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By Bill Shunas
As I write this in September it's been a couple of pleasant weeks of watching the days' news. That's because the bloodsuckers in Trump's orbit - his advisers and co-conspirators from his campaign, his presidency and his personal life - get exposed, indicted, convicted and sentenced. And books are appearing that show just how bad things are in the White House, making us all feel good because we told you so. It's a pleasant feeling. However, it tends to cover up awareness of greater dangers. One of the greater dangers is that the president of the United States is a fascist - in deed if not by name.
Fascism came into existence (philosophically) in Italy in the 1920's. One of the original fascists there was Benito Mussolini. He and his cohorts came out with a manifesto in 1919. It contained a lot of good stuff for working stiffs and their families. Then in 1920 Mussolini and crew started to make alliances with industrial businesses. They abandoned populism and began to promote free enterprise. Over the years there developed variations in other countries. That original form of support was supposed to be a boon to the ordinary worker, farmers and everyone else as they dealt with the bosses and the politicians. With the Great Depression coming on top of the devastation of World War I, people were receptive to this new idea, especially in Europe. Fascist parties sprang up in many countries. Most of them never amounted to much, getting small percentages of the vote. In a few countries fascism prospered. Most notable were Italy under Mussolini, Spain under Franco and Germany under Hitler. Any connection with the improvement of the working class quickly disappeared. These fascist governments came to be supported by and allied with their country's capitalists. In behalf of the capitalists they eventually brought class warfare. Unions and other progressive organizations were trashed and people's programs never gained traction.
The same thing happened in Germany. Some of the largest corporations in Germany made peace with Hitler who kept their profits flowing as he eliminated unions and lowered wages. These corporations reciprocated that support. Included were American corporations such as GM, Ford, Coca-cola. IBM, Standard Oil, DuPont, ITT,and GE. All profited and had a role in rearming Germany leading up to World War II. Relations between American corporations and Hitler soured a bit from 1938 to 1940, but they still had branch factories in Germany during the war, profiting on both sides and preparing for a return to Germany after the war.
Of course fascism wouldn't come to the United States. Could it? The idea is and has been here. Back in the time of the Great Depression fascism was a serious topic of debate in this country. Corporate leaders and individuals like Charles Lindbergh and Father Coughlin pushed it. Father Coughlin was sort of the Rush Limbaugh of that time with a radio show that reached a wide audience. Compared to Limbaugh, Coughlin was more influential because radio was then the prime means of communication whereas today we have TV, twitter and more. And then in the 1950's we had Senator Joe McCarthy and the red scare. At the time people were afraid of big bad communists infecting our society. McCarthy took advantage of this to promote himself, finding reds everywhere. There was panic as people feared all those reds that Tailgunner Joe was uncovering. McCarthy was not a veteran, by the way. Society was on the brink. Godless communists seemed to be a real threat. People rallied behind McCarthy, feeding his need to be the center of attention. (Recognize Trump?) Any kind of dissent or cultural development was stifled. Panic ensued for those to the left of the political center. They began to hunker down and lock their doors at night. McCarthy had a run of about three years, which were three years without political dissent in this country. And that's a dangerous thing. Strains of this type of political thought have been and are here.
But it couldn't happen here in a big way. We've outlasted the Father Coughlin's and Joe McCarthy's. There's something about us that it won't happen. Right? Three years ago who would have said that a Trump would be a president. Fascist leaders seem to have certain programs to which they speak. For one they speak to the dissatisfaction of the working class. They also get over by appealing to nationalism. When times are hard and many are scuffling to just get by they come up with simple answers. Most people think their nation is the best. So the demagogue tells the people, "We will make (insert a country's name) great again." He will buddy up to and help make wealthy some capitalists in your country who in turn will financially support him. He will call attention to the real sources of our problem. That would be the communists. Or the Jews. Or the trade unionists.
As for Trump? You too can wear your red baseball cap saying "Make America Great Again" as you listen to him brag about his tax bill. That's the same bill about which he brags in private to his wealthy friends that he just made them a lot of money. You'll hear him diss Obamacare as he tries to implement his own plan that separates millions from a link to health care. He will clarify why we have the problem in the first place. It's the immigrants, of course. And while he blusters about immigrants and kneeling football players, by legislation, executive orders or through judicial appointments he guts basic protections for workers, consumers and the environment. Gains made from the Great Society and Civil Rights advances are disappearing.
I don't think we are near to fascism in this country, although Trump makes you wonder. After all, he has brought up the idea of violence in conjunction with the elections. It's a dangerous parlay. He's going to claim elections have been stolen. He's going to blame fake news for misreporting results. And he's got true believers who will be outraged and ready to be violent. The reason I don't think we are yet near to evening is Trump himself. Compare him to Hitler. It may be hard to imagine, but Hitler had some charisma. For a few years in Germany in the 1930's prosperity seemed to be returning. Hitler was a hero, and his speaking ability was able to mesmerize. He inspired loyalty.
On the other hand Trump is such a turd. He is following the fascist playbook with the hats and the immigrants and so on while he funnels wealth to the wealthy. Yet he is transparent to most of us as he lies his way through his term. His actions may point toward fascism, but he doesn't have the intellectual capacity to carry it off. His little feet can't fill Hitler's boots. He only mesmerizes the already committed. That is part of the reason his numbers of support remain around 40%. He is too repulsive an individual to win over much more of a following. Right now I don't see that there is anyone to take over the Trump mantle although John Bolton is scary.
However, I do think that this Trump phenomena is instructive of what could happen and how it could happen. As for Trump, his only strength is that he may wear us out by his daily disregard for truth and custom - the danger is that we may stop paying attention.
Bill Shunas is a Vietnam veteran, author and VVAW member in the Chicago chapter.