The rise of American fascism — and what humour can do to stop it

Fascism in America is not an academic exercise, but a clear and present danger. It must be buried in the graveyard of history. 

Russell Carmony
7 August 2016
S.L. Clemens (Mark Twain). Wikimedia/Library of Congress. Public domain.

S.L. Clemens (Mark Twain). Wikimedia/Library of Congress. Public domain.In a short satirical essay ‘A Presidential Candidate’ published in 1879, Mark Twain concludes his litany of transgressions in a pitch for votes by stating, “but I recommend myself as a safe man — a man who starts from the basis of total depravity and proposes to be fiendish to the last.”

Reading Twain’s essay while immersed in the current political climate in the US, two things leap out. First, the national obsession with personal scandal makes Twain’s essay all the more comic from start to finish. Second, it practically yanks the reader into nostalgic reflection for a time when satire was, well, satire.

The bright side of the modern political circumstance is the funny part – for the past two decades the cultural landscape has experienced a comedic infusion into public discourse on a scale quite possibly unmatched in US history. We may in fact be living in a golden age of American humour. Like it or not the engagement of contemporary humourists in political and social dialogue has become central to the national conversation on essentially every policy matter of import. 
Like it or not the engagement of contemporary humourists in political and social dialogue has become central to the national conversation on essentially every policy matter of import. 
The group of humourists includes, though is certainly not limited to: Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Chris Rock, Conan O’Brien, Larry Wilmore, Sarah Silverman, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers, Jon Stewart, Lena Dunham, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Michael Moore, Louis C.K., Amy Schumer, David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, Dave Barry, Chuck Klosterman, Woody Allen, Seth Rogan, Sarah Jones, the creators and casts of Saturday Night Live, South Park, Broad City, Veep, and The Simpsons.

The voices of contemporary humourists have become vital as the US faces the real and rising spectre of fascism, with the ascendency of Donald Trump as a demagogue and extreme right wing political forces gaining influence and threatening a grasp on actual power. Though unorganised, the community of humourists has created a vanguard against tyranny with a popular voice enunciating an in-depth, while hilarious, analysis of facts. As with any artist, humourists have one social responsibility – to do their work. 

The language of art expands a cosmos compared to the needlepoint dot constituting the barren reductive language of any political regime. The regime always sees art as a threat, and the language of no regime can stand against it. It therefore becomes incumbent to highlight a distinction or a direction in the language of art: as the essential contributions of humourists continue to roll out in broadcasts, essays, and live performances, let’s be clear that the laughter is in the face of fascism, and we are not laughing our way toward it. 

Humourists and satirists have always played a role in American public discourse. The expanse of humour in American life has historically shown the health of the democratic system in its ability to absorb criticism and analysis, even in their most pointed, satiric, sardonic, or absurdist forms, or when cast solely as entertainment. Today’s active humourists are direct descendants of a significant ancestry whose work crossed into civic influence and engagement: Mark Twain, Will Rogers, James Thurber, O. Henry, Dorothy Parker, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, H. L. Mencken, Groucho Marx, Phyllis Diller, George Carlin, Joan Rivers, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Mike Royko, Molly Irvins, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear. When viewed in total and added to the creative output of humourists working in 2016, it amounts to a voluminous body of work and a massive societal influence outside of traditional structures of political power.

It’s not a stretch to claim humourists today have more platforms available than ever before to reach worldwide audiences. Contemporary humourists are significant enough in number and in reach that they have contributed, willingly or not, to filling a journalistic space left open in an era of transformation for the media. This space is created by new technologies, radical transitions in sustainable media business models, and the open appropriation of airwaves, column inches, and content platforms by unabashed propagandists. 

What is being presented here as a proposal for the 2016 election is a modest one. It is the acknowledgement of fascism in the United States, and of a fascist movement currently attempting to seize power. The rise of this ideology in America is not an academic exercise. It is a clear and present danger. As a matter of civic respect the fact of American fascism must be laid bare.

The 'what' of fascism

Benito Mussolini. Wikimedia/anonymous. Public domain.

