The Face of New Fascism
I always thought of Donald Trump as a poor entertainer with bad hair and an over sprayed tan. He still is, but he is also the presumptive Republican nominee and could very well end up as the next president of the United States. He is also the face of 21st-century fascism, a phenomenon largely fueled by demographic anxieties of white America and nearly eight years of a black President.
Race remains a constant in American life and culture. Nearly 150 years after slavery ended officially, the country remains divided into two stark colours: white and non-white. In every inner city, the most blighted sections are inhabited by the black and increasingly brown. They hold the most degrading jobs; their children go to the worst performing public schools; most of those sent behind bars are people of colour, and lead-filled water supplied by the State is delivered to those who are predominantly non-white. Yet, the angriest people in today's America are white, who feel their grip on power and privilege slipping away.
The first rude awakening for white America was the election in 2008 of Barack Obama. While one-half of the country rejoiced in the euphoria of electing the country's first black president, the other half – the white America – was seized by panic. The first reaction came from the Republican lawmakers, who vowed to do everything not to let this happen again. Obama would be a one-term president, declared the Senate's Republican leader. It was soon followed by an avalanche of assaults on Obama's presidency that included every conceivable attempt to delegitimise him. They questioned his American birth, dismissed his faith, and called him a communist and sympathetic to terrorists. Even after seven years of his presidency, one-third of America remains convinced that Obama is a Muslim. Using anger as a tool and aided by a slow economic recovery, the Republicans were able to take control of the Congress. In the name of resisting Obama, this legislature would not hesitate to obstruct every move Obama made, including shutting down the government, a spectacle inconceivable anywhere else in the world.
But the ultimate gift to white America was the ascendance of Donald Trump, a billionaire who made money through shady real estate deals and borrowed wealth. With Obama (read non-white leadership), America does not win anymore, he declared, and white America heard in those words its own heart-beat. For seven years, the Republican leadership had slowly built a turf on which stepped in Trump with a swinging bat. When they finally realised it was a monster they had allowed to grow, it was already too late.
Trump had a simple strategy: inflame the white anger by assigning blame for all ills facing America to the "others." Sensing America's vulnerabilities to growing extremism, he called for banning all Muslims from entering the US; he called Mexicans – in effect, all non-white immigrants – rapists and drug dealers, and promised to build a wall with Mexico. He promised to rebuild America's military and bring back waterboarding, condemned by all as torture. He also launched a tirade against women and the disabled. While the rest of the world watched in horror the tragedy unfold, white America exhaled, finding its new messiah. Even the evangelicals, supposedly devout Christians, rushed to embrace him, a man who had publicly berated the Pope as "disgraceful," and claimed not to have ever sought the Lord's forgiveness.
The ultimate nod of approval for Trump came from the Ku Klux Klan, the notorious criminal band of white supremacists. David Duke, its one-time leader, endorsed Trump's candidacy and asked his followers to do so.
The Republican establishment was initially embarrassed to call Trump one of their own, questioning his previous association with the Democratic Party and with many liberal issues. But, as the country's white segments rallied behind Trump, the leadership began courting a bigot. Chris Christy, the pugnacious Republican governor of liberal New Jersey, was first of the establishment elite to switch sides and hold on to Trump's coattails. He was soon followed by some Republicans best known for their vitriol against immigrants, Muslims, and blacks.
Many attempts have been made to explain Trump's emergence. Those on the Right have argued Trump is a result of the economic anxiety and continuing fear of terrorism. While those two elements are real, what these apologists fail to see is that they afflict all Americans, white and non-white. Why do only the whites seem to see in Trump their messiah? The answer has to be found in the country's huge demographic shifts. The white America, so used to their dominance in all sectors of life, have noticed the slow but inevitable demise of their power. In less than 25 years from now, America would no longer be a white-majority country. Aware of this reality, the Republicans have carefully redrawn the electoral map, giving the whites a decent chance to retain their control in much of non-industrial and non-urban America. But as far as national offices are concerned, of which the presidency is the top prize, the new demography poses a mortal threat to their continued dominance.
Enters Trump who almost overnight reimagines the American political reality. Everything in America is broken: its old glory gone, its military power depleted, its leadership cowers in front of the Chinese and its boundaries are unfenced. His promise to make America great again by building its war machine and fencing its borders rejuvenates those bemoaning America's supposed demise.
About 85 years ago, a man named Adolf Hitler had charmed Germany and its disillusioned citizens with a promise to make the country strong again. He would feed on the nation's fears, vulnerabilities, and dispossession following the defeat in the First World War. He vowed to tear up the Treaty of Versailles, smash the power of Jews and rebuild its military.
If you thought Hitler was dead, think again. He is alive and thriving in today's white America.
The writer is a journalist and author. His latest book, Ekattor, Je Bhabe shuru ("1971, This Is How It Started"), was published this year in February by Shomoy Publication, Dhaka.