“Peter Thiel, the silicon billionaire and one of the six ultra-rich financial elite to speak at the Republican National Convention once wrote that he did not ‘believe that freedom and democracy were compatible.’ This blatant anti-democratic mindset has emerged once again, without apology, as a major organizing principle of the Republican Party under Donald Trump. In addition to expressing a hatred of Muslims, Mexicans, women, journalists, dissidents, and others whom he views as outside the pale of what constitutes a true American, Trump appears to harbor a core disdain for democracy, bringing back Theodor Adorno's warning that ‘the true danger [of fascism] lay in the traces of the fascist mentality within the democratic political system’ (a warning quoted in Prismatic Thought).
“What has become clear is that the current political crisis represents a return to ideologies, values and policies based upon a poisonous mix of white supremacy and ultra-nationalism, opening up a politics that ‘could lead back to political totalitarianism.’
“Throughout the 2016 Republican National Convention the hateful discourse of red-faced anger and unbridled fear-mongering added up to more than an appeal to protect America and make it safe again. Such weakly coded invocations also echoed the days of Jim Crow, the undoing of civil rights, forced expulsions and forms of state terrorism sanctioned in the strident calls for safety and law-and-order.
“Commenting on Trump's speech, columnist Eugene Robinson argued that his talk added up to what few journalists were willing to acknowledge – ‘a notorious white supremacist account.’ What is shocking is the refusal in many mainstream media circles to examine the role that white supremacy has played in creating the conditions for Trump to emerge as the head of the Republican Party. This structured silence is completely at odds with Trump's longstanding legacy of discrimination, including his recent and relentless derogatory remarks concerning President Obama, his race-based attacks on US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel (who is trying a case against Trump University), his denunciation of Muslims as terrorists and his attempt to paint Mexican immigrants as criminals, drug dealers and rapists…
“One consequence is that the public spheres that produce a critically engaged citizenry and make a democracy possible are under siege and in rapid retreat. Economic stagnation, massive inequality, the rise of religious fundamentalism and growing forms of ultra-nationalism now aim to put democratic nations to rest. Echoes of the right-wing movements in Europe have come home with a vengeance.
“Demagogues wrapped in xenophobia, white supremacy and the false appeal to a lost past echo a brutally familiar fascism, with slogans similar to Donald Trump's call to ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘Make America Safe Again.’ These are barely coded messages that call for forms of racial and social cleansing. They are on the march, spewing hatred, embracing forms of anti-semitism and white supremacy, and showing a deep-seated disdain for any form of justice on the side of democracy. As Peter Foster points out in The Telegraph, ‘The toxic combination of the most prolonged period of economic stagnation and the worst refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War has seen the far-Right surging across the continent, from Athens to Amsterdam and many points in between.’
Trump and the Culture of Cruelty:
“Nicholas Confessore rightly argues that Trump's ‘anti-other language’ and denigration of Mexican immigrants as ‘criminal rapists, murderers and drug dealers’ has ‘electrified the world of white nationalists,’ who up until the Trump campaign had been relegated to the fringe of American politics. No longer. All manner of white nationalist groups, news sites (The Daily Stormer) and individuals, such as Jared Tayler (a self-described ‘race realist’) and David Duke (a racist and anti-Semitic Louisiana lawmaker and talk show host) have embraced Trump as a presidential candidate. And in a less-than-subtle way, Trump has embraced them. He has repeatedly tweeted messages that first appeared on racist or ultra-nationalist neo-Nazi Twitter accounts and when asked about such tweets has refused to disavow them directly.
“In short, this emerging American neo-fascism in its various forms is largely about social and racial cleansing and its end point is the construction of prisons, detention centers, enclosures, walls, and all the other varieties of murderous apparatus that accompany the discourse of national greatness and racial purity. Americans have lived through 40 years of the dismantling of the welfare state, the elimination of democratic public spheres, such as schools and libraries, and the attack on public goods and social provisions. In their place, we have the rise of the punishing state with its support for a range of criminogenic institutions, extending from banks and hedge funds to state governments and militarized police departments that depend on extortion to meet their budgets.
“Where are the institutions that do not support a rabid individualism, a culture of cruelty and a society based on social combat -- that refuse to militarize social problems and reject the white supremacist laws and practices spreading throughout the United States? What happens when a society is shaped by a poisonous neoliberalism that separates economic and individual economic actions from social costs, when privatization becomes the only sanctioned orbit for agency, when values are entirely reduced to exchange values?
“How do we talk about the way in which language is transformed into a tool of violence, as recently happened at the Republican National Convention? Moreover, how does language act in the service of violence -- less through an overt discourse of hate and bigotry than through its complicity with all manner of symbolic and real violence? What happens to a society when moral witnessing is hollowed out by a shameless entertainment industry that is willing to produce and distribute spectacles of extreme violence on a massive scale? What happens to a society when music is used as a method of torture (as it was at Guantanamo) and when a fascist politics of torture and disappearance are endorsed by a presidential candidate and many of his supporters?
