By Umair Haque
After America burned for a week, Donald Trump threatened to declare martial law from the steps of an historic church.
Leave aside for a moment that the clergy and bishop of said church was horrified, and described his actions as a profanity. Leave aside the fact that peaceful protesters gathered near the church were tear-gassed away from it. Leave aside, even, that all this sparked international outrage.
So let me ask a tiny question: is America having a fascist collapse?
This is one of those questions that if you’re at the point of having to ask…you’re not going to like the answer.
I have some bad news, and then maybe, just maybe, some good news. We’ll get to that.
Trump declaring martial law — or threatening to — from the steps of a church. What is it? Just a stunt, as pundits say? Yes and no. In game theoretic terms, Trump is playing what might be called the mafia game. The mafiosi threatens, and hopes he doesn’t have to break your legs. It’s hard work. But he knows if you’re not scared, he must, because then otherwise nobody will be afraid of him. The threat to declare martial law isn’t just a stunt. It’s a stunt that must be made good on, too, if Trump’s power of demagoguery — the power to frighten, intimidate, bully, and terrorise — is to be retained.
Trump has spent years now terrorising America. The world laughs at that, because of course for a very long time, America has been the one terrorising it. Who helped install Saddam and create the Taliban? Whose troops ravaged Latin America? But I digress. The point is that the demagogue’s only power is fear. And America, right now, is a nation that is terrified of what will happen next.
What happens if Trump does declare martial law? Then American troops will be asked to fire on American citizens. Across cities. They’ll be asked to walk the streets and patrol the neighbourhoods.
Some people liken that to 1968. But the situation now is not like 1968. It is much, much worse.
Let’s put all the above in context.
In 1968, America exploded. But that was after becoming a superpower, and enjoying two decades or so of an economic boom. America at that point enjoyed some of the highest living standards in the world, while Europe was still a wreck.
Today’s socio-economics couldn’t be more different. America is a nation fallen into disrepair, poverty, and ruin. The average American has suffered five decades of stagnating incomes. Now, 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to pay the bills. The average American will die in debt, because basics cost astronomical amounts — childbirth, $50K, an operation, $250K, educating a child, more than a home. Nobody can afford that. Americans have been left impoverished as a result of those fatal economics.
What did those fatal economics predict? A fascist-authoritarian implosion. I’ve been warning of it for years. Literally. When nations fall into sudden, fresh poverty, what tends to happen? Some on the left think in utopian terms — the people will unite and have a glorious revolution their oppressors! History, instead tends to suggest just the opposite. A middle and working class in decline seek scapegoats to blame their economic woes. A demagogue emerges, who points his finger at just such demagogues, and gains power by demonizing them. He promises to make things Great Again — if the pure and true will just rid themselves of the hated minorities among them, the parasites who have made them poor and weak and powerless.
That is the story of Weimar Germany, of course. And it is exactly what happened to America. Not metaphorically, but literally. The American middle and working classes grew poor, desperate, anxious. Mobility declined — and so did income, trust, happiness, savings. Around 2010, the middle class became a minority for the first time in history — and the working class had descended into fatalism, wracked by suicide and depression.
Right on time, a demagogue emerged. Trump. Who blamed all those woes on already vilified minorities. Latinos, Muslims, Jews, etcetera. And told people they would be Great Again, if they somehow put those hated subhumans back in their place.
Around this time, those of us who were intimately familiar with fascist collapses warned in the most strenuous terms we could. We were ignored and mocked, because we were mostly women and minorities. The average white male pundit in the pages of the New York Times attacked us, for raising the alarm of authoritarian-fascist collapse….not Trump for being one.
That rang further alarm bells for people like us. It told us that a society’s intellectual class and opposition was failing, too — which is another key ingredient in the rise of fascism.
So what happened next? A predictable sequence of hardening fascism, and appeasement to it, instead of real opposition.
Trumpist America followed his lead, eagerly. Given their license, Trump proceeded to build all the key institutions of fascist society. By 2019 or so, America was a country that was building all the major institutions of a fascist society — at light-speed. Concentration camps. Kids in cages. Gestapos. Ethnic bans. Paramilitaries. Paper-checks. Daily vilification and hatred. Propaganda. A purged government. Loyalty tests. The equivalent of a state media wing.
By 2018, America was committing genocide. Yes, really. That is what “family separations” were. Americans still don’t understand it as such. Is it any surprise they went on for years — and maybe still do?
At this point, those of us who’d lived this before tried to warn in even stronger terms. We knew what was happening. “America now has all the institutions of a fascist society!” I shouted. A few joined me. But America, by and large, didn’t seem to care. “LOL. So what?” came the reply. “Don’t be alarmist!” But a nation should be alarmed when a demagogue is turning it into a fascist society before the world’s eyes. America wasn’t.
If you doubt that, think about how many times you read in the NYT or saw on CNN something like: “America’s Going Fascist.” Never. I know, because I was busy writing that, and they were busy mocking me for it. They were telling Americans crazy things like “the economy’s booming!” and whatnot. It was like watching a bizarro country emerge, where everything’s upside down.
The world was horrified at this point. Not just by Trump — but even by the good American. What kind of people shrugged at concentration camps, cages, bans, purges, Gestapos, raids, checks? What the? Didn’t Americans think of themselves as brave and free? So…what the hell were they letting happen to their country?
I tried marshalling the strongest argument that I could. I wrote that the last living Nuremberg Prosecutor described what was going on in America as crimes against humanity. He’d know. He was the man who put the Nazis away. He literally helped invent the idea.
America had to listen to this, right? The last living Nuremberg prosecutor, saying all this was a crime against humanity. If they didn’t believe me, surely they’d believe him.
