayhem, where I lay out the argument that there was such an attempted military coup as delusional and unsuccessful as it was, but are the forces behind this coup attempt and the Stop the Steal campaign fascist? Is that the right use of the word? What about the millions of people that continue to believe the elections were stolen? Franklin Roosevelt said that fascism is when one section of corporate capital seizes control of the state.
If so, is the cancerous growth of the power of finance over the economy and government – a process known as financialization – the systemic basis upon which there is a malignant tumor? Whose face for now is Trump’s. Of course, both major parties are primarily the parties of finance, but does that make them more or less an equal threat to the people? There are some on the left who don’t take the Trump malignancy as a serious threat. Some say that because the economic policies of the corporate Democrats helped till the soil for the rise of Trump and certainly they did, there’s really no difference between the two, or some argue the Democrats’ foreign policy is even more dangerous than Trump’s, and those working within the Democratic Party are by definition selling out, or the Democrats are more deceptive and thus more dangerous.
They are all essentially saying it’s wrong to use the word fascism when talking about Trumpism. My guest has been going through the various arguments and in several articles tried to provide some answers. Paul Street is an independent progressive policy researcher, an award-winning journalist, historian, author, and speaker based in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago. He’s the author of nine books to date.
His most recent books are They Rule: The 1% vs. Democracy and Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump and the Politics of Appeasement. Paul writes regularly for Counterpunch. Thanks for joining me, Paul.
Thanks for having me on Paul.
So let’s start with January 6th and what happened. Some people are calling this an insurrection. Some people are using the word it should be described more as an attempted fascist coup. What’s your thinking on?
Well insurrection I think is misleading. It implies a kind of grassroots rank and file populist uprising by the people, when in reality this was instigated from the top down. This is consistent with what even Trump insiders like Michael Cohen and others from within the administration and within the Trump circle have been warning us about for quite some time, which was that Trump would not leave peacefully. He would not accept a peaceful transition of power if he lost the election. He said it himself. He said it himself.
In fact Trump, even in 2016, wouldn’t guarantee that he would honor the outcome of an election, that didn’t go his way. He said the only way he can lose if it was rigged. Well, if it was rigged, that means it’s illegitimate. If it was illegitimate, therefore it’s justified to respond to it with violence. A political use of violence is a core part of the fascist playbook. The rejection of legitimate elections, I hesitate to call American elections democratic.
I was about to say yeah.
We don’t have a democratic electoral system. The United States still does not elect its presidents on the basis of one person, one vote but nonetheless, this is one of the freest and fairest presidential elections in recent memory, and Trump made it very clear that he wasn’t going to honor it if it didn’t go his way.
But yeah, because Trump just not willing to go doesn’t in itself make this a fascist.
Oh, there is so much more. You’re right. I mean there’s another subtext in all of this, too, which I think hasn’t received enough attention, which is that Trump is a white nationalist and Trump’s supporters and backers are dedicated white nationalists, and there is this kind of sense that he’s lost because of minority votes and nonwhite votes, he won the real vote. That counts. He did.
He won the majority white vote. That’s also part of it. I mean, yeah, rejecting the outcome of an election in and of itself does not define Trump as a fascist. Trump’s fascism is a matter of him checking off a number of boxes. Paul Krugman, The New York Times liberal columnist, had this interesting comment the day after the January 6th coup attempt. That’s what it was, an attempted coup. It was a blundering and failed and delusional coup attempt, but it was a coup attempt nonetheless, and a coup attempt that went back and planning historically, at least to the late summer of 2020.
Krugman had this line that said the use of [political] violence to achieve racial nationalist goals. Yes, Trump is a fascist as many of his backers are, and if you had any doubts about that January 6th’s should prove them wrong. No one should have ever had any doubts at all.
Excerpt from Paul Krugman’s NYTimes Column
“Donald Trump, however, is indeed a fascist — an authoritarian willing to use violence to achieve his racial nationalist goals. So are many of his supporters. If you had any doubts about that, Wednesday’s attack on Congress should have ended them.”
We had from the very beginning, really, from the walk down the escalator in Trump Tower declaring the candidacy through the presidency, we had vengeful white nationalism. We had advocacy of the use of political violence.
