As I watched the coronavirus pandemic spread globally and the resulting global economic crisis my only thoughts were that Trump would run his re-election campaign based on divide and rule and trying to create a white-backlash, writes Susan Pashkoff. This piece was originally published by Socialist Resistance.
27 July 2020
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While granting the peculiarities of some of the far-right in the US in their abhorrence of the idea of a central government; there is as much need to debunk the idea of far-left fascism as there is to debunk the existence of unicorns that fart rainbows.
Unfortunately, there was little else left for Trump to run his campaign on and to keep 'his base' happy; his use of racist dog-whistles throughout his initial candidacy for President and throughout his Presidency were constant. In many situations, the dog whistles were jettisoned for clear unabashed racism. With all other avenues rapidly closing, the racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia that have characterised his political life are the only thing he has left in his toolbox that he can use to try to win re-election.
One of their political weapons is 'Cancel Culture' – driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and our values, and it has absolutely no place in the United States of America. This attack on our liberty, our magnificent liberty, must be stopped, and it will be stopped very quickly. We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation’s children, end this radical assault, and preserve our beloved American way of life.
In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished. It’s not going to happen to us. This left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution. In so doing, they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress. Donald Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore; 4th of July 2020
Whilst he also absurdly still has been touting his amazing handling of the pandemic (he has saved millions of lives in his mind), he and his sycophants are the only people that may believe that; even worse his idiotic insistence of trying to make wearing masks part of a political struggle against the evil forces trying to bring down the great American democracy (and both he and his supporters complete lack of understanding of their constitutional rights – no offense but there is a notion of social responsibility built into the Bill of Rights) has enabled a virus whose only raison d’être is to find host bodies to keep on spreading.
Trump’s other fantasy that the global economic crisis would be rapidly overcome (that famous v-shaped curve where we bounce right back) if only the economy was allowed to re-open is yet another pipe dream which is rapidly collapsing in the face of the further spread of the virus brought on by far too early opening of the economy in many states.
The protest movement of 'really good people who were just angry' who opposed wearing masks and protested with neither masks nor social distancing (but of course they were armed with various types of weaponry) was not only encouraged by Trump, but they also were used to pressurise democratic governors who were opposed to opening up the economy for fears of spreading the pandemic.
Making wearing masks a form of political protest essentially served his agenda of trying to get the various state economies opened up in the hope of perhaps an amazing revival of his political fortunes. The irresponsibility of some state governors and officials who have happily marched in line with Trump has not only endangered the people that actually reside in the states they 'govern;' given that the phrase 'shelter at home' seems to be beyond the ken of many people it has also meant that community spread has crossed into other states as well. It seems that some basic lessons have still not been learned and rather than worry about a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in the autumn we are now facing the reality of the first wave continuing to slam its way through the US.
Trump is not just some cynical politician trying to whip up racism as a divide and rule tactic; Trump is a racist and that has both created and, is maintaining, an incredibly dangerous situation in the US. From his early days of his comments calling for the execution of the Central Park 5 in a rape case to his demands to see President Obama’s birth certificate, he has clearly gone beyond racist dog-whistles favoured by many mainstream politicians trying to create divisions. These are clear racist positions with strong undertones – including the idea that blacks are violent rapists and that Obama could not have been born in the US as he has a Muslim name (and hence he cannot be an American – it was not only that he could not be President if born outside of the US), this was beyond that trying to create an idea of a white supremacist America where black Americans cannot be President.
Moreover, Trump is part of a global revival of the far right that is happening around the world; so unfortunately Trump has a lot of company spreading hatred and division. He is a great fan of right-wing and religious nationalists and authoritarian right-wing leaders – from Modi (India) to Duerte (Philippines), from Bolsonaro (Brazil), Orbán (Hungary), Duda (Poland) and Netanyahu (Israel); his allies include those in power and those who share his ideology (e.g., Farage and Salvini).
