If Trump is a fascist, he may be the most backassward fascist we’ve ever seen


Rousseau thought that in a real democracy, each person would be so concerned with the fate of the republic that at any sign of a problem, she’d “fly to the assemblies” to make things right. Tonight she flew to the airports.


It is absolutely too soon to predict anything at all, but Trump’s executive order regarding immigrants and refugees has generated so much protest and pushback that it has already generated cracks in the Republican Party.

Trump’s people are not as all-powerful and invulnerable as they seem. Quite the contrary. Remember: Donald Trump wasn’t just rejected by the majority of this country. He was also rejected in the primaries by the majority of his party: 55.1% of the Republican electorate voted against him!

This is not a steamroller. Reagan faced opposition—most notably, the PATCO strike—and he simply pressed forward to crush it. These people are different. They’re not as in control, not as confident in their purpose or their purchase on the nation. The more astute among them know that they don’t have the country, they know that their ideas, which used to lend them and their followers and even their detractors so much buoyancy, don’t resonate or register the way they once did.

Again, I’m not making any predictions. One day you’re up, the next you’re down. Trump could turn this to his favor, declaring a national emergency, sending in troops to keep the airports free and clear. Since the election, the major contingency that has worried me most has been has been international politics: that is a sphere that is always unpredictable, and wars happen. The latest news out of China doesn’t make me feel any better.

But if this is what this executive order has launched—just outside his first week in office—what happens when they start throwing people into the streets to die without health insurance?

Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I simply refuse to believe we are the country we were as recently as 15 years ago.


Had Reagan or Bush issued this executive order—I know, the ideological valence on immigration was different for both them, but hear me out—there would have been tremendous planning in advance, and every airport in the country would have been surrounded by a perimeter of National Guard, local police, even federal troops. There would have been top-to-bottom, Cheney to Rumsfeld, advance men, designing a security fence as secure as that which surrounds the White House. People wouldn’t be able to get in without pre-registration and elaborate ID checks and so on.

Instead, we got not only what we saw outside, in the streets and at the airports, not only what we saw in the courts, but this:

When President Donald Trump declared at the Pentagon Friday he was enacting strict new measures to prevent domestic terror attacks, there were few within his government who knew exactly what he meant.

Administration officials weren’t immediately sure which countries’ citizens would be barred from entering the United States. The Department of Homeland Security was left making a legal analysis on the order after Trump signed it. A Border Patrol agent, confronted with arriving refugees, referred questions only to the President himself, according to court filings.

Trump’s unilateral moves, which have drawn the ire of human rights groups and prompted protests at US airports, reflect the President’s desire to quickly make good on his campaign promises. But they also encapsulate the pitfalls of an administration largely operated by officials with scant federal experience.

Asked during a photo opportunity in the Oval Office Saturday afternoon about the rollout, Trump said his government was “totally prepared.”

“It’s working out very nicely,” Trump told reporters. “You see it at the airports. You see it all over. It’s working out very nicely and we’re going to have a very, very strict ban, and we’re going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years.”

The policy team at the White House developed the executive order on refugees and visas, and largely avoided the traditional interagency process that would have allowed the Justice Department and homeland security agencies to provide operational guidance, according to numerous officials who spoke to CNN on Saturday.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Department of Homeland Security leadership saw the final details shortly before the order was finalized, government officials said.

Friday night, DHS arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions applying to seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen — did not apply to people who with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders.

The White House overruled that guidance overnight, according to officials familiar with the rollout. That order came from the President’s inner circle, led by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. Their decision held that, on a case by case basis, DHS could allow green card holders to enter the US.

Now while some will argue that the spectacle and the chaos are all part of the point, I’m not persuaded. Trump wants displays of power; instead, he got a display of powerlessness.

These guys were completely caught off guard. They didn’t know enough to get the cooperation in advance of governors like Cuomo, who’s ultimately responsible for the Port Authority along with Christie, and who decided to allow the protestors to keep going through AirTrain to get to JFK. And how could they: even with the White House, they weren’t sure what they were doing till they were doing it.

It’s not just that the White House is filled with incompetents; it’s not just that they’re flying by the seat of their pants. The lack of planning, the agitated implementation, the incompetence (seriously, Reagan and Bush attracted genuine talent, even if it wasn’t always on display [see Iraq]): it’s all a symptom of a lack of political coherence.


What is the first thing fascists or Nazis do when they come into power, the very first thing? They destroy the left.

Before they go after the Jews, as in Germany, before they go after the liberals and anyone who is not a fascist, before they go after national minorities, they arrest, imprison, torture, and murder the communists, the socialists, and the trade unions. Because they know that in order to pursue their maximal agenda, they need to drain the field of all opposition.

Trump hasn’t done that; in fact, he’s done just the opposite.