"Donald Trump matches virtually every aspect of Mussolini’s form, especially as it applies to the nexus of extreme nationalism and traditionalism." Wikimedia/anonymous. Public domain.The founders of the US made it virtually impossible for a dictator to come to power. Having waged a prolonged and bloody revolution against a monarchy, they were well aware of the trappings of power and its foundations of absolutism. The founders directed educated eyes toward history, and civic life was their life. They established a robust system of checks and balances with free speech, separation of church and state, and rule with the consent of the governed in order to keep power proportional through all levels and phases of government. 

While cognisant of sealing off the path toward dictatorship, they were well aware that the system of democracy was not foolproof or without cracks. They knew it could be susceptible to totalitarianism through oligarchy, and a totalitarian grip on power could occur with enough support to work through the fissures. Minorities can rule simply by lack of participation by majorities. 

Fascism was an invention of the early 20th Century, and the first historians to study its rise faced a widely-disbursed and far-reaching political and sociological map of its seed, growth, and realisation. Nearly 100 years after its birth on March 24, 1919, in the Iazza San Sepolcro in Milan, and with numerous deployments from many parts of the world with which to study, a significantly more comprehensive and clear historical picture has formed to employ as a lens when fascism commences to foment.

Historian Robert O. Paxton’s exceptional history The Anatomy of Fascism concludes with a substantive definition of fascism, which fuses the movement’s beginning with Mussolini, travelling up through its various incarnations over the past century. He examined not only what Mussolini and the other fascists in the early 20th Century said, but what in fact they actually did. The two did not always mesh, highlighting the allowance of contradictions within the ideology, and fascism ultimately making no logical sense.

Ten years prior to the publication of The Anatomy of Fascism, Umberto Eco, the revered post-war figure in Italian letters, published his essay on the 14 characteristics of modern fascism. Eco coined modern fascism “Ur-Fascism,” or an “Eternal Fascism.” 

The convergence of Eco’s Ur-Fascism and Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism shows the coalescing view of fascism by scholars and writers over time. We now know what to look for, and that particular snake can be caught before it slimes its way out of the grass.
Fascism is, in the end, a means to totalitarianism. 

The base definition of fascism as an ultra-nationalist, anti-democratic, right-wing form of governance employing intolerance, corporatism, irrational anti-intellectualism, false traditionalism, scapegoating, violence and militarism, led by a demagogue figurehead, has its root in the European expressions of the 1920s. As Paxton and Eco concurred and astutely pointed out in their writings, fascism from the start took on contradictory characteristics, but also adaptability, in order to grapple with local circumstances on the path to power. 

Fascism is, in the end, a means to totalitarianism. Its central organising principle is the manipulation of the uneducated and fearful into a mobilised force, political or otherwise, to gain power. The mobilisation of a populace based on fear, anger, hatred, irrationality and anti-intellectualism is not a political process centring itself on public programs having anything whatsoever to do with the public good. Fascism’s goal is to achieve power and enact totalitarian measures. Its traits and methods have not been exactly the same each time it has arisen.

Umberto Eco. Flickr/Das Blaue Sofa/Club Bertelsmann. Some rights reserved.

Umberto Eco. Flickr/Das Blaue Sofa/Club Bertelsmann. Some rights reserved.As both Paxton and Eco point out, territorial expansion based on violence and militarism was foundational for the first fascists. This argument is all the more important because territorial expansion is no longer restricted to geographical incursions. It can be readily accomplished via predatory economics. Globalisation has laid the groundwork for the oligarchic, white-collar, fraudster, and bankster class to control not only entire countries, but entire regions, especially those which happen to be the poorest or structurally  susceptible to hostile, vulture and criminal capitalists.

Donald Trump matches virtually every aspect of Mussolini’s form, especially as it applies to the nexus of extreme nationalism and traditionalism. A close resemblance across time and place to Mussolini’s Italy of the 1920s and 30s was something Eco considered doubtful. Yet Trump has managed to hold up a mirror to Mussolini’s Italy, albeit in an American context. What’s even more remarkable is how Trump and his followers fall into Eco’s eternal fascism, Ur-Fascism, nearly word for word. What a sad and sorry comment on the current American political condition that Eco’s 14 points can be clipped through with a rapid and razor acuity.

