My 350 on Donald Trump: learning from Orwell

"One option is to dismiss Trump’s win as irrational. This, we should remember, is how many on the left responded to the rise of inter-war fascism in Europe."

Harry Blain
15 November 2016

“In order to combat Fascism it is necessary to understand it”

Fascism is back in our political vocabulary – and for good reason. The incoming US President ticks many of the boxes: a pledge to cleanse and restore the country to its former glory, ideological inconsistency which borrows from Left and Right, and a dangerous flirtation with the forces of White supremacy. Although Trump does not seem to have the same appetite for military expansion as Europe’s inter-war fascists (a problem for neo-conservatives), his movement resembles theirs enough to make many Americans justifiably terrified.

The question is how to respond. One option is to dismiss Trump’s win as an eruption of racist and sexist irrationality. As Paul Krugman puts it, “If you’re tempted to concede that the alt-right’s vision of the world might have some truth to it, don’t. Lies are lies.” This, we should remember, is how many on the left responded to the rise of inter-war fascism in Europe: it was not, they argued, a genuinely popular movement – how could it be? – but instead it was “written off as a manoeuvre of the 'ruling class'.”

George Orwell, who physically fought fascism in Spain, sympathised with this view. For him, fascism “in practice” was “merely an infamous tyranny”: “its methods of attaining and holding power are such that even its most ardent apologists prefer to talk about something else.” “But”, he wrote in the Road to Wigan Pier, “the underlying feeling of fascism, the feeling that first draws people into the fascist camp, may be less contemptible.” Indeed, “Everyone who has given the movement so much as a glance knows that the rank-and-file fascist is often quite a well-meaning person – quite genuinely anxious, for instance, to better the lot of the unemployed.”

This all sounds quite familiar to the millions who voted for Trump despite rather than because of his more abhorrent views and statements. If you want to fight back, heed Orwell’s warning that “It is far worse than useless to write fascism off as 'mass sadism', or some easy phrase of that kind.” Ultimately, “in order to combat Fascism it is necessary to understand it.”

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