In the 1976 film Network, a deranged anchor-man threatens to commit suicide. His boss berates him: “Mr Beale, there is no West. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, IT&T and AT&T. These are the future nations of the world today.”
Network was ahead of its time. It foreshadowed the growing challenges to democracy, the demise of the nation state (Consider, for instance, the present struggle for jurisdiction between the European Parliament and the national parliaments in Europe.), the advent of globalisation, and, of course, social media (The Egyptian revolution was the first revolution to be carried out by social media — a simple request for the mobilisation of 1,000 Egyptians; 10,000 showed up.)
In the recent United States presidential election, the Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton, while the Republicans, Donald Trump. The two debated the issues three times. At the end of the third debate, the moderator asked Trump whether he would accept the results of the election. Trump replied: “Maybe. This way, I will keep you guessing.”
Democracy does not like the uncertainty inherent in that statement. Fascistic thought does. There is predictability in democratic governance — none in fascism. Fascism engenders fear: Fear of unemployment, fear of sustained inter-class violence, fear of uncertainty. In short, fear of the ‘Other’.
Trump is no stranger to the relationship between fascism and fear. Trump’s world view is reductionist and simplistic. It was to be expected that he would run a racist campaign as if the social justice gains that were accomplished in the past 50 years, had not taken place. He ran an Islamophobic, misogynistic campaign that rallied his supporters against the established elites, although he himself grew up as a privileged member of the elite class.
Defiant, arrogant and self-agrandising, Trump, surrounded himself with like-minded billionaire white supremacists like Stephen Bannon and Michael Flynn. If discrimination due to colour of one’s skin, or one’s ethnic background, or gender defines fascism, then Trump is fascist.
With regard to border security issues with Mexico, Trump opted for drastic measures: The idea of construction of a wall of separation in order to stop the illegal entry of Mexicans and deport them en masse without amnesty. Trump and the Mexican president disagreed as to who would finance the building of the wall.
Another example of Trump’s fascistic view — this one from a different era when a then senator, Barack Obama, announced that he was running for the office of president. A plethora of voices rose to question Obama’s eligibility, to cast doubts about his origin and to warn people about the nefarious implications of his second name (Hussain). Trump led that group. He held to the propagation of the lie that since Obama was born in Kenya, he was not eligible to run for the office of the president of the US.
Editors of an ultra-right online magazine recognised the very fact that they helped elect a president was an extraordinary coup. They further wrote that having catapulted their own chair to the White House was cause for celebration.
Perhaps, it was inevitable that Trump would state his support for the use of torture as a method of extracting information. This is likely to embolden authoritarian regimes and encourage them to engage in torture. What example does this give to the rest of the world? Especially to the progressive forces that believed in the rhetoric about America being the land of the free?
In authoritarian regimes, power is usually concentrated in the hands of the ruler. The ruler is usually omnipotent, omniscient and posses a grand and ambitious design. In Italy, Benitto Mussolini’s grand design was that Italy deserved a bigger empire. In Germany, Adolf Hitler’s design was the purification of the Aryan race.
In democratic governance, power is shared between the executive, legislature and judiciary. Rule of law, which means among other things, everyone is equal before the law, protects against arbitrary arrest, allows one to be presumed innocent and grants the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. Power is transferred peacefully and the government rules by consent as part of a contract between the people and their representatives who work towards the realisation of a common goal: Government of the people, by the people and for the people.
The inauspicious beginning to Trump’s presidency foreshadows turmoil ahead and tough days for American democracy.
Adel Safty is distinguished visiting professor and special adviser to the rector at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Russia. His book, Might Over Right, is endorsed by Noam Chomsky and published in England by Garnet, 2009.