1. Cult of tradition 

Eco begins with the deepest historical roots of pre-rationality, which gives religious belief, even the most esoteric, a foothold in the allowance of contradictions as an organising principle. It holds an anti-rationalist core, rejecting progress in education and intellectual inquiry. It lays the groundwork for the end road of religious thought made manifest in politics – totalitarianism. In the US, the cult of tradition took on its modern push in the 1980s with the religious right moving from essentially living outside of history and actively pressing to take over the Republican Party.

2. Rejection of modernism

Pages could be filled on this point alone — it is the glue with which American fascism cements itself. The far right in the US has long been opposed to both the arts and science. The most profound expression of this is the astonishing denial of climate change, which has become the official position of the Republican Party — the only major political party in the developed world to hold such a delusional position.

The decades long hostility and opposition to the arts via the commencement of culture wars and to scientific research with sustained attempts to cut anything and everything outside of the military have been central points of focus. The mass gutting of educational investment on a national level as an offset to serve the needs of the oligarchy and corporatism has left crumbling infrastructure and an educated class a trillion dollars in debt. The most current degenerate examples are on full, disastrous display in Kansas and Louisiana.

The summation of thought across the social and political spectrum on the political right in the US is a pre-Renaissance, pre-Enlightenment system of thought firmly planting itself in rock solid accordance with medieval superstition under the auspices of monarchial authoritarianism. 

3. Irrationalism and the cult of action for action’s sake

Irrationalism is the river extending from pre-Enlightenment thought and the core of anti-intellectual expression. Eco wrote of the fascist, “thinking is a form of emasculation.” Here it’s possible to insert the effects of the rise of ‘conservative’ media over the past 20 years: the insistence on conspiracy, propaganda, delusion, fake controversy, and what the right likes to call ‘an alternative set of facts’ – something that does not exist. It is the perfect example of action for action’s sake – conservative media outlets are neither intended nor constructed to report the news as it pertains to the presentation of facts, but to enact media business plans designed to prey on the ignorant in order to make money. Again, see the sustained attack against the greatest threats to irrationalism – education, arts and science.

4. The inability to withstand analytical criticism 

Facts are stubborn things, begins the famous quote by John Adams. The ability to separate nonsense from fact, and the ability to make distinctions are some of the truest markers of modernism and scientific reasoning – direct enemies of fascism. File under weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Trump’s serial lying.

5. Fear of difference

Here insert Trump’s wall along the US–Mexican border, along with mass deportations, the official barring of Muslims from entering the US, systematic racism, systematic gender bias and misogyny, and systematic bigotry toward LGBT citizens. Trump makes racist invectives as a matter of routine and racists openly support him and proclaim their perfect synchronicity with his cause.

6. Building off social frustration and an appeal to a frustrated middle class

The undereducated white male constituency forming Trump’s fascist political base are angry and violent, and express it publicly with support for his presidential candidacy. Trump’s base blames low wages, unemployment, economic inequality, diminishing opportunity, and their perceptions of economic stagnation on groups who are actually far worse off than they are in every economic measure. 

Their delusion is profound. They have not shown, for even a flash of time, opposition to the robber barons in the white-collar criminal oligarchy — a class to which Trump proudly bellows he belongs — for the historic economic collapse that put them in their present set of circumstances. White men who couldn’t manage to make it through high school support the oligarchy. It is remarkable in its level of cognitive dissonance, and massive in its scope and scale.

7. Nationalism

Trump advocates nativist protectionism economically and keeping foreigners out. Fascism appeals, Eco wrote, “to the people who feel deprived of a clear social identity.” Here he points to the origins of nationalism, and how fascists cling to country of birth as the only social bond within their perceived reach. In addition, the ‘root’ of the Ur-Fascist psychological base for their deprivation is the obsession with a plot.

Birth certificates anyone? The US army invading Texas in the summer of 2015? The Mexican government sending rapists and drug dealers hop-scotching across the border? Conservative media has been central to the compositional strain of nationalism in its endless contrivances of plots and fake scandals. Obsessions with plots and conspiracies may be the easiest box to check for American fascists.

8. “The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.” 

