“The next wave of fascism will come not with cattle cars and camps. It will come with a friendly face.” – Bertram Gross, “Friendly Fascism”
I came to New York in the early 1980s when there were no computers, no cell phones and no “social media.” If you wanted to get something done, you had to fucking show up. The resiliency of youth carried me through the gritty, cauldron of New York’s Lower East Side where The Ramones and Bowie and Prince and CBGBs ripped up the airwaves and lent everyone an air of invincibility. I endured the cultural sea change the digital revolution brought and then, 9/11 happened. I have been very poor, and not known when I would next eat and I have been so sick I was sure I would die and even welcomed the respite, but I have never known the sense of hopelessness I felt on that day when the Twin Towers fell. The devastation went beyond sheer physical loss.
The events of 9/11 dissolved the core of what I had come to rely on as my human right to explore, rage, attempt, fail, and reinvent myself – without being subjected to fear. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t go where ever I wanted, or that there existed the possibility I might be prohibited from doing something I loved, or that people with more money and hubris than good judgment would dictate the terms of my life. To be deserted at the edge of an abyss without any access to an alternate journey, without any hope that you have the power to see a way forward is what I felt after our presidential elections. It was 9/11 all over with one caveat. This sense of hopelessness came from within.
A Trump victory is a signal that more people are fearful and hateful than we imagined. The signals have been there. That Trump could amass such widespread support should surprise no one. As a nation forged by patriarchy, we have been weaned on misogyny and discrimination. As a nation that successfully codified slavery and racism into cultural and legislative doctrines, we have had enough derision and hatred woven into our psyche and legitimized that Trump’s ascent should have been obvious.
But fascism is never completely obvious. It is a carefully woven tapestry of clandestine signals of hatred, deceit and fear. Trump didn’t arrive out of a vacuum of chaos. His journey is part of a carefully regulated façade that has served up race, ethnicity, and poverty as “the other” in the same way Nazi Germany constructed “Aryan” as only race that should be allowed to flourish. Social hierarchy and our hatred of the disenfranchised fuel the American chasm. It is fertile ground for Neoliberals who have ridden in on the coattails of social control.
That we are the richest country in the world and over half the nation is comfortable – and has been for generations – with the fact that health care is too expensive for the poor and unattainable for the sick [until the ACA act took effect in 2014 and now that is under threat] sends a clear signal that we believe there are people who clearly don’t deserve what the rich can easily afford. “Inequality is recast as virtuous. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.” To be more exact, privilege is recast as virtuous. This, as neoliberal propaganda, is effective and powerful. No one wants to be left out and Trump personifies that greed is good. Neoliberalism redefines people as consumers and any inefficiency in cycles that support capitalist profit, are, or should, be punished.
That we condone the school to prison pipeline that ensures young black men will be forever trapped in a system of poverty and despair [incarceration has risen 500% in the past 40 years] points out that our lawmakers would rather have a prison system that makes money than an educational system that helps the most needy. Mass incarceration is big business in America and it didn’t happen over night.
That we are only useful as consumers who pine away while watching car commercials that entreat us to buy a Mercedes Benz as we try to decide whether to pay an electric bill or use the money for food clearly sends the message that we need to pull up our bootstraps and work harder and make more money and buy more things so we won’t become stigmatized as “underachievers” or “useless eaters” to coin the Nazi slogan.
That we have a nation who believes it’s okay for higher education to cost so much that only the privileged can afford it while everyone else becomes a debt slave in order to simply compete on a level playing field, speaks to a deep seated resentment of the lower and middle classes who struggle to simply get by – who struggle with the never ending moniker of what or who is “worthy”. Again, “The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve,” rings out from CEOs and administrators and moguls who reassure us that the “trickle down effect” is yet to come. The trickle down effect is here and it reinforces big bank bail outs, tax breaks for the rich, environmental disasters, union busting, “right to work” states, fetuses that can have lawyers [thanks Mike Pense], political and financial corruption, and endless legislation and lobbyists that ensure all these catastrophes are enforced and levied upon a downtrodden public too tired to fight back.
Neoliberals have done an intrepid job of marrying patriotism with hatred of the other. The only thing missing is a fascist dictator and a little ideological shove. Enter Trump. The groundwork has been done – we’re there.