Trump’s Lies in the Age of Nightmare Neoliberalism
Cut the Head off the Snake
By Matthew Wisner
During Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Trump deployed federal agents to break up the July protests. Some of them arrived in unmarked vans and began to kidnap protesters without due process.
Now just weeks before the election, which will primarily happen by mail, 27 mailboxes were removed from Eugene, Oregon by order of the Trump Administration. They cited “a decline in the volume of mail during the pandemic.” For months, Trump has expressed suspicion of vote-by-mail.
He suggested that the election should be delayed until after the pandemic when “fairness” can be ensured. Trump has been flirting with the prospect of his unchecked absolute power, often overriding his legal authority.
It’s possible he’ll go so far as to try to steal the election come November. A country that was founded on the imperative of rejecting tyrannical rule may have a taste of tyranny, but the responsibility should not be placed on Trump alone.
Trump is not a fascist but rather a disastrous culmination of nearly thirty years of intensifying neoliberalism. To call Trump a fascist is to deflect responsibility from the broader political establishment that has entrenched in them the same political thinking as Trump—limited democracy, privatized everything and an economy that serves the wealthy few at the expense of the masses.
Trump has championed some draconian policies, but evil is not inherent to fasism. Evil actually thrives under this nightmare neoliberalism, and an honest diagnosis of the problem is the first step in fixing it. In the case of Trump, the worst of neoliberalism calls on the fascist playbook as a strategy to consolidate political power.
Trump’s gestures toward solidarity with white nationalists and periodic racist comments are not to promote ends of white supremacy or racism in themselves. Rather, his signals are calculated rhetorical maneuvers to sow social divisions, which in 2016 secured the loyalty of the white working class, and exploited their anxiety built on the foundation of their own financial precarity.
Listen to any of today’s mass broadcast media and an outsider might think the policy positions of the Democratic and Republican Parties are vastly different. In reality, they all approach politics with similar thinking, only with minor differences, like Coke and Pepsi.
The Democratic Party professes to be the party of resistance, but it’s merely a hollow marketing ploy. They’ve built their relevance through theatrics and histrionics as Trump’s “opposition,” without establishing much of a substantial political agenda of their own, often aligning with the president’s legislative agenda. The Democrats agreed to the largest military budget in US history, routinely embrace privatization and austerity measures and generally work to maintain the current social order, rarely doing anything meaningful to address wealth inequality.
This tradition of hypocrisy is not new. The Democratic Party has been moving away from their roots of championing workers’ rights for nearly thirty years. In 1994, for example, Bill Clinton signed the crime bill, beginning the rapid acceleration of the prison industrial complex—a nasty system that favors the profits of massive corporations while destroying the lives of ordinary people—and mostly Black people. Clinton also signed onto NAFTA and deregulated the financial industry.
Obama continued the tradition of broken campaign promises and austerity, bailing out the financial elite who caused the economic recession of 2008 while ignoring the grievances of the millions of ordinary people who it affected the worst, many of whom lost their homes.
It doesn’t matter if the Democratic Party’s decision to unravel social services and model themselves after the Republicans was for strategic or sinister reasons. For decades, the Democratic Party has increasingly turned their backs on groups they consistently represented—the working class, the working poor and racial minorities—causing more ordinary people to feel alienated from politics and their elected officials.
This laid the groundwork for Trump’s successful presidential campaign in 2016, where he showcased anti-elitist, anti-government rhetoric and won broad support among the white working class. Eight years of Clinton and eight years of Obama created the conditions that put Trump in office, and more importantly, the widespread contempt for the political establishment is what allowed a whole swath of the country to believe Trump’s lies and kickstart the broader culture of “post-truth.”
The historian Timothy Snyder dedicated his academic career to study the rise of fascism in Europe. In On Tyranny, he wrote, “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle.” In a world where there’s no respected public institution to deliver truth, people must choose between competing fictions, evaluating their validity based on who speaks rather than what is spoken.
Oversight and accountability become nearly impossible projects, and the state of the “democracy” that helped elect a power-hungry leader crumbles at his feet. Snyder argues that post-truth is pre-fascism.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a record-high number of Americans will vote-by-mail, and they’re overwhelmingly Democrats. Because most states don’t count mail-in ballots until after election night, it may appear that Trump won in a landslide on November 3.
Trump could declare victory, only to later dismiss the incoming votes as fraudulent. Even with a clear Biden victory, Trump may refuse to concede and insist he won. Trump’s followers have believed many of his lies, but will they believe this one? Will they believe it enough to do something about it?
Many of Trump’s lies are inconsequential, but they’ve laid the groundwork for him to eventually tell a Big Lie with serious consequences. Trump has been careful to garner controversy but not too much. As Snyder reminds us, many European fascists—Mussolini, for example—came to power through democratic elections, not by forcibly grabbing power in a Bolshevik Revolution-style takeover, but through widespread support and distributing propaganda.
It’s dishonest to call Trump a fascist, but his behavior certainly echoes historical fascist tactics. Stealing an election would undoubtedly be a massive step toward full-blown authoritarianism.