Yet another layer of manufacturing a scapegoat based on any and all perceived slights by other groups.

9. Permanent warfare

Violence, militarism, whatever the means — enemies have to be defeated. The armageddon complex Eco identifies has been alive and well on the religious right for some time now. The complex has imbedded in it the notion of a ‘golden age’, a line of thought directly tied to fascism’s traditionalism and idea of a mythic time lost, a loss caused by those the fascist’s scapegoat. “Make America Great Again” is the perfect content free slogan for Trump.

10. Advocacy of a popular elitism or a sense of mass elitism 

The final layer of scapegoat construction. The masses in support of fascism feel and act as if those outside their group are lesser, or beneath them in all the hierarchies which they construct and for which they depend. Mass elitism is expressed through an ardent desire for economic control, racism, misogyny, and intolerance. Eco described this skewed form of elitism as “typical of any reactionary ideology.”

11. The hero

Eco links the indoctrination of everyone as a hero to militancy. Herein lies the entirety of the chickenhawk core of American right-wingers as they press for violent military intervention in response to every conflict or political problem in the world. Eco could not have written it with more precision. “The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to their death.”

12. Machismo

The fact of Donald Trump’s misogyny plays itself out in real time on a constant basis. It’s the least mysterious thing about him. Trump also openly brags about carrying weapons, gives examples of when he would shoot somebody, and uses shooting as an example to defend his rhetoric. Eco ties machismo to the impulses for violence. “Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons — doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.”  

13. Selective populism

Here is the foothold of fascist anti-parliamentary strain fully realised in the years since the George W. Bush administration. The minority far right has ground national lawmaking to a halt, insisting on nothing less than absolutism for far right positions.

14. Orwellian newspeak

Trump speaking at a third grade level and the apex of fact free conservative media all echo back to fascism not being able to withstand analytical criticism, and to the ideology’s anti-intellectual foundations. Critical thought is not in the fascist playbook.

The 'how' of fascism

In The Anatomy of Fascism Paxton details several notions and protogeneous seeds of fascism, all of which are on full display in America in 2016. The first is that fascism arises within the context of a political vacuum. Second, its adaptability allows it over time to take on different characteristics from country to country depending on time and circumstance. Third, fascism has certain pre-conditions, which allow for its rise. While the figureheads of fascist movements garner significant attention, both in terms of their contemporary headlines and subsequent historical analysis, the support given by larger segments of a populace through acquiescence and capitulation ultimately determines fascism’s rise, influence, and extended grip on power. 

Donald Trump’s position as the figurehead of American fascism in 2016 will receive proper examination, but it is important to frame his ability to achieve the position as head of the American fascist movement in the context described by Paxton’s notions.
The political vacuum — or as Paxton would put it, the political “space” — into which Donald Trump has slithered is the fragmented and sectarian Republican Party of the last few decades. 

The political vacuum — or as Paxton would put it, the political “space” — into which Donald Trump has slithered is the fragmented and sectarian Republican Party of the last few decades. Within the Republican Party, openly clashing factions of conservatives, libertarians, evangelicals, neo-cons, tea partiers, corporatists, billionaires, and uneducated members of the working class do not make up a ‘big tent’ of the American populace. each faction is composed essentially of a dwindling all-white demographic. Each faction has varying strains of racism, xenophobia, paranoia, and stupefying aversions to the acknowledgement of the facts of the world.

The complimentary component to the political vacuum is the set of pre-conditions for which a fascist movement needs to fill the space. 

When Alexis de Tocqueville toured the United States in the 1830s, the country was like his native France, travelling the bumpy road of a young democracy in a post-aristocratic era. In the US and its territories, the horrors of institutional slavery in the south and genocide against Native Americans spreading westward were gigantic stains on the democratic project. The Reign of Terror and the revolution of 1830 among other events gave the French their own periods of democratic reckoning. What struck de Tocqueville as obvious and vital was the question of what governing and social structures would arise to replace those once held firm by the aristocratic class, and whether they would be sustainable and democratic.