Now you could say that the reason Trump hasn’t done that is that there is no real left to do it to. Trump thinks he can do what he’s doing now because no one will stop him. I actually think there is something to that argument. And one could see how, from the point of view of a conservative or Republican activist, the last 40 years would suggest that you have little to worry about from the left: not from the activist left and certainly not from the Democrats. I think the facts on the ground with regard to the left has begun to change, slowly, but knowledge of the world is path dependent, and changes like this take a long time to register, particularly when you’re in an ideological bubble. Look how long it took Democrats and the left to realize that Reagan was for real and here to stay.

That is why I don’t buy the notion that somehow today’s events, with all the opposition at the airports and the imposition of a stay, was part of a grand plan. I think they have no idea what they might be facing from the left. And let’s be honest: neither do we.

Whatever the case may be, the point is this: If Trump is a fascist—I’m dubious, as many of you know—he may be the most backasswards fascist we’ve ever seen. Having seized control of the state, he doesn’t destroy his opposition in order to pursue his maximal agenda. Instead, he creates an opposition—what may be shaping up as the largest mass movement this country has seen in 50 years—by pursuing his maximal agenda first.


Tonight feels like our color revolution. Not one color. Every color.


  1. dainla January 29, 2017 at 1:45 am | #

    I do think he’s a fascist, but an incredibly unintelligent one. And Bannon is in way over his head. He’s used to pushing back with social media attacks and twisted news narratives. Those don’t directly effect people’s lives. Now he is facing something he never has – an angry, emboldened left. This is part of the equation they never thought would be. They don’t call us snowflakes out of the blue. They believe the left is weak, rather than dormant.

    • Matt Hardwick January 29, 2017 at 6:20 am | #

      (shrugs) Mr. Robin agrees with all of this except for whether or not you think Trump’s a fascist, tho. Not to nitpick, or anything. 😉

  2. jhuntington January 29, 2017 at 2:09 am | #

    “while some will argue that the spectacle and the chaos are all part of the point, I’m not persuaded. ”
    The GOP has been railing against the effectiveness of government since at least Reagan, why would they actually change course now? There will be a tweet from Trump about “activist judges” ruining his beautiful plan, in 3,2,1…

  3. Rob Field January 29, 2017 at 4:11 am | #

    Of course, they could always b become more repressive in response to our opposition ….

  4. anonymous January 29, 2017 at 5:49 am | #

    “One of the fundamental rights of every American is to live in a safe community. A Trump Administration will empower our law enforcement officers to do their jobs and keep our streets free of crime and violence. The Trump Administration will be a law and order administration. President Trump will honor our men and women in uniform and will support their mission of protecting the public. The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it. … Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter.”

    Trump has already singled out BLM as a “dangerous” movement and promised to “end” it. It’s true that Hitler didn’t commence with the Holocaust until after the Communists had been systematically killed, but Paul von Hindenburg took his sweet time consolidating power, withering away civil liberties and destabilizing the Republic before any of that happened. I’m not a historian or anything, but I think it would be foolish to ignore the warning signs. Bannon is a self-identified Nationalist who has become a venerated leader of a shit-you-not grassroots Neo-Nazi movement; he is a chief author of these executive orders, and he’s now been appointed to the National Security Council. Is this not unprecedented?

  5. mark January 29, 2017 at 5:49 am | #

    “The Blackshirt Movement is the organised effort of the younger generation to break the stranglehold which senile politicians have so long maintained on our affairs.”

    (Daily Mail, 15th January 1934)

    “The policy of Fascism is what you may well call Ultramontane Conservatism. It takes many of the tenets of our own party and pushes them to a conclusion which, if given effect to, would, I believe, be disastrous to our country.”

    (Stanley Baldwin, 18 June 1934, Daily Telegraph)

    Trump’s is a cult not of youth but of lost youth.

  6. stevenjohnson January 29, 2017 at 7:29 am | #

    1. Don’t political theorists still favor Rousseau as the evil godfather of totalitarianism, much more so than people like Nietzche?

    2. The news out of China is to be expected from a regime that favors being as much like a capitalist country as possible, so I’m not sure what the objection to China is: For not complying with Trump? Or rejecting China’s commitment to a world of sovereign nations as socialist internationalism?

    3. Media campaigns against White House incompetence were particularly intense against Carter and Clinton. Trump is only formally a Republican, not a part of the party hierarchy in any normal sense. So how are the accusations of political incompetence (implying the seasoned professionals should be running things,) really different?

    4.Trump has plainly supported jailing both Clintons in the past. He’s officially relented for now but how could anyone rely on his promises? Why shouldn’t Trump be satisfied with intimidation? The semi-official head of the so-called left is Bernie Sanders, who is not in opposition to Trump.

    5. Not one of the color revolutions led to good things. Being for color revolutions raises the question, which side are you on?