“Instead of addressing these questions -- as well as the state-sanctioned torture and lynching that form the backdrop for this violence -- we have been hearing a lot of talk about violence waged against police. This is not to suggest that the recent isolated acts of violence against police are justified -- of course, they are not -- but the real question is why we don't see much more of such violence, given how rampant police violence has long been in the service of white supremacy. As Ta-Nehisi Coates observes, the killing of police officers cannot be addressed outside the historical legacy of discrimination, harassment, and violence against Black people…
Differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump:
“What cannot be ignored is that Hillary Clinton has supported a war machine that has resulted in the death of millions, while also supporting a neoliberal economy that has produced massive amounts of suffering and created a mass incarceration state. Yet, all of that is forgotten as the mainstream press focuses on stories about Clinton's emails and the details of her electoral run for the presidency. It is crucial to note that Clinton hides her crimes in the discourse of freedom and appeals to democracy while Trump overtly disdains such a discourse. In the end, state and domestic violence saturate American society and the only time this fact gets noticed is when the beatings and murders of Black men are caught on camera and spread through social media…
“Much of the American public appears to have forgotten that totalitarian and white supremacist societies are too often legitimated by a supplicant mainstream media, cowardly politicians, right-wing and liberal pundits, academics and other cultural workers who either overlook or support the hateful bigotry of demagogues, such as Trump. What is also forgotten by many is the racist legacy of policies implemented by the Democratic Party that have resulted in a punitive culture of criminalization, incarceration and shooting of untold numbers of Black people.
“Rather than engage in the masochistic practice of supporting Trump's nativism, ignorance and bigotry, and his warlike fantasies of what it will take to make America great again, white workers who have been driven to despair by the ravaging policies of the financial elite and their shameless political and corporate allies should be in the streets protesting -- not only against what is called establishment politics, but also the rise of an unvarnished neo-Nazi demagogue…
“Does it matter that Trump supports violence with a wink of the eye and is unapologetic about his huge following of neo-Nazis who are enthusiastic about waging a war against Black and Brown people? How is it possible to forget that, overall, Trump is a demagogue, misogynist, racist and bigot who is unequivocally dangerous to the promises and ideals of a democracy? Apparently, it is possible. Yes, the fascists and Nazis were also efficient, particularly in the end when it came to building a war machine and committing acts of genocide. So much for pragmatism without a conscience.
“Trump is a real danger to the species, the country and the world in general. His views on war and climate change -- along with the promise of violence against his enemies and his unapologetic racism, bigotry and hatred of constitutional rights -- pose some of the greatest dangers to democracy and freedom the US has ever faced.
“As Adam Gopnik says in an excellent article in The New Yorker, democracies do not simply commit suicide, they are killed by murderers, by people like Trump. Most expressions of support for Trump vastly underestimate the immediate danger Trump poses to the world and minorities of class, race and ethnicity. In contrast, while Hillary Clinton is a warmonger, a cheerleader for neoliberalism and a high-ranking member of the Democratic Party establishment, she is not threatening to take an immediate set of actions that would throw people of color, immigrants and working-class people under the bus.
“Instead, if she wins the election, she should be viewed as part of a corrupt financial and political system that should be overthrown. While posing danger on a number of economic, political and foreign fronts, Clinton would also expose by her actions and policies the mythological nature of the idea that democracy and capitalism are the same thing. Hopefully, all those young people who followed the dead-end of a Bernie Sanders movement -- and the false suggestion that a political revolution can be achieved by reforming the Democratic Party -- would seize on this contradiction. Sanders revitalized the discourse about inequality, injustice and the need to break down the financial monopolies, but he failed in choosing a political avenue in which such real and systemic change can come about.
Fighting for a Democratic Future:
“We live in a time in which people are diverted into a politics that celebrates saviors, denigrates democratic relations of power and policy, and provides a mode of escape in which heartfelt trauma and pain are used to mobilize people not into democratic movements but into venting their anger by blaming others who are equally oppressed. This signals a politics that kills both empathy and the imagination, a politics that uses pain to inflict further pain on others...
“Americans need to continue to develop broad-based movements that reject the established political parties and rethink the social formations necessary to bring about a radical democracy. We see this in the Black Lives Matter movement as well as in a range of other movements that are resisting corporate money in politics, the widespread destruction of the environment, nuclear war and the mass incarceration state. With hope, these important social movements will continue to break new ground in experimenting with new ways to come together and form broad-based coalitions between fragmented subgroups.
“In the end, it's vital to foster anti-fascist, pro-radical democracy movements that understand short-term and long-term strategies. Short-term strategies include participating in an electoral process to make sure a fascist or religious fundamentalist does not control a school board or gain leadership roles regarding public governance. Such practices do not represent a sellout but a strategic effort to make immediate progressive gains on the way to tearing down the entire system. Strategies built on the divide of being in or out of the system are too simplistic...
“If we are to fight for a democratic future that matters, progressives and the left need to ask how we would go forward if the looming authoritarian nightmare succeeds in descending upon the United States. What can we learn about the costs of allowing our society to become lawless in its modes of governance and to lose its historical understanding of the legacy of slavery, lynching and bigotry that have given rise to mass incarceration and the punishing state? What does it mean when money rules and corrupts politics, disavows economic actions from social costs, and wages war against public trust, values and goods? These are just some of the questions that need to be addressed in order to break free from a neoliberal system that spells the death-knell for democracy. All societies contain new beginnings -- we need desperately to find one on the side of justice and democracy...”
Henry A. Giroux currently is the McMaster University Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest and The Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. He also is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University. His most recent books include The Violence of Organized Forgetting (City Lights, 2014), Dangerous Thinking in the Age of the New Authoritarianism (Routledge, 2015) and coauthored with Brad Evans, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle (City Lights, 2015). Giroux is also a member of Truthout's Board of Directors. His website is www.henryagiroux.com.