How to Not Remove a Fascist


Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Danger, danger, there are fascists in the White House, it’s up to us to drive them out.

– A chant heard at Refuse Fascism marches in Chicago, 2019 and 2020

“America[ns] First”

As we know from a recently released Hillary Clinton documentary, Barack Obama called Donald Trump a “fascist” in a 2016 conversation with Hillary Clinton’s then-running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine. “Tim, remember,” Obama said by phone, “this is no time to be a purist. You’ve got to keep a fascist out of the White House.”

Obama had an accurate read on the orange menace. He had enough college history and political science and enough vicious targeting by the onetime leading Birther Trump to have known that The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik was on to something in May of 2016:

“There is a simple formula for descriptions of Donald Trump: add together a qualification, a hyphen, and the word ‘fascist.’ …his personality and his program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics: an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government…is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and ‘success.’… The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history.” (Adam Gopnik, “Going There With Donald Trump,” The New Yorker, May 11, 2016, emphasis added).[1]

Please pay special attention to the italicized portions of the above quote in the wake of the Republican Senate’s arch-authoritarian decision to release Trump from the threat of removal without even the hint of a serious trial. The Midtown Mussolini has purged his administration of so-called “honest conservatives” – of anyone who might oppose his chaotic and authoritarian agenda. He is now escaping UkraineGate – a monumentally criminal abuse of presidential power – after his white-nationalist party has made a mockery of the U.S. Constitution by refusing to hear witnesses and consider new evidence in the Senate’s farcical impeachment-dismissing non-trial. So what if 75 percent of the population opposed this refusal? Who cares?

The president’s successful argument for exoneration included the claim that Trump can do anything he wants – anything – if he believes it will help his re-election. The Dershowitz argument, carried to logical if absurd extremes, makes it legal for Trump to detain, torture, or murder activists, journalists, candidates or really anyone who he sees as a barrier to his re-election. It’s an argument for dictatorship.

But I digress. Back to the previous president. After properly but privately identifying Trump (to a fellow conservative Democrat) as a fascist and shortly before leaving office to go kite-surfing with Richard Branson and become a multimillionaire (a deferred reward for his dutiful service to the nation’s corporate and financial masters), Obama said this to the American public: “We are now all rooting for [Trump’s] success in uniting and leading the country…Everybody is sad when their side loses an election, but the day after we have to remember we’re actually all on one team. We’re Americans first, we’re patriots first, we all want what’s best for this country.”

“America[ns] first” …“patriots first”… “all on one team.”

That was some heavy Weimar (see below) shit.

Thanks, Obama.

The Dismal Weimar Dems

Let me offer a useful translation of “Tim, this is no time to be a purist”: Tim, don’t get all crazy populist and advocate anything to the portside of the centrist policies endorsed by Citigroup and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), don’t rock the Wall Street and military-industrial boat. Stay within the playbook of the Washington consensus: stay-the-course austerity state capitalism serving the wealthy Few under the deceptive flag of fake progressivism.

The irony is that the neoliberal corporate-Democratic center-right politics of Obama and the Clintons was no small part of why Herr Donald won. Beyond the advantages conferred to it by the Electoral College and by racist-partisan vote suppression in key Republican-controlled states, the Trumpenstein owes its presence in the White House primarily to the Democrats’ long and cringing captivity to elite corporate and financial interests. The Clinton-Obama dollar Democrats’  not-so “progressive neoliberal” commitment to corporate globalization, capitalist austerity (for the Many, not the Few) and imperial interventionism has worked insidiously to demobilize and demoralize the nation’s all-too silent progressive majority in ways that have opened the door to “history’s most dangerous party” (Noam Chomsky’s interesting description of the Ecocidal G.O.P.) again and again.

This is much of what I meant to convey when I called the nation’s 44th president “Barack Von Obamenberg” in a November 2018 Counterpunch commentary. The analogy was with Paul von Hindenburg, the German Weimar Republic president who appointed Adolf Hitler chancellor of Germany in 1933.

The dreadful 2016 Hillary Clinton is a classic case in fascism-enabling point. It was a depressing, elitist, and nauseatingly neoliberal “Dollar O’bomber” presidency. By defaming and cheating the authentically progressive Bernie Sanders and running a deeply conservative and openly conceited, heartland-insulting establishment campaign in an obviously anti-establishment election year, the dismal Clinton-Obama Dems and their allied media handed the keys of the imperial presidency to a vicious monster whose person, party, and base pose existential threats to what’s left of democracy at home and abroad – and indeed to life itself.

Then came three years of the imperialist Democratic establishment trying to cover its own deeply conservative ass by absurdly blaming Trump’s ascendancy on Russia.

