Commentary: Trump is Gone, Fascist Trends are Not

'Trumpism' is only the most recent name for far-right, authoritarian, ultranationalist movements that first came to prominence a century ago, during economic hardships triggered by the Great Depression. Countering fascism, however, remains just as important now that Trump has left office.

Commentary: Trump is Gone, Fascist Trends are Not

The rise of fascist tendencies in our nation should shock all, but will not be a surprise to some. The legitimacy of democracy in the United States, which has never provided agency to all, is now disputed. The two major political parties have disputed outcomes of the presidential elections, because of Russian interference in the 2016, and false allegations of electoral fraud with ‘Stop the Steal’ in 2020. Disenfranchisement combined with the economic despair experienced in 2020 is fanning the flames of fascism. The data for 2020 is stark; 40 million Americans are at risk of an eviction, 50 million are food-insecure, and job losses globally were four times higher than the 2008 financial crisis.

German American Bund parade in New York City on East 86th St. on October 30, 1939. Photograph: Library of Congress | In the United States, the Amerikadeutscher Volksbund, or German American Bund, was formed in 1936 as “an organization of patriotic Americans of German stock,” operating about 20 youth and training camps, and eventually growing to a membership in the tens of thousands among 70 regional divisions across the country.

In the 1920s and 30s, the Great Depression similarly triggered economic despair for wide swaths of the population. Just one decade later fascism spread across Continental Europe, particularly in Italy and Germany. However, pre-Hitler Germany had vibrant progressive movements. In the early-1930s Germany had huge socialist and communist parties, a trade union movement, one of the most advanced women's rights movements of their time, and a pioneering movement for gay rights. Shortly after Hitler and Nazism’s rise, activists from those progressive movements were imprisoned in concentration camps for seeking justice.

As in Europe then, dramatic changes to Americans’ quality of life today have unleashed demands for economic and social justice. The anti-racism protests inspired by George Floyd’s 2020 murder were the largest in United States history - and inspired protests globally. In response to national anti-racist marches, however, pick-up truck rallies and boat rallies were led in support of Donald Trump's reelection. Rallies were also held to criticize the prospect of police reform. While we witnessed the insurrection of a privileged class, politicians who've inspired these movements are all too ready to move on.

Mainstream media has echoed Joe Biden’s call for Americans to heal and seek unity— and recycled misrepresentations of Rev. Martin Luther King’s legacy used each year on his birthday. Electoral violence is not unprecedented in this country, despite Joe Biden’s claims that events at The Capitol were "not who we are.” We’re encouraged to simply move forward, and put it behind us rather than seek justice, substantive change and reparations. However, the conditions of precarity that drove this incident will remain unaltered. Donald Trump will be gone, but what will be done with the others who embraced his views? There's a longer history to reckon with to extinguish fascist views globally.

Europe’s fascist movements looked to ‘the land of the free’ for inspiration. In the 1930s, as The Atlantic writes, the Germans were fascinated by the global leader in codified racism—the United States. Nazi lawyers, James Q. Whitman writes, were interested in American immigration law, the American law of second class-citizenship, American anti-miscegenation law, and the American approach to racial classifications. That the Nuremberg Laws, which led to the Holocaust, were inspired by the Jim Crow South, the genocide and internment of Indigenous people, and the segregation of Asian migrants in the American West is the unsettling truth. Worse still, the admiration was in some cases mutual. Nazi legal officials visited the United States just weeks after the Nuremberg laws were enacted. Soon after docking, the New York City Bar Association hosted these Nazi legal officials for a reception which was met by a six-hour demonstration outside.

How can anti-racists and the working class respond to this moment, and prevent the spread of fascist ideology? The rhetoric of racist fascist demagoguery has been toppled before, and can be again. This can be done with class-based rhetoric that puts anti-racism front-and-center. Past events show us the rhetoric we need.

Michigan voted for George Wallace in the 1972 Democratic Party presidential primaries. Wallace, a populist Alabama governor, opposed desegregation and supported Jim Crow. Martin Luther King called Wallace “perhaps the most dangerous racist in America today.” Just sixteen years later Democratic voters in the state voted for Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., an African American and the leader of the National Rainbow Coalition, to run for President. Jackson, only the second African American to mount a major nationwide campaign for president, had rallied for workers — such as the Chrysler auto assembly plant after its announced closure.

"We have to put the focus on Kenosha, Wisconsin, as the place, here and now, where we draw the line to end economic violence!," Jackson said, comparing the worker’s economic fight to the gravity of the Civil Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama.

Ultimately, that battle cry for Kenosha was ignored. Three decades later, the city was the site of Jacob Blake’s shooting, and subsequently two Kenosha residents while protesting his shooting.

In our communities, there must be a movement in opposition to fascism and racism that speaks to the working class. Individuals can build community solidarity with one another through grassroot mutual aid programs - like Forest Ave COMEunity Fridge. Begin to advocate for universal policies that benefit everyone. Rent and debt cancellation, universal health care, guaranteed jobs and income are working class programs that uplift all.

The individuals taking part in these far-right movements witness the economic instability our communities face - exploitation leading to economic and social inequalities - and fear they will be next. In a misguided attempt at the United States' rejuvenation, they scapegoat women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ communities for the condition of our economy, rather than corporate executives or capitalists. Without addressing the increasing economic gaps all working people face, American society risks expending energy putting out sporadic fires, rather than engaging in prevention and removing the kindling.

Cover Photo: Supporters of President Donald Trump at a rally in Wildwood, N.J., Jan. 28, 2020
Photograph by Peter van Agtmael—Magnum Photos

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