He saw grave danger here for young democracies in formation. He summarised the concern with eloquence towards the end of Democracy in America, but to paraphrase it in more contemporary terms, the observation was basically this: if you give every darn fool a say in the matter, the lot of them together may do the most darn foolish thing conceivable. The possibilities of what the ignorant could raise in terms of misguided political structures capable of wielding actual power was so dark de Tocqueville did not have a term for it. The possibility was a terror beyond his imagination at the time of his writing. Less than 100 years after his journey, that unimaginable terror arose in the western world and was given a name by Benito Mussolini.

With fascism taking hold in Europe in the 1930s, Sinclair Lewis presented the country a cautionary tale with his semi-satirical political novel It Can’t Happen Here. For those comfortable with the US being too large geographically and regionally unwieldy for a totalitarian entity to take control, Lewis crafted a plausible frame for the possibility. Facing staunch xenophobic ultra-conservative opposition of his own, including sympathies for the first movements taking place in Europe, FDR openly warned of fascism finding a foothold in the US.

George W. Bush. Wikimedia/White House. Public domain.

"The pre-fascist condition rose to the full circumstances of possibility during the George W. Bush administration." Wikimedia/White House. Public domain.A series of amped-up pre-conditions for fascism have been fomenting for many decades up and down the avenues of the political right in the US. From the racist response to the civil rights movement employed as an electoral strategy in the south to the open courting of wilfully ignorant white evangelicals as a political block. The development of a foreign policy centred around military power as a primary option for resolution of disputes, or the massive movement to entrench LGBT citizens in second class status — the foundations of fascism have been incubated for some time. The pre-fascist condition rose to the full circumstances of possibility during the George W. Bush administration.

In addition to the cultivation of the far right-wing developments over several decades, during the Bush administration several lines were crossed in shifting the country onto totalitarian ground:

· The design and execution of a massive system of pervasive and intrusive surveillance, affecting every law-abiding citizen, that would make George Orwell stare in wide-eyed wonder. 

· The use of torture, extraordinary rendition, the denial of habius corpus, the aggression of an illegal war, and the breaking of the Geneva convention, all without consequence or accountability. 

· The right wing oligarchy strengthened as wealth became more concentrated at the very top few percent. Corporatism ascended. The bankers and unregulated gamblers in the oligarchy created systematic fraud on a scale in real dollars like none other in history, and caused a complete economic meltdown for which they still have not been held to account.

· Submission to the state above all became a central organising principle. America first/America only, unilateralism, uncritical capitulation to mass surveillance and ardent militarism all coalesced into the civic and personal identity of every far right winger with a ‘support the troops, you homo’ bumper sticker and a fist in the air barking, “USA, USA, USA.”

· The line was crossed from conservatives being advocates of small government to being anti-government. 

· The sharp increase in racial, social, and economic scapegoating by the far right directed toward Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans, women, and the LGBT community.

· A systematic attack on voting rights and voting access, especially in areas with high concentrations of people of colour and college students.

There are of course further examples of fascist movements filling vacuums in different parts of the world, and each gives credence to Paxton’s observations about how fascist movements have shown variance from place to place in different historical circumstances. Just as fascism rose with its distinctive characteristics in Italy, Germany, and Hungary in the first half of the 20th Century, it has reared its head differently in more recent times.

The clerical styles in Iran and Egypt showed distinction from the more dictatorial regimes in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Filling the vacuum has as much to do with being the most organised, as fascists never obtain outright majorities. When the Shah’s regime crumbled in Iran in the 1970s, Iran had political parties across the spectrum, but it was the Ayatollah’s movement that organised itself enough to fill the void. After the Muslim Brotherhood was recently toppled in Egypt, political activists and observes lamented that if another election were to be held, the Muslim Brotherhood would win again as the blocks of opposition, while making up the majority within the country, were not organised enough to win. 

An oligarchy has effectively taken control of all meaningful mechanisms of economic, political, media, and military control. Franco in Spain and Salazar in Portugal demonstrate further variant routes fascism has taken to power. Salazar worked his way up the Portuguese political system through the finance ministry. Franco rose through the military structure of Spain until enough of a vacuum was present to enact an actual military coup against the Second Republic. The South African apartheid state operated with different characteristics than the European regimes, though with no less brutality to keep itself in power for so long.