We had the demonization and the scapegoating of racialized others. We had insane, paranoid hatred and fear of socialism, falsely conflated with hatred of liberals and the classic fascist narrative that the liberals are too weak and they will let the communists and the socialists take over. We had consistent lawlessness in the name of law and order through the Trump administration is one of the great calling cards of fascism. We had consistent recurrent purges of Trump administration officials who were perceived as insufficiently loyal, as disloyal.
It’s a classic authoritarian character. So we don’t have time to go through all of the thirty-one boxes that I ticked off in the Trump administration, but I would ask your listeners to, if they have time to go Google me a Counterpunch essay I did called “Thirty-One Flavors of Fascism” and it’s just amazing (https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/01/29/thirty-one-flavors-of-fascism/).
It’s just he clicked off all thirty-one of them of various underlying parts of the fascist political playbook, not to be consolidated with having achieved a complete. No one said this. No one on the left who’s accused Trump of being a fascist and being the top of a fascist movement. No one has said that under Trump there was achieved a fully consolidated fascist political-economic corporatist regime on the model of Hitler and Mussolini. We never said that, and I don’t say that. I don’t doubt that Trump would have dreamed of something like that. I think we came incredibly close to a second Trump term.
I think people have no idea what kind of stuff was going to hit the fan in a second Trump term. Moreover, I think but for Covid-19, we would have had a second Trump term. A lot of the left’s resistance to calling it fascism was based on an almost obsessive-compulsive living in the past kind of fixation on Hitler and Mussolini, on Europe in the interwar period between the nineteen twenties through the nineteen forties, and it’s just I’ve been documenting this.
It’s just fascinating. The journalists who are asking the question is Trump fascism? Is there fascism in Trumpism habitually. Then go to the academic experts. Who are the academic experts? Historians. Typically and often retired historians of 20th century Europe who are completely out of their depth when it comes to assessing political currents in the contemporary American environment. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy for the journalists who think it isn’t fascism and therefore they go get historians of Hitler and Mussolini. Well, that’s right it’s not Hitler and Mussolini. Well, oh, OK.
There’s an important parallel with Hitler and Mussolini, which is they were very popular. Certainly, it seems at least a majority of Germans supported Hitler. At some point, it might have been a fairly significant majority of Germans supported Hitler. The fact that 74 million people voted for Trump. For someone who, I agree with you, I think espouses with a little bit of dog-whistling cover, but not much, pretty overt racist and fascist ideals, but a lot of people voted for him. There’s a concept some people have written about called it’s not just fascistization of the politics, and fascistization of the economy, it’s fascistization of a people.
And to some extent, there’s a large number of that, 74 million, certainly not all of them, and I buy that a lot of that 74 million were driven by either by kind of a religious belief, which I don’t think you can call fascist, although some of it may be, economic alienation, and disenfranchisement and so on, but there seems to be a fairly significant section of people that you could say are fascistized, and that’s something else the left doesn’t seem to want to talk about too much.
I think you’re absolutely right about that and I might add with direct parallels, some of the same socioeconomic base in a lot of ways there’s a surprising, I don’t know, desire is the word, a theme among a lot of left analysts and commentators that I’ve spoken to over the last few years, there’s this desire to see the Trump base as proletariat, as working-class, and the socioeconomic data, the profile in the survey data completely contradicts this.
In many ways, it’s the same basis as classic German fascism. Sort of nibbling, economically insecure sometimes, but not particularly poor, not especially proletarian, petty-bourgeoise. A lot of folks conflate not having a college degree with being in the working-class, and it’s a false conflation.
Yeah, I don’t know who came up with that one because lots of workers have college degrees. Right, that’s too true.
That’s true. I’ve worked in factories with a PhD.
There’s all kinds of different workers with college degrees these days, and when they do this supposed-class analysis of who voted for Trump, anybody with a college degree is not in the working-class, which is a real false premise.
There’s also a false conflation of region with class. So there’s all this data that shows the Trump voters come from some of the poorest low GDP counties of America, which is largely true, but they also tend to be relatively affluent, well-off people within low-income counties and census tracts and all of that. Economic grievances is not the fundamental or particularly main theme in the survey data on who the Trump base was in 2016 and 2020. The defining characteristics of what’s driven the Trump base are a toxic combination of authoritarianism. The desire for a strong leader with white nationalism.
