The fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behaviour, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us
– Michael Foucault
Fascism is a difficult entity to define. Not all fascists have the same political thoughts yet all believe themselves part of a superior in-group having knowledge others lack and all see opponents of their point of view as, to a greater or lesser degree, the 'enemy'. It was easier to spot fascists back then, when people marched in extravagant uniforms and gave ludicrous salutes, came out with fancy sayings, worshipped exotic symbols and openly despised minority groups. Today, fascists can wear ordinary clothes and wrap their views in friendly ways. They may not even suspect themselves that they are fascists.
And, yet, they exist. They exist in every corner of the world and even have obtained power in some parts. This spread does not mean that one fascist from one part of the world thinks exactly the same as another from elsewhere; the Chinese communist is, in some ways, poles apart from the American Christian right: and yet, both have fascist tendencies. Both tightly support their own people and both view others, outside their group, almost as enemies. Both also belief – as do all fascist movements – in their own righteousness and in the supremacy and near godliness of a revered leader whose wisdom and abilities must not be questioned.
That great leader did not, quite, arise in the United States. Donald Trump was deeply flawed. His links to organised Russian crime bosses (Craig Unger names no less than 59 Russian suspected crime bosses Trump has had dealings with in his book House of Trump, House of Putin
), his alleged sexual assaults on ladies (26 at last count), his alleged drug abuse, his, possibly, shady financial dealings and his bad language and inability to express himself well, all told against him; or, should have told against but the longing for a 'strong' figurehead leading the Christian right was such that they supported him in droves. 'False News' was the counter to these assertions against him and he made certain that he was seen attending church and displaying piety.
Not that Trump himself is actually a member of any Christian right group: he is solely a Trumpist and totally for himself and his immediate family. Scoundrel more than fascist although, if he is the leader, and only if, he could fit into that latter mould in order to have power and control.
The American Christian right is another matter; particularly an extreme branch known as 'dominionism' which has infiltrated America churches and American airwaves. They have little tolerance for anything beyond their own circle believing that they, ultimately, will have dominion (through God's graces) over all of Earth. When the 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti, the right-wing preacher Pat Robertson (who may or may not be an dominionist), suggested that it was God's punishment for a pact with the Devil that slaves had allegedly made in the 18th century in order to free themselves from the French. Robertson has also advocated pre-emptive nuclear strikes against the pagan enemies of America – and Christian right groups have all display a loathing towards Islamists.
What has spurred the growth of these right-wing Christian groups (if, indeed, they can be properly called Christians) is simple; it is economics. It was the same in Germany in the 1930s. The stock market crash of 1929 further reduced a Germany struggling with the after effects of the Great War and revolution within its boundaries. The people most affected were the those who had been considered middle class and from fairly comfortable backgrounds who then found themselves struggling. It was easy to turn to a man who appeared to have the answers and who hated what had been the liberal middle classes' hatreds also; powerful Jews and red-loving communists. The ex-middle classes joined with the already disaffected working classes and supported Hitler.
A similar scenario has played out in the United States: manufacturing has gone, being outsourced to the poorer countries where low wages more than compensate for slightly increased transport costs. People who were once earning middle-class incomes are now struggling in poorer paid service jobs. American manufacturing, that once accounted for around 70% of their economy, now accounts for less than 10%. This has been coupled with a systematic erosion in Federal assistance programmes.
Against this has been the rise of corporate profits and the increasing gap between the wealthiest in America and the poorest: the top 5% families in income terms gained an astonishing 88% in earnings between the last bank upheaval in 2007/2008 and 2016: the lowest tier in America lost something like 20% of their incomes in the same period. That is why Donald Trump, with his avowal to 'drain the swamp', was so popular in 2016 and why he attracted those whose beliefs trembled on the edge or toppled over into fascism. Trump was going to do to those mystical swamp creatures what Hitler was going to do to the Jews that, allegedly, dominated the German economy.
Trump did not upset the normal too much but his legacy lingers and will continue to do so; the hardcore of his support find reasons still to have faith. The Q-Anon believers were not the only ones to consider Trump was carrying out wonders in all sorts of areas behind the scenes. They believed because they wanted to; because they had to.
Sinclair Lewis in his book written in the 1930s and called It Can't Happen Here
predicted the rise of American fascism. What Trump demonstrated was that American democracy is fragile and the American two-party system can be abused and distorted. Trump offered the disaffected that most tantalising of fascist temptations; hope. It was a false hope, of course, but hope is hard to give up.
An American problem? Scotland must not forget Foucault's warning; fascism is in us all.
Bill Paterson is a writer based in Glasgow