The House of Representatives had strong constitutional ground (and probably little choice but) to impeach Trump for his brazen arms-for-dirt try with Ukraine. Still, UkraineGate. informed and compromised by top Democrats’ imperial foreign policy agenda, stands well below other removal-worthy Trump crimes and abuses when it comes to Trump’s eco-fascistic transgressions against humanity.

Adam Gopnik was On to Something

Here we are three years after Trump “took over the country” (his words). The demented orange oligarch has proven to be precisely the neofascist menace that Obama all-too privately sensed during the 2016 general election campaign. Trump has done and gotten away with one outrage after another: blanket defiance of Congressional subpoenas; denouncing elementary efforts to exercise Congressional oversight and constitutional checks and balances as “treason” and an attempted “coup;” calling African nations and Haiti “shithole countries;” stacking the federal bench with Christian fascist advocates of female neo-slavery and environmental destruction; tearing up environmental protections and accelerating the capitalogenic conversion of the planet into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamber (the biggest crime in history); telling progressive Congresswomen of color to “go back to where [other countries, supposedly] you came from;” a racist and ethnocultural travel ban; pardoning sociopathic war criminals and a fascist pig sheriff; encouraging Border Patrol agents to shoot asylum-seekers and to otherwise break the law; threatening political and media opponents and critics with violence and jail; threatening not to honor an election count that doesn’t go his way next Fall; turning the Attorney General and the U.S. Senate into his personal legal and political protectors; denigrating women; demonizing and criminally harming Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and Central Americans (replete with child separations, child theft and caging, and mass detention/concentration camps!); cultivating armed support from white-supremacists; demonizing socialism; falsely conflating centrist neoliberals with the “radical Left;” encouraging police to “take the gloves off” and crack down on inner-city poor people of color; exploiting the presidency to line his own business pockets; threatening nuclear war; assassinating a foreign military commander in cold blood; posing as a populist friend of the working-class while increasing the upward concentration of wealth and power (in an already savagely inequal and plutocratic nation); kicking 700,000 needy people off of Food Stamps….and, the list goes on and on and on…

“There is,” as New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote today, “a never-ending stream of dishonesty, offense and hostility emanating from this administration, sometimes too much to properly track.” Further: “It at times overwhelms people’s capacity for outrage. And, in that deluge of grief and distress, many simply chose to disconnect….I cannot tell you how often I meet people — intelligent, interested and interesting people — who say that they have simply had to disengage from the news as an actual means of mental health and spiritual survival.” (emphasis added).

Indeed. It is maddening.

All this and more terrible to contemplate has occurred to the enthusiastic cheers of the president’s millions of white-Amerikaner Trumpenvolk backers, many of whom are ready to respond with violence if the 2020 election doesn’t go their Great Orange God’s way.

It looks like Adam Gopnik was on to something back in May of 2016.

Still, even after all this, Democrats hold back from publicly acknowledging that there’s a fascist with a lethal mass base in the White House. The Democrats still don’t want to accurately call Trump and his backers fascist – at least, not in public. It’s a designation meant only for private hearing, as in Obama’s conversation with Tim Kaine in 2016.

The Party is a Powder Keg of Class Conflict

Why this persistent insistence on refusing to publicly and forthrightly name the disease for what it is? The answer is complex, requiring more reflection than I have space for in this commentary. Still, one part of the explanation can be mentioned here. Naming the threat for what it really is would mean that you would have to do something serious about it: working hard to mobilize thousands and then tens of thousands and then hundreds of thousands and then millions of people to rise up and take to the streets to fight back against the government in a mass popular movement – a great popular rebellion.

That’s the last thing the Democrats want to do. The Democratic Party establishment has no interest in encouraging much less sparking true grassroots movements, which have a nasty habit of bringing up questions the neoliberal business and professional class “elite” would rather keep suppressed: savage class inequality and political oligarchy, capitalist Ecocide, plutocracy, racism and sexism (deeply understood), militarism, the insanely gigantic Pentagon System, the police state, mass incarceration and more.

The Democratic Party, Megan Day writes in the social-democratic journal Jacobin, is riven by class divisions that “make unity neither possible nor, from the socialist perspective, desirable.” According to Day:

“The Democratic Party represents Blue Cross and people whose medical claims are denied by Blue Cross. It represents Blackstone and people evicted by Blackstone.”

“The Democratic Party represents banks that foreclose on homes, while also claiming to represent people struggling to pay their mortgages. It represents corporate polluters, while also professing to represent working-class children who are at risk of developing asthma from corporate pollution. When the side that has more money and structural power in the economy pursues its own interests, it does so at the expense of the side with less money and power.”

“The party is a powder keg of class conflict.”