Yawn. Who cared? Everything was fine! The economy was booming! What the?
I fell into a kind of deep depression at that point. I knew what was coming next. And it did.
The Democrats decided to impeach the President. But they didn’t impeach him for any of the above. Camps, bans, raids, purges, hate, Gestapos, and so forth. Nope. They impeached him for…a bribe.
The thinking was that we should get him on what we can. But that is not how justice is done. When you give fascism a free pass, what happens? It grows. Duh. We created a system of justice for fascism — crimes against humanity, rendering genocide as one of them, even an international criminal court — to prevent fascism. But America didn’t employ any of that. Not the vocabulary, terms, lexicon, ideas, institutions. Trump’s nascent fascism was given a license by impeachment that was so timid it didn’t try him on a single count of fascism.
It takes more than a Trump and an army of American Idiots to turn a society fascist. What else does it take? Think about Germany. It takes complicity and denial and appeasement from the well-meaning good people, too.
And that is precisely what happened in America, too.
Not only did the Democrats not try Trump for fascist abuses of power…they were in denial that there even were any. They’d funded the camps — not shut them down. What the?
But that’s the position that America’s intellectual class was in, too. You wouldn’t read a daily warning that America was on the brink of a fascist collapse, or maybe halfway through one, in Newsweek or the Times or the Post. Just here, and a few other places.
As a result, Americans, taking their cue from pundits, ambled blindly into the abyss. Fascism? Don’t be ridiculous! There’s no fascism here!
An atmosphere of denial and complicity permeated society. Trump put kids in cages in camps. Nobody much said fascism. Trump banned religions. Nobody much said fascism. Trump sent Gestapos to raid towns. Nobody much said fascism.
What the? Was America high, the world wondered? Was it just…dumb? Was it blind and deaf? Couldn’t it see what was happening before it’s very eyes? What other kinds of people put kids in cages, raid towns, hunt minorities, cheer in hate? Anyone else, apart from….fascists? What on earth?
America didn’t care it was going fascist. Sure, you might have. But as a society? It’s intellectuals didn’t, it’s media didn’t, it’s political opposition didn’t, and by and large, it’s people didn’t. Not nearly enough.
When you fail to stop one crime against humanity, do you know what happens? Another one. That’s the point of the idea of a “crime against humanity.” Trump, knowing that he could get away with more or less anything by now, was…about to. Something even more horrific was about to happen.
A pandemic swept the world. A hundred thousand Americans died. Less than ten thousand needed to.
But about this fact, too, America was largely silent. Tell an American about this, and you’d get The Look. The face would go blank, the eyes would go vacant, the jaw would lock rigid. They were raging at you inside, for bringing this up. They were going into denial, complicity. The fear and terror was too much. They wanted to kill you where you stood for shattering their blissful ignorance. They feel anger at you for not letting them look away in embarrassment.
Everyone — everyone — who’s not American knows The Look. The one you get when you ask an American anything remotely serious about what went wrong with America. Today, you’ll still get The Look if you ask Americans why a hundred thousand died, needlessly.
That was, properly understood, recklessness and negligence at the level of yet another crime against humanity. But America, a nation in denial and complicity, by now shrugging its shoulders in appeasement, merely looked away in embarrassment.
Then a police officer killed yet another black man, in a spectacularly violent, public way. With a knee to the throat, for minutes. That, too, was fascism. What black people in America have suffered has always been fascism. Americans can’t say the word fascism today because they can’t admit that America was the originator of it, which is why the Nazis studied America, it’s race laws, the many clever and lethal ways it had come up with to oppress, enslave, and kill blacks, when they were figuring out how to exterminate the Jews.
George Floyd died at the hands of fascist. Every fascist is a racist, after all. Not every racist is a fascist. Only the ones who hate enough to kill, enslave, maim, abuse.
Black America erupted in rage, in despair, in fury. They’d had enough. Four hundred years of murder, bigotry, hatred. Of fascism. Four hundred years of it. White America — at least some of it — joined them. There was a kind of dim understanding, at last, that all this was wrong. America was finally rebelling against fascism.
What would you do if you were the fascist demagogue in this situation? Well, you’d have to put people “back in their place.” That’s literally what Trump said, LOL.
Meaning: you’d have to terrorise them into submission again. But submission isn’t just fear. It’s the denial and complicity of the well-meaning white: “This isn’t fascism! It never was!” It’s the oh-so clever yet astonishingly foolish appeasement of the opposition: “We’ll impeach him for everything but fascism! Tee hee!!” And it’s black men, too, being killed in horrific ways, over and over again, while a nation mostly shrugs, and eventually goes back to its business. All that is fascism. All that is what it means for a nation to be terrorised into submission by it.
So Trump declared martial law from the steps of a church. Or threatened to. Why? Because he knows he has to put America back in its place. That place is one of terror, fear, anxiety, and panic. That is how the white men have always controlled everyone else in America. “They’re going to rape your daughters and steal your wives!” All they, the slaves, really wanted, was…their freedom. Terror. Fear. Panic.
Trump knows, like any good demagogue, that terrorising a nation is about making outlandish threats. But also making good on them. When he threatens martial law, take him at his word. Just like you should have when he promised to be something like a good Fuhrer, too. Who else keeps Main Kampf by their bedside? Promises to eliminate the hated subhumans? Call them animals and vermin?
Trump is a fascist. He always was.
He’s not the fool here. America is. Because it’s still in denial. Still appeasing him. Still complicit in the pretense that this was ever anything but a fascist collapse.
So let me ask you again: Is America having a fascist collapse?