"This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac ‘tapping into’ popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party—out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear—falling into line behind him."
The above was written by American neoconservative Robert Kagan in May 2016, while Trump was still on the campaign trail. Trump has been labelled a fascist by many in the aftermath of the election, as he stuffs his Cabinet with extreme right wingers, racists, misogynists and corporate hucksters. And definitely the election of an openly racist, sexist buffoon who spewed his vile rhetoric against Mexicans, Muslims and women throughout his year of campaigning has rightfully struck fear into the hearts of many inside and outside the US.
But Trump is part of a global phenomenon which we need to understand if we are to build an effective fightback. There is a worldwide rejection of the neoliberal consensus that has reigned for the last 40 years. Workers in country after country have seen their living standards plummet, their social safety nets savaged, and the future for their children looking ever bleaker, both on an economic and an environmental plain.
As British Marxist Alex Callinicos describes in his article "The end of the world news" in the most recent issue of International Socialism Journal: "Put simply, 40 years of neoliberalism and nearly ten years of what (Marxist economist) Michael Roberts calls the “Long Depression”—are beginning to destabilise the political systems of the advanced capitalist states."
This disaffection with “the way things are” is erupting in both right- and left-wing directions: in countries such as France, Greece and Hungary we have seen the disturbing increase in popularity of proto-fascist or openly fascist political formations—Marine LePen's Nazi National Front; the Jobbik party in Hungary with its racist anti-immigrant, anti-Roma and anti-gay rhetoric, accompanied by an alarming increase of physical attacks on these populations’ and the Nazi thugs of Golden Dawn in Greece.
But at the same time, and often in the same countries, as in Greece, we have seen significant sections of the population move to the left, with wide-ranging strikes and demonstrations to defend working-class wages and living conditions, as well as defending the rights of immigrants and refugees within their borders.
In Britain, we have seen the triumph of Jeremy Corbin, the first real left-wing Labour leader in generations, over right-wing members of his own party acting against the will of the majority of ordinary Labour members, who wanted a turn away from right-wing Blairite politics.
Hundreds of thousands and millions of South Korean students and workers have demonstrated over the last eight weeks, demanding the resignation of the president Park Geun-hye, who has been pushing through attacks on workers – "labour reforms" – and cutting welfare at a time of deepening economic crisis. Her government has also been cosying up to the US, in an attempt to curry favour with the world's biggest imperial power.
Similarly, in the US, we need to look beyond the election results to see the wider picture. In the same year as an openly racist and sexist, bigoted billionaire was elected President, millions of ordinary Americans looked to the message of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders as the way forward. Socialism, a word and an idea which had been banished from the mainstream for 50 years, reappeared as working class Americans took to Sanders' message about the need for a fundamental revolution against the greed of bankers and corporations and the end of inequality.
It was a great disappointment and a betrayal when Sanders, after losing the nomination, stood in support of Hilary Clinton and urged his followers to do the same. Clinton represents all that is wrong with the neoliberal agenda and everything that Sanders' supporters were fighting against: Wall Street, the greed of corporate America, the destruction of the environment and of working class people's lives and communities, the racism at the heart of American power.
It should be no surprise that half the American electorate chose not to vote at all. Only about one quarter of eligible voters elected Trump, and as we know now Clinton actually won in terms of the popular vote, with about 2.7 million more votes than Trump.
Of course, it is true that among the voters for Trump there will be a hard core of racists, homophobes and sexists, who could be the soldiers in a new fascist movement. But to write off the white working class as a whole as racist is not to understand why in the Rust Belt states—which essentially won Trump the election—people who had previously elected Obama (twice) in those same states might have turned to Trump.
Trump promised to “make America great again,” to invest in infrastructure projects to put people back to work, to bring back all the coal-mining jobs that have been lost in states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. But Trump, like Republicans and Democrats of all stripes, have not and will not come through with any of those promises. And in fact, Clinton wasn't even promising to bring back jobs: as she said repeatedly during her campaign, “America is already great.” Tell that to the Latina single parent trying to raise her kids on a fast-food worker's salary; to the older out-of-work factory worker with no pension, living on the edge of homelessness; or to the parents and family members of the myriad young Black men murdered at the hands of racist police.
It's important to understand that Trump is not a fascist. He is a member of one of the twin ruling class parties of American capitalism, which is why Republicans by and large stood behind him, although he was not their preferred candidate. Trump has definitely moved the political spectrum to the right in terms of high bourgeois politics and in doing so has opened the door to all kinds of right-wing racist scum—including the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who congratulated Trump on his win.
But Trump does not have an army of fascist Stormtroopers, which is one of the characteristics of fascist parties. These parties have an electoral face (such as the National Front in France) but at the same time they have a hard racist core that serves to intimidate and use violence on the streets to build a street-fighting cadre.
The ultimate goal of fascism, as Trotsky wrote in the 1920s and 1930s—watching from exile the rise of Hitler in Germany—is to smash the organs of working class solidarity and power, in order to disarm the only class that has the potential to halt fascism in its tracks. Trotsky described fascism as a system that capitalists will turn to if they feel there is no other way for them to hold on to their power. They would prefer to hide behind the sham of bourgeois democracy but will discard it if necessary.
The movement needs to understand that Trump is definitely a symbol of capitalism in decay, but that he is not backed by a fascist army and doesn't have that kind of power. It's important to understand this so as not to be paralyzed by fear.
Turn despair into hope
That's why it was so heartening to see Americans out in their thousands across the country the day after the election. People poured into the streets, including thousands of high school students, to say "Trump is not my president," "Refugees are welcome here," "Black lives matter."
The plans for a January 21st Million Women March on Washington, the day after Trump's inauguration, is another sign of the movement responding in the only way that can really challenge Trump's politics and fight against the opening up of space for real fascists. Mike Pence, Trump's Vice-President elect, is an open anti-choice bigot. The threat of women's reproductive rights being pushed back across the country is a real one and it's good to see women and their allies responding immediately.
What we desperately need is a united fightback to move forward, to turn despair into hope and to arm ourselves for the struggles ahead. Recent events at Standing Rock in North Dakota, where Indigenous communities camped out for months to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, along with hundreds of allies, provide a beacon for the kind of movement we need. The water protectors continue to defend not just their own land and people, but the right to clean water and a real future for all of us. Two thousand veterans of America's many unjust wars decided to support justice and oppose the greed and environmental destruction of the oil and fossil fuel companies.
One of the veterans who travelled to Standing Rock, a former Marine, explained why he was going: "Our police departments, that we pay for, are acting as private security, dressed up in uniform and go out and execute violence on peaceful American citizens." National Nurses United donated $50,000 to support US service veterans who went to Standing Rock as peaceful, unarmed defenders for the water protectors.
The election of Trump is a huge setback for Blacks, people of colour, the LGBTQ community, women and a multiracial working class that will gain nothing from his presidency—in spite of any promises made during his campaign. But if the movement can come together to fight any attempts to roll back gains, as well as to push for another kind of society, one where inequality and oppression are things of the past—to fight for socialism, as opposed to the dead-end of capitalism and the frightening possibility of fascism raising its ugly head—we can look to a future where Donald Trump and his ilk are consigned to the dustbin of history.