  7. James Cobb January 29, 2017 at 7:34 am | #

    “Whatever the case may be, the point is this: If Trump is a fascist—I’m dubious, as many of you know—he may be the most backasswards fascist we’ve ever seen. Having seized control of the state, he doesn’t destroy his opposition in order to pursue his maximal agenda. Instead, he creates an opposition—what may be shaping up as the largest mass movement this country has seen in 50 years—by pursuing his maximal agenda first.”

    I think instead of comparing everything to Hitler or Mussolini, you should look at more modern autocrats, namely Putin. Putin faced large protests in 2000, and came up with a strategy of creating a fake opposition party, with literal paid actors, that would give the appearance of a “resistance” to herd communists and nationalist into, but whose leadership would ensure that they didn’t actually stand in the way of his power.

  8. louisproyect January 29, 2017 at 8:35 am | #

    Trump is no fascist. He is a bumbling rightwing jerk with hardly any clue of how to govern. There was nothing to be gained, for example, by blocking Iranians from entering the country. When is the last time an Iranian went on a shooting spree anywhere to kill infidels? Of course, except on Assad’s behalf in Syria carrying out the mandate of Trump’s pal in the Kremlin.

  9. brodix January 29, 2017 at 8:48 am | #

    There is a difference between taking control of government and throwing a monkey wrench into the works. I think even many of the people who voted for him understood he is a monkey wrench more than a movement, so it is working out as could be assumed.

  10. Rich Puchalsky January 29, 2017 at 9:19 am | #

    There are fascist movements growing in the US, but they use Trump rather than being used by him. For instance, look at what’s going on at the University of Washington. At a Milo Y speech a brownshirt counter-protestor shot an antiafa, turned himself in, and was let go by police. College Republicans followed up by threatening more of the same. University staff being threatened with no discernible pushback by university management. That’s the classic progression of fascism.

  11. Rick Cass January 29, 2017 at 9:37 am | #

    I am not sure that this is the result of incompetence. Brannon is an advocate of chaos as a policy tool. Out of chaos, they hope to come out of it with a highly nationalistic, nativist sensibility. A sensibility where fear of and rejection of non white, Christian people becomes a ground plane for political and social thought and action. I fear that this country is actually going through a 1930’s kind of process. This issue is not being discussed clearly in any mass media.

    • Brian January 29, 2017 at 11:38 pm | #

      And yet the reactions we are seeing are not chaotic. On the contrary, we are seeing organization and solidarity in the protests against these actions, not infighting as lack of direction. This is a poor way to foment chaos, the result of terrible lack of forethought and planning, as mentioned by the author.

  12. Thomas Leo Dumm January 29, 2017 at 10:00 am | #

    I don’t understand the logic of this argument. By most criteria we use to identify the ideology and practice of fascism, Trump and his most senior supporters in the administration — Bannon, Flynn — with their racist hatred directing their policies, their strongman positioning, their intimidation of the rank and file of their party, their rejection of more ordinary conservative ideology (I could go on), are fascists. I wouldn’t disagree that they are not competent, which provides us with reasons to be hopeful. But incompetent fascists with the levers of power are still fascists, and fomenting chaos in the US in 2017 is of course going to have a different, and not easily predictable, trajectory.

  13. GRH January 29, 2017 at 1:59 pm | #

    “What is the first thing fascists or Nazis do when they come into power, the very first thing? They destroy the left.”

    We just haven’t had our “Reichstag fire” yet.

    Also, Bannon believes in the “Strauss–Howe generational theory”… he wants to spark “the Fourth Turning” so his fellow Reactionaries can remake society and save the Western world.


    The Fourth Turning is defined by disorder brought on by a breakdown of the systems and operating principles that dominated the prior three turnings.

    High → Awakening → Unraveling → Crisis

    The Fourth Turning revolves around a crisis of trust; as soon as our trust in our bedrock Institutions ends, then “the End” follows.
    This explains Bannon/Trumps constant drum-beat about the dishonest press and their “alternative facts”. Not to mention the constant villainization of the government since Reagan.

    FYI: Bannons motto is “Honey Badger don’t give a shit”

  14. Troy Grant January 29, 2017 at 2:07 pm | #

    “Rousseau thought that in a real democracy, each person would be so concerned with the fate of the republic that at any sign of a problem, she’d “fly to the assemblies” to make things right.”

    Rousseau was likely referring to a more Direct Democracy (see link below) instead of Representative Government, corruptible by design:


  15. jonnybutter January 29, 2017 at 4:19 pm | #

    I prefer the Jacobin version’s title: The Opposition is Born. *That* I can get behind. I see no reason to be even a little sanguine about this scary situation whether Trump and his Rasputin are or aren’t competent, or full blown, fascists

  16. Junius January 29, 2017 at 4:52 pm | #

    Liberals: you are ethically and politically dead.


