Flirting with Fascism: America's New Path?
** IDEAS will be pre-empted on Canada Day on CBC Radio One. This episode was originally published on November 29, 2018.
We've heard it so much that it's almost become a cliché: America is on the road to fascism. The debate over that claim continues, but renowned scholar Henry Giroux argues that "Donald Trump is not just some impulsive rich guy who marketed his way into politics through empty Kardashian-style consumer culture." Trump needed followers. And he got them. Now what?
Fascism looks different in different cultures, depending on that culture. In fact, it is the essence of fascism to have no single, fixed form- Henry Giroux
While academics and historians argue whether America is becoming a fascist state, Henry Giroux believes the evidence is mounting that it is. Giroux holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest. And he argues that a "savage capitalism" has moved America from a landscape of certainty to a fog of precarity. Politically, this movement creates a kind of rootlessness, and as thinkers like Eric Fromm and Hannah Arendt remind us, rootlessness can create the foundations of totalitarianism.
Giroux points to other indicators of America's flirtation with fascism, like the increase in racist language entering the public sphere. In his book American Nightmare, Giroux includes this quotation from public intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates: "Not every Trump voter is a white supremacist, but every Trump voter felt it acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one."
Giroux argues that one only needs to look at Trump's comments about the "Central Park Five" long before he became president. In the 1989 case, a group of black and Latino youths were charged with the rape of a white woman in Central Park. Donald Trump spent $85,000 dollars on newspaper ads calling for the return of the death penalty. Eventually, the members of the Central Park Five were exonerated by DNA testing, and a serial rapist confessed to the crime. When the teenagers received compensation from the state for their wrongful conviction, Donald Trump called their exoneration "outrageous."
While Henry Giroux applauds the work of some journalists at the New York Times and The Washington Post, he notes that enough work has not been done: "During Donald Trump's inaugural speech, Fox News commentators called it, 'muscular', 'unifying' and 'just masterful.' The fog of self-delusion was in full swing at CNN when historian Douglas Brinkley described Trump's inaugural address as 'presidential' and the 'best speech he has ever made.' Former conservative radio talk show host Charles Sykes argues that over the last few decades, right-wing media have played a major role in discrediting and delegitimizing the fact-based media."
Not every Trump voter is a white supremacist, but every Trump voter felt it acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.- Ta-Nehisi Coates
Giroux thinks some academics simply are not willing to describe conditions in America as "fascist." It's often been said that Trump isn't Hitler — "Of course he isn't," says Giroux, "but fascism looks different in different cultures, depending on that culture. In fact, it is the essence of fascism to have no single, fixed form."
He leaves us with the words of Adam Gopnik: "Fascism takes on the colours and textures of the nation it infects. In Italy, it is bombastic and neo-classical. In Spain, it is Catholic and religious. In Germany, it is violent and romantic. In England, it's form was paternalistic and aristocratic, through Oswald Mosley. So, it's no surprise that the American face of fascism would take on the form of celebrity television."
- American Nightmare: Facing the Challenges of Fascism by Henry Giroux, published by City Lights Open Media, 2018.
- America at War with Itself by Henry Giroux, published by City Lights Publishers, 2016.
- The Violence of Organized Forgetting by Henry Giroux, published by City Lights Publishers, 2014.
**This episode was produced by Mary O'Connell.