The US is neither alone, nor terribly different than other countries in having its undercurrents of fascism, its preconditions and historical precepts that could form if given the proper set of circumstances. In 2016 an oligarchy of the wealthiest few percent of people within the US has effectively taken control of all meaningful mechanisms of economic, political, media, and military control. 

Over the course of the last 15 or so years the oligarchy’s pressure to tighten its grip on power and influence has increased and the governmental functionaries of the oligarchy have manipulated the uneducated, angry, delusional, and racist into supporting it. The fusion of the oligarchy, the control of the few, allied with the ignorant, has fascist precedent. With so many foundations planted firmly in the fascist soil of a fragmented right-wing political landscape, all the extreme right needed was a figurehead to complete the equation. 

Now it has one. 

The demagogue figurehead

 Donald Trump in Nevada. Flickr/Darron Birgenheier. Some rights reserved.

The demagogue figurehead: Donald Trump in Nevada. Flickr/Darron Birgenheier. Some rights reserved.The fundamental role of the fascist demagogue is to embody the notions of fascist totalitarianism and act accordingly as figurehead. The figurehead has often been a dictator, but the figurehead need not necessarily be a dictator, or be synonymous in action to others of their political ilk – the principle of variance applies to the figurehead as well. Hitler, Mussolini, Salazar, Franco, Khomeini, Szálasi, and Amin did not rule in lock step with one another. 

The fascist is, at the core, a coward. History has shown that while they can bring chaos and immense destruction, ultimately the coward cannot stand against the courageous. Fascists have to exert their cowardice by using violence as a means of achievement. The only way the fascist can win anything is to pick up a weapon or swing a fist. Their achievements are always short lived. American fascists are armed to the teeth, and have been arming themselves for some decades now. They are not democratic. A democratic citizen requires courage. Vigilance and courage are primary to self-governance. 

The fascist is, at the core, a coward.

The current American fascism in ascendance mirrors Mussolini categorically, with direct correlations to Salazar and Franco, while supplemented with the particular American variant notes of George Wallace and Joseph McCarthy. As the embodiment of American fascism, Donald Trump is communicating the enactment of fascism, based on virtually every historical notion in the fascist playbook. He has taken positions describing the willingness to enact mass deportations of non-white immigrants regardless of status, registries based on religious affiliation, punish women for terminating a pregnancy, and under the guise of an immigration “policy,” arrogantly seeks to build a structure along the southern border of the United States that will make the Berlin Wall look like Tom Sawyer’s fence.

The anthem of his political voice and that of his followers, of course, is violence. He encourages and foments violence as a political tool by the forceful expelling of journalists from public political events, openly stifles descent by calling for the violent removal of African Americans from public rallies, and has threatened control of the internet. Violence is a regular occurrence at his rallies. He uses violence both as metaphor and as a call to action. He openly crosses onto the illegal ground of advocating terrorism – the enactment of violence against civilians in order to achieve a political end. 

The advocacy of violence does not cease at the border, it is a central principle in how he has expressed he would deal internationally if given the opportunity. Trump has admitted publicly, repeatedly, and with much bravado, that if he were to hold the office of the president of the United States he would commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, openly violate the Geneva Convention, and order others to do so. He has advocated going after innocent family members of terrorists and has spoken in a more misinformed and reckless manner about nuclear weapons than any national political candidate in memory. 

Supporters are yelling “seig heil” during acts of violence at his rallies. Nazi salutes and invocations of Auschwitz have taken place at his rallies. White supremacist organisations from the KKK on down are making openly racist robo-calls on his behalf, and proudly make public endorsements. Trump has regularly distributed lies and inaccuracies from white supremacist social media outlets. He has routinely threatened riots, and his followers are already making death threats to political convention participants. News accounts across the country report his supporters are shouting his name before committing acts of assault.