It emerged in this way. The role of the strong leader that they desired, that they thought was Trump, maybe it won’t be. We’re kind of wondering who the next one will be. Unless it possibly could be Trump again in 2024. A strong leader’s job is to roll back the power of the evil liberal conflated with left intelligentsia, professional class, and sometimes corporate elite, which is falsely accused of having opened the door to let the supposedly inferior lazy criminal people of color, quote-unquote cut in line in front of the virtuous Americana of Trump involved, the white folks, the real citizens, the real Americans, the people who really make America great.
You hear it from some left analysts, including some big names and I don’t want to name names, but it’s not fascism because it’s not full state-capitalist corporatism with a maximal leader atop a single-party state telling the business class what to do. As if the Nazis in the early nineteen-thirties were running around screaming, Let’s build a corporatist state-capitalist economy, let’s build a militarized corporate.
No, they ran around screaming about the international Jewish conspiracy and they linked it in their minds with the international communist conspiracy and they merged them together in their great evil, which was Judeo Bolshevism a very racialized ideology. It was not people sitting around reading Mussolini’s theoretical discourses on the corporate state. No, they were screaming against Judeo Bolshevism and kicking the crap out of people and killing people and torturing people on the basis of white nationalism, and that’s one of the really strong parallels, and it’s something that a lot of the Marxists I know are just missing.
They’re insisting on a fully consolidated political-economic regime in which the military was on board and the business class understood that the maximal leader told them what to produce, where to produce model. We’re not talking about a fully consolidated regime. Trump did make some sloppy kinds of efforts to tell the business class what to do early on.
You remember the carrier plant and all that kind of stuff, but no, that didn’t happen. In an American version of fascism. This is the neoliberal era and this is the United States where the corporate sector rose and became powerful before central state ever did. We probably have an American neoliberal era version of a kind of fascism that would be distinctive, would be distinctively American, would be distinctive to this era. People who are looking for an exact replica of Italian, German, and even Japanese fascism are just… They’re stuck in the past. They need to do a Buddhist meditation seminar on understanding fascism in the present.
Well, Spanish and Portuguese fascism was different than Italian and German fascism. I was just reading recently that the Portuguese actually didn’t go after the Jews, in fact, they even gave refuge to some of the Jews.
It’s totally missing in these discussions, too, is the Third World fascism that the United States sponsored for many years? I mean, how about Duvalier? How about Trujillo in the Dominican Republic and Duvalier in Haiti and Marcos in Philipines.
Or Saudi Arabia today?
Well, that’s petro. That’s international petro-fascism right, and of course, Pinochet and the dictatorship in Argentina.
I think the roots of this are we have to go back to like there’s this basic thing with capitalism in crisis. It either opens the door called police state, massive coercion, clamp down, repress the working-class or door number two Rooseveltian New Deal, some form of social democracy, and in the 30s, Roosevelt and the preponderance of the elites in the final analysis, and because of the mass rising organization and unions and such, they opened New Deal door, but right after World War two, there’s no longer any need for this New Deal compromise anymore, and you start to have the undoing of the New Deal and you also start to have these forces of now it’s time to crack down on the American working-class and it’s time to really take advantage of the fact that we’re the big superpower abroad and why should we share the plunder with the workers anymore?
So I think to a large extent you have the Cold War, McCarthyism, which is if you want authoritarianism, and kind of reign of terror against the left, but then the big change I think takes place is with the rise of Reagan, and I’m doing these interviews right now with the guy, Matt Tyrnauer, who directed the series The Reagans for Showtime, and there’s very little difference in the messaging and politics and even policy of Reagan from Trump. It’s almost like Trump to a large extent is a copy of Reaganism.
So if you want to this idea of fascism it has to be seen as a process, it’s not like overnight, maybe overnight in some situations you get a fascist party, takes power, and asserts itself.
Right the Reichstag Fire.
Yeah, but more it’s a process taking place over decades, which I think has been going on in the United States, and then every so often you get like a malignant tumor that pops up and that gives us Trump, but this process of fascistization is part of the concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands.
I think the word process is really critical here. In other words, it’s worth using this continuum. A lot of folks that are into fascism denial on the left are into this black and white, all-or-nothing kind of thing. There’s this one particular moment, and the maximal dictator and his thugs take, over and then it’s fascist. That’s not how it’s going to work in the United States. It’s interesting you mention the Reagan era, because at some point in the mid, late 80s, Bertram Gross wrote a really interesting long volume called Friendly Fascism, which was a depiction of exactly what you’re talking about.