    Those were socialists:


    « The mainly English and French militants had come together in London firstly to rally solidarity with the various international liberation struggles underway, including that for Polish independence, Italian unification and support for the North against the slave-owning South in the American Civil War. Their second reason for forming such an organisation was because in a recent economic downturn attempts had been made by employers to play English and French workers off against each other through the use of immigrant labour to try and break strikes. Trade unionists on both sides of the Channel wanted to counter this blatant “divide and rule” strategy. »


    « The conditions of the daily struggle (especially in such comparatively advanced countries as England and France) suggested to the workers the need of forming an international union of proletarian forces for a number of purposes. Among these may be mentioned: the sharing of experience and knowledge; conjoint efforts on behalf of social reform and improvements in the condition of the working class; the prevention of the import of foreign workers to break strikes; etc. Thus the needs of the industrial struggle gave an impetus towards the formation of the workers’ international. »

    Fascist capitalism has always wanted immigration and open borders.

    Culture has never been a liberal business.

    Study!, traitors of the working class.

  17. Dawgzy January 29, 2017 at 8:24 pm | #

    I don’t have the text at hand, so this might be a little off the mark. To quote Walter Sobchak “… fuck me, Dude. At least National Socialism was an ethos.” When referring to nihilists. Also see ” Shut the fuck up, Donny; you’re out of your depth.” If the strange beast that is Trumpism coheres at all, it does so most around Fascist formations. It’s still incubating.

  18. JD January 30, 2017 at 12:46 pm | #

    Watching Bannon’s talks on Youtube when he toured his Palin doc (undefeated) it’s clear that he does see threats from the left and understands that Occupy, at least, (but also the $15 an hour and other campaigns) are genuine threats to the ruling class and also attract young people in huge numbers. Ideologically Bannon is a class warrior and it will be very interesting to see how he deals with the left and the growing street and opposition culture that’s emerging and will likely grow very quickly.

    The fractures within the ruling class are just as interesting., Silicon Valley has been exposed by allowing the likes of UBER and Thiel define tech political economy as Trumpian (and in a way much of it is monopolistc and authoritarian) but Serge Brin and one of the principal Y combinator boffins both showed up at SFO this weekend, while Lyft promise a million bucks to the ACLU following UBER’s attempt to scab the NYC taxi drivers strike.The #deleteuber campaign must be working because this morning Uber promised 3m to ‘help immigrants’, and google feature Fred Korematsu on their homepage. More of this please, not least because we need politicians and the rich to soak up some of the vitriol and hate being directed at activists and immigrants by fascists.

  19. b. January 30, 2017 at 1:35 pm | #

    “The latest news out of China … ”

    If the Independent is a source, it may be the most useless…

    To wit: their source, the Post, quotes a Chinese official calling out US involvement of missile defense in South Korea as a “hot spot”. but the Independent boldy states:

    “The official also called for military deployments in the tense South and East China Seas and for a missile defence system to guard the Korean peninsula, another regional hotspot, the Post reported.”

    The Chinese are planning to deploy missile defense in North Korea? *That* would be news indeed.

    It is hard to overstate just how useless that type of “chinese whispers” is. If the Independent can’t even quote correctly their own referenced article, let alone “independently” translate from the Chinese source and/or obtain independent confirmation, then they do not deserve to be referenced.

  20. spokanevetsforpeace January 31, 2017 at 3:06 pm | #

    Sigh. Well, I’ll try to comment, though for some reason you haven’t been allowing them. What would allow you to take him seriously? Do you really think he’s disturbed by these protests? Was bush disturbed by the protests against the Iraq war? Nope. Not one bit. it’s good to see these, but if no organization is carried out, they’re as good as useless.
    Furthermore, to assume that Trump is incompetent seems to be foolish. First, wouldn’t it be better to assume otherwise until proof of action shows us different? And what about his actions seem to tell you that he is incompetent? Why isn’t this just a smokescreen to figure out who (in the institutions and elsewhere) is part of the purge and who isn’t. And I’m including watching the protesters, as I’m sure they are.

  21. Claude Horvath February 4, 2017 at 5:23 pm | #

    Thanks for your cogent and informed comment. Be still my palpitating heart! Possibly, he’s too incompetent a demagogue…

  22. good2go February 10, 2017 at 12:37 pm | #

    “…they arrest, imprison, torture, and murder the communists, the socialists, and the trade unions.”

    “Now you could say that the reason Trump hasn’t done that is that there is no real left to do it to.”

    I agree. That’s because the left in the US HAS been systematically arrested, imprisoned, etc etc for all of the 20th century and, so far, the 21st. No western nation has been so hostile, so long, to the left as the United States.

    Hitler was a particularly effective blip in the history of a country that had had a very strong socialist party. That’s why even the Nazis had to include the word “social” somewhere in their name…no one would vote for them otherwise.

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