2007 - 2020

Donald and the F Word

CwnhmnOXgAEzDATAs white supremacist Steven Bannon enters the White House a grinning chipper Evan Davies gives Raheem Kassam a free pass on Newsnight and the new normal settles in. Truly dire political decisions get re-framed as Hard or Soft Brexit, now Hard or Soft Trump.  Bannon runs Breitbart and Kassam is the London editor. Breitbart – which many outside the circles of right-paranoia had never heard of before yesterday – is a cesspit of right-wing propaganda.

The Washington Post described Bannon as:

“Before taking a leave from Breitbart to become the chief executive of Trump’s campaign, Bannon boasted of turning Breitbart into the “platform of the alt-right,” a movement that pushes a white-supremacist philosophy. Under Bannon, Breitbart has included a section called “black crime,” equated feminism with cancer, attacked companies that employ legal immigrants, and described Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew” for opposing Trump’s candidacy.”

Kassam presented him as a father-figure who had “helped him as a human being”. To which you can only respond that he didn’t do a very good job.

Even Glenn Beck the “ultra-conservative” broadcaster has said that the new chief political strategist to the White House is dangerously far to the right, a “nightmare” with “clear ties to white nationalists” and “a frightening… no… a terrifying man. A terrifying man.” The American Nazi Party said they were ‘surprised’. Those that described the Trump victory as a whitewash weren’t wrong. The Southern Poverty Law Center said Bannon “simply has no business in the White House.”

994748_1393023844071180_1242783169235053323_nBut our media are kind of okay with it. “The early signs are we are seeing a more moderate Mr Trump” intoned one C4 documentary. Kassam dismissed the Breitbart editorial as ‘satirical’ and his anti-Semitism as “the sort of thing that comes out of a divorce”. Evan Davies shrugs meekly and says “would you admit there’s been a coarsening of language?”.

These people’s language isn’t coarse, it’s fascist.

The media failure to predict or hold to account this burgeoning populist right is no being continued in a new form of accommodation and conciliation. It’s appeasement.

And for those who bridle at the F word, let’s remember that Bannon is now aligned himself with the leaders of several ‘far-right’ movements in Europe, including England’s Nigel Farage, the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, and France’s Marine Le Pen.

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen — niece of the party’s leader, Marine Le Pen — wrote on Twitter on Saturday that representatives of President-elect Donald Trump had invited her to “work together.” (@Marion_M_Le_Pen
Je réponds oui à l’invitation de Stephen Bannon, directeur de la campagne #Trump, à travailler ensemble. http://www.lci.fr/elections-americaines/elections-americaines-stephen-bannon-l-homme-qui-murmurait-a-l-oreille-de-donald-trump-2012076.html 5:32 PM – 12 Nov 2016)

If the new media failure is a dangerous new low, there’s no room for complacency about our own political culture. As Alec Finlay notes wryly:

“It’s good that history will judge Britain kindly compared to the USA. At least during the Brexit Referendum we had a balanced debate, there was no outbreak of racism, and no one getting shot by political extremists. If that happened here we know people would be so appalled it would sway voters.”

 * * *

Is Trump a fascist? Is it “hyperbolic” to do so. I don’t think so. Amid much hand-wringing there’s some key criteria we can use to make such an assessment. The Italian thinker Umberto Eco has outlined what he calls Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism: “These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”

Here’s Eco’s fourteen features:

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.
2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism.
3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement (“When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” “universities are a nest of reds.”
4. No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.
5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.
6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.
7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged.
8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.
9. For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle. Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare.
10. Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak.
11. In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm.
12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons—doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.
13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view—one follows the decisions of the majority.
14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in 1984, as the official language of Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.

* * *

CxQzQcaXAAAw9YK.jpg-largeNewspeak, machismo, a frustrated middle-class, irrationalism, ultra-traditionalism,  all are major features in Trump’s falange. The “people who feel deprived of a clear social identity” are the deified “left-behind” and the “impoverished vocabulary” was ever-present on the TV stump.