And of course, that’s really the escalation of the war on the American labor movement. It’s one of the most underestimated factors that are just almost forgotten and rarely gets mentioned in terms of the rightward drift of American politics, is the decimation of unions.
I think we were still at union density of probably like twenty-five percent or thereabouts before Reagan comes in. We’re down to less than ten percent. It’s just nothing anymore of that kind of countervailing power for the working-class. Now, one thing that you hear a lot in fascism deniers on the left, and I’ve got this a lot, is that you don’t get any fascism until there’s a radical revolutionary left, a great radical working-class movement that needs to be crushed like the Mussolini Blackshirts, the Hitler brownshirts crushing the German communists and socialists in the early 30s, and there are two things wrong with that.
The first thing that’s wrong with that narrative that you can’t have fascism unless there is this great big radical revolutionary left is it unjustly downplays the racial and ethnic and ethnocultural aspects of fascism. The racism. The Nazi’s antisemitism is absolutely critical to the rise of the greatest, worst classic fascist state of all time. The nativism and the anti-urban, the anti-black racism, is critical to the Trump phenomena.
But the second thing that’s wrong with that is actually much of the Trump base has been led to believe that there is, in fact, a great big left revolutionary socialist threat in this country. This is a message. It’s a paranoid style neo-John Bircher, neo-McCarthyite message. It has been getting beaten into their heads on right-wing talk radio, on Breitbart, on Fox News, and from the rhetoric of far-right white nationalist politicians forever. And on an escalating pace, really since the nineteen nineties. Barack Obama was called a Marxist Leninist again and again by Glenn Beck, by Rush Limbaugh, by all these lunatics. I mean, the Trump rhetoric this last year, people just became numb to it. It received very little attention. It’s a really key part of the fascist playbook to call everybody socialist all the time. It’s like here I am. I’m a Marxist historian and commentator. I’m like, gee, I wish politicians would be accused of being socialism.
Joe Biden is the Trojan horse of socialism. Trumpies said that. I think Trump said this. So people think that. Furthermore, giving some credibility to this kind of paranoid mindset, there’s a Jewish guy from Brooklyn, he’s a senator in Vermont who called himself – I think inaccurately, actually – I think he’s kind of a social Democrat at most, but called himself a socialist, came damn close to winning a major party presidential nomination in two election cycles.
You do have a lot of young people who are sick and fed up with neoliberal capitalism and supported Bernie Sanders and say nice things about socialism and you get a remarkable, historically unprecedented in terms of numbers, uprising called the George Floyd rebellion this summer, which got pretty militant for a while there. So you could see how they think that. You could see how much of the Trump base can be led to believe that, and I think their belief is enough.
There’s an argument on the left, which is maybe even more popular than the one you were describing, which is that the Democrats are as much part of this fascistization as the Republicans are, and if you focus so much on Trump as the fascist, you’re diminishing the role or responsibility of the corporate Democrats.
Well, it’s funny, I’ve even had to get that lecture, despite the fact that my latest book is called Hollow Resistance Trump, Obama and the Politics of Impeachment. The book is a continuation of my relentless left criticism of Barack Obama, and one of the core criticisms that I have of him and his other corporate Democrats is that they are appeasers of American neofascism. It’s kind of a false dichotomy. You either have to criticize the Democrats or you have to criticize the Republicans, and if you’re criticizing the Republicans you’re giving the Democrats a free pass.
I mean, for me, as a dedicated American anti-imperialist public enemy number one is always the President of the United States. I did not hear these people deflecting when Obama was deflecting all the time to George W. Bush.
What do you mean by that?
Well, I have heard so many leftists during the Trump years just instantly respond to criticism of Trump with whataboutism to Obama.
They just think deflect from the criticism of Trump to Obama. Well, Obama put kids in cages, but Obama.. Obama did terrible things. I’ve written about them. Yet when Obama was in power he didn’t deflect to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, to George W. Bush’s torture. There’s something going on where it’s like you prove your chops that you’re a leftist by directing all your criticism at the liberals and at the Democrats.
I think it’s a two-party system and if you’re a radical left analyst, you go after both of them. To say that they’re the same it’s just absurd. It’s just absurd. Biden’s in there now, and there’s actually some efforts to have a mask mandate and to get vaccines out there and to take the pandemic seriously. For the previous year, we had a guy in there who a social Darwinist who probably likes the fact that the pandemic is disproportionately wiping out people of color, the infirm, and the poor.
