I’ll be brief: last night’s rally, coupled with the Democratic House’s inability to do anything about what is going on, is a sign that The United States of America has crossed the line separating successful and failed states. It remains a Liberal Republican Democracy, at least in the sense that the institutions that have comprised it since 1787 still stand, however shakily. But they have become utterly ineffective at preventing a threat that aims at the nation’s heart. We can no longer rely upon those institutions to preserve themselves.
“Send her back!” is a chant that is far more ominous than “Lock her up!” Aside from the fact that Ilhan Omar is a black woman who is a naturalized citizen — and if the President’s and crowd’s sentiments aren’t racist I don’t know what is — the subtext here is “if you do not stand with us you do not deserve to be a citizen.” It reflects a belief that the opposition, any opposition, is disloyal by definition. There is an irony here that should not be lost on Democrats and anyone else not part of Trump’s posse, but it usually is: Trump himself ran on a platform of “American Carnage”, a broad attack on a putatively elite “other” that basically encompassed anyone who was not him or his base. (That Trump, a card-carrying member of the capitalist class, presents himself as not part of “the elite” is another irony likewise lost on many.)
In two brilliant and urgently important books, How Propaganda Works and How Fascism Works, Jason Stanley, a philosopher of language at Yale, , has noted the characteristic features of right-wing nationalist politics: a rhetoric filled with “us vs. them” tropes, an appeal to a mythic past, an evacuation of truth and truthfulness from political discourse, and a fake crusade against “corrupt” and “elitist” politics that masks a regime that is even more corrupt and even more elitist, funneling the spoils to oligarchs and toadies. Reading Stanley’s books, alongside Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny, is and ought to be a frightening experience. They are histories and analyses of what is happening right under our noses.
Stanley and Snyder do not explicitly label Trump and the Trumpites as “fascists.” In a way, they do not need to: the family resemblance is obvious. So I’ll take a stab at it.
Trumpism is a kind of American home-grown fascism. Much as Sinclair Lewis foretold it, it would be “wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” It is a form of fascism closer to Nazism than anything that emerged in Italy or Spain, since it has a deep ethnic/white nationalist component. The Rubicon has been crossed: fascism is happening here.
Complicating this dire development is the fecklessness of the Democratic Party that controls the House of Representatives. There seems to be an impasse between “progressives”, such as Senators Warren, Sanders, and Harris and including “the Squad” in the House, and “centrists” like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer. The former are pressing for impeachment; the latter are reluctant to do so on the grounds that any impeachment by the House would fail in the Republican controlled Senate, and would simply play into Trump’s hands in the 2020 election.
Yet in a way Pelosi is right. Impeachment would not pass the Senate, given that Republicans have pretty much established themselves as pod-people in thrall to the President. Moreover impeachment risks galvanizing his base as well as that of the Democrats. But if the government of the United States is reduced to throwing its hands in the air and saying “Well, what’s the point of impeaching an eminently impeachable President when this won’t work anyway” it is a clear sign that the game that has been played since 1787 is over. Trump has committed so many impeachable offenses, from obstruction of justice to blatant and open corruption to legitimating political violence, ad nauseam, that failure to act on the grounds that it is impossible is a gross dereliction of duty.
I think that Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer need to step down from their leadership positions, and let those with more fire-in-the-belly take over. But this does not negate the fact that in all probability the House will not be able to pass an impeached President over to the Senate to then be convicted. Thus Congress has a clear duty to impeach, and is hamstrung, by its own structure, from carrying it out. That Donald Trump is manifestly unfit for office is obvious. That he is guaranteed to escape accountability under present circumstances is appalling
The key term though is “present circumstances.” They must end. They will not end through the normal mechanisms of government. And the only way they can end is by millions flooding the streets of Washington D.C. and not leaving until the bastards give up.
This can happen. It did on January 1, 2017 with the first Women’s March. It happened in 1963 in the March on Washington. It happened in Romania in 1989, prompting Ceausescu’s ouster. It happened during the French General Strikes in 1968. Mass mobilization works.
“Power to the People” can be mere sentimental sloganeering, and is further complicated by the fractured nature of “the people” in The United States. But coordinated mass popular action, as opposed to merely individual opinionating (ironically what I am doing here and now), is what is needed now. The United States of America is no longer functioning at all, let alone functioning well. And if and when popular mobilization effects real change, new institutions need to be forged. A Second American Republic, if you will, that has taken account of the failings of the First, and in the spirit of a true democratic culture, corrects them.