News & Politics

America's Military Will Never Save Us From Trump's Fascism

There’s a dark lesson to be learned from John Kelly’s attack on a grieving widow.

Photo Credit: Screenshot / Twitter

When fascism comes to America it will arrive in a style and form that fits our country. Fascism is poison; America's political culture and institutions are the container.

American fascism will be empowered through racism and sexism and homophobia.

American fascism will be circulated through the corporate news media and its compulsive need to demonstrate "fairness" and to talk about "both sides" of an issue.

American fascism will echo throughout the right-wing propaganda machine, including Fox News, Breitbart and talk radio.

American fascism will empower its foot soldiers by making them feel like "real Americans" who are superior to black and brown people, nonwhite immigrants, those who speak a language other than English, the poor, and gays and lesbians.

American fascism will simultaneously defend itself and attack from the redoubts of the country's gun culture.

American fascism will try to wear a mask of respectability and normality by carrying the banner of the Republican Party.

American fascism will encourage violence against liberals, progressives and Democrats.

American fascism will break democracy through extreme political polarization and by catering to a right-wing public that cares more about winning at any cost than the good of the country.

American fascism will embrace the culture of cruelty.

American fascism will leverage inverted totalitarianism.

American fascism will distract the public through the spectacle of entertainment and consumerism.

American fascism will not need internment camps and political street thugs to do its work. Nor will American fascism involve an overt crackdown on free speech and the free press. It will achieve its shock and awe -- first by electing an authoritarian leader -- and then by slowly creating a "new normal" where the heretofore unimaginable is just taken as a dose of daily outrage until it is eclipsed by the next.

To ignore this reality is to be willfully ignorant, to be in denial or to be drunk on American exceptionalism.

There are at least 20 ways through speech and actions that Donald Trump has repeatedly shown his fascist and authoritarian beliefs.

Militant nationalism is high on this list. Why? Authoritarians surround themselves with generals and wrap themselves in the superficial trappings of patriotism (such as flags and anthems) because they provide a sense of authority and power. This allows the authoritarian leader to intimidate his enemies at home, provides symbolic and material comfort for his base, expands his control over the state and projects power abroad. Militant nationalism also overlaps with fascism and authoritarianism: They are masculine political ideologies that are obsessed with "virility," "strength" and male sexual potency.

As I explained in an earlier essay here at Salon, former four-star Marine general John Kelly's participation in Donald Trump's smear campaign against Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., and war widow Myeshia Johnson reminds us of America's long history of racism and sexism against black women. Kelly's comments were also dangerous in other ways as well. Most important, they are an example of how Trump's fascist agenda can be aided and abetted by military leaders.

Writing at the New Yorker, Masha Gessen explains this as "the logic of the military coup." She begins:

Consider this nightmare scenario: a military coup. You don’t have to strain your imagination—all you have to do is watch Thursday’s White House press briefing, in which the chief of staff, John Kelly, defended President Trump’s phone call to a military widow, Myeshia Johnson. The press briefing could serve as a preview of what a military coup in this country would look like, for it was in the logic of such a coup that Kelly advanced his four arguments.

Gessen then provides the following criteria:

Argument 1. Those who criticize the President don’t know what they’re talking about because they haven’t served in the military. ...

2. The President did the right thing because he did exactly what his general told him to do. ...

3. Communication between the President and a military widow is no one’s business but theirs. ...

4. Citizens are ranked based on their proximity to dying for their country. ...

There are other causes for concern as well. According to a new survey from the Military Times, it appears that despite Donald Trump's disdain for American democracy and his embrace of authoritarian and fascist principles, he enjoys a high amount of support among the country's enlisted ranks:

President Donald Trump enjoys far stronger support among members of the military than the American public at large, according to the latest scientific Military Times poll. Yet while Trump is especially popular among enlisted troops, officers have a much lower opinion of him. And women and minorities in the ranks share similar skepticism. Overall, about 44 percent of all troops surveyed in the Military Times poll have a favorable view of Trump, while roughly 40 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him. That’s a stark contrast to opinion polls of the general public, which have shown Trump’s popularity at less than 40 percent and an unfavorable rating as high as 56 percent. Yet, the poll of more than 1,100 active-duty troops, conducted in September, shows a deep divide over service members’ opinions of the commander in chief, whose first nine months in office have been marked by military policies that have drawn both praise and concern from Pentagon leaders. While almost 48 percent of enlisted troops approve of Trump, only about 30 percent of officers say the same, the poll shows.

Given the extent to which Trump has been embraced as a champion by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other right-wing hate groups, the fact that the Military Times also found such attitudes among respondents to its poll should be a cause of great concern.

One should also not ignore how in recent polls that almost 50 percent of Republicans say they might support a military coup in the United States.

Trump, his administration, his voters, the right-wing media and the Republican Party in its present form are a clear and present danger to American democracy. Those in denial of this fact are relying on an obsolescent and naive assumption that America's "enduring political institutions" will protect the country from authoritarianism and fascism. But it is clear that Trumpism has infected almost every part of American government, including the presidency, the courts, Congress and the military, as well as civil society more broadly. The rot is deep and it is growing.

This is not an episode of "Homeland" or an action movie where a Jack Ryan-like figure will appear to save the country. In the real world, saving a "We the People" democracy requires action and not passivity by the public. Unfortunately, to this point too many Americans have succumbed to learned helplessness and trauma in the face of Trump and the Republican Party's assaults on democracy -- or worse, have cheered on these violations.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of America's greatest military leaders, and then served as one of the country's greatest presidents. In that role, Eisenhower offered the following warning. He said, "If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power."

John Kelly, Donald Trump and the Republican Party should meditate on Ike's wisdom. It will likely mean nothing to them, but it might may inspire the rest of us to take the necessary steps to speak truth to power -- to organize, vote, march, and engage in the pocketbook politics that can ultimately drive Trump and the Republican Party from power.

 

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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