His hatred of the 'other' which underlies his racism is perhaps the only form of equality he favours, often comparing those he considers 'others' to rats and vermin. In his first Presidential campaign and during his presidency he has accused Mexicans of being rapists (that is a favourite of white supremacists) and criminals, he has tried to ban people coming to the US from Muslim majority countries, he has attacked both immigrants and migrants as vermin and tried to prevent their coming to the US — his administration has separated children from their parents — this is despite international obligations towards refugees (and the US historical and current role in making their countries unsafe in the first place). Being born in the US does not protect you from Trump’s attacks. This is because if you do not fit into his narrow idea of what a 'good' American is then you are fair game; Native Americans, Blacks, Latinx, Muslims and Jews have all been the subjects of his tirades.
The rapid responses to antisemitic and other racists attacks was a wonderful demonstration of solidarity across religions, cultures, and ethnicities and the defense of refugees and migrants under threat has threatened Trump’s attacks on the oppressed; there is nothing more frightening to right-wing racists than solidarity between people. Not all of these people are on the left by any means; many of them are people that oppose divide and rule and actually support the elimination of oppression as part of the tenets of their religions and ethical beliefs – they believe that the actions of the US should actually match its ideology.
The Revival of the Left
The revival of the American left preceded Donald Trump by several years, think of the Occupy movement and the first BLM protests; but when those occupations folded the left did not disappear. The global ecological crisis united young people around the world (and while much of that is apolitical; the powerful fossil fuel industry correctly views that movement as a threat). BLM and M4BL have been organising at the grass-roots level from 2014 and have done an amazing job building the anti-racist movement – their reach extends beyond communities as well and has produced a fantastic amount of educational and political literature. The prison abolition movement has also been incredibly influential for BLM – it is from the abolition movement that calls for defund, disband, and dismantle the police arise; 'criminal justice' policies of punitive justice and incarceration in which racial profiling, police brutality and militarisation of police departments in which disproportionately large numbers of black people have become the victims of the school to prison pipeline. Black Lives Matter protests have spread across the country and internationally and have been continuing since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis MN.
But, in many senses Trump’s actions while in office have furthered the rise of the left; it has not come out of nowhere and oppressed minorities and younger people have responded to a rising right-wing threat both in the US (and internationally). This has led to the recent focus on the left to his list of un-American Americans who are threatening to undermine American democracy.
Trump has form against the left; his insistence in his comment on the protests at Charlottesville that 'there are many fine people on both sides' was not only a defense of fascists and white supremacists; it was an equation between them and anti-fascist (antifa) protesters. This theme of 'very fine people' describing fascists and far-right protesters was also used to defend the armed anti-mask protesters in several states in the US run by Democratic governors. Several times at his campaign stops he has attempted to place the left as those responsible for the BLM protests and the attack against American values. What is underlying these statements is what is important; a Black-led movement fighting against systemic racism with support of allies has been 'hijacked by the left.'
This is important as it assumes that young people of all ethnicities cannot work to transform the societies we live in because they actually believe that white supremacy and the criminal justice is systemically racist on their own; no, it is because left-wing infiltrators have subverted or are behind this movement. This denies the agency of people in this movement and is essentially fundamentally racist. This places (or revives) the idea that the left itself is not of American society they are 'other' (while, of course, the far right and fascists are good Americans). His attacks against anti-racists and anti-fascists have enabled and given succour to both rising fascist and white supremacist movements in the US. When Trump talks about the 'glories of American history' and that he will protect and preserve it; what he is actually referring to is American white supremacy, he is referring to its history of racism: both slavery and genocide.
In his July 4th speech at Mount Rushmore, Trump unleashed a broad attack on the left. We should be grateful that he did not use the favoured fascist phrase Cultural Marxism as the cause behind the threat to our country; but this still underlies much of his comments. The threat against 'our history, our heroes, our values' and let’s not forget the indoctrination of our innocent young people is an almost classic far-right screed and has been the defining basis of attacks by the far-right on the left — read this, if you want, as a two-fold attack: on the one hand, he defines American history as 'sacred' and secondly it accuses anyone holding a position against that as closet Marxists and anarchists and do not forget 'un-Americans.'
