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He encouraged the chaos.

Donald Trump has spent months at his rallies denouncing his opponents in the most ugly and demagogic terms and encouraging his supporters to, quite literally, attack protesters at his events — even going so far as to promise to cover their legal costs should they be arrested!

Trump’s antics and bombast have echoed some aspects of the mass European fascist movements of the 20’s and 30’s, but under very different conditions — a critical point. In the end Trump’s campaign only echoes these movements. It is not analogous. Drawing overreaching parallels between the two movements is not only historically inaccurate, but also exaggerates the danger posed by Trump versus that posed by Republican hopefuls like the religious zealot Cruz.

This does not mean that Trump is not dangerous. He certainly is. But he poses a threat very different from the existential threat to American society that Hitler and Mussolini, for example, posed to theirs.

Despite ahistorical and frequently specious commentary to the contrary there is a profound difference in the historical situation and objective conditions existing in the US today and the conditions of Weimar Germany or post-WWI Italy that led to the rise of Nazism and outright fascism.

The United States is a dramatically more diverse and dynamic society with far stronger nominal and actual forms and traditions of liberal democracy than either of those.

We are a very long way from what happened in the March on Rome, with the Brownshirts and mass organized fascist paramilitary wings (which were openly affiliated to and directed by their political masters), or with the acquiescence of key pillars of the state, political and economic elite, police, military and armed forces that allowed the collapse of democratic government in Wiemar Germany and Italy. It is entirely clear that the powers that be will not yet either capitulate to or actively aide the rise of a movement of this type in the United States — which was, in fact, an historical precondition to its triumph in both of those other countries.

Trump, however, certainly reminds one of some of history’s demagogues like Huey Long or Peron, and mimics — intentionally or instinctively — their anti-elitism, self-aggrandizement, egomania and attempts at strongman intimidation tactics. He has relied upon a blatant attempt at a personality cult and the blind and almost fanatical devotion of his followers. This type of politician is profoundly dangerous in their own right as they are driven by narcissism as much as ideology. In Trump’s case this is especially pronounced.

As with all politicians of this type his phenomena rests on a certain mythology, built-up over time, and after first having been written off (entirely mistakenly) as a sideshow farce, he has been very successful in delivering this mythology.

But something happened last night in Chicago that may prove a dramatic and possibly derailing detour on the road to Washington for Trump.

Thousands of protesters shut him down.

Trump (and not the police as he tried to claim) was forced to cancel a planned rally and went on to back away from and attempt to tone down his previous violent rhetoric.

As Dave Zirin of The Nation put it:

It’s now confirmed that Donald Trump is lying when he says he consulted with Chicago PD and they told him to shut his rally down. He never even left his hotel. This was so clearly staged by Trump as a show of power, a show of violence by his supporters, and an open provocation in the heart of major city. And he lost. Thank you Chicago.

This is the critical point. He lost. His bluff was called by the people of Chicago and with a state and armed wing of the state that will not indulge mass violence on the part of his supporters (even were they organized enough to effectively practice it) to the degree that would be needed to stop future protests on this scale, this could end up being a real turning point.

The appeal of a demagogue partly depends on their ability to appear unstoppable and to be able to, or to claim to be able to, project their “will” through both force of personality and the naked force of their supporters.

Now that he has been stopped in the streets of Chicago, the facade becomes far more difficult to maintain and protesters and organizers in other states and cities will have been greatly emboldened by what unfolded.

Trump’s rally scheduled for Cincinnati on Sunday has been cancelled in the wake of Chicago and in his comments to the press the edge has fallen away from Trump’s bluster.

He may well still win — and is indeed very likely to win — the Republican nomination, but the legend of the invincible strongman Trump lies shattered in his hotel room and in the streets — shattered not by other Republican candidates or by political or media elites, but far more importantly by mass popular resistance and anger.

Image via Gage Skidmore & wikimedia commons

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