As America enters the Age of Trump, it is important to recognize that what’s happening is not just about Trump, and not just about America. Forces kindred to Trump have lately been ascendant around the world.
We see different manifestations of this same ascendant force that has borne Trump into the presidency in Putin’s Russia, in Erdogan’s Turkey, in Britain’s Brexit movement, in right-wing ethno-nationalist parties across Europe (France, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, etc.), in Netanyahu’s Israel, and in Duterte’s Philippines.
Trump himself recognizes this kinship and one can see a degree of de facto alliance forming among the leaders who embody this dark spirit. Trump has shown this in his widely noted bromance with Putin. But he’s also shown it in other ways with other leaders: in his endorsement – at least as claimed by the Philippine leader – of Duterte’s handling of the drug problem with several thousand extra-judicial killings; in Trump’s making his first meeting of a British official with Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit movement, and requesting that Farage be made the U.K.’s ambassador to the U.S.; and with Trump’s unprecedented meddling in the foreign policy of the man who is still President, in order to support the worst tendencies of Netanyahu’s government in Israel – the accelerated expansion of Israeli settlements in the territories that would become Palestianian in any two-state solution.
The global nature of this rising spirit has important implications for how it can be defeated.
Although each nation faces its own challenges and its own unique circumstances, a dangerous global phenomenon like this calls for an effective global response. Those who face a common threat always do better to coordinate their resistance. “Stronger together” may not have prevailed in the American elections, but the principle is valid nonetheless.
Of course, it is also true that, in each nation, the forces of resistance must do the political work of organizing to win elections within their boundaries. An essential part of the battle, therefore, is at the level of electoral politics within sovereign entities.
But clearly, the very fact of the global nature of the ascendancy of this dark force shows that national politics is not the only level involved. When electorates in very different nations are empowering such a dark force, something has been percolating in today’s civilization at the level of ideas and passions.
Accordingly, it is at that level that part of the battle against this force must be conducted. What is needed, in other words, is a transnational movement to win over the “hearts and minds” of the citizenry of the democratic (or once democratic) nations whose future is threatened by that rising dark force.
A global movement at the level of the spirit –dedicated to the values that uplift the human world — can provide fuel to power the partisan political combat against those in each nation who are channeling this ascendant, dark. transnational force.
To envision the nature of what is required of such a movement, we can begin by asking: What is it that this battle is being fought over? And to answer that, we can start with the question: What is the nature of the force (or spirit) that Trump and these others represent.
Not all the manifestations – Russia, Turkey, Europe, Israel, Trump’s America etc. – are identical. But they all have a common set of directions:
- Erdogan in Turkey has locked up thousands whom he sees as opposed to him. (Putin, too, has used the force of the state to crush his opposition.) With Trump, there are at this point only hints and threats pointing in such a direction.
- Across Europe, hatreds against the outsiders have been stirred up. Trump’s signature issue, of course, was the demonization of Muslims and immigrants from Mexico.
- Duterte in the Philippines – with his encouragement of vilgilantism — has discarded the rule of law. With Trump, once again, who has not yet even come to power, we see signs pointing ominously in that direction, what with his continuous display of disregard for what the law, or even the Constitution, says.
- In Putin’s Russia – and now also in Trump’s appointments to his Cabinet – we see a melding of the forces of private wealth with the institutions of public power. The government for and by the people becomes a government of the people but for and by the wealthy and the corporate system.
- And in most of these regimes, truth is if not the first then at least an early casualty. The killing of journalists in Russia connects with Trump’s continual stream of falsehoods, and his evident intention to intimidate the press.
Though each of the different nations show their own mix and degree of such pathologies, the question for all our democracies – most definitely including the United States – is how far in the direction of darkness will they evolve in the years to come if the current battle against this rising force is not won.
Israel is still a vibrant democracy in a way that Putin’s Russia is not. One has a free press and independent courts, while in the other these have been brought under the control of an authoritarian regime. But if this force continues to rise, who can say where things may end up?
So also in America, unlike in Russia, we have a free press. But with Trump’s assault on the media – even before taking power – we are already on unfamiliar territory. How far down that path might we go?
In those nations with long-standing and therefore well-established democratic institutions, the process of dismantling them takes longer than in nations, like Russia, in which their venture into democracy was still new when Putin undertook to take it down. But the condition of our American democracy has already been considerably eroded over the past generation, even before Trump managed to win the power of the presidency.
As the election of Trump makes clear, it is wise to heed the warnings of distant thunder before they become a storm raging around us. We should not have ever come to this point, and now, having come to this point, we should not make any assumptions about how this is as far down the path toward darkness that things could possibly go.
What do these pathologies add up to?
One might call it “The Rule of the Thug.” I would suggest that the best single designation for this dark thing we see ascendant around the globe is “The Rise of Fascism.” Or “The Rise of the Fascistic Spirit.” A similar mix of ethno-nationalism, economic distress and insecurity, and an overweening lust for power gave rise to a similar transnational dark force in the 1930s.
All of which points toward what might be an effective strategy a global movement to help counter the global rise of this dark spirit.
For starters, what is needed in such a movement is that it awakens the peoples of the democratic nations to the nature of this battle. People need to see the forest, and not just the trees.
People should be helped to see the various political struggles in their own nation and in others around the world in a unified, coherent way. They should be helped to see how almost every issue arising in the political sphere fits into the general rubric of fascistic vs. democratic values.
The many specific political battles, in other words, are manifestations of one larger, deeper battle.
Whether it is
- fomenting intergroup hostilities versus a spirit of inclusion;
- the rule of the few over the many versus the democratic spirit of equality;
- taking money from those with less to give to those with more versus a concern for the well-being of all;
- conflict versus cooperation;
- the use of law to serve power versus using law to serve justice;
- trashing our planet for short-term corporate profits versus preserving it for the good of all;
- cruelty vs. kindness and compassion;
- the subordination of the good of the nation to the ego needs of the ruler versus government for the people;
- the domination of discourse by the rulers’ propagandists versus the free flow of information and ideas;
- the pursuit of power as the overriding value versus a respect for the demands of justice;
all of them are manifestations of the same fundamental choice — between two fundamentally opposed spirits — with which human civilization is now again being confronted.
That should lay the foundation for achieving the second purpose of such a transnational movement: to inspire the peoples of the nations to rise to the defense of those values under threat from this fascistic spirit.
For too long, those basic values of freedom and of human decency have been taken for granted, and thus have lost their power.
Part of the vulnerability of Western democracies to the rise of the fascistic spirit – and this certainly includes the United States – is a result of an attenuation of the passion for the deep values that underlay the emergence of decent democratic societies in the first place.
A global movement should work to rekindle those passions, employing all the tools (writings, speeches, rallies, advertisements, etc.) generally useful to social movements: mobilizing the motivated, motivating the tepid, and calling as many as possible of those now aligned with the spirit of fascism to the better angels of their nature.
Two fundamentally different visions of the human world are now competing. One of them is now ascendant. It is time for the other, better vision to present itself more powerfully in order to advance those human possibilities that are eminently worth fighting for.
More to come about why a global movement can constitute a vital part of an overall anti-fascist political battle, and about how this proposed global movement might work to inspire the people to stand up for civilization’s best values.