President Trump’s Portland statements prove that there is little political difference between him and the KKK. He may as well don the white sheets and hood and burn a cross on the lawns of Portland residents. It’s become a cliché to label Trump a fascist, but we can’t afford fascism to take hold in this country.
The classic definition of fascism describes the government and business elites aligned against the people. This is true, but one common aspect of fascism is an extreme nationalism that places blame for the country’s political problems on perceived “outsiders,” who are often a relatively powerless group of people. Fascists buttress these blame games by making efforts to oppress, dehumanize, and ultimately to do great harm to the groups of people they target. As the campaign of oppression continues, it spreads to target more and more groups of people. Such efforts can only lead to greater authoritarianism. As was true in Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Germany, oppression of a select group of people can escalate to an authoritarianism capable of oppressing any one the government doesn’t like.
The US Declaration of Independence insisted that all people are equal, but fascism seeks to elevate one group above another. (It should be noted, unfortunately, that the same document also referenced “merciless Indian savages.”) People talk about “free speech,” but when speech is used to take away from a select group of people the very same basic human rights we all enjoy, this speech is no longer “free” nor should it be. That is why hate speech should be censored—it is the act of people using one right in an effort to deny basic rights to others. People, regardless of their background, have a fundamental right to feel safe in their own communities without having to face discrimination, verbal abuse, or violence in public.
Going back to Portland, Trump responded to a confrontation between a loose group of anti-fascist demonstrators and a right-wing group called the Proud Boys. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the right-wing group as a hate group and have documented their history and activities. Yet Trump tweeted, “Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an ‘ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.’ Portland is being watched very closely.”
Rally organizer Joe Biggs declared a victory for the Proud Boys demonstration when he said, “Go look at President Trump’s Twitter,” Biggs said. “He talked about Portland, said he’s watching antifa. That’s all we wanted. We wanted national attention, and we got it. Mission success.”
The Proud Boys claim to be a pro-Trump “drinking club”, but leaked chats show that acts of provocation and violence are planned months in advance. The Proud Boys are highly organized. “Antifa” does not have a central organization. And while some conservative Republicans as well as hate groups seek to label the “antifa” as a terrorist group, not a single death has been attributed to “antifa.” By contrast, right-wing extremists killed 34 Americans in 2017 alone, which, not coincidentally, was Trump’s first year in office.
Efforts to vilify the “antifa” are part of a broader public gaslighting campaign designed to make far-right positions appear more legitimate by provoking their opponents with threats to marginalized groups. The Proud Boys claim to be a pro-Trump “drinking club”, but leaked chats show that acts of provocation and violence are planned months in advance. The intent is to provoke people opposed to their extreme agenda and then play the victim by claiming that their free speech rights are being violated.
In a broad search of articles I’ve researched, it is very difficult to pinpoint who attends these counter-protests—as if the media labeled all of the protesters as “antifa.” In reality, these counter-protests are often attended by large numbers of community members opposed to the hateful messages that threaten their neighbors. Twelve hundred counter-protesters outnumbered the right-wing demonstrators by a factor of four, with only a small percentage of counter-demonstrators clad in black and masks—yet the ones wearing black clothes and masks are the left-wing protestors most often highlighted by media reports. And many of these stories don’t even bother to quote the counter-protestors.
One outlet reported that the counter protesters included “a PopMob event that featured several speakers, music and a generally positive atmosphere. The Unpresidented Brass band, who regularly attends these rallies, came to Saturday’s rally dressed in banana costumes, dubbing the effort the ‘banana bloc’ much to the enjoyment of the counter-protesters. Additionally, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and several union groups made appearances.” Another outlet reported a speech at the counter-demonstration by the president of the Portland NAACP. They are people who respond to defend marginalized groups targeted by hate groups, so that members of these marginalized groups can feel safe on their own streets.
But Trump’s actions as a presidential candidate and again as President have clearly demonstrated the provocation-denial-provocation-denial game played by white supremacists in this country. This tactic takes advantage of journalists’ attempt to be objective by quoting people from both sides. These journalists unwittingly elevate the standing of hate groups by creating a false equivalency in the legitimacy of both sides. From Trump’s infamous “escalator speech” in which he singles out immigrants from Mexico and Central America, (and just look at how the idiots at Politico practically celebrate that moment) to his defense of two Boston men who cited Trump when beating up a Latino homeless man. His “both sides” comment in response to the violence in Charlottesville and the murder of Heather Heyer also provide clear evidence of his sympathies.
And this time, in Portland, Trump hasn’t even bothered to draw a false equivalency here—for him, the “real” terrorists are the people trying to protect their neighbors being targeted by right-wing provacateurs.
We need to stop acting like this is normal.
Fascism as a term has been thrown around so loosely in recent years that to label President Trump as fascist seems almost cliché. But Trump fascism is real, and the implications of it are frightening. We need to realize that Trump is popular among a significant (and vocal) minority of U.S. residents. Trump is not an accident, but the culmination of a number of policies and political blunders by both major political parties. If we don’t pinpoint the roots of Trumpism and seek to dig them up, the days that I can write a blog post criticizing the U.S. President will be numbered. Like Italy and Germany, a fascist government can turn itself into a fascist dictatorship.