The “distrust of the intellectual” was a key meme now being recycled in endless op-eds about the “liberal elite”, while “disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of  homosexuality” is a leitmotif of the new American fascism alongside the tragedy of American gun law (“When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun”) and the obsession with “action” (build walls, deport 3 million people etc).

“Contempt for the weak” could almost have been a campaign slogan under “Trump / Pence”.

Trumpism matches almost all of Eco’s criteria. He says: “it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”

* * *

The role of the media before, during and after the US election is now one of a scathing self-reflection. Charlie Beckett writes:

“They (the US media) had failed to predict Trump’s victory and the collapse of the Democrat vote both in its scale and nature. The demographics that have emerged from exit polling reveal that huge sections of the electorate had turned to Trump but had been ignored in the campaign coverage. When their rage was noted it had been scorned in the liberal media. Worst of all, American journalism has to face up to the fact that half of the voters appear to hate them, the other half despair of them. Few trust them.”

It’s no comforting irony that the media played a huge role in Trump’s success and Clinton’s failure despite the movement’s obsessive hatred of that same media (see Eco’s points 4, 5 and 8). But they – and we  – could learn from this failure now that Trump has been exposed in the cold light of day for what he is.

At the end of the Newsnight interview Raheem Kassam described going throughout the ‘big gold door” to President Elect Trumps suite: “We were floating policy ideas to Trump and we were floating some back at him” he tell us. Then he recounts meeting a ‘Human Rights establishment figure’ on the streets of New York who is expressing fear at the coming government. He says: “Are you an optimist or a pessimist? And he said well at this point we just need to be optimists don’t we?”

It was a cheerful tale, a nonsense anecdote, but no we really don’t need to be optimists. Whitelash will become whitewash if media complacency goes unchecked. Optimism is not the mood of the day in the face of the coming politics, as the late Leonard Cohen said: “I don’t consider myself a pessimist. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel soaked to the skin”.

Comments (17)

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  1. Elizabeth Thomson says:

    “As Alec Finlay notes wryly:
    ““It’s good that history will judge Britain kindly compared to the USA. At least during the Brexit Referendum we had a balanced debate, there was no outbreak of racism, and no one getting shot by political extremists. If that happened here we know people would be so appalled it would sway voters.””

    I am assuming that comment was written with the tongue firmly in the cheek and is to serve notice on the British media given that this week the Jo Cox murder trial is underway.

    I note from comments seen in social media that many Americans are blaming the open fascism displayed in the US as “coming over from England”. The Brexit campaign opened that can of worms and our MSM is ignoring and glossing over much of it. It isn’t good enough for media to aid/facilitate normalisation of such extremism, hatred and willful incitement.

    1. Richard MacKinnon says:

      Elizabeth,
      The critical fact that you, Mike Small, countless others including Douglas Alexander (see article on Labour Hame 11 November) choose to avoid in all of your analysis’ is that the UK/EU referendum was part of the Conservative manifesto 2015. The electorate voted for it, Cameron delivered it (and lost). Brexit is a decision arrived at through the democratic process.
      It might be that to you “The Brexit campaign opened that can of worms” but it is what the electorate want. You have to ask yourself the question, is it the holding of referendum that is the problem? There are those Ken Clark and Jack Straw are two that don’t think referendum are a good idea and that the electorate are not capable of making such big decisions. Is that your position?

      1. Drew Campbell says:

        Yes, it is an important point and Brexit was arrived at through a democratic process.

        Readers of this site, however, will be well aware of the role of our fourth estate in putting out propaganda. The Brexit debate wasn’t reasoned or balanced, and the even the media’s best efforts over the build-up and campaign was largely to inflame the characters and drama rather than explore the issues. All that came on the back of decades of “eurosausage” misinformation and dog whistle racism ramped up closer and closer to 11 over the past few years.

        I was tempted to vote Leave. The TTIP-style deals, the relentless neoliberal dragooning of economics and the treatment of the Greek people all reawakened my younger Bennite self’s suspicion of the EU, its many peaceful benefits and larger scale, longer-term thinking notwithstanding. In the end, however, I simply couldn’t stomach the vile racism and naked opportunism of Farage, Johnson et al. Yes, I was drawn into the drama rather than the issues.

        Reality is that while we may intellectually rationalise decisions, sometimes retrospectively, all of us vote to a greater or lesser degree on emotion. Parliamentary democracy is supposed to help process that and while endless plebicites can give the illusion of democracy, truth is they can easily become simple vents for frustration and simplistic populism. Hence the post-vote regret of many who wanted just to kick the government while retaining their cheap holidays and expressing fear over immigration. Return of the death penalty, castration of paedos, mass deportation of “illegals”… the Great British Public could easily be whipped into a frenzy to heartily endorse any or all of this and worse. And over time, much worse.

        The Scottish referendum was conducted over a two-year campaign and was pretty well informed, organised and peaceable as these things go. Nevertheless (virtually) the entire mainstream media was against the proposition and character assassination, misinformation and outright malicious propaganda were manifest. I have my doubts about another, but since it appears that is where we are going so be it.

        Democracy requires active civic participation along with relevant education and robust information. It requires genuine transparency, legal accountability and intelligent structures to air and challenge opinions. We may be closer to approaching those ideals than at any time in human history, but as the article above explains it remains a very fragile flower susceptible to very pernicious pesticides and equally deadly disease.

  2. Kenny says:

    The jovial bonhomie treatment of Kassam by Davies really didn’t come as a surprise. This creeping normalisation of xenophobic views is gathering pace across mainstream media. It follows on from interviews on Remembrance Sunday morning; Marr with Marine Le Pen and Peston with Suzanne Davies, the UKIP leadership candidate.
    Both interviews were conducted in the same vein, no real challenge, they came across as simply cozy Sunday morning chats with old friends.

    It would appear that dressing bigotry and racism in a smart suit is enough for elements of the media to turn a blind eye to their toxic message.

  3. colin says:

    Trump is self-aggrandizing, misogynistic and deranged. He’s the lightning rod the alt-right were waiting for. You could argue about whether he’s a card carrying fascist with a capital F but academic now that he is surrounded by them and being advised and influenced by them daily.

  4. muttley79 says:

    The American Nazi Party said they were ‘surprised’.

    I think that says it all really.

  5. Stevie Anderson says:

    We might want to look at the commentators on Bella’s discussion group on Facebook or on similar communities of our independence movement and tick off Eco’s list. I’m ticking a fair few and while I realise these would be realisations abut the followers and not the leaders of our independence politics, it is a deep concern that we have much in our own gutters and that it spews from the same sores

  6. Willem says:

    Astonishing that Eco, who was repeatedly mentioned with regards to the Yes campaign and it’s binary logic is now invoked by a man with an Avitar – ‘imagined lady liberty’ that is the emblematic of what Eco was referring to.

    1)Cult of tradition – try Scot nationalism and it’s exclusivity – Jesus how many time did we hear ‘ exceptionalist Scots culture’ during the indyref.
    2)Rejection of (actually it was enlightened progress – not modernity) modernity – try bleating on about Ossian and Gaelic and Scots at every turn and all the other creation myths.
    3)Action for action’s sake – the irrational disparaging of ‘experts’ – again the Yes campaign – ‘Hope over Fear’ ffs – no room for pragmatic economics. As for the the university No sceptics who were actively bullied by the SNP – note the principle of St Andrews left shortly after for Oxford – quietly pointing out the closing of Scottish intellectual forums by nationalists.
    4) Disagreement is treason – hahahahahahahaha – the very fact that this site assumes to be MORE SCOTTISH and more righteous for SCOTLAND and that nationalist systematically invoke ‘WE’ as a means to justify their position and assume ‘WE’ ie ‘them’ are Scotland… laughable.
    5) Fear of difference – if you are not liberal or left and working class you are demonised in this country.
    6) Appeal to a frustrated middle class – The SNP has pandered to middle Scotland for decades.
    7) obsession with a plot, hahahahahahahaahahahahahaha… Westmonster…aka the Inglis…hahahahah
    8) Life is permanent warfare…an enternal enemy.. the Jew or the Moor…hahahaha… or the pragmatic unionist or worse the Tory or worse…the Inglis…..hahahahahaa…always someone else to blame.
    9) Elitism…try the bloody Yes ‘movement’. Entirely middle class and condescending to the working class.
    10) Everybody as a hero..try the Yes movement and the ‘Journey’ to Yes’ Everyone is a noble down trodden hero person.. reaching ‘hero enlightenment’… and the righteous noble path…hahahahahaah.
    11) Everyone is educated to become a hero despite being total ignorant uneducated fuck sticks…errrrm…one name…Alan Bissett…the genius hero of the Yes movement.
    12)yadayadyad..selective populism…seriously….seriously…no nuance but polemical diatribes…seriously… Mike Small???? Do you have any self awareness????
    13) Newspeak closing down debate???…you mean ‘Westmonster’ and ‘civic nationalism’ and ‘the establishment’ and ‘Brit nats = cosmopolitan non nationalists’..the Yes Newspeak was endless.

    Total joke. Some of us had read quite a lot about the systemics of ‘fascism’ LEFT and right and saw the intolerance and polemics for what they were a long time ago…and we predicted this.

    The Yes movement was nothing but a left ‘anti-globalisation’ version of Trump and Brexit and all the other populists out and about today.

    Better batten down the hatches because the world is turning and it isn’t turning towards liberal cooperative pragmatism. And the Scot Nats were at the forefront of the shift.
    11)
    9)

    1. You’re so right Willem – Humza Yousaf, Patrick Harvie and Cat Boyd are fascists one and all – and the White Paper was written in Ossianic verse, the LGBT community played no part in the campaign and only true Scots were allowed to vote by dint of random DNA sampling, our universities are stocked with mad nationalists, no ideas were contested during the indyref and there was no diversity or forward thinking to the movement.

      Thank god you told us.

  7. Willem says:

    abc, bcd, cde, def…

  8. Monty says:

    might be wrong but I thought Davies by giving Kassam a non interrogative interview and letting him ramble on showed just how weird and potentially dangerous he and his friends are. Much more chilling and revealing. He came across as delusional, egotistical, vain and by Trump spending so much time with him and Farage as he did quite how out of touch with reality, narrow and obsessed they all are.

  9. John O'Dowd says:

    Great Article.

    Noam Chomsky’s scarily prophetic words from six years ago are quoted by Chris Hedges (http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/its_worse_than_you_think_20161111):

    “The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen,” Chomsky went on. “Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like [Joseph] McCarthy or [Richard] Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest, this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response. What are people supposed to think if someone says ‘I have got an answer: We have an enemy’? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens, it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don’t think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate, it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election.”

    We are right to be afraid. Fascism creeps up. Great Article. Be afraid – then organise.

    Given the BBC’s response in the form of the extremely right wing Evan Davies (posing as an even-handed moderator) – we have a fight on our hands.

  10. MBC says:

    The media have created this monster, they love a train crash, it’s exciting.

  11. leavergirl says:

    Sorry about posting it here, bunny trail. I noticed that I can no longer copy from Bella comments, nor can I click on the links provided by another commenter. Really annoying. Is that built into Bella now?

    1. Alistair Livingston says:

      “I noticed that I can no longer copy from Bella comments”… I just copied that from your comment.

      1. leavergirl says:

        Dang. Must be a glitch on my end. Thank you.

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