I mean, imagine AOC, Ilhan Omar, and Bernie Sanders being affiliated with running through the Republican Party. You can’t. Imagine Marjorie Taylor Green or whatever the heck her name is, the QAnon congresswoman from Georgia being in the Democratic Party.
You can’t. The regions are different. There are all kinds of differences. They’re not the same party. The Democrats, I think, for decades have been complicit in and participatory in undermining social, institutional, structural complex in America that could be called, in many ways, fascism equivalent – military-industrial complex, prison-industrial complex. In the cities, the mass arrests and mass incarceration system, the kind of blue system of fascism, the hyper segregation and the hyper class inequality in Chicago, in Detroit and Los Angeles, you name it.
That’s right, but incidentally, this is stuff that Carl Boggs talks about in his book, Fascism Old and New – a wonderful political sociologist named Carl Bogg. Democrats are deeply complicit institutionally in the warfare state, in the mass incarceration state. They haven’t crossed over into the Jason Stanley realm of the politics of the political playbook. They’re not white nationalists. They would not try to overthrow elections. They would not reject constitutional rule of law. They would not send their backers into the halls of Congress to physically perhaps assassinate leaders of the other party if they lost an election.
Right. They do what Obama did and what Hillary did in in late 2016. They would dutifully you know what Al Gore did in 2000. He literally had an election stolen from him. They value the continuity of those basic electoral and constitutional institutions. GOP now has crossed over into a kind of radical space, a radical space where there’s a sense of crisis in that the institutions don’t work, and there’s a big section of the party that’s ready to break. They’re ready to break these institutions.
There are some forces on the left that underestimate the importance of formal democracy and that there is still some. The fact that there is still a system of courts. I’m not so sure if you’re poor and black, whether there is still due process, but there is some due process for people that are black, but not poor. I lived in Baltimore for a few years and there’s not a hell of a lot of due process when you’re poor and black, but if you’re relatively working-class and black and you can afford a lawyer, there’s still some due process. That formal democracy is still worth something. It’s not real democracy the way we think of because there are no economic rights and there’s unequal formal democracy.
The more lawyering you could buy, the more democracy, the more due process you can buy, but it’s still something. It’s not police state stuff, and I think some people on the left, they don’t take into account that formal democracy, to a large extent, exists not only but to a large extent because people have fought for it, and when there have been attempts to erode it, people have pushed back on that. To minimize that within the Democratic Party right now and the corporate Democrats, there is still more support for that kind of due process and formal democracy than there is in the Republicans.
And listening to Trump, he would I mean, really, if Trump had won a second term, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he would have rounded up these leftists that he blames everything on. Gerald Horne, the historian, cracked a joke. Maybe if Trump wins, we’ll all be meeting in Yankee Stadium someday. The way the Chilean.
Pinochet yeah, but let me ask another question, though.
Well, I think that’s such a good point. A lot of the leftists who dismiss the significance of all of this, they really might not have enjoyed what a second Trump term would have been like. I mean, some of the things that Trump was saying about wanting to go after the university, which is absolutely incredible. What would it have been like to try and be a Marxist or some other kind of left history teacher or political scientist in 2022 or 2026?
It’s not very nice right now. I think you’re right now. I mean, those of us on the left and I’m very seriously on the left, think that this formal constitutional democracy in Canada, England, and certainly the United States is insufficient and that when you scratch down under the surface of it, it is painfully and tragically captive and subject to an unelected dictatorship of capital and empire and it’s interrelated. We get that and we want to go beyond that.
The problem is when you have an authoritarian, white nationalist, or even fascist regime in one or more branches of the United States government, you can just forget about carrying that critique and carrying that struggle and building those movements forward ever again.
Then it’s all over. It just makes it worse, and then you’re just digging out of a deeper hole. And I noticed people on the left, they hate the Democrats. I get that. I’ve been critical of the Democrats since I was in fourth grade. One of the sick things that having really right-wing governments in the White House and in power in Washington and in state government does is it has this nasty knack of turning everything then into a get out the vote program to get the Democrats in.
It’s better to have them in and then you see that life still sucks when they’re in and then you build movements. That’s kind of how the New Left happened in the 1960s. It’s kind of How Occupy happened. It’s a little bit how Black Lives Matter got started and Fight for 15 got started under Obama. It’s better to have the Democrats in various ways. You want to stop climate change, you want to stop nuclear proliferation, you want to stop all the existential menaces that we on the left are against.
