What is happening now in America is not normal
In his analysis of the rise of fascism in the 1930s, social psychologist Erich Fromm argued that Hitler rose to power by exploiting the lower-middle class of German society. His argument was an economic one. As capital became concentrated in the hands of a small number of business conglomerates, the lower-middle classes found themselves outside the new economic order. They had outlived their economic function, to borrow Fromm’s words.
Ignored by the state and with few job prospects, this segment of society was ripe for exploitation by a savvy politician who could translate their anger into votes. We are well aware of the racist ideology of National Socialism, but it was simple economics and political manoeuvring that got the Nazis into power.
The differences between the interwar period in Europe and contemporary America are stark. But Fromm’s analysis of National Socialism’s rise offers prescient insights into the rise of Donald Trump to the White House. White working-class people, notably in rust-belt states such as Kentucky and Tennessee, who voted for Mr Trump in large numbers, find themselves left behind in the contemporary globalised economy.
In his inauguration speech, Mr Trump alluded to abandoned factories littered across America “like tombstones”, in a nod to the people who elected him. And yet, those factories have been abandoned thanks in part to a transformation in the American economy that many of Mr Trump’s own advisers orchestrated in their positions in finance companies such as Goldman Sachs.
The optics of his inauguration address, delivered with his fist in the air, demonstrate the underlying objectives of his administration: establish a politics of fear, render the very notion of facts irrelevant and exploit the anger of the white working class to start a revolution in the American political establishment.
Mr Trump and those who have brought him to power have correctly identified the anger of those left behind by the globalised economy. They are now using their anger t to completely upend how America operates.
Steve Bannon, senior White House adviser and one of Mr Trump’s most trusted confidants, even told a reporter from The Daily Beast in 2013 that he was a Leninist. “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment. ” After one week in power, Mr Bannon’s boss is making good on his plans to bring everything crashing down.
Any revolution that destroys the existing political order requires a unique leader. Mr Trump, a thin-skinned political novice who has lied so consistently in his political career that he has rendered his words meaningless, is such a person. Through his rejection of facts and aggression towards the mainstream press, Mr Trump is inculcating the American people with the idea that belief systems outweigh rational thoughts and discourse.
After Mr Trump’s inauguration – an event designed to herald the peaceful transition of power and bestow upon the first couple the aura of presidential elegance – the White House press spokesman, Sean Spicer, attacked the very fabric of reality over reports that the event was poorly attended. He stated that Mr Trump’s inauguration was the largest in history, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Not to be outdone, White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway told NBC that Mr Spicer was citing “alternative facts” when he made his claim about the size of Mr Trump’s inauguration crowd.
These are not the gimmicks of an ill-advised White House but part of a carefully designed plan to inoculate the American people by asserting absolute authority over the public realm and factual discourse. Without a foundation of facts, the American democratic system will cease to function; and that is exactly the motivation.
In his first week in office, Mr Trump delivered on his most outlandish campaign promises. As his senior staff engaged in diversionary attacks on the press, Mr Trump pushed through an order to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, signed an executive order requiring a religious test for prospective refugees from Muslim countries, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely from the United States, entrenched Christian conservative values by reinstating a ban on providing federal money to groups providing information about abortion, removed the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and reinstated several controversial oil pipelines.
The only thing that can be done by Americans and concerned individuals around the world is to remain panicked. We have to constantly remind ourselves that Mr Trump is not a normal politician but there are historical precedents to explain his rise to power.
The partial stay granted by a federal court in New York on Saturday night halting deportations under Mr Trump’s executive order barring citizens from seven Muslim countries underlines the fight unfolding between America’s branches of power.
But blind faith in American institutions alone is not enough to stave off the entrenchment of Mr Trump’s extreme policies. It is not normal to challenge the very basic function of factual discourse. Nor is it normal for the US to institute religious tests for prospective citizens. Nor is the media an “opposition” party, as Mr Bannon barked last week. As soon as people refrain from panic, Mr Trump’s aggression becomes normalised.
On Twitter: @ibnezra
Updated: January 29, 2017 04:00 AM