Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Trump Movement

Well here we are in the midst of a coup attempt and I can't say I'm surprised. I've been expecting this since day one. I also must admit I let my guard down a little after the election thinking the fire of insurrection wasn't getting enough oxygen to burn too hot.  

It was fated to reach this point because Trump is fascistic. In the fascist imagination laws and constitutions are only important so far as they can be bent and manipulated to gain power. Trump used the electoral college and state-level voting restrictions as best he could, but once those methods were not sufficient he had to eschew them for a putsch.

He is also fascistic in that he is less a man than a movement. For a long time I have wondered how anyone could give a man who obviously cares so little for others and the truth their trust and dedication. How could someone actually take to the streets waving a banner with his name on it when he wouldn't pee on these people if they were on fire? A couple of years into this mess it dawned on me that he is not a man, but a symbol. He is the avatar of patriarchy, of white supremacy, of nativism, of petty bourgeois resentment. When his followers chant his name they themselves do not express their love for him so much as what he stands for. They want an America where people like them are on top and he is their champion.

Sometimes when we decide on deeming things fascist we are too interested in parties and institutions and not enough in personalities and their relationship with their followers. During the time of the Nazis' rise to power, people in Germany (and many Nazis themselves) referred to the party not by name, but as "the Hitler movement." The man and not the party really mattered. This carried over into Hitler's reign, as Ian Kershaw's work has shown how many ordinary Germans despised the Nazi party but still adored Hitler, considering him above it all.

Hitler himself never talked of "party," but of "Bewegung," i.e. "movement." At times Trump has done the same, which has disturbed me far more than regular people whose ears are not attuned to such rhetoric. He talks of "our movement" so much that calling the people who stormed the Capitol "Trump supporters" instead of "Republicans" might not be the dodge some accuse it of being.

Like other fascist leaders Trump does not derive his legitimacy from the usual modes of political legitimacy. He has never gained the votes of the majority and is still trying to claim power after losing an election that any objective person deems legitimate. He like other fascists derives his legitimacy merely from what Max Weber called charisma. In his time in office Trump certainly has shown little to no knowledge or even interest in his Constitutional role, duties, and limits. 

That democracy is still hanging on is only a testament to the fact that Trump has not for one day of his political career ever had the support of the majority of people in this country. However, events last week show that support for the Trump Movement run strong in the military and law enforcement. Without their members being purged from those institutions and his civilian devotees and political allies being deplatformed, the Trump Movement will present a threat to democracy in this country long after January 20th. 

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