Indeed it is. But notice the shift between the first and second paragraphs in Day’s passage – from “represents people whose medical claims are denied” and “represents people evicted by Blackstone” in the first paragraph to “claiming to represent people struggling to pay their mortgages” and “professing to represent working-class children” in the second paragraph.

Go with the second paragraph. The Democratic Party is run by the bourgeois interests, not the working-class. That’s who it really represents. The different and opposed forces Day mentions are not co-equal actors in the party.

Bourgeois Panic

For those ruling interests, it isn’t just about keeping people off the streets and locked into the electoral process on the disastrous theory that the most significant thing a citizen can ever do on behalf of democracy and social justice is go into a Caucus room and/or a voting booth and stand with or make a mark next to the name of a major party candidate once every two or four years[2]. It’s also about making sure that even that narrow sliver of democracy – the electoral process – is inoculated from progressive, popular and democratic infection. The Clinton-Obama-Citigroup-Chase-CFR Democrats are in panic mode because the Democratic presidential nomination might go the kind of actually progressive Democrat who could rally enough lower- and working-class voters to overcome the Inauthentic Opposition Party of Fake Resistance ’s demobilization of the nation’s silent progressive majority to defeat the orange menace, forcing him and his Trumpenvolk to make good on their dangerous threats to defy an election. Hence:

+ The establishment Democrats repeated dire warnings over the late surge of the supposed “radical Leftism” of the mildly social-democratic Senator Sanders.

+ The Democratic Party’s emergency meeting to reinstate the authoritarian veto power of unelected corporate “superdelegates” on the first ballot of the Democratic National Convention – a move clearly driven by fear that Sanders could accumulate enough delegates to sweep to a first ballot victory under current rules.

+ The Warren-CNN hit job in the last Iowa debate, the one where the Warren campaign and the cable network conspired to falsely smear Sanders as some kind of sexist.

+ MSDNC’s (I mean MSNBC’s) efforts to portray Sanders’ supporters as “divisive” just because Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib responded honestly to Hillary Clinton’s malicious personal attacks on Sanders with an undisciplined and ill-timed reaction that MSDNC absurdly blew up into “the boo heard around the world.”

+ MSDNC playing along with the Big Lie that Sanders didn’t work his ass off on behalf of Hillary Clinton to block Trump during the 2016 general election.

+ A recent spate of New York Times op-eds warning falsely about the supposed “radical extremism,” fiscal irresponsibility, rudeness and nonviability of Sanders and his backers.

+ The Democratic Party’s ugly, plutocratic decision to change its presidential debate qualification rules so that the mega-billionaire center right Demublican Mike Bloomberg can magically ascend to the stage after skipping the exhausting campaign process in the early caucus and primary states.

Beyond the Election Cycle

Do I hope that Sanders wins the Iowa Caucus? Sure. I hope that enough to walk down to Iowa City High tonight (I am writing in the morning of Monday, January 3rd) and stand in a group with his backers in my precinct. At the same time, I will try to impress upon Sanders backers the urgent necessity of building a real grassroots peoples’ movement beneath and beyond the major parties and the election cycle – a popular anti-fascist and anti-capitalist movement that ready, willing, and able to respond meaningfully to any number of electoral outcomes including the slightly possible ascendancy of Sanders to the White House and the equally or more likely possibility of Trump refusing to honor an electoral count that doesn’t go his way next November. A Sanders presidency would spark a major capitalist counter-offensive including provocations from normally Democratic corporate and financial elites who frankly prefer a second Trump term (how about a third?) to first Sanders one. Truth be told, a serious popular uprising against the increasingly more fascistic American political order might be the best way to convince elites to let Sanders into power and achieve something decent for human beings – something as basic as making health care a human right.


1.Gopnik’s list was decent enough if too brief. Other characteristic worth mentioning include the following: a relentless assault on truth; contempt for intellectuals and science; militant anti-socialism; a largely petit-bourgeois sociopolitical base; savage sexist patriarchy; the purging of the “disloyal;” attacks on the media and press freedoms; constant propaganda; use of alternative media for direct communication with the fascist base; relentless demonization of racial, ethnic, cultural and /or political Others; cult of personality; glorification of instinct (especially the Leader’s instincts) over rational though; embrace of political violence against one’s enemies; savage cruelty towards the poor and minorities.

2.“The election cycle,” Charles Blow writes today (in the column already linked above), “is stressful, but voters must remain enthusiastic and determined. Republicans in the Senate are poised to acquit Donald Trump without even truly putting him on trial. They have allowed no new witnesses and no new evidence. And why would they? If they know that their plan all along was to let him get away with his corruption and stonewalling, more evidence only reveals their treachery in sharper relief. So, once again, Trump not only survives his venality, he is emboldened by the lily-livered cowards’ fear of crossing him. This is the dawn of American authoritarianