Anis Shivani

Bernie Sanders could still make an all-out case that only his social welfare philosophy can meet the crisis of coronavirus

It was a curiously pacified campaign all along. The huge fervent rallies were deceptive for the depth of political compromise they concealed. The ever-burgeoning grandiose plans to remake the American economy showed less and less connection with reality as the basic presumptions of an actual political breakthrough were always sidelined. It was a policy revolution in the stratosphere of imagination, unable to take on an opponent as transparently petty as the DNC. The campaign demobilized itself from the get-go, and continued laying down arms with each new assault. In the end, it has left its passionate believers, investing all their faith in the messiah, worse off than when we started.

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Frozen primary: How Bernie’s political revolution can get back on track

Bernie’s original sin was to commit himself wholeheartedly to the Democratic party, after endorsing Hillary Clinton and refusing to run as an independent in 2016. Having joined the leadership ranks, he was compelled to be a participant in their counterproductive distractions, namely Russiagate, Mueller and impeachment, while simultaneously gearing up for a 2020 campaign based on the purity of ideas. He unilaterally disarmed himself against the most devious strategies deployed against him, with the DNC tipping the scales so heavily for its favored establishment candidate, aided by voter suppression even more blatant and widespread than in 2016.

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It's time for Sanders to take on Biden's atrocious fifty-year anti-liberal record. Here are 3 ways he can do it

For the second time (after the heart attack last fall), the Bernie Sanders movement is on life support. Let us not sugarcoat this: last night was worse than the worst-case scenario any Bernie supporter had imagined. The drastic slippage in Texas, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, and even Vermont, let alone Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina, represents a mortal threat to the movement. But there’s a glimmer of hope yet, because it was only three days ago that Biden had been written off, so things can change quickly. Of course, we now have the irrefutable fact on the ground of Biden’s delegate haul and his victory in a whole bunch of states, prompted by support from African Americans, older voters, and suburbanites, so it won’t be easy.

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A decade closer to catastrophe: Looking back at the mayhem of the 2010s

No, I do not mean climate change, though that too — or, more generally, ecological collapse, since I hate reducing the nature of the ecological challenge to the words “climate change,” which are simultaneously reductive and fatalistic, and at the same time weirdly exculpatory. And by looking at it in abstraction from the human actions which beckon the catastrophe, one avoids its true meaning altogether.

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I predicted Trump would win in 2016 — and I’m predicting the same for 2020. Here’s why liberals don’t understand what he represents

predicted well before the 2016 presidential election that Donald Trump would be elected. I had felt that way ever since he rode down that golden escalator with his rapist invective. Ever since he was elected, I’ve also believed that he’ll be re-elected, more easily this time.

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Lessons for a still-flooded Houston: In a city known for its antipathy to responsible planning, resilience is a never-ending game

After Hurricane Harvey damaged or destroyed nearly 135,000 homes, killed eighty-eight people, and led to the deliberate flooding of west Houston as two main reservoirs threatened to fail, what did the city of Houston do? It did the least possible it could get away with, and then casually moved on with business as usual.

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Democrats retreat from reality: Understanding last week's depressing debate

That was the most depressing debate ever. It already feels like the beginning of the end: The wannabe progressives seem to be going back into their shells, propping up Obama and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and homeland greatness. They rushed after Bernie Sanders in the early going as if to silence him forever, and in general starkly retreated from the earlier two debates, which, despite the shortness of response times and chaos — or perhaps because of them — were so much more illuminating. Opportunity after opportunity for clarity went begging, and it felt that we were looking at the end of the promise of open-ended argument that we glimpsed in the glorious summer debate-fests.

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A Dreamer opts for 'self-deportation': It's an important moment

It is a truism that whatever starts off hurting immigrants eventually harms us all. On the other hand, if something benefits immigrants that too ends up helping all of us. When xenophobia hits a nation, this basic principle is forgotten, as a false us-versus-them dichotomy takes hold. A disturbing aspect of American exceptionalism is that this dichotomy keeps being presented as something virtuous; the veneer of exceptionalism blinds us to our common interest and is now breeding the intense storm of resentment that is ostensibly targeted toward immigrants but is actually a reflection of deep self-hatred.

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Trump and the Nazis: Our Troll-In-Chief Has a Deep Affinity with the Alt-Right - and with Their Ancestors

It must, over and over again, be pointed out to the adherents of the movement and in a broader sense to the whole people that the Jew and his newspapers always lie and that even an occasional truth is only intended to cover a bigger falsification and is therefore itself in turn a deliberate untruth. The Jew is the great master in lying, and lies and deception are his weapons in struggle.

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How We Got from George W. Bush to Donald Trump: Liberals Had More to Do with It Than We’d Like to Think

The arrival of Donald J. Trump feels like the completion of the cycle I was writing about in the early George W. Bush years. It is all too easy to get caught up in the moment, though fears are understandably high, and not think about the deep-seated anomalies and contradictions in the body politic that have brought America to the cusp of out-and-out fascism. Even if Trump’s policies turn out in the end to be not as fearsome as he has repeatedly stated, his explicit persona and policy positions take us very far out of the realm of normal democracy. It has become fashionable lately to excuse George W. Bush for being a “moderate” in comparison with Trump, but it should not be forgotten that Bush was the original American fascist; everything Trump, or a future would-be authoritarian, might do is predicated on the radical innovations Bush introduced in our political style, subverting the constitution and changing the balance between liberty and security in ways that have had permanent impact.

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Understanding Contemporary White Supremacy

Following the first installment of this series, where the historical origins of modern white supremacy were explored in depth, and a subsequent essay that examined the ways white supremacy has influenced mainstream American politics, here are three of the nation’s foremost scholars on white supremacy, discussing similar issues at length. This is the second half of our discussion; read the first section here.

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The Alt-Right Is the Modern, Hideous Face of White Supremacy

Following the first part of this series, where the historical origins of modern white supremacy were explored in depth, and a subsequent essay that examined the ways white supremacy has influenced mainstream American politics, here are three of the nation’s foremost scholars on white supremacy, discussing similar issues at length.

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What Is 'White Supremacy'? A Brief History of a Term, and a Movement, That Continues to Haunt America

We must secure the existence of our people and the future of White children. — David Lane’s 14-word creed.

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Bob Dylan’s Prophecy: The Kryptonite We Need Against Trumpism

Two weeks ago, Bob Dylan accepted the Nobel Prize in person; true to form, he did so not at the December ceremony (where Patti Smith performed in his stead), but during a previously scheduled tour of Stockholm. He has yet to deliver, on tape or in person, the acceptance speech that is a precondition for the prize money. When he won the prize it was just before the November election, and now we’re a few months into the unfolding disaster. Which makes you wonder: Does the Nobel Prize committee know more about us than we know about ourselves?

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How Bill Clinton Paved the Way for Donald Trump’s Racist and Audacious Deportation Agenda

n the second part of our attempt to add nuance to the immigration debate, we hear more from three of the nation’s foremost experts on immigration, criminal justice and constitutional law, taking on not only what we already know about President Donald Trump’s travel ban and deportation policy but also expected future initiatives from this administration.

These scholars address the thorniest issues in immigration, the ones at the root of our present crisis, with all the ballast we need to oppose simplistic talking points: Should immigrants, regardless of status, have constitutional rights? How solid in law and morality is Trump’s reliance on the plenary power doctrine to implement far-reaching changes? Is Trump’s deportation policy an anomaly, or does it have roots in recent bipartisan legislation? And what can the states, as a last resort, do to counter federal anti-immigration initiatives? (You can read the first part of this debate here.)

John S.W. Park is chair and professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He is a specialist in race theory, immigration law and policy, and Anglo-American legal and political theory. His books include “Elusive Citizenship: Immigration, Asian Americans, and the Paradox of Civil Rights,” “Probationary Americans: Contemporary Immigration Policies and the Shaping of Asian American Communities,” with Edward J.W. Park, and “Illegal Migrations and the Huckleberry Finn Problem.”

Kevin R. Johnson is Mabie-Apallas professor of Public Interest Law, professor of Chicana/o Studies, and dean at the University of California at Davis School of Law. His books include “How Did You Get to Be Mexican? A White/Brown Man’s Search for Identity“ and “Immigration Law and the U.S.-Mexico Border.” He is president of the board of directors of Legal Services of Northern California and has served on the board of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). He blogs at ImmigrationProf and SCOTUSblog.

David Brotherton is professor of sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York (CUNY). His recent books include “Keeping Out the Other: A Critical Introduction to Immigration Control,” edited with Philip Kretsedemas, and “The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation: Street Politics and the Transformation of a New York City Gang,” with Luis Barrios. His current research projects include a performance-based sociological study of immigration removal hearings in New York.

What are some of the most pernicious effects of the 1996 immigration legislation that you have experienced as a scholar or practitioner? Will the Trump administration be able to count on the “expedited removals” provision of the 1996 law, or even expand it, as it targets specific racial groups? How do you feel about retroactive punishment for minor transgressions, or any transgressions?  

John S.W. Park: Indeed, Congress and President Bill Clinton passed a set of rules in 1996 that expanded the category of persons eligible for “removal,” that limited common forms of relief for people facing removal and that made removal based on criminal convictions more “expedited.” These rules said that judges could not consider relief in removal proceedings when the person facing removal had a criminal record.

These rules governing “criminal aliens” were part of a broader set of legislative rules designed to reduce the “cost” of immigrants in general — new legal immigrants, for example, were ineligible for public assistance, and poorer American citizens and legal residents could no longer sponsor immigrants under family reunification provisions. By removing a much larger share of “criminal aliens,” Congress thought that it could reduce financial burdens on the states and the federal government, in light of how they were spending money on law enforcement, criminal prosecution and incarceration for non-citizens. Many Americans still embrace the idea that non-citizens who misbehave must go.

Presidents Bush and Obama executed these rules throughout their presidencies, and so now, we remove more people in a single year than we used to in 10-year periods. Obama was removing more than 400,000 persons per year, until it dawned on him that the Republicans in Congress were never going to approve comprehensive immigration reform, as they’d once promised earlier in his presidency. “You enforce the law, and then we’ll talk comprehensive reform,” they said.  They never got to that second clause, and so Obama felt emboldened to do “reform” anyway, through DACA and then DAPA. He retained an emphasis on criminal deportations, however, and so the United States still deports hundreds of thousands of people each year, even for nonviolent crimes.  

This mass deportation system has resulted in strange American diasporas: In Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, the arrival of so many deportees from the United States has exacerbated social and economic problems that were already terrible. What happens to a society, any society, let alone those torn apart by civil war, when tens of thousands of people with criminal records arrive every year? What if a small fraction really are violent and quite horrible, and what if they are members of criminal gangs that, thanks to American deportation policy, are now transnational?

Daniel Kanstroom, Tanya Golash-Boza and several other scholars have given thick accounts of how American deportation policy has undermined fragile societies, even as it’s not obvious how these policies have “helped” the United States. In one area, namely drug trafficking, we seem to have provided an unusual labor force for international criminal organizations interested in selling and distributing drugs into the United States.  

Deportation policy is one area of immigration law where a straight nationalist approach doesn’t work, while also being immoral. We still spend billions on our criminal justice systems, but Americans also consume illicit drugs at a clip, and small planes, sophisticated submarines and tunnels can simply bypass a “big, beautiful wall,” even if we do spend billions to build such a thing. By destabilizing societies to the south of us, we almost guarantee that more people will also attempt to cross here, if just to avoid the chaos and violence in San Salvador or in Guatemala City.

And in the last two decades, as we remove more immigrants, many of whom have deep family and community connections, we’ve caused untold misery to people who aren’t so different from American citizens. Many people have been removed for drug offenses, for instance, and yet how many college students and professors do I know, all of them American citizens, who use drugs or even have minor drug offenses? When the law treats people with similar offenses in radically different ways, based solely on status, the present law evokes the worst of laws past.

Many scholars and practitioners and even law enforcement officials have criticized federal deportation policy. They’ve called for restoring common forms of relief, as when the removal of an immigrant will have a clear negative impact on his family and community, or when it seems disproportionate to his offense. Some law enforcement officials and prosecutors have changed their practices to drop or reduce criminal charges in cases where a defendant might also face deportation, thus behaving as though mindful of federal immigration consequences that can arise from local criminal prosecutions. And in many instances, jurisdictions have said that they will not cooperate with federal authorities as they pursue deportations. Proponents of “sanctuary cities” tend to agree that deportation policies have gone too far, and they’ve moved to protect their residents from that system.

Kevin R. Johnson: In 1996, Congress passed immigration reform legislation that has had dramatic impacts. Among other things, the reforms expanded crime-based removals and created a new system of “expedited removal,” which might better be described as summary deportation with few protections for non-citizens. The Trump administration proposes to use both tools in pursuit of its aggressive immigration enforcement agenda and the impacts will be pernicious.

  1. a) The racial impacts of expanded crime-based removals

Crime-based removals, as expanded in 1996, are the centerpiece of contemporary immigration enforcement. The Obama administration prioritized the removal of “criminal aliens.” Ramping up immigration enforcement by focusing on the criminal justice pipeline for removals proved to be an efficient strategy. Immigrants in jail are not hard to find. Moreover, removing criminals raises far fewer civil rights concerns than, for example, locating and removing undocumented workers through the use of workplace raids, with employers as well as workers protesting  Importantly, immigrants with criminal histories have few political defenders. Opposition to their removal is not nearly as great as popular resistance to removing other groups of immigrants, such as undocumented college students.

With the 1996 immigration reforms expanding crime-based removals, the Obama administration refined programs that allowed state criminal justice systems to directly feed immigrants into the federal immigration removal system. Such refinements made it possible for President Obama to set a series of removal recordsSome years saw the removal of as many as 400,000 noncitizens, including lawful permanent residents, from the United States. During the eight years of his presidency, more than 2.5 million noncitizens were deported—more than during any other U.S. presidency. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data show that, in fiscal year 2016, crime-based removals represented more than 90 percent of the noncitizens removed from the interior of the United States.

The U.S. criminal justice system is notorious for producing racially disparate results. African Americans and Latinos continue to be disproportionately arrested and incarcerated as they have been throughout U.S. history, as described in Michelle Alexander’s influential book “The New Jim Crow.” As a result of focusing removal efforts on “criminal aliens,” the U.S. immigrant removal system has yielded similarly unequal results.  

Consequently, increases in crime-based removals under President Obama resulted in the removal of a disproportionate number of Latino immigrants. Today, more than 95 percent of removals in the United States are of Latino noncitizens, despite the fact that the total immigrant population in the United States is much more diverse. Latino immigrants comprise only about 50 percent of lawful immigrants, and around 70 percent of undocumented ones.

Donald Trump began his presidential campaign by claiming that Mexico was sending its criminals to the United States, and promised to deport Mexican immigrants en masse. Two executive orders issued on Jan. 25, 2017, demonstrate that the Trump administration plans to expand on the Obama administration’s focus on removing “criminal aliens.” President Trump’s executive orders will likely have devastating impacts in terms of crime-based immigrant removals. They expand the noncitizens who will be the targets of immigration enforcement efforts and will likely continue to have disparate racial impacts on Latinos.

  1. b) Expanded expedited removals

The 1996 immigration reforms created what is referred to as “expedited removal.” Under that procedure, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer may order an individual removed from the United States without a hearing or further review, if the officer determines that the individual is inadmissible to the United States for fraud or misrepresentation or does not have a valid visa/entry document.

Since being created in 1996, expedited removal — and its abbreviated procedures and unreviewable decisions — had been limited to noncitizens (1) apprehended within 100 miles of the U.S. border; and (2) in the country for less than 14 days. Persons close to the border for such a short period of time are likely to have fewer ties to the United States than longer term residents. One of President Trump’s immigration executive orders expands expedited removal. It eliminated the geographic limits to expedited removal and made the summary procedures applicable to noncitizens in the country for as long as two years. Summary deportations of persons, including those with ties to the United States and family (including U.S. citizen children), friends, community and a job, raise glaring due-process red flags. Once the Trump administration seeks to implement the executive order, we are likely to see lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the expanded expedited removal procedures.

President Trump will not likely focus expedited removal on particular racial or religious groups or nationalities. However, such removals almost certainly will have disparate impacts on noncitizens from Mexico and Central America, who often are profiled as undocumented immigrants and comprise a large portion of the undocumented population.

David Brotherton; In 1997, the first year this legislation was in effect, there were nearly 115,000 removals and the next year this increased to around 175,000. By the end of Clinton’s presidency, the man who pledged to end welfare as we knew it also ended immigration as we knew it and banished to their homelands nearly 900,000 persons. Bush went further still, forcibly removing more than 2 million immigrant residents during his two terms. By the time President Obama finished his fifth year in office he had taken the art of banishment to the next level, equaling Bush’s achievement in three fewer years.

Aided and abetted by the Patriot Act of 2001 and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) of 1996, that legislation has created a deportation juggernaut with Congress further burnishing its anti-immigrant credentials by mandating the Department of Homeland Security through its Immigration apparatus (i.e., the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to fill the detention camps with 34,000 detainees daily. It is the only federal department to have such human quotas placed upon it.

Thus, these laws are incredibly punitive, vindictive and irrational. For example, people can be placed in removal proceedings based on crimes they committed in the past and for which they were duly sentenced. Hence deportation can be viewed as a form of double jeopardy in many cases. Also, since deportation is considered an administrative action rather than an act of punishment, the law does not require that “deportable aliens” be provided with legal representation. Further, the crimes for which someone is deported, often referred to as “aggravated felonies,” vary from the passing of bad checks to homicide.

Clearly the extreme consequence of permanent removal for crimes which are, in many cases, quite minor, is wildly disproportionate with levels of social, psychological and economic harm both to the deportee and to his or her family of unimaginable proportions. Finally, we need to think of the broader repercussions to entire societies created by these mass expulsions, particular those countries with few resources and weak state structures, e.g. the countries of Central America that currently boast the highest rates of homicide in the world, in part caused by the floods of deportees who brought with them their gang subcultures learned in the U.S.  

Certainly, Trump will be able to process more cases of expedited removals as his executive order changes the priorities for ICE and its agents and makes any offense in the past committed by a non-citizen a reason for deportation rather than the so-called “violent criminals” that Obama had said should be the main focus of the country’s deportation regime.  

Can the states counter some of the existing anti-immigrant federal legislation on the books, or potentially stall or prevent implementation of further restrictionist executive orders by the Trump administration? If Arizona and other states can pass anti-immigrant legislation, why can’t individual states go in the other direction and pass legislation favorable to immigrants, granting them full rights? 

Park: Several scholars have studied state and local responses to federal immigration law over the past two decades, and they say that most of the states and local jurisdictions have moved to support federal rules, not so much to limit them. Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina do not allow students who are out of status to matriculate at the public colleges and universities, for example, and cities like Escondido, California, and Hazleton, Pennsylvania, have passed rules prohibiting landlords from renting to anyone who cannot prove lawful immigration status.

Costa Mesa, a city in Orange County, California, declared itself as a “rule of law” community in 2010 — in a resolution, the city suggested that local law enforcement officials should “check for papers” even in routine stops, and then remand persons suspected of being out of status to the proper immigration authorities. Federal policies approved by President Bush in 2008 encouraged local police cooperation: Under the Secure Communities program, local jurisdictions could receive federal resources and training if they agreed to participate in immigration enforcement. Costa Mesa was among several dozen cities that were participating by 2010.

But Santa Ana is maybe 20 minutes away from Costa Mesa by car, and Santa Ana has moved in the opposite direction. The city’s police force tended only to collaborate with federal immigration authorities in cases of violent crime—in other respects, public officials tended to be deliberately inattentive to immigration status when considering requests for city services, police protection and even public employment for the city. Many residents of the city did not have legal status, and yet they attended and participated in city council meetings, on school boards and in other public settings. After the 2016 election, Santa Ana passed a resolution calling itself a “sanctuary city,” as if to defy the new president.

Santa Ana was part of a larger statewide trend, perhaps exemplified best in California’s Trust Act, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013. That state rule directed state and local officials not to hold immigrants facing deportation in state and local facilities, unless federal officials offered proof that the person being held was already convicted of a deportable crime. Democrats controlled the state, and they were more sympathetic to the Santa Anas than the Costa Mesas.  President Trump, though, spoke in Costa Mesa during his campaign, vowing to crack down on illegal immigration, to build that wall and to withhold federal funds from cities that did not help federal immigration officials, or that otherwise provided “sanctuary” to illegal immigrants.

In other contexts, I’ve argued that the last time that some states and local jurisdictions were so at odds with the federal government about a “removal” policy was during the 19th century. This was when fugitive slaves were running north, when some Northern jurisdictions moved to protect them, and when Southerners passed stringent rules designed to help them “recover their property.”

I’ve reminded my own students that the Underground Railroad was a form of resistance to slavery during a time when slavery was legal, when black people were property, and when the Constitution and several federal laws protected white property owners to recover “their people.” George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson had all posted ads in popular newspapers that described their fugitive slaves, and as president, they signed or supported rules favoring white slave owners. Andrew Jackson and Roger Taney both owned many slaves. Levi Coffin, Harriet Tubman, the students and faculty at Oberlin College — they assisted runaway slaves, however, and they encouraged others to break the law, even if that meant jail or murder for them, or a civil war to purge the nation of slavery.

It’s hard to say whether President Trump will pass his own version of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, that infamous rule that punished state and local officials for failing to detain runaway slaves and to assist slave owners. The act insisted that “all good citizens” had an obligation to help masters locate their slaves. Citizens who helped runaway slaves could be punished, too; they were not “good citizens.” One can imagine a President Trump and his Republican Congress passing a set of rules that require us to assist in the removal of undocumented persons, no matter the length of their residency here or the depth of their connections. Before we comply, we should study our own history, to give us clues as to how best to consider our own dilemmas.  

The past is not even past: President Trump has re-hung, in the Oval Office, just to the left of his desk, a portrait of Andrew Jackson. And yet even during his presidency, the $20 bill will have a new face — Harriet Tubman’s — a change approved under President Obama’s administration. I’d recommend that Americans take a good long look at the new face of the $20 bill, then also consider President Trump’s own heroes, and then think hard about which side of history seems most pleasing and inspiring for our own future.

Johnson; On one hand, the U.S government decides which noncitizens to admit to, and deport from, the United States. Congress has passed a comprehensive immigration law, the Immigration and Nationality Act, which regulates immigration. On the other hand, the states are the primary enforcers of the criminal laws and otherwise are responsible for integrating noncitizen residents into the community. The legitimacy of the conventional demarcation of sovereign powers between the federal and state governments can be seen in Supreme Court decisions, such as Arizona v. United States (2012) in which the Court struck down central provisions of an Arizona law that intruded on the federal powers to enforce the immigration laws.  

Room exists for state and local governments to work with the U.S government in federal immigration enforcement. However, the U.S. government must consent to state and local assistance. In addition, state governments have sovereign powers that cannot be infringed upon by the U.S. government in efforts to compel cooperation with immigration enforcement efforts.  In the exercise of their police powers, some states have exercised their lawmaking power to improve the access of undocumented immigrants to public higher education, foster immigrant trust in local law enforcement offices and otherwise seek to integrate immigrants into the community.

In recent times, the lines between the state, local and federal governments in immigration enforcement have become blurred. Under a program called Secure Communities, which President Obama dismantled, state and local law enforcement agencies shared arrest information with federal immigration authorities, and detained immigrant criminal offenders. Criminal offenders were then taken into custody by federal immigration authorities.   

Complaints had been registered that Secure Communities was overbroad and subjected minor criminal offenders to removal. In November 2014, the Obama administration responded to the criticism and replaced Secure Communities with the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which was narrower in scope. In bringing back SeCURE Communities in one of his Executive Orders, President Trump dismantled PEP and expanded the scope of crime-based removals.

In addition, the Trump administration in a Jan. 25 executive order has sought to mandate state and local assistance in federal immigration enforcement by threatening to eliminate federal funding to “sanctuary cities.” Trump’s threat to defund such cities would seem to require congressional authorization. In addition, the Executive Order fails to define “sanctuary cities.” If Congress were to pass legislation defunding “sanctuary cities,” state and local governments could challenge the law as infringing on the sovereign powers of the states.

Efforts by the U.S. government to compel cities to cooperate in federal immigration enforcement efforts are already encountering formidable resistance. The California legislature is preparing a game plan, including the retention of former Attorney General Eric Holder, for a showdown with the Trump administration on immigration enforcement. Legislators have proposed legislation, for example, which would limit state information sharing about immigrants with the federal government.

It is important to recognize the important state and local criminal law enforcement concerns at stake in their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. Some state and local law enforcement leaders worry that immigrants lose trust in local police when they are perceived to be deeply involved in federal immigration enforcement. Loss of trust, in turn, can reduce the willingness of immigrants to help authorities combat crime and undermine state and local law enforcement efforts.

Local police need the cooperation of all people in the community, including lawful and undocumented immigrants, in reporting crime and aiding criminal prosecutions. To that end, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Order 40 limits police inquiry into the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses, and suspects. The separation of criminal law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement is consistent with the Supreme Court’s finding in Arizona v. United States (2012) that the federal government has the authority to admit and remove immigrants, with ordinary law enforcement primarily in the hands of local law enforcement agencies.

To foster state and local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, one of President Trump’s Jan. 25 executive orders brings back “287 agreements” — authorized by Immigration and Nationality Act 287(g) — between state and local governments and the federal government to enforce the immigration laws. Such agreements had been largely abandoned by the Obama administration.

The civil rights impacts of local police involvement in immigration enforcement impacts are an issue of concern. A federal court in 2015 found that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona, in the guise of assisting federal immigration enforcement, had engaged in a pattern and practice of racial discrimination against Latinos, U.S. citizens as well as immigrants. These civil rights abuses show the potential costs of state and local law enforcement assistance in federal immigration enforcement efforts. The same risks will exist for the Trump administration as it enlists state and local law enforcement cooperation in immigration enforcement.

Brotherton: It’s very difficult for states to do anything other than establish sanctuary cities that will prevent local police collaborating with ICE. ICE is an extremely powerful national police force and can operate anywhere with few restrictions. Essentially, we have allowed ICE to develop with few constraints and little oversight and this has happened under both Bush and Obama and has been given even more legal powers and budgetary increases under Trump.

For the past two decades the deportation-industrial complex has been allowed to grow almost unhindered and now we are paying an enormous price both socially and politically. If the states refuse to work with ICE, particularly over the application of 287g, which seeks to have local police forces partner with ICE agents, then it sets up a conflict between the powers of the federal government and those of the states and certainly under the Trump administration it is difficult to see how the states could mount a successful defense of their residents. However, this is not to say that they should not try or that immigrant’s rights advocates should not do everything possible to expose the invasive and destructive practices of this agency and its threat to democracy and human rights.

What are the failures of our immigration system that most worry you? What anomalies in recent court decisions toward the rights of immigrants are least understood by the general public? Should we do away with detention for immigrants altogether? Where in this country have you seen signs of movement in a pro-human rights direction that people need to be more aware of?

Park: In a forthcoming book and in other venues, I’ve argued that immigration law and national sovereignty have shown symptoms of much deeper problems, problems rooted in modernity itself. We’re living through two ongoing revolutions, in communications technologies and in transportation technologies. The first allows us to see one another across vast distances much more than ever before; the second allows people to fling themselves here and there much faster and further, too. Imagine the United States in 1800 — no Panama Canal, no telephone or telegraph, no steam engines and certainly no airports. I once had to persuade my own children that there was once no internet or cell phones when I was a bitty kid, that Instagram is a really new thing.

These changes have become a part of our lives, they’re a part of the world now, even in some of the most poor, most desperate and most chaotic places on the planet. When people there “see,” through their own televisions and mobile devices, that they can maybe go to Europe or parts of Asia or the United States, and then live decent, relatively comfortable lives, they’re going to want to leave.

Their arrival in large numbers is the result of very, very large numbers: nearly a third of the world’s population lives in places that are food-insecure, politically dysfunctional or otherwise falling apart, and so even when a small fraction of those folks migrate, they’re soon very visible in countries that don’t want them. No wall, fence or other heinous barrier will likely change the underlying math that causes so much unwanted movement and human suffering. Unless we tend to conditions outside our boundaries — to work with others to create just, stable societies — we will feel overwhelmed, and we will fall prey to those who offer easy answers and empty promises.

Thinking beyond ourselves and our boundaries — this has precedence, too, and we should learn from that history. In the ashes of World War II, for its own strategic interests and for humanitarian reasons, the United States did not punish the “losers,” Italy, Japan and Nazi Germany. Instead, the United States worked with allies there, floated giant loans and grants for reconstruction, and developed thick ties to these former adversaries. Now, we don’t have large populations of illegal Japanese or illegal Germans living in the United States, people who are fleeing their own countries, because the United States itself helped to make Japan and Germany more livable.  

Thus, instead of criticizing Mexico or other sending countries, the United States ought to work with its partners and other wealthier nations to develop decent, just societies in these places, and to create circumstances where the people there will not see a need to leave their homes. Americans should fess up to policies that may have made things worse. Americans should quit taking drugs, or they should at least consider how a single line of cocaine, multiplied millions of times, can cause misery far away from where they’re getting high. Instead of making conditions worse, through our foreign policy or through thousands of acts of carelessness, Americans should try harder to make things better for everyone, everywhere. That is when we are best, when we show, through our own example, a willingness to sacrifice and to assist people who aren’t just like us.

We should acknowledge and cope with a much smaller world, where we can see and be with one another ever more easily than before. Many other problems reflect this new reality: Pollution in one country, for instance, can become a problem for every country. Despite the skeptics, I and you and everyone really should be concerned about coal plants outside Beijing, because their contribution to carbon levels will screw up the climate in Santa Barbara. The weather in Santa Barbara is spectacular, and so if I love it, I should care about pollution in China and in India and in the United States, too, as this is part of my own enlightened self-interest.

And aside from just self-interest, seeing children, much like my own children, suffering from more direct forms of pollution in Beijing and in Delhi is simply heartbreaking, so much so that we should wish and work for another world where no kid is trapped indoors because the air is toxic. My child is not somehow more entitled to clean air than another child.

That whole cliché about injustice anywhere being a threat to justice everywhere — that’s actually profound and wise and right. To put your own nation and your own people first, to build walls and to cut off and to disengage — it’s self-defeating, it simply isn’t going to work, and it’s ill-suited to our interconnected world.  

Johnson: As discussed above, crime-based removals, and their disparate racial impacts, are a problem that should be addressed. The use of detention in immigration enforcement implicates similar concerns. President Trump has set in motion efforts to ramp up immigrant detention. His executive order on border security and immigration promises to increase the use of the detention of immigrants while they await removal hearings and removal from the United States. Trump’s order announces the end of “catch and release” of undocumented immigrants after their apprehension. Historically, unless found to pose a public safety or flight risk, noncitizens have been allowed to post a bond and be released from custody while their removal proceedings moved forward.

Detention has long been a tool in the arsenal of the U.S. government in immigration enforcement. It goes at least as far back as the detention of Chinese immigrants on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, which began processing immigrants in the late 1800s. Detention of immigrants as a method of immigration enforcement saw an upswing at the tail-end of the 20th century. In the 1980s, for example, the Reagan administration employed detention to discourage Central Americans, thousands of whom were fleeing civil wars, from migrating to the United States. Several U.S. presidents responded to mass migrations of Cubans in the 1980s, who came in the Mariel boat-lift, and Haitians fleeing political violence in the 1980s and 1990s, with detention.

The Obama administration generally allowed for noncitizens to bond out of custody while their removal proceedings were pending. But it also employed immigrant detention liberally in some instances, including the mass detention of Central American families.

Just as old as immigrant detention are legal challenges to immigrant detention. One of those suits, Orantes-Hernandez v. Thornburgh (1990), was a class action brought against the U.S. government by asylum applicants from El Salvador. The asylum applicants challenged the mass detention of Salvadoran asylum seekers and various policies that violated their right to counsel.  The court found that the U.S. government had been transferring asylum seekers from major urban areas where they could readily secure counsel to detention in remote locations where they could not. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed an injunction barring the U.S. government from restricting access to counsel.

Despite many successful challenges, the use of detention in immigration enforcement increased with the immigration reforms of 1996. Immigrant detention continues to be criticized — and litigated. In Jennings v. Rodriguez, the Supreme Court currently has before it a class action raising the question whether immigrants, like virtually all U.S. citizens placed in criminal and civil detention, must be guaranteed a bond hearing and possible release from custody. Similarly, in response to an increase in women and children fleeing widespread violence in Central America, the Obama administration began detaining thousands of unaccompanied minors and entire families. In Flores v. Lynch in 2016, the Ninth Circuit found that the detention of Central American minors violated a settlement agreement.  

The long history of detention has an equally long history of legal challenges. These challenges will likely continue during the Trump years, with the president making detention a cornerstone of his immigration enforcement plans.

Brotherton: There are numerous threats to immigrants which are probably some of the most severe since World War II. The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are not engaged in criminal activities and should not be penalized for wanting to reside in this country. In fact, first-generation immigrants, be they legal or undocumented, are the population with the least connection to criminal activity of anyone. But this doesn’t stop Trump from saying the exact opposite and, of course, this is in line with his basic philosophy that objective reality and “facts” should not be taken seriously if they conflict with his ideological goals. Yes, the detention camps should be shut down, the raft of anti-immigrant laws should be abandoned and a whole new set of laws should be developed that give undocumented immigrants a pathway to legality.

Right now we have allowed the development of a vast population of American children who grow up without one or both parents lost to the deportation process. Further, around the world we now have a new diaspora of millions of displaced people all of whom were in some way socialized by the United States, many of them with permanent family links to this country that can never be restored. The U.S. has become the world’s No. 1 deportation nation, responsible for massive levels of family fragmentation and global destabilization. These policies have no place in a so-called civilized society that boasts of its adherence to democratic principles.

Consequently, we have to ask ourselves: What kind of society have we become? Given that we were one of the major signatories to the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, following the genocidal crimes of fascism and the extraordinary social destruction associated with World War II, it is both tragic and ironic that we are now one of the biggest transgressors of this historic agreement as we turn refugees and immigrants into the despised and unwanted Other.

We must hope that the U.S. can get beyond this present dark phase of its development. The next couple of years will see to what extent we prize democracy and social solidarity over the reactionary impulses that have been unleashed by years of punishing neoliberal policies meted out to the majority of U.S. residents.

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Everyone's Wrong on Immigration: Open Borders Are the Only Way to Defeat Trump and Build a Better World

"There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, who worked even longer, even harder, for less, but they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land."
—Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, March 6, 2017

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This Is a Fight Against Fascism - Our Resistance Tactics Have to Change

“There are a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?” — Donald J. Trump, Feb. 6, 2017
There continues to be a gross underestimation, even amongst politically aware liberals, of what we are really up against, and how to counter it. Increasingly, our fellow citizens are resorting to the concepts of fascism to describe the current situation, but this is not necessarily followed by any cogent reflection on what the political subject under fascism needs to do. Ordinary liberal prescriptions have no chance of success under a regime that has moved into an overt fascist mode; moreover, the unacknowledged continuities from the recent neoliberal past, which led to the fascist overture in the first place, mar any consistency of thought amongst intellectuals, activists, and ordinary citizens.
The time has come to explore modes of existence that only make sense under a fascist regime, or rather, they are the only modes that make sense under fascist conditions. Above all, the question of moral disengagement from any existing political practice must be taken seriously, and this includes so-called “resistance.” Are there things that pass under the activist rubric today that are actually strengthening rather than weakening fascism? If that is the case, then those activities must undergo severe scrutiny, because it may well be that what seems like activism is actually passivism, and vice versa.
I started writing about a “soft” American totalitarianism for the first time in 1998, in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. American civic institutions seemed to me to have stopped functioning for the first time in 1994, after the Gingrich takeover, which made me take a step back, only to reemerge, awakened, when the Lewinsky scandal happened. I was not interested in the content of the scandal, which was a mere pretext to engineer reaction in a form we had never seen before without the instrument of twenty-four-hour cable news, but the way in which perceptions were being manipulated seemed to me to be mortally dangerous for democracy.
After 9/11, I resorted to the vocabulary of fascism for that whole decade, often comparing and contrasting Bush’s early years to the Hitlerian model, since this was what I knew best then. However, once I started studying Italian fascism seriously about seven years ago, it has seemed to me that the original Mussolinian model is more apt, because of some important missing elements in the way fascism has been developing in this country. During the 2016 election campaign, I identified points of similarity between Trump and Mussolini, and considered whether he was better seen as a fascist or a populist authoritarian. Clearly, in the month since he took over he has entered an overtly fascist stage, with elements of both Mussolini and Hitler in play.
But I think that instead of these admittedly helpful historical comparisons it might be more clarifying now to conceptualize a new form of fascism: the third important variant, if you will, following the original Mussolini model and the later Hitlerian model, which was a development of and departure from the original in many respects.
Italy was a weak state, certainly militarily so, and had been undergoing serious strife between labor and capital in the years immediately preceding Mussolini’s takeover; when Mussolini asserted Italy’s grievances against the so-called “plutocratic powers” (above all Great Britain and France), he was arguing from a position of weakness. Germany was a much stronger state, obviously, in the military, economic, and cultural sense, but Hitler’s aim was also to become the world’s greatest power, even if starting from a position much stronger than Italy’s. America, when it started going down the fascist route (I would say coinciding with the termination of the cold war), was already the world’s undisputed dominant power, arguably stronger than the Roman and British empires ever were at their peak. Starting with the Bush II regime, and now accelerated manifold in the Trump regime, American fascism has been pleading irresolvable grievances (against internal and external abusers) from a position of unparalleled strength! That is a remarkable deviance from past fascist models, and it changes everything.
Furthermore, I would argue that everything Trump has done so far or plans to do fits perfectly well within the neoliberal model, whether it’s massive tax cuts for corporations, cutting back social security, Medicare, and essential social services, privatizing healthcare, converting infrastructure building to an essentially privatized domain, and certainly repressing immigrants by driving them underground or expelling them. All of it is a continuation, if an acceleration, of neoliberal practices familiar from more than thirty-five years of governance. The only thing that stands out so far is pulling out from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and making noises about renegotiating NAFTA, but the latter hasn’t happened yet and is not likely to in any substantial way, and the former was in deep trouble anyway, a hodgepodge of conflicting corporate monopolies amongst the negotiating countries that didn’t seem to be going anywhere even before Trump withdrew. I suspect that on trade the classic neoliberal position will soon assert itself, and it may be worth taking a pass on trade for a while, from the neoliberal point of view, as long as other elements of the agenda get a radical boost.
So I would argue that if we’re seeing fascism, it is a peculiar form of fascism indeed, because it looks like one hundred percent neoliberalism from where I am. Nonetheless, it is fascism of a kind, it is neoliberalism’s fascist mode. Modern capitalism has a tendency to keep falling into the fascist style from time to time, and this became inevitable for us once the Soviet Union fell and there was no ideological check on American capitalism. The equations became imbalanced, there was excessive power which had nowhere to flow, and it was destined to go this way and it has.
What is truly unfortunate is that globalization’s reform elements—I mean international action on human rights issues such as the environment, agricultural equity, urban poverty, medical care, the price of drugs, indebtedness and servitude, and war crimes—were all on the agenda in the late 1990s, but the onset of overt fascism in America made the entire world, particularly Europe, put these global civilizational issues on the back-burner. Europe was trending strongly toward global cosmopolitanism, which might have ended up being a transitionary stage toward worldwide democratic socialism, but America, in resurrecting an imaginary global Islamic enemy for the past twenty years (recall that the first Osama bin Laden video surfaced in 1998, and that Clinton’s launch of missiles against this protagonist’s alleged strongholds in Afghanistan and Sudan also occurred in the year of Lewinsky), has probably irrevocably damaged the global cosmopolitan agenda.
Citizenship, throughout the 1990s, after the Soviet Union ended as a theoretical pole, was being reconceptualized as transnational, contingent, and fluid, a right not tied to nationalism, which was a radical change that had been awaited by the world’s enlightened thinkers for more than two hundred years. It was the ultimate promise of liberalism being slowly fulfilled, but sadly, because of the rise of American fascism, it was not to be. That dream is all but dead now. Europe, taking its cues from America, has vastly retreated on immigrant rights, refugee and asylum claims, and human rights administration even within the European Union.
The question for those currently mounting a resistance, aside from its inherent limitations (even Gandhi with his “successful” salt march of 1930 and other civil disobedience actions didn’t see much significant results, it took the collapse of the British empire after World War II for India to finally gain independence), is what it is that American liberal activists are trying to get back to.
First, the Republican party, under Ronald Reagan, became the prime transmitter of neoliberalism. Then, once Clinton transformed the Democratic party, both parties became equal bearers of neoliberal ideology. So what is the aspiration to return to? The Democratic party under Obama? It was an ideal carrier of neoliberalism, in every area of governance one can think of. No doubt Trump wants to exert existing immigration powers to a genocidal level, and he will, but the powers were granted to him under the neoliberal administrations of Clinton and Obama, and fortified by additional powers sought by Bush II.
Clinton’s 1996 anti-immigrant legislation was arguably the most draconian American immigration law ever passed (for example, in retroactively punishing legal residents for minor crimes, henceforth called “aggravated felonies,” providing the authority to expel immigrants who had lived here for decades, and enshrining the loathsome concept of expedited removals, meaning deportation without judicial hearings), and likewise Obama continued the “enforcement”-first policy, for example by deputizing state and local authorities to act as immigration police. Everything Trump wants to do to embark on his ethnic cleansing campaign has been gifted to him by neoliberal presidents of either party.
And aside from the repression of immigrants, who have been living under a reign of terror since 1996, what else do we want to go back to? The fascist Trumpian reaction occurred only because neoliberalism set up a situation of economic inequality that was completely unsustainable. When less than ten people own more wealth than half the world’s population, that is not a situation that can lead to any good outcome; it simply cannot be perpetuated beyond a certain point, as we are seeing in the collapse of American democracy today.
The petty bourgeois liberals who so eagerly supported Hillary Clinton, and were so adamant against Bernie Sanders’s meager demands on behalf of aspirational millennials for a modicum of democratic socialist reforms, will be relieved to know that Tom Perez, Barack Obama’s labor secretary and Hillary Clinton’s potential vice-presidential nominee, an exemplary neoliberal, is in good shape to defeat Sanders’s choice, Keith Ellison, a true progressive who would have started setting the Democratic party on a different path. We are talking about a democratic revolution as the price worthy of participating in American social and political life at this dangerous juncture, and we can’t even get the Democratic party chairman who is the choice of the candidate who would have soundly defeated Trump!
Fascism always comes about because of the failures of liberalism. Sometimes these failures are exaggerated, as was true before the Mussolini ascendancy, but in the American case all the data says that for the health and well-being of the people, neoliberalism over the last thirty-five years has been a colossal failure. Thus the polity, at least since the 1990s, has been wishing death upon itself, as evidenced in the most successful Hollywood productions and other creations of popular culture. Had Hillary Clinton not announced her candidacy, there would have been no Bernie Sanders, and certainly no candidate Trump; but this is not to blame Hillary, she is merely representative of where the Democratic party, that is to say the liberal establishment, is: when they had the chance during the primaries, the entire party establishment supported Hillary over Bernie. Though they may be suppressing their true leanings for the moment, under the onslaught of a storm that promises to take down every American’s security, property, and investments, one senses the Hillary supporters ready to take the fight to the Sanders camp, as soon as the opportunity presents itself again.
The Democratic party today is a fairly accurate reflection of where the country’s liberal institutions, from broadcasting and arts and media organizations, to the sensibility in the academy and government at all levels, pretty much rests: focusing on an exaggerated concept of personal responsibility, which is at the least neoliberal and at its worst fascistic. The publishing industry, my own personal bailiwick, operates entirely within the neoliberal paradigm, as I know from twenty years of experience; the well-known American publishing houses are simply extensions of the same thinking that infects CNN or any media organization, a mindset that can neither name the ideology it perpetuates (neoliberalism), nor mount any democratic resistance against it.
To agree with my case for moral disengagement, you would have to be persuaded that each effort of engagement, from activism to voting to articulation of demands of any sort, makes the situation worse rather than better. If participation leaves things unchanged, then it may not be enough of a case for disengagement; if participation, including voting, makes things better, then no doubt my case is invalidated.
My argument has to do not with the scope of what needs to happen—just think of the intolerable situation with regard to totalitarian-style gerrymandering, the influence of the billionaire class on campaigns, or the rabid exclusion of third parties, all of which guarantee neoliberal hegemony—but the logic of American fascism: to resist it, in any form whatsoever, only makes it stronger.
When there was a tiny bit of protest, in the form of the Naderite antiglobalization campaign in 1999-2000, we got George W. Bush; after eight intolerable years of Obama’s neoliberalism, which worsened inequality on a frightening scale, the only thing the Sanderite protest got us was Trump. Essentially, neoliberalism is saying, be quiet and accept things as they are, or we will give you something much, much worse. And that’s where we are today, once again, as some of us, shell-shocked already, look back with nostalgia to the years of Obama, Clinton, and even Bush II.
Fascist formalities have become instrumentalized, under neoliberal hegemony, as the means to suppress demands for equality. Fascism’s forms are ever-present, deriving strength from collective belief in American ideals, occurring again and again, and with stronger and stronger force, incarnated at will.
For things to get better, there would have to be nothing less than a democratic revolution, because the situation before, as I explained, was only slow death, a silent strangling that would have continued under a Hillary Clinton presidency: the same terrorist oppression of immigrants, the same radical exclusion of poor, uneducated people of any color from the “meritocracy,” all of it couched in the respectable language of neoliberal personal responsibility, unlike Trump’s crude expostulation of the same basic ideology in overt fascist terminology. The Democratic party would have to cease to exist as the ideal neoliberal vehicle for the resistance to be said to have worked; is that even possible to conceive? Other than Sanders, I do not know of any member of congress who is not beholden to neoliberalism in its essence. There would have to be room for true democratic expression, including for democratic socialism, whether under third parties or a rejuvenated progressive wing of the Democratic party.
All of this is so far from the realm of possibility, under normal modes of activism, that the imagination comes up short. On the contrary, the typical forms of resistance, accepting the neoliberal order as given, only worsen the undemocratic nature of our polity. After eight years of activism and resistance under Obama, what have we accomplished? At the state and local levels, more overtly fascist politicians are in control in almost unprecedented numbers, recalling earlier segregationist eras. Human rights, particularly immigrant rights, are more compromised by far than they were at the beginning of the Obama administration. The same goes for any measure of democracy or equality.
Civil resistance, in order for it to work, must escalate gradually; marches and protests are fine, but this is pretty much the level where the liberal activists seem comfortable. Will there be escalating general strikes? The strike announced for February 17 encountered immediate resistance from those amongst the petty bourgeoisie; they are said to be fighting a new Hitler, but they cannot imagine taking a day off from work, which would interfere with their routine “obligations”; weekend protests with friends are fine. In order for civil resistance to work, people have to put their bodies on the line, have to court mass arrests, have to gum up the works and grind down the machinery of fascist oppression to a halt. We are simply not up for the challenge, despite what some naïve citizens still think of as the main weapon on our side: the internet. If we are up against a true Hitler, who has the National Guard at his beck and call and who has already signed executive orders to implement mass deportations by decree, then the internet is of little help; it makes us feel better to vent, but that is about it.
Of course, I could be wrong about all this, and it could be that resistance leads Trump to have second thoughts, makes civil servants across the government push back vigorously against fascism, and revives both the Democratic and Republican parties to go back to their respective liberal and conservative roots rather than the two-headed neoliberal monster they’ve become. We could have a mass movement of compassion toward immigrants, Muslims, and poor and unhealthy people in this country. The media could become a repository of diverse opinion. We could see mass support for disengagement from our wars in the Middle East and retreat from our worldwide assault on human rights. Of course, all of that could happen, in which case, go ahead, participate, engage, remain hopeful that we can go back to the thing that we’ve lost, or make it even better, and I will accept that I’m wrong.
But I know that there is nothing to hope for from our entire (neoliberal) intellectual establishment; how can there be a chance for resistance to work in that situation? They, the country’s thinkers, especially those who consider themselves progressive, are the conveyors of the virus that has led to fascism. We are not yet ready to give up empire (we call it our “world standing”), and therefore the fascism that goes with it; we just want a nice human face on it, an Obama or a reformed Hillary Clinton.
Why do I think that resistance makes fascism worse? Because it creates the illusion, for a while (as under the Obama administration), that things are getting better, but they only get worse. Resistance legitimizes, and fascism, especially, thrives on it. The two missing elements in the Bushian version of fascism were the lack of a charismatic leader and the potential of a fascist militia, the first of which has at last come true and the second of which now seems a real possibility. I would say that it’s because America is fascist but also the world’s strongest power, and administratively already possesses total capacity to destroy any entity, internally and externally, the way it wants to, that resistance only strengthens the fascist regime because it gives it something to fight against. Fascism needs an enemy to build itself against, but what if the enemy were to retreat and disappear? What would it fight against?
Again, what is there to be go back to, if in fact the aim of the resistance is to recapture what we have lost? The liberal intelligentsia, for fifteen years, has been convulsed with identity politics; in these early days of the renewed anti-Muslim and anti-Latino genocide we’re witnessing, what has saved, to the extent that anything has, immigrant lives? The judiciary, going back to constitutional principles, which has nothing to do with identity politics.
We are possibly witnessing the implosion of American capitalism (i.e., neoliberalism) and hopefully the empire as well, while liberals, those who are protesting today, did not protest the mass incarceration and forceful expulsion of individuals who had been in this country for decades, did not protest the drone wars and illegal killings and fomenting of civil wars and mass displacement under our auspices ever since 9/11. The Obama presidency is destined to go down in history as a footnote; we are simply picking up fascist steam now from where we left off in 2003, before the Iraq War started going awry. The world war that began on 9/11 has resumed, we never left it in the intervening years, because we never sought accountability.
It is all too easy, as many liberals are doing today, to experience nostalgia for Bush the younger, but every fascistic impulse Trump is expressing today was fully manifest in the early Bush II years; that was the truly horrifying era that we, as a nation, never really wanted to account for and reconcile, when we embarked on illegal surveillance, torture, and detention. There is not an external enemy to fight, the enemy is all the liberal institutions (which in a perverse way Trump is saying too), the enemy is all of us who have implicitly supported domestic and international illegality for more than fifteen years after 9/11; Trump’s fascism is simply the next, perhaps last, stage of that process.
I started having the thought of total disengagement in the early years of the Obama administration, and it is only now that I’m articulating it, but I think I was on the right track even then. What if, instead of eight years of Obama-era activism, the people had delegitmized politics by not voting, not participating, not commenting, simply retreating into private life? And by that I mean constructing healthy, nonconsumerist, creative lives, carved with difficulty out of the disastrous environment capitalism forces us to live in, but otherwise oblivious to it? Is that not all the more necessary now that neoliberal capitalism, from everything I understand of it, is in a mortal fight to the end with the health of the planet and all living species, a fight that for a while now I have believed cannot last beyond the middle of this century?
We empowered Trump by empowering Obama, focusing, unfortunately, on the politics of personality, since our liberal intelligentsia is the least equipped of any comparable entity in modern history to articulate matters at a coherent conceptual or theoretical level. We empowered Obama’s war against Muslim nations and against Muslim and Latino immigrants at home, by asking for small mercies, by being pleased with legalistic cover for what are ultimately irredeemable illegalities. How will the next Democratic president, an Andrew Cuomo or Kirsten Gillibrand, be any different? The point is to end empire, the point is to want to accelerate its end, which Trump surely is embarked on doing already.
Let me go back to some historical parallels, particularly from my study of fascist Italy. The conservative (corporate) establishment of that time chose Mussolini’s law and order message over the turbulence Italy’s socialist parties had heralded during the Biennio Rosso (1919-1920), the two years of red uprising after the end of World War I. Had the communists and socialists been able to get along, there would have been no fascism. In our case, we don’t have communist or socialist parties, just variants of slightly more progressive thinking than the reigning neoliberalism, but even these sides cannot get along, because, for one thing, identity politics fatally compromises class consciousness of any kind. There is no viable political party to represent the interests of the people!
Mussolini faced resistance from socialists, such as Antonio Gramsci and others whom he imprisoned, in the first three years of his reign, before he consolidated his dictatorship and ended all pretense of democratic institutions in 1925. I have to say that the amount of resistance we’ve already seen in response to Trump, from the judiciary to inside the intelligence bureaucracies to ordinary people who have come out in historic numbers to try to protect the rights of their fellow citizens who happen to be from other countries, is surprising and welcome, and unlike anything we saw in the Bush years. I see this situation as comparable to that between 1922-1925 in Italy, before Mussolini, in the crisis that ensued after the murder of the leading opposition socialist, Giacomo Matteoti, silenced the press and any political opposition once and for all.
Does that mean that there will be a declaration of emergency, following which the press will be silenced? No, again because we are the world’s dominant power, and the ideology (neoliberalism) that has spawned fascism was already prevalent in the media, the academy, and all the institutions of civil society, so there need not be that level of disruption.
I would ask the question, what enormity can one think of that would bring American society to a halt? Mass deportations? They’re already happening, but what if they escalate to a target of ten to twenty million people? I don’t think we have the power to resist. Of course the escalation of multiple wars in the Middle East is inevitable and would just be a continuation of Clinton-Bush-Obama policies, but what about the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons against, say, Iran? Would that be the turning point that brings society to a halt, and renews democracy?
I have thought for a long time that there is no bridge too far to cross, no enormity so great that it would end our ideas of American exceptionalism, an innocence that the resisters are feeding into, strengthening it all the time, even as the noose tightens around our necks.
But what does it mean to disengage? People have children to feed, jobs to perform, which in many cases may be jobs that help people, in education and social services for example. But there are also single people, younger people, those with greater mobility and options. If one can leave the country, I would say, do so; America is not a project worth salvaging. A fascist power that is the leading roadblock to world progress, in places as far away as South America and India, is not something to devote one’s only precious life to. Even if Hitler is winning, do you want to join him as an ally, do you want to entertain ideas of moderating and refining and containing him, do you want to keep looking for the good Germans to overturn the oppressive order once and for all? And what if, in that effort, you become collateral damage?
Instead of the wasted energy spent during the Obama years to try to normalize what is ultimately not normalizable, i.e. the unconstitutional regime that has existed since 9/11, what if young people had refrained from investing hope in politics? All kinds of ethical choices outside capitalism then become possible, ranging from living communally on a small scale, reclaiming territory outside the stressful purview of urban gentrification, growing one’s own food and exiting the capitalist health care system, and engaging in barter and cooperation to create a sustainable and aesthetically fulfilling existence. Call it socialism, call it anarchism, but to want to want to reform the unreformable only empowers those who want to take away the very possibility of alternative spaces.  
If I were a little younger, I would leave America and put down roots somewhere else; if there is a country where there seems a greater hope for promoting democracy, then that is a choice people should explore. Is America so much better than every place else? Why can’t we take our democratic ideas elsewhere and make those places, not at the center of the fascist hegemony, better, by our example and productivity? Why should we feed this particular machine with our minds and bodies?
What needs to happen is to strengthen countries like Canada and those in Europe that are still struggling against fascism, and everywhere else there is hope in Latin America and Africa and Asia, against the global hegemony America wants to impose. If one is older or is restricted or does not have the mobility I speak of, then one can stay in place, but at the very least one should downshift, retreat from capitalism, and morally disengage from anything having to do with saving this country’s place in world politics (i.e., empire). One can, out of a sense of duty, provide for one’s children and family, but not be morally committed to the idea of America, which has become toxic beyond rescue, because it is not America of the old we’re talking about, but a new form of neoliberal fascism that is in mortal combat with the principle of life itself.
The preservation of life is all-important, not the principle of America, and let me say that I am sure that these two principles are in absolute conflict at the moment. Moral disengagement is a form of civil resistance, perhaps the most powerful form.
The main counterargument to what I’m saying would be, Are we just going to let the fascists take over? Will we let them do whatever they want to do, deport ten million people, start catastrophic wars? Well, aren’t we already? That moment was long ago, when we could have chosen social democracy over neoliberalism, but we as a people, particularly our intelligentsia, decided not to, over a period of thirty years; more specifically, we deliberately sacrificed whatever remained of our democracy to make sure that the collective good had no chance of ascendancy, when we went for Hillary over Bernie.
Suppose all public resistance, i.e. engagement, ceases tomorrow. What would happen? Would Trump be more or less emboldened to expel ten million people or start an unprecedented war in the Middle East? He’s going to do it regardless, but his power in doing so will be much greater, it will again come packaged as a real war of ideas, when he does so, if resistance in the way we think of it continues. In the absence of reaction, his actions will go forward anyway but will not have the same meaning. Mass deportation has been going on for twenty years, the wars in the Middle East in their current form have been going on for twenty-five years, and they will continue to happen, but our participation gives more strength to these violations, gives them legitimacy because there is an appearance of a democratic contest.
If we have to boycott someone, shouldn’t we start with the Democratic party? Can resistance operate through a vehicle so compromised? Shouldn’t we delegitimize it by nonparticipation?
I am arguing that the only moral thing to do in reaction to the fascist onset is to disengage, in every way possible: physically, economically, spiritually, philosophically. And I am arguing that to engage in any way is to be morally supportive of fascism—which probably includes this screed as well, and any thought processes I might have toward fascism, because in that way too I am strengthening it. I only know that the normal democratic means are no longer relevant, since we have nobody in power to represent our moral position, and nor are we likely to, now that things have gone this far.
Mussolini experienced the peak of his power long after the consolidation of his dictatorship in the 1925-1929 period; it was in the 1930s, all the way up to the Ethiopian war in 1936, that consensus was greatest toward the fascist principle. It took abject defeat in World War II to finally end fascism, and for people to come out of the woodwork and claim that they had always been antifascist, even if they hadn’t expressed it so. Hitlerism likewise only ended with total defeat in war. Every totalitarianism, once it gets going past a certain point, ends in the same familiar way, there is simply no historical precedent for a peaceful conclusion. I need not spell out in any more detail what awaits American fascism, and what people have to think about doing for their own safety and well-being, to protect the only life they have been given and that is now under dangerous assault by the determined enemies of life itself.

Trump and Mussolini: 11 Key Lessons from Historical Fascism

Fascism is a religion. The 20th century will be known in history as the century of fascism.
— Benito Mussolini

I’d like to draw some comparisons and contrasts between our present situation and that of fascist Italy between 1922 and 1945. I choose fascist Italy rather than Nazi Germany because it has always seemed to me a better comparison. Nazi Germany was the extreme militarist, racist and totalitarian variant of Italian fascism, which was more adaptable, pragmatic, rooted in reality and also more incompetent, ineffectual and half-hearted, all of which seem true to our condition today. Italy was the original form, while Germany was an offshoot. Although there have been many European and some Latin American varieties of fascism since then, the Italian model was the first and the one that has had the most lasting influence.

Mussolini drew on strong existing left-wing European currents such as anarcho-syndicalism, wanting to offer the world an alternative to what he saw as the failures of the Western democracies. His was a revolutionary agenda, designed to turn the world order upside down, rooted deeply in romantic and even avant-garde sensibilities. To see fascism as stemming ultimately from liberalism might sound surprising, but this is true of both socialism as well as fascism, because finally it is liberalism’s principle of human perfectibility from which these impulses derive. Fascism, we might say, is liberal romanticism gone haywire. In its healthy state, liberalism gives us constitutional democracy, but in its unhealthy state we end up with totalitarianism.

Futurism, one of the leading modernist movements of the time, fed easily into fascism. F.T. Marinetti, who believed in war as “hygiene,” was a keen Mussolini supporter, as was the playwright Luigi Pirandello, though he had a different aesthetic tendency. Many philosophers, academics and artists were already sick of the mundane, transactional, enervating nature of democracy under leaders like Giovanni Giolitti, prime minister several times in the two decades preceding fascism.

Benedetto Croce, on the other hand, was the great Italian idealist philosopher, an optimistic Hegelian who believed that liberal constitutionalism was forever on the move, boosted by the Italian Risorgimento (unification) of the mid-19th century, even if its progress couldn’t always be detected. Mussolini never openly persecuted Croce, partly for reasons of credibility — some internal criticism had to be allowed, to preserve the façade of diversity of opinion — but mostly because, with a slight twist, Croce’s Hegelian logic can easily lead to fascism.

To discuss Italian fascism in the context of Trumpism is not to draw silly one-on-one comparisons, because many material factors are different today, but to understand current developments there must be some historical basis for analysis. What this exercise attempts is to show that the myth of American exceptionalism is just that, a myth, and that we have traveled so far from our national founding impulses that other tendencies, namely forms of what used to be considered peculiarly European anxieties, have now become the defining features of our polity.

1. Fascism rechannels economic anxiety

The German condition in the 1920s, with the economic instability then prevalent, is well known, but this was also true of European countries in general in the wake of World War I. Especially after the Russian Revolution, the urgent question for all of Europe became: Was socialism the right path, or capitalism? And in either case, was a new political order required?

In Italy, socialism became quite popular after the war, making industrialists and large agriculturalists very worried. The fascist squads, which at first had arisen spontaneously, came in handy to break the back of socialist cooperatives, both in industry and agriculture, particularly in northern Italy which was more advanced than the south. In the early part of his career, the opportunist Mussolini was anti-war (he didn’t want Italy to join the war), as were socialists in general. But during the course of World War I he changed his tune. Evidence shows that he was financed by oligarchic foreign interests who wanted Italy to get into the war, which of course it did.

For the same money men, the question became, after the war, what to do with the mobilized energy of the arditi, or the squadrists? The original fascists, Mussolini included, were very socialist in inclination, and their manifestos reflected that. Mussolini’s initial program for fascism could pass, with some changes, as an egalitarian dream. The founders of fascism were big on workers’ rights, expropriation of leading industries and even women’s right to equality. The violent contest between socialists and fascists in the countryside had already abated by the time Mussolini came to power. Yet the oligarchic powers sought, in Mussolini, a figure to permanently channel and mobilize the violent social energy on behalf of capitalism.

The most recent phase of globalization, which took off during the 1990s, has created similar anxieties around the world as the class dislocations did following World War I. For the elites who propagated the “Washington consensus” in the 1990s, supported by such popularizers as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, there was nothing complicated about globalization: Incomes would rise around the world, inequality would fall and liberal tolerance would flourish. This rosy picture is so far from reality as to be laughable, and it is a truth evident to the world’s peoples, except for the transnational elites still beholden to the abstract propositions. Thus the question arises again, with as much urgency as in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution: What shall be the world’s economic order? Is it possible to conceive, at this late date, of globalization with a human face? Or is something more revolutionary needed?

The problem today is that socialism, unfortunately, became discredited in the eyes of liberals in the West because of the failed Soviet experiment. Socialism did not have to go the authoritarian route, but that is sadly how it turned out. So today we have a clear problem, i.e., burgeoning inequality on an almost unprecedented scale, and no ideological solution in sight, at least not one that majorities of liberals can agree on.

Into this vacuum, fascists all over the Western world are entering to redirect the majority white population’s nervousness into xenophobic and imperialist aims. Each country, depending on its power structure, will pursue these aims, once it succumbs to the fascist virus, differently. It is worth remembering, however, that it was liberalism, with its absurd triumphant mentality in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, that took away movement toward any form of socialism as a legitimate path, and therefore made the rise of fascism inevitable.

2. Liberal institutions have already been fatally weakened

We are currently lamenting Trump’s evisceration of the media and other institutions of democracy, but he would not be having such success, at least with half of the population, if those institutions were not already seriously compromised. It is easy to dismiss his mockery of the “fake media,” but before Trump did anyone take the media, with some venerable exceptions, seriously anyway? The mass media have never been interested in the nuances of policy, and are focused instead on personality, celebrity and spectacle. Most of the print media are also compromised because of loyalty to American exceptionalism.

It is no coincidence that Trump has merged his critique of the “fake media” with exceptionalism, because it allows him to present the media as tools of a discredited ideology. Before Trump, the media were tied, as a general rule, to the consensus on neoliberalism, and their bias became all the more evident during the last campaign. When it comes to telling the truth about power, the media have not been interested in doing so for a long time. They may now be reacting viscerally against Trump, because of the crude way in which he takes on their shallowness, but it doesn’t mean anything to his supporters. Trump’s critique of the media applies to all our liberal institutions prior to his arrival on the scene.

Mussolini’s fascist program landed in the middle of deep disillusionment with liberal institutions. Italy had experienced a rapid spurt of growth due to industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but the rewards weren’t equally distributed. The south was poor and undeveloped, overcome by feudal values, while the north was unsure about empowering labor to share the fruits of growth. The strong labor movement started shading into anarcho-syndicalism, quite similar to the original fascist manifesto. The situation is not exactly comparable today, because ours is a mature economy with declining traditional industrial sectors, while Italy’s was an emerging economy with growing industries. But the sense that the institutions of democracy were failing to support a fair standard of living was widespread.

The Italian parliamentary system was marked by a tendency toward transformismo or “transformism,” to which our strongest parallel would be Bill (or Hillary) Clinton’s triangulation. In many ways Clinton can be seen as a parallel to Giolitti, with the same ability to throw doubt on the health of liberal democracy, even as deals are cut right and left). Transformismo, or triangulation, appeals to career civil servants, politicians and media people, but its chameleon-like tendency to absorb the ideas of the opposition and to neutralize them and make them invisible leaves a profoundly disillusioning aftertaste. Ideology desperately wants to make a comeback, which was true in transactional Italy, and is certainly true of America now.  

3. Internal strongmen tussles don’t mean anything

In the beginning Mussolini didn’t seem the most obvious choice to lead the fascist movement. Italy’s best-known provocateur, Gabriele d’Annunzio, a flamboyant writer with a continental reputation, beat him to it by organizing a militia to lay siege to Fiume, a small territory on the northeast coast, part of the unredeemed lands claimed by the irredentist movement. In his short-lived siege, d’Annunzio perfected a fascist style — harangues prompting back-and-forth exchanges from balconies overlooking vast public squares, the symbolic elaboration of the myth of martyrdom in the cause of the nation and the articulation of an emotional method for communicating reality — that Mussolini, and all later fascists, would adopt. D’Annunzio — a legendary womanizer and decadent — was one of the most colorful of all Europeans, and his peculiar interpretation of Nietzschean values has become a permanent challenge to liberal democracy.

But when push came to shove, Mussolini was seen as the more pliable agent of fascist change by his corporate benefactors, and Mussolini was quick to sideline d’Annunzio’s claim to leadership. There were always more assertive fascists around than Mussolini — for example, Roberto Farinacci, the ras (or leader) of Cremona, who later became fond of Hitler’s henchmen — but Mussolini was able to keep them in check. He was a master at playing one competitor against another, exploiting their vulnerabilities to always stay in power. The squadrist militias under control of the provincial ras, like Farinacci and others, were at first used by Mussolini to send terror into the hearts of wavering capitalists and later, in different stages, were controlled and even neutralized as competing power centers, all of them absorbed in the mostly subservient National Fascist Party (PNF).

At the moment, Trump is our Farinacci, the most assertive of the ras, compared to whom all the Cabinet secretaries — even the ones who most frighten us for their racism (Attorney General Jeff Sessions) or Islamophobia (Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly) — seem tame in comparison. No matter the insanity of the secretaries in charge of the environment, education, energy or other departments, none seems as willing to openly flout the rule of law as Trump. Or we can say that in our case the showman d’Annunzio has taken power, rather than a more grounded journalist-turned-politician like Mussolini. We confront the speculative exercise of trying to imagine how it would have turned out for fascism had d’Annunzio, not Mussolini, been the leader.

Nonetheless, we ought not to be swayed by the temporary ascendancies of this or that group within the fascist hierarchy, whether it is Steve Bannon or Michael Flynn who rises or falls. Fascism is greater than the individuals who make up its core at any given moment. Fascism requires the strongman at the center to make it move, yet if a given personality fails to do the job, another can be found as replacement.  

4. Fascism keeps mutating

Before fascism was formalized by Mussolini in 1919, organizing the scattered energies of the displaced combatants, it was in many ways an aesthetic movement. It was certainly radically socialist in orientation, with a strong attraction to equality for workers. Then, just before taking power, it became a movement for capitalist law and order, suppressing the demands of socialists. Once in power it adopted some of the modes of parliamentary behavior, but with great irritation, as it sought to preserve a democratic façade. After the consolidation of the dictatorship in 1925, it became almost a developmental state, strongly interested in Italy’s economic growth. A corporatist state, with strong autarkic goals (such as the “Battle for Wheat,” to make Italy self-sufficient, or the reclamation of the Pontine Marshes), was clearly articulated, eliciting approval from the world’s leading capitalist powers.

With the onset of worldwide depression, however, fascism realized the intractability of economic problems and turned its attention to imperialism. The PNF, which had become relatively quiet during the period of capitalist development, was revived as a harsh ideological force, with growing tentacles in every part of Italian society. This phase began in the early 1930s and lasted until defeat in World War II. Fascism was not particularly racist to begin with, as Mussolini, like most Italians, took exception to Nazi anti-Semitism; but as Italy threw in its lot with Germany in the late 1930s, “scientific” racism became a central fascist platform. After Mussolini was overthrown by his own Grand Council in 1943, for the last two years of the war he held fort in the Republic of Salò, in the northern part of Italy, supported by Hitler’s fading power. The Republic of Salò backtracked to the original socialist principles enunciated at the formation of fascism.

What this shows is that fascism is highly adaptable to different needs and conditions, just as its opposite, democracy, is similarly flexible. This also suggests that fascism is a viable ideology just like democracy, because it can appear in different guises at different times, even under the same leadership, without losing credibility. In considering Trump and the movement he has sparked, we would be better off looking at the overall aims of the regime, rather than get carried away by feints in one direction or another. Their aim, it should be clear, is to end democracy, since that is the energy fascism feeds on.

Trump is fully capable of showing an apparently “presidential” side, for example in his first speech to Congress. The priority has shifted from eradicating immigrants to passing the neoliberal agenda on taxation, social spending, education, energy and the environment, so a slightly modified relationship is needed with the corporate world and the media for the immediate future, which Trump should easily be able to accomplish. Mussolini, though an inveterate atheist, made peace with the Vatican, in the famous Lateran Accords of 1929, abandoning his most cherished beliefs in order to gain the complicity of the Catholic church. Earlier in the 1920s, he installed corporate-friendly ministers to work with Italy’s industrialists to enact an agenda they could be comfortable with. Such mutations are par for the course for fascists, they’re nothing to get excited about.

5. Fascism is eternally recurring

Just as democracy is eternal, so is fascism. There have always been authoritarian or dictatorial responses to democracy since the beginning of modern civilization, but fascism, with its imprint of spectacle, theater and mass communication, was a particular permutation that arose once the Western democracies had been consolidated. Italy and Germany were two of the late bloomers, but democracy had mostly been attained by the time they turned to fascism. Fascism could not have arisen were democracy still an evolving condition, as was true of parts of the West in the 19th century. So fascism is an indication of maturity, once democracy’s initial bloom is off.

Many historians were eager to write off Italy’s fascist experience as an aberration, as something so abnormal that it did not properly belong to Italian culture, but the opposite is true. Fascism will often borrow the symbolism, legal architecture and academic norms of pre-existing society, rather than throw them overboard. In Italy’s case, all the existing tendencies of aesthetic modernism came in handy, as well as the legacies of socialist, anarchist and syndicalist cultures. In northern cities like Turin and Milan, fascism flourished side by side with avant-garde political and cultural thinking. Once the dominant liberal culture succumbed, it wasn’t as difficult to impose fascism’s content upon the less democratic south’s institutions.

Fascism was not an aberration for Italy, nor is this the case anywhere it occurs. It is inherent in the DNA of any given culture, an authoritarian side that goes along with, and is even a necessary prop for, democracy. The interwar years marked industrialization’s maturity in the Western world, which had been preceded by a huge burst of globalization, leading up to World War I. A fascism drawing energy from the masses employed in industrialized occupations, as was the case between the wars, is going to manifest very differently than the post-industrial environment of 21st-century America. But the differences are more stylistic than foundational.

6. Of course it’s a minority affair

To note that Trump did not win the popular vote (as was true of George W. Bush in 2000), does not take away from the power of fascism. Given civilized norms in a democratic society, it is always going to be difficult for fascists to muster an outright numerical majority. The point is their relative strength in terms of raw power. Moreover, in periods of emergencies (such as Bush after 9/11 and in the lead-up to the Iraq war), more than a majority can usually be cobbled together. This speaks strongly to the hidden patriotic foundation of what passes for liberalism, its inherent weakness which can so easily be converted to mass militarism.

Mussolini, though he established his regime on the myth of the March on Rome, was actually appointed by King Victor Emmanuel III when Mussolini seemed like the only figure, compared to the discredited liberal politicians, who could bring order to the country. Trump too is trying to make predictions of chaos and violence a self-fulfilling prophecy, but this is a staple of all fascist regimes: They bring about and thrive on the disorder that they then claim to be the only ones to be able to suppress. There was actually no such thing as the March on Rome; the king had already invited Mussolini to Rome to come and form the government when the march took place. Had the king given the order — and this looked possible until the last fateful moment — the army would easily have crushed the ragtag bunch of nobodies who had showed up from all parts of Italy.

Only a small minority need give overt consent. The rest can be quiet, or complacent, or complicit, unless they feel their personal security threatened, for example because of war that might spin out of control. That is all that’s needed for fascism to go on its merry way, so it’s quite beside the point to argue its minority status. Most bloody revolutions are minority affairs.  

7. There is an ideology behind the chaos of ideologies

Just as Italian historians after the fact claimed that fascism was an aberration that didn’t belong to Italy’s history proper, contemporary observers often insisted that there was never a fascist ideology. Partly this is because of the mutational aspect of fascism. But primarily this is due to intellectual laziness. Liberal scholars, after all, are not likely to credit their mortal opponent with ideological clarity. We too, lazily, ascribe the same lack of ideology to Trumpism, and interpret events in terms of personality and contingency. I would say that fascist ideology has always, since its inception a hundred years ago, been so strong that it takes democracy an extremely favorable environment, and a huge amount of luck, to sustain itself.

Fascist ideology aims for nothing but to weaken and end democracy. It is democracy’s successes, whether in Weimar Germany, or in a strange way in Giolitti’s Italy, or in countercultural America of the 1960s, that breed the opposite tendency which wants to swallow it up.

Mussolini pursued imperialistic goals in wanting an empire in North Africa, East Africa and the Balkans, but was his pursuit of empire (the New Rome) the same as Britain’s, for example, in the 19th century? For Britain, the empire made financial sense. For Italy, all its wars were financially ruinous (and this has been true of our own wars after 9/11 as well), exerting unsustainable pressures. To the extent that the wars undermined democracy, breeding fascism at home, they were certainly successful. In our present and future wars, that is the criterion we must keep in mind. It’s not what a particular policy is doing to the budget or our diplomatic standing or the state of the culture, but how a policy serves to undermine democracy.

8. Its cultural style makes no sense to elites

This is where I felt the Bush incarnation of fascism fell short, and this is where Trump too is having a difficult time. Milo Yiannopoulos proved in the end to be too exotic even to his sponsors at Breitbart, and the campy, decadent d’Annunzian style, of which Milo is an heir, has its limits in evangelical America, committed to bourgeois verities despite the fascistic overlay. Our homegrown brew of Fox News, Breitbart, Alex Jones, border militias like the Minutemen, millenarian Christianity, the Tea Party and gun culture, combined with simplistic beliefs in “free market” capitalism and American exceptionalism, seems to me a particularly tame cultural concoction. It doesn’t have traction with anyone with the least amount of liberal education. Mussolini was working with more resonant cultural stuff, as the emergence of industrial capitalism since the Risorgimento had set up a cultural platform that was malleable enough to work for fascism.

Trump and his successors will have to work with less potent stuff. So-called conspiratorial thinking is a unifying strand — I already mentioned Alex Jones — which connects many of the strands of ultra-conservative ideology throughout the past century. The Reds become Jews and then Muslims; the substitutions are not that difficult to make. But although the elites will remain incredulous toward fascism’s cultural style, there seems to be enough of a momentum, with all the tendencies beginning to attain critical mass together. Thus the successful transition from Bush to Trump, which suggests that our homegrown fascist style is strong enough now not to need a leader.

Masculinity — or shall we say faux masculinity — is an important part of this cultural style, perhaps the principal reason why Yiannopoulos couldn’t last. It is a reaction to the perceived effeminacy of liberalism, and is a blast (along with racism) against what is seen as the failed order. Fascism relies on activation of our most atavistic, violent and primitive selves, by wanting to return women to invisibility, along with condemning the darker races. Needless to say, Italian fascism reconstructed women as facilitators of warrior-masculinity in all the active fields of life, depriving women of organizational visibility even when they were outstanding fascists.

9. Fascism leads inexorably to suicidal war

It’s possible to argue that Mussolini was sucked into World War II against his will, He knew it was going to end his regime since Italy was not prepared. We might credit it to Hitler’s powers of manipulation over Mussolini that Italy entered a disastrous war. The truth is that from the beginning Mussolini had been biding his time to exert Italian power abroad. He had no respect for diplomats, exactly like Trump, and chose to go his own way, believing himself to be a master strategist. He made increasingly assertive forays into war-making, from the little adventure in Corfu in 1923, all the way to the massive commitment to the Ethiopian war in 1936, along the way proclaiming himself “protector of Islam.”

Fascism, like all forms of government not based on the consent of the majority, requires more and more energy to keep the population under control as time goes by. Once the façade of virile domesticity starts getting exposed, war becomes the only option to keep the regime going. Fascism always claims that war is not of its choosing, that it is forced into war by others, but it is a voluntary, even eager, action to perpetuate the regime. At some point, the boomeranging negative energy — violence inflicted upon the fascist power in return — is so great that the tide of opinion turns. Even if war might be fought to an end, the internal consensus, including among fascist believers, is gone. We are, obviously, a long way from that.

10. Racism is inherent to fascism

It is absolutely key that Trump began his campaign by proclaiming a genocidal manifesto against Mexicans — and then Muslims and Arabs — and has continued to keep it as his central point of action. Because fascism is not competing on an even ideological terrain — most people in any civilized country are not given to violence — it must imagine enemies powerful enough to sustain a majority reaction.

Mussolini and his lieutenants used to mock Hitler’s racial animus, both before and after he became chancellor, holding that Italians had no anti-Semitic sentiment, which was quite true. Some of Mussolini’s most ardent early supporters were Jewish, and he had prominent Jewish lovers, like his biographer Margherita Sarfatti. But after the goodwill from the Ethiopian war started fading in the late 1930s, and a closer alliance with Germany became inevitable, Italy turned around and instituted an official anti-Semitism that deprived Jews of their honor, property and basic rights. The situation never got as bad as in Germany, with most Italians harboring deep suspicions toward the newfound anti-Semitism and the construction of Italians as a superior Aryan race, but the damage was done.

Just as war is inevitable, so is virulent racism. Both go together in fascism. One provides an external enemy while the other provides an internal enemy. If they can be linked together — the worldwide Jewish banking conspiracy, or the worldwide Islamic terror conspiracy — so much the better. War becomes more comprehensible, for fascist supporters, when the internal enemy is attached to the endless cycle of wars abroad, which is said to stem from the same root threat to virile nationalist probity.

11. No form of resistance works

Finally, how do you fight fascism? Is there a magic formula, has anything ever worked? Or are we, too, assuming that we are launched on our own fascist cycle, doomed to repeat the familiar pattern until the end? Can liberalism awaken itself in time, once it recognizes the mortal danger, to defeat fascism? Will the citizenry in a liberal democratic nation, once prompted to the threat, find resources it hadn’t counted on before to invalidate and eventually suppress fascism? Can violence, in short, be defeated by nonviolence? We would have to presume this to be true, unless we accept that liberals would take up arms to defeat fascism, which is not likely and probably defeatist anyway.

The Italian press, when Mussolini took over the country, was extremely vigorous. Political parties of every persuasion were highly energized, and they all had their vocal newspapers. Mussolini himself had run socialist newspapers — first Avanti! and then Il Popolo d’Italia — for the majority of his adult career, and knew that to neutralize the press was his first order of business. He did so in stages, eventually ushering in a regime of complete censorship after 1925, particularly after failed assassination attempts gave him the excuse. He installed fascist stooges at all the newspapers and carefully monitored their every word for the rest of his regime. Loyalty oaths were likewise instituted everywhere, from higher education to civil service. The institutions appeared the same; they were not abolished, but they had been hollowed out.

The press went underground, numerous political activists went into exile, particularly in France, and the communists, socialists, conservatives, liberals, monarchists and Catholics bided their time, engaging in resistance when they could, hoping for an awakening of mass consciousness. Neutralizing the church with the Lateran Accords, and thereafter depoliticizing Catholic Action — the organization competing with Mussolini’s numerous social and leisure organizations — was important, and the church never regained its full voice. Exiles abroad were killed or injured in large numbers; many died in the Spanish Civil War. It was not until Mussolini’s own Grand Council deposed him in 1943, when it was clear that Italy had lost the war, that the country divided into two and the partisans emerged to slowly recover Italian democracy in stages.

Italians tried every form of resistance we can imagine, including getting themselves and their families killed or imprisoned, as countless lives were lost in the fascist tyranny. Nothing worked. Nothing ever works until fascism’s logic, the logic of empire, stands discredited to the point where no denial and no media coverup is possible anymore.

Some final thoughts

The thing to notice is that fascism, in all the places it’s been known to arise, converts an admittedly minority point of view into a mass energy that soon overwhelms every civilized instinct. Perhaps Trump doesn’t need to do this footwork; perhaps much of this foundational work was already accomplished in the Bush era. What should really concern us is that fascism now seems to have a certain stability that we have not seen in earlier models that relied on a single charismatic leader. Despite the Obama interlude, Trump has resumed where George W. Bush in his most feverish mood had left off. This suggests that fascism has become permanently stabilized in this country. It is the most worrisome aspect of the present situation.

Fascism would never have gotten such traction here had liberalism not already succumbed, over the course of 40 years, to various abridgments of rights in the name of community or security or risk-aversion, which defines much of liberal discourse today. Fascism cannot thrive on true individualism, which is inherently opposed to mass delusions, but liberalism took the lead long ago in giving up individualism for forms of imagined community. This is ultimately the breeding ground for fascism, and this is why it is an affair that envelops all of us, not just a certain segment of the population that we can condemn as fascist and be done with it.

One remarkable similarity — among many others — between Trump and Mussolini is their total preoccupation with coverage in the media. Trump regularly consumes the “shows,” apparently getting most of his news and information from TV, and has little use for time-consuming memoranda and policy documents. He obsessively monitors what the media says about him. Mussolini, it could be said, was almost a full-time journalist during his 23 years of power. Just as Trump’s Oval Office desk is littered with the “papers,” so was Mussolini’s time taken up with controlling every word that was printed about the regime. Obsessively detailed veline went out every day to the country’s newspapers, instructing them on how to interpret every event. There were to be no pictures of Mussolini appearing in less than heroic posture, no mention of crime or poverty or violence, no disparagement of the fascist regime.

The inordinate amount of time Mussolini (and Trump) spent cultivating his image does not have anything to do with a personality disorder. It has to do with democracy’s failure to live up to its egalitarian ideals, so that the lie about equality becomes more important than actual equality. The liberal democratic and fascist authoritarian versions of this lie have much in common. It is futile to look for tanks on the street as a marker of fascism; there were no tanks in the streets in fascist Italy either. What is important to notice are the weak spots of liberal democracy, which fascism exploits, such as the gradual loss of faith in our voting and electoral systems. What is important to notice is the symbolic order, which becomes more and more different until one day it becomes a vehicle for a different ideology than the majority ever bargained for.

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This Is Our Neoliberal Nightmare: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Why the Market and the Wealthy Win Every Time

Over the last 15 years, editors often asked me not to mention the word “neoliberalism,” because I was told readers wouldn’t comprehend the “jargon.” This has begun to change recently, as the terminology has come into wider usage, though it remains shrouded in great mystery.

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Our Awful Elites Gutted America. Now They Dare Ring Alarms About Trump, Sanders - And Cast Themselves as Saviors

This week, on the night of the Indiana primary, I read one of the most loathsome political screeds it has been my misfortune to encounter.

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The Democrats Have No Soul: The Clintons, Neoliberalism and How the 'People's Party' Lost Its Way

Looking beyond the daily tussle between Donald J. Trump and the Republican Party, or Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Party, let’s consider the larger historical picture to see what the current election campaign tells us about the state of the two major political parties and their future.

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The Media’s Big Bernie Sanders Myth: Here’s How to Build the Coalition that Shatters Clintonism, Neoliberalism

Bernie Sanders is showing swift-footedness in making all the moves necessary to not only establish but consolidate his new front-runner position in Iowa and New Hampshire. Some in the media may not yet have caught on to the way the momentum continues to shift, but eventually the reality will sink in.

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How Oligarchs Destroyed a Major American City

A startling change for the worse has occurred in the physical appearance and occupancy of central Houston over the last few years. Entire historic neighborhoods, while superficially modernized, have had their character destroyed. How can change on this scale take place so fast, despite the lessons of the recent national housing collapse? Who are the people behind this transformation, how do they get what they want, and who gets hurt by their callous disregard?

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