‘Using a bronze mirror, one can see whether one is properly attired; using history as a mirror, one can understand the rise and fall of a nation; using man as a mirror, one can understand right and wrong.’ – Chinese Emperor Taizong (598 – 649)
History is not simply a series of events whose shadows linger only in the sub-consciousness of those who have experienced them, but rather a mirror that transcends time in which we can see political phenomena and modern day morality vividly reflected back at us. Ask any teacher or parent the importance of the study of history and they will most probably reply, ‘it allows us to learn from the past’. In the knowledge that history is our guide, perhaps we can go some way to determining the stance of the US President on fascism and our fate in his hands.
From playground bickering and comedy acts to online forums and Twitter tirades, the term fascist is one that is frequently halfheartedly brandished about for comedic or dramatic effect and we have become somewhat desensitized to the weight of its true meaning. A brief analysis of fascism and political persecution throughout modern history may help to bring some perspective on whether or not it is just to wave the term around America’s most powerful politician.
According to Peter Bergen of the CNN, Donald Trump is fundamentally different from fascist leaders in that he channels racial discrimination though political dialogue rather than violent action – the President ‘has many ideas that are fascistic in nature, but he is not proposing violence as a way of implementing those ideas’. The Guardian’s John Daniel Davidson also agrees, ‘Trump is no fascist, he is a champion of the forgotten millions’. As demonstrators roar with enthusiasm as Trump pledges his allegiance to’the forgotten men and women of America‘, we come across a political figure who is a better orator than we first thought, able to spearhead – with the help of Twitter and his high profile PR team – a rebellion against the elite and the political establishment itself in the name of the common man.
While Peter Bergen sees the President’s actions as pacifistic in nature, it is important to remember that fascist leaders rarely rise to power through a dialogue that is inherently violent in nature. It is only once they have established power and fear through propaganda and the creation of a threat to the common man’s stability that they are able to instigate direct physical aggression against a certain set of people. It seems that a threat to stability is often catapulted off of a single event that helps to create divisions, incite fear and trigger the mobilization of the common man. It is from tension building up to a single event that fascism is ultimately able to grow and escalate into physical brutality.
Family stability in its simplest form may be defined as a stable home, a stable income and a safe living environment. By establishing a threat of a certain set of people to the common man’s own territory, his ability to find work or to protect his family; essentially, a threat of a set of people – who, as Hitler phrased it, ‘get in the way’ – one is able to create a fascist rhetoric that may eventually evolve into something violent in nature.
In Rwanda, divisions between the Hutu and Tutsi people had existed for centuries, but racial tensions were exacerbated by preferential treatment of the Tutsi people by the Belgian Colonial Government and the issuing of national identification cards with ethnic classification information. Following independence, the Hutu Power were able to gradually incite racial discrimination against the Tutsi people through radio propaganda broadcast on the radio station Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLMC) that depicted them as thieves and ‘cockroaches’ and in 1993, were able to use the assassination by Tutsi extremists of the first elected Hutu President of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, as a signal to the public that Tutsi people posed a threat to the stability and safety of Hutu society and violence was a necessary means to an end.
In prewar Germany, Hitler was able to rise to power through propaganda emphasizing the laziness and greediest of the archetypal Jew who ‘even during the most beautiful opera …is calculating dividends’ and the threat the Jewish community posed to the country’s economic stability. Daniel Binchy, an Irish diplomat and witness to the rise of Hitler, commented how ‘the Marxist traitors, the criminals who caused the revolution… and – most insistent of all – the Jews’ were specifically targeted and identified as a threat to the common man.
In 1938, the residence permits of all foreigners in Germany (including those of German-born Jews) were cancelled by the authorities and they were instructed to leave the country by October 28. At the same time, Poland had announced it would only accept Jews of Polish origin until the end of October. Among the recently expelled stranded at the German-Polish border were the parents of Hershel Grynszpan. In a protest against his parent’s expulsion, Herschel proceeded to shoot vom Rath, a German diplomatic Nazi, which was used by the Nazi party as a pretext to highlight the danger of Jews and incite the violent events of Kristallnacht.
While Trump may not meet the Cambridge dictionary’s definition of a fascist from all angles – he perhaps does not wish to take total ‘state control of social and economic life’ and American society still allows for freedom of speech (be it in the press or online) to the extent that he does not possess the power to quash all ‘expression of political disagreement’ – he has risen to power on the back of a wave of racially oriented propaganda published by right wing media. In attempting to cancel the residence permits and visas of certain foreign citizens so that they may be sent back to war-torn countries and perhaps even, certain death, is arguably violence in itself. In demonizing those from another country of origin as ‘bad people’ and ‘bad hombres’ and attempting to economically cripple Mexican farmers by heavily taxing imports of produce, such as avocados, he is creating the very racial divisions that other fascist leaders before him have done and in doing so, condoning discrimination and inciting physical aggression among his people. Is it just a matter of time until he uses the next terrorist attack to occur in America as a pretext for the support of torture methods, such as waterboarding, and the persecution of foreign citizens?
Some hundreds of miles across the ocean from the USA, in present day China, on the fifth floor of the International Building of a Chinese University, a history professor is preparing to touch on the topic of the Cultural Revolution with her students. Still a somewhat sensitive subject in China, she tells one student to shut the door before she begins an account of how divisions between peasants and the elite fueled by party propaganda led to uprisings and attacks on teachers and educated people. Groups of students began attacking their teachers, some throwing boiling water on them, others beating them to death whilst large houses were ransacked and their owners violently attacked. ‘Could such a thing happen again?’ one student asks; ‘Yes, I think it is very possible. It will just appear in a different form…’ .
Is President Trump a fascist or a champion of the people? Will his policies help to instigate positive change and a reduction in terrorism, or will they lead to more violence and greater divisions between Republicans and Democrats? Should the White House focus on immigration crackdown or tighten gun crime? What effect will Trump administration immigration policies have on international communities living in the US? To what extent will deported immigrants face brutality in their countries of origin? How would refugees and expelled immigrants be able to continue life outside the US? Will the public be able to reign in Trump’s power? To what extent are Trump’s supporters justified in their view of immigrants as a threat? Will his policies help fuel the power of IS?
‘As we left the meeting my friend asked me what I thought of this new party leader [Adolf Hitler]. With all the arrogance of 21 I replied: “A harmless lunatic with the gift of oratory”. I can still hear his retort: “No lunatic with the gift of oratory is harmless”.’ – Daniel Binchy
‘What the gentleman said, that for him it doesn’t matter – any person is a human being – I agree, as long as that person does not get in the way. But when a great race systematically destroys the life conditions of my race, I say no, no matter where they ‘belong.’ In that case, I say that I am one of those who, when they get a blow on the left cheek, they return two or three.’ – Adolf Hitler
‘Yarmouk is being described as the worst place to live on planet Earth. They’ve been bombed by the military, they’ve been besieged, they’ve been stormed by ISIS and they’ve been cut off from supplies for years.’ – Anders Fjellberg (Journalist)