Each instance of violence or its advocacy lays another brick in the wall of a growing, dangerous intolerance. Combining the violence and intolerance with the public scapegoating of every single demographic different than his own to blame for what he and his uniformed followers perceive as the woes of the country, Trump is wilfully and publicly creating the conditions for an American Kristallnacht. This American Kristallnacht will take the form of mass and sustained violence against mosques, African American churches, women, and the LGBT community. He is stoking the flames of an openly delusional, willingly uninformed, and purposefully paranoid segment of a populace armed beyond reason, and routinely employs weaponry for one purpose only – the resolution of conflicts.
Trump is wilfully and publicly creating the conditions for an American Kristallnacht.
While capitulation of corporations, oligarchs, and members of the conservative political class are essential and historical backbones of fascism, the larger numbers in the body politic allows the access to the corridors of power. One’s fellow citizens must be called out and held to account, beginning with this: anyone supporting Donald Trump who had parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or friends who served or fought in World War II, should be downright ashamed of themselves.

During his travels in Italy in the mid-1920s, Nikos Kazantzakis was able to gain an audience with Mussolini in the Cicci Palace. In the subsequent essay he published about the encounter, Kazantzakis wrote, “Mussolini has all the principle characteristics of the Dictator.” One of the qualities was the presence of something a dictator would be lost without. In Mussolini’s case, Kazantzakis identified the something and described it as such: “He feels a power constantly pushing him. He cannot stop; if he does he knows he is lost. It is the most characteristic and most tragic agony of Dictators. It is necessary that they do battle incessantly, and win. They are lost if they stop, if they are overcome by indecision, or if they begin discussions.” 

In recounting the time spent with Mussolini, the author’s wife, Helen Kazantzakis, wrote in the biography of Kazantzakis based on his letters, that he did not directly address Mussolini’s megalomania as one of the Italian fascist’s dictatorial traits. However, in identifying the “lost” concept, Kazantzakis addressed the megalomania in an even more profound way.

In the case of Donald Trump, what he would be lost without is absolutely central to his megalomania. Trump would be lost without his reality-show, social media spotlight shining on the cheese-ball marketing and prostitutional name franchising with an anti-art aesthetic in servitude to his brand of lowest-common-denominator, bottom-feeding capitalism. 

He would be lost without his megalomania. It’s pathetic. 

A simple proposal

The cast of the Daily Show in 2007. Fair use.

"Contemporary humourists can be a profoundly effective collective voice in countering mass capitulation to fascism." The cast of the Daily Show in 2007. Fair use.Fascist movements have always been minority fringes that found a way to take hold through manipulation of ignorance and the cowardice of acquiescence. Fascism is on the rise in the United States of America in 2016. It must be stated so plainly, and in the cold clear light of day. Fascism has taken over a political party and fashioned it into the know-nothing, do-nothing party of intolerance and hate. The new American fascist movement must be stood up to, defeated, and buried in the graveyard of history beside Mussolini. American democracy at its core is a canvas for pluralism. Fascism is the bridge too far. There should be no reluctance to calling the fascism for what it is, and there is no excuse for allowing it to advance any further.

Humourists, reaching across so many audiences through numerous mediums, can prove a counter not only to the delusions of right wing media, but to the vacuum in media created by corporate control. Contemporary humourists can be a profoundly effective collective voice in countering mass capitulation to fascism. The proposal is simple: through the 2016 election cycle, humourists step forward and use fascism not as a pejorative in the service of a joke, but as a factual descriptor in the service of accuracy. Fascist presidential candidate Donald Trump. In doing so, humourists can shift the paradigm of our public language, specifically by pushing the media to do the same. The paradigm shift will be as significant and far-reaching, as when the Occupy Wall Street movement turned a global focus towards the conditions causing the international economic collapse in 2008.

Humourists, reaching across so many audiences through numerous mediums, can prove a counter not only to the delusions of right wing media, but to the vacuum in media created by corporate control, made dizzy by nonsensical spin, and incapable of relaying a cogent narrative of actual events with a clarity unencumbered by white noise and unrepentant falsehoods.

There is an all-too-pervasive notion, sometimes crossing over into a malaise, that despite the nonsensical rhetorical thrusts Donald Trump regularly employs — which make this election season different or outside the norm — this is still the march forward, that the actual workings of the election: the polling, the nominating process, the speeches, the debates, the interviews — it is all somehow normal. It is not.

Fascist presidential candidate Donald Trump. Five words. None of which happen to be funny.

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