You’re going to have less chance of being able to do anything on that when you have someone like Trump in the White House. We have some breathing space now. Joe Biden is a problem. I have all kinds of problems with Joe Biden, but I don’t feel like Joe Biden is about to inspire some white nationalist to come around a corner and shoot me in the head. I mean, we do have some breathing space here that perhaps we can work on. It’s important.
And I think it’s important in this issue of demonizing the Democratic Party and I would add demonizing even the Republican Party in a sense that the problem is the whole system of ownership in the country. When you have a handful of people owning the majority of the wealth of the country, and because of that, they have the dominant control of the politics. It’s that system that’s the problem. These parties are the front of the people that own stuff. There is even a difference between the different sections of people that own stuff. The Robert Mercers and the Sheldon Adelsons that helped elect Trump are different than some of the billionaires that support the Democratic Party. None of this stuff is monolithic, and we need to understand the fracturing and take advantage of the fracturing, and we can’t get so focused on the parties and forget what’s at the level of the system, how the system works. That’s said, for example, there’s a structural issue about the Democratic Party. It depends on its votes in the big cities and the big cities are more progressive. The Republican Party is now built in alliance, primarily in rural America.
Honestly, less educated America and sections of wealthier America where people just don’t want to pay taxes. You have in the Democratic Party an alliance between sections of Wall Street and sections of urban working-class, some of which is unionized, and the Republican Party, you have an alliance between sections of finance, sections of corporate America, especially in the fossil fuel industry, and military-industrial complex, and sections of the working-class that are more rural, that are less educated and more religious.
So we got to understand this thing as a system that works, but as the river of the system moves forward, all of which is a process we would both call is in the process of fascistization, I think because it has to do with how finance is becoming more parasitical and degenerating, you get these little eruptions, like a boil or a tumor or a little volcano of real overt fascism, and if you don’t take a stand and squashed those things, even to some extent in alliance with these liberals, we will wind up with overt fascism.
Yeah, I think so. I would add to that something that very rarely gets talked about, too, we do have obviously what you’re talking about is capitalism and neoliberalism and corporate and financial parasitism and that structure. One thing that is sort of almost gets kicked to the curb because I think people throw their hands up and they don’t know what to do about it.
It’s just kind of like this. It’s not even worth talking about. We also have this remarkable overrepresentation, structurally and institutionally, in our political system, of those most reactionary, whiter, more rural parts of the country in the American political system, and I think this must be more so than any other advanced, quote-unquote, democratic capitalist country in the world.
I mean, I don’t know how Canadian or British or German politics are structured. In the United States, there are two senators for every state in this very powerful upper body of Congress, totally regardless of population size. California has 40 million people, two senators, liberal, multicultural, California. Wyoming, very white, very right-wing, has what five hundred seventy-five thousand people have two senators. The Senate right now is 50-50 between these two parties and the Democratic senators represent forty-two million more Americans than the Republicans do.
The Electoral College is badly tilted to the right. The congressional districts and most of the state legislative districts are badly gerrymandered to the right. We have these bizarre institutions that go back literally to the horse and buggy era, to the 18th century, to this unjustly venerated charter called the U.S. Constitution, drafted for and by slave owners and merchant capitalists for whom literally democracy was the ultimate nightmare and much to be avoided, and they devised a system brilliantly device to keep it at bay.
No one talks about this, and I don’t know how we get out of this mess until we start taking a serious look at the structuring of our politics. The absurdities are just endless. The filibuster, lifetime appointment, and full judicial review power for the federal judiciary, it just goes on and on. So the country didn’t really go fascist. Trump got twenty-five percent of the adults to vote for him in 2016 and shockingly enough, twenty-nine percent of the adults in the country to vote for him. This time came dangerously close to winning, and yet our policy is far to the right of public opinion.
So it makes it. That’s part of why one of the parties, a major party, is going significantly fascistic. It’s so more menacing than it really ought to be if we were a democracy and we’re formally not a democracy we’re a republic and a relatively oligarchic one at that.
You use this term, we’re getting near the end so I want to get to this. Use this term “Trumpian left”. What do you mean by that?
