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A distinctly American fascist seeks to exploit the Orlando massacre

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The mass murder of LGBTQ people in Orlando Florida is ushering in a new, distinctly American variety of fascism.

Over the years, many of us who found the antics of the U.S. Right excessive -- from the 1940s and 1950s witchhunts of Richard Nixon, Joe McCarthy and their ilk; to Ronald Reagan's arming of brutal death squads in Central America; to George W. Bush's eagerness to undermine civil liberties with his Patriot Act -- perhaps too glibly characterized them as fascist.

Today, we have to be honest: none of those outrages so fundamentally threatened the very foundations of American liberal democracy (however flawed and imperfect it may be) as does presidential aspirant Donald Trump.

This writer remembers a television commentator saying years ago that if the U.S. were ever to have a dictator he wouldn't be a raver and ranter of the Mussolini/Hitler model.

An American fascist leader would more closely resemble the avuncular entertainer Arthur Godfrey.

Godfrey was a popular, ukulele-playing talk show host, first on radio, and then on television in its early days. His folksy and laconic on-air manner was almost soporific. (We now know that he had a much harsher private persona. But that's another story.)

On the air, Godfrey was casual, amiable and as comfortable as a pair of warm slippers.

Trump came of age in a different media environment, in the era of the vulgar, Grand Guignol reality show.

But he is a distinctly American type as well.

His demagoguery may have its hard edges, but it is peppered with aw-shucks interjections such as "listen folks" and weird repeated colloquialisms, like "gotta be smart" … "gotta be smart."

The presumed Republican presidential nominee does not aim for anything resembling fiery rhetoric, let alone eloquence or poetry. He rambles and weaves, often taking odd, ungrammatical routes.

And while Trump may indulge in some fairly ostentatious hand gestures, he is no stentorian orator. In fact, he does not really do speeches; he does reality TV banter and blather.

The content of The Donald's political discourse targets well-chosen scapegoats. It slanders entire ethnic and religious groups, appeals to resentment, ignorance and fear of the other, and makes up facts out of whole cloth (such as that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to "take away your guns").

Those are all the classic tactics of fascism.

But Trump's style is all his own, and quite different from that of his European fascist forbearers. Trump's political persona is down-home, simple, seemingly without guile, and, all in all, distinctly American.

For millions of voters in the U.S., the presumptive Republican nominee has made openly expressed hate, anger, bigotry and irrational fear feel normal, natural and quite reasonable.

And so, that prediction, many years ago, about what an American dictator would look and sound like may very well be coming true.

Trump must have fist pumped when he heard what happened in Orlando

Events have conspired to give Trump's one-time unlikely political fortunes a big boost.

Just when it seemed some of his excesses, such as attacking the integrity of a judge, might be getting the better of him, the Orlando massacre came along, like manna from heaven for this American fascist.

The minute he learned there was a nominally Muslim person involved in this massacre -- even if the gunman was a U.S.-born citizen, and someone known to be both a virulent homophobe and an abusive spouse -- Trump dropped the mask of compassion for the victims and heartily and publicly congratulated himself.

Trump, and he alone, it seems, had long ago identified the real threat to America, and for that he deserved credit. It was all about him, not about the more than 100 members of the LGBTQ community killed or maimed. If this murderous event was a time for anguish and mourning for a great many, for Trump, it was a signal moment for exultation.

Such a reaction is textbook narcissism, which dovetails quite easily with Trump's Americanized, point-two version of the fascist ideology. In fact, fascism, focused as it always has been on the self-styled Great Leader (Fuhrer, Duce, et. al.), is an inherently narcissistic ideology.

In its original European form, fascism's narcissistic iconography harkened back to the glory days of monarchy and empire. It cloaked itself in images of pomp, power and grandeur.

Trump's version has none of those fancy trappings.

His is a wisecracking, tough-guy talking, very American fascist, whose only accoutrements of glory are a spray-on tan, a baseball cap and branded beefsteaks.    

When Trump mounted the stage in New Hampshire to tell his select audience that immigration to the U.S. amounts to a Trojan Horse, pointing to the fact that the perpetrator of the Orlando massacre's parents immigrated from a Muslim country, national television dutifully paid him obeisance, and broadcast, in full, every word of his hateful and hate-filled screed.

Even Canadian networks followed suit.

Those of us who were horrified and outraged by what the soon-to-be Republican nominee said should remember that Trump's simplistic denunciations and simple-minded so-called solutions resonate powerfully with millions of angry, disappointed and frustrated Americans. 

Like fascists before him Trump appeals to a sense of resentment

In his internationally televised speech, Trump quite bluntly explained his own success to date.

He told establishment Republicans that a good many Americans are bitter and angry that their incomes have stagnated over the last decade, and that they see no possibility for improving their economic lot.

Rather than turning to Bernie Sanders' not-really-very-radical social democratic "revolution," many of those who are not "winners" in the current economy have rallied to Trump's philosophy of backlash and resentment.

Resentment toward immigrants who steal good Americans' jobs.

Resentment toward foreign countries that undercut American workers with cheap labour (Trump actually has a point there).

Resentment toward Muslims, who are all (actual or potential) terrorists, and who do not share American values.

Resentment toward feminists who intimidate men and deprive them of their rightful place.

And, one of Trump's favourites, resentment toward political correctness, which forbids good folks from naming who is to blame for America's (and their own) decline.

The same phenomenon of resentment as a springboard to political power happened in Europe in the early part of the 20th century.

Those who had been burned by war, rampant inflation, unemployment and a sense of national betrayal sometimes turned to the organized Left, in its many forms, from social-democratic to communist to anarcho-syndicalist.

But many others turned to the nationalistic, radical Right, which offered a more accessible, more aggressive, and somehow more satisfying, outlet for a widely shared sense of wounded masculinity.

Their slogan could have been: "Real men are not soft and weak socialists. They are hard and tough and resilient defenders of the Nation."

Fascists had their respectable allies

Those on the respectable Right during that era played footsie with the radicals.

The coarseness and vulgarity of their street-fighting, name-calling political cousins may have offended the respectable conservatives' finer sensibilities. But the establishment Right was also pleased that the radical rightists had found a magic formula for luring large portions of the "masses" away from the socialists and communists.

Respectable right wingers thought they could ride the rabble-rousing fascists to power, and then push their rowdy allies aside and take over themselves.

They were to be bitterly disappointed.

In the end, a good many of the establishment conservatives who worked in coalition with the fascists found themselves at the wrong end of the hangman's rope or assassin's bullet.

It may be a bit alarmist to suggest a President Donald Trump would precipitate a night of the long knives in the U.S., or seek to pass enabling laws to give himself extra-constitutional powers.

But it is more than pertinent to ask: what are all those Republicans, who readily condemn Trump as, for instance, a "textbook racist," thinking when they pledge to support his candidacy nonetheless? 


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Photo: flickr/Michael Vadon

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