This is nothing less than a revival of the cold war 'Red Scares' ideology describing hoards of evil and hidden Marxists combined with the sacredness of 'American history'; this is nothing less than extolling the exceptional eternal history of the US. What is fascinating is that throughout the speech at Mt Rushmore, he discusses the contributions of black Americans to American society and history. The shift in the nature of his campaign is important as he has now put the blame for all the protests on un-American leftists rather than acknowledging that black people (and their allies) have had more than enough of police brutality, police literally getting away with the murder of black people, the disproportionate incarceration of black Americans and the systemic racism that pervades the economic, social and political conditions of the US – instead he is saying that all the BLM protesters all over the US (and internationally for that matter) are dupes of a dangerous (external in the sense of American ideology) left-wing agenda trying the destroy the most exceptional nation on earth.
This is one more trick of divide and rule which he hopes will work by uniting everyone against the evil hidden Marxists and Anarchists — who are of course 'far-left fascists' who are behind the attack on America. While we have long become used to Trump calling opponents what he is (e.g., calling people of colour racists when they criticise him) this one actually makes no sense unless you are living in a country which has no idea of what fascism and fascists are (but knows that they are bad because we fought them in WWII so they must be the bad guys but who knows perhaps they no longer teach that Hitler, Mussolini and Franco were fascists).
Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children. […] Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities. Many of these people have no idea why they are doing this, but some know exactly what they are doing. They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive. But no, the American people are strong and proud, and they will not allow our country, and all of its values, history, and culture, to be taken from them. Donald Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore; 4th of July 2020
He continued this theme at his Salute to America 4th of July speech at the White House and this time not only alludes to a 'cultural revolution' (that’s how we know he didn’t write the speech at Mount Rushmore, it is doubtful he knows what the 'cultural revolution' actually was) but explicitly states that they are 'the radical left, Marxists ,anarchists, agitators' and of course … 'the looters':
We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the Marxists, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and people who, in many instances, have absolutely no clue what they are doing.
In his speeches on the 4th of July, Trump threatened action against the spread of this evil group and its ideology which is trying to destroy America itself. The question that obviously now needs to be asked is who is the biggest threat to American democracy and America itself? In this instance (hopefully), Trump wins by a landslide.
What we are seeing in Portland Oregon where protests have been continuing since the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis police on the 25th of May is the fulfillment of his threat in the speeches on the 4th of July. What we are seeing is in many senses the beginning salvo against the left that Trump promised in both speeches. That these are the actions of a dictator not the President of a country in which freedom of protest and assembly is enshrined in its 'sacred'constitution tells us exactly where the threat to the US is coming from and it is not the anti-racist protesters.
Trump (with the help of temporary secretary of the Dept. of Homeland Security Chad Wolfe and AG Barr) has dispatched several groups of Federal Agents to Portland including Customs and Border Control dispatched from the Mexican Border (who are wearing camouflage with full face coverings and operating without identifying insignia), the Federal Protection Service, the US Marshal service and those wearing uniforms of Homeland Security to ostensibly 'Protect Federal Property' in Portland. Protesters have been attacked with teargas, federal agents are driving unmarked vehicles and protesters have been seized off the street and arrested and held without probable cause and due process, on the 11th July, one protester was wounded in the head by a member of the US Marshal’s service using a less-lethal round (he was critically injured). The reality (and deep concern) that the Portland police are working with the federal agents (and they have already been extremely violent against protesters before the Federal agents entered the picture) is creating additional problems and exacerbating the situation along with violating the civil rights (guaranteed in his beloved constitution) of protesters.
The Governor of Oregon Kate Brown and the Mayor of Portland Ted Wheeler have demanded that the federal officers be removed from Portland (or Wheeler added 'kept inside Federal Buildings'); the Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has said she will file a lawsuit in Federal court against these Federal agencies for violation of the civil rights of Oregonians for detention without probable cause.
Defeating Trump is essential as the threat against our civil rights that we have been waiting for is here; his attempt to revive the accusations of the cold war that the left is a foreign influence on the US is as dangerous as it is fallacious. To defeat Trump and send all the American right-wing (in all its manifestations) back to the caves from which they escaped requires solidarity and unity in the face of this threat – we must stand together to oppose the spread of hate and division. Only solidarity can stop this threat! We have now reached the point where sitting on the fence hoping that the nightmare just disappears simply means that you have abandoned everyone facing repression and fighting against oppression to fight their own battles while denying that it is also your battle. Silence is complicity!
Susan Pashkoff writes for Socialist Resistance.