Oh, the Trump left, the people that get their undies all tied up in the bunch at the mere mention of the phrase fascism. They’re the people who automatically have deflected from Trump to Obama during the Trump years. I’ve heard this again and again the people who say that there are no differences at all between the parties are the people who give you the lectures that you don’t need about how the Democratic Party is corporate and imperialist.
When you make the argument that you just made that it matters to have the least of the non-fascist party in power. It’s just hilarious. My experience during the Trump years with a lot of people who were drawn to my writing has been sort of darkly disturbing and yet darkly amusing at the same time because I have this reputation in this publication record of going after the Democrats, and so I gathered all these people to me and then they were so astonished, and angry at me once Trump was coming and during the Trump presidency that I was calling it fascist and didn’t want to hear that. They say things like, no, it’s a populist uprising of the working-class. There’s all this language, what I call the Trumpian left, about the need to listen to and even in some cases align with the Trump base. It’s what I call the red-brown mythology. This is associated with the writings of Caitlin Johnstone, who became this big thing on the left, this guy, Ajamu Baraka, who ran as the Green Party vice presidential candidate in 2016 is talking about this a lot if you look at his online writings, that we got to reach out to these people and those of us on the left and in organizations like Refuse Fascism in the United States have been very resistant to this narrative.
What’s wrong with reaching out?
First of all, the notion that it’s required, it’s not particularly required. This is not that huge a percentage of the population to reach out means compromising some of the basic left principles, often on this false notion that these Trumpies, neo-fascist Trump supporters are proletarian when they’re really not, they’re petty-bourgeois. They’re deeply racist. They’re often deeply sexist. They’re often deeply evangelical. Do not believe in science.
They’re not the type of people that you’re going to find a lot of common ground and you actually don’t existentially have to. What you really have to do is remobilize the lower and working-class minority populations who’ve been demobilized by the Obama Clinton tendency in the Democratic Party. That’s the problem. I mean, that’s how Trump got in the first place in 2016. Trump didn’t win the working-class vote. The Democrats lost the working-class. They’d demobilized.
They didn’t steal our base. They didn’t steal the left’s base. The Democratic Party demobilized its own base and opened the barn to these people. Then they had a champion, a fascist champion that they’re now building upon going forward.
Hang on here. When you’re talking about not reaching out, I’m not sure what you mean, because that 74 million people that voted for Trump, first of all, a significant section of them previously had voted for Obama, and it’s a real mix of people. I know there’s a lot of people that just don’t want to pay taxes. There’s a lot of poor people in rural America who just feel so alienated they don’t know where else to go, and some of them go into religion, but even in the evangelical world, at least twenty to twenty-five percent of evangelicals did not vote for Trump. They voted for Biden and previously voted for Obama. I think it’s a big mistake to write off whole sections of America. Yeah, there is a real core there that’s really racist and fascist. They weren’t born that way, but the way they’ve been brought up, and whatever culture they were brought up, they may be beyond talking to, but that certainly doesn’t represent, I don’t think, even anywhere near the majority of the people that voted for Trump.
There has to be a political coalition in this country and a movement beneath and beyond just the election cycle, but working insofar as at all possible through elections to get through the kinds of policies and even more that Bernie Sanders was talking about. We need to rebuild the labor movement in this country. No one ever talks about card check the Employee Free Choice Act anymore. We need to relegalize union organizing in this country. We need massive green jobs programs, both to give people a decent, livable wage jobs and, by the way, to save life on the planet, in so far as that is still a realistic objective.
One of the great twofers in the world of policy if not a threefer is the Green New Deal. We need to build up and advance green job programs and really legalize union organizing and double shit, I’d say triple the federal minimum wage. These are the tangible kinds of programs that I think will pull those real life material and social benefits for whatever portion of the Trump constituency that is accessible to us for building a humane and decent and democratic society.
Sure we should talk to anybody who’s. I don’t want to go on a hate trip about the Trump base. That’s right. There are much of them that are unreachable. I’ve spoken to many folks who are just gone. They are in an alternative reality, but maybe some aren’t.
And I think part of it is and this is a fault of education and media. This chat I had with Henry Giroux the other day. We kind of got into this. And it’s not only the Trumpian base, but they’re more affected by what I’m about to say.
There’s no sense of what the real history of this country is, especially even the post-World War Two history. The narrative of the Cold War creates such a foundational base. From which Reaganism arose, from which Trumpism arose, I shouldn’t forget about George Bush and the Iraq war either. People’s sense of what the history of the country is is so false.
I met a guy. He was a fireman at 9/11, and he was the chief of one of the fire departments that had to go to deal with the buildings, and his son was a fireman, and he was a lifelong Democrat, this guy. His son went up the buildings and didn’t come down, and he was so furious that he started Democrats for Bush later, and he said, you rally around your president at a time when the country is under attack, and so on.
And I talked to him and I talked to him about I made a film in Afghanistan. I know the situation there to some extent, and I talked to him about did he know the role of the CIA in inviting bin Laden to Afghanistan. In the way al-Qaida got created out, essentially nurtured by the Pakistani intelligence, and so on the rise of the Taliban in the chaos of Afghanistan after deliberate U.S. policy of undermining the Afghan government and so on and so on.
He knew nothing of it. His jaw was on the ground and he said, I don’t know what to say. You’ve just, like, shaken everything I ever believed in. Most of the people have no sense of any basic historical facts. I think it’s one of the things we have to do as progressives, and this is not just, this is to everybody, but especially the people that are so influenced by the Trump type of stuff or Reagan’s stuff. There’s a great phrase called, at times when the empires are dissolving, people lose their ideological moorings, and we’re in that period. It’s just so important now to try to give people some sense of what the real history is because otherwise you can’t have a rational conversation.
I think we drastically underestimate I’ve seen this over the years, how much really good history could be taught before kids get to college. You talk to historians. Here’s something that I don’t know that you hear in any other academic profession, and that is we start with nothing in high school, almost nothing. In fact, you don’t hear that from English professors.
You don’t that from math professors. You don’t hear that from science professors. Literally nothing. In fact, you often hear we have to not only start with nothing, we have to undo a school history. American high school history, junior high school history, famously taught by the hockey coach, the football coach, and they are often sort of a right-wing person, but I taught for years at Northern Illinois University, which is sixty miles west of Chicago, and there was a strange experience.
Every once in a while you had a kid who was completely ready to take an honest and serious look at American history and even to some extent already had because they’d come out of St. Charles High School and they’d had Joey Wegward and Joe Wegard had assigned the very readable People’s History of the United States to juniors and seniors in high school. Now, he caught hell from some Republican parents and Parents Teachers Associations. I knew Joe Wegward.
There’s also a high school district in the south suburbs that was very good and had one of these people. Kids take calculus, they take physics, they take some pretty intellectually demanding classes in high school. They could sure as hell read the People’s History of the United States. There’s a lot of stuff they could handle and we need to do a better job of teaching American history. And Burns isn’t doing the job.
And the other thing I think we need to do is embolden the teachers. My kids, I have little kids, and they went to elementary school in Baltimore. They went to elementary school in Brooklyn. And in both places, I talked to the teachers and I said, I don’t want my kids forced to stand up and do the Pledge of Allegiance. I said, I think it’s awful, and I started to explain why and the teachers agreed with me.
They said I won’t make them stand. I agree with you. There’s no place for the pledge in the classroom. Teachers can really be important in this.
That was in Baltimore or Brooklyn?
Yeah. That can happen in an urban school district.
Well, that’s one of the big reasons why we have the big urban-rural split and urban schools. You’re right. You can have these kinds of conversations and kids growing up in rural schools where religion and patriotism are the same thing. No wonder they grow up believing what they believe. And I don’t want to generalize. There are a lot of smart people living in rural America who get it just as much as urban populations do, but they don’t seem to be in the majority.
Oh, you should see the experience of trying to teach the history of the Civil War to a kid who went to high school in Alabama. My kid went to a high school in Alabama. They’re just gobsmacked. Really it was about slavery. Literally the line is that it was, the southern cause was a virtuous states’ right rebellion against a totalitarian central government led by Marxist Leninists atheists.
Well, I just read a quote from Lincoln that could have been right out of Marx where he says, labor comes before capital. Wealth is created by labor, then capital comes. That’s right out of Kapital.
Well, Abe Lincoln was an articulator of a free labor ideology at the time that was quite critical of European and Southern class hierarchy and placed a strong emphasis on labor. “Free soil, free labor, free men.” That was the slogan of the Republican Party.
Anyway, this was a good chat. It’s just the beginning. We’ll do this again soon. Thanks a lot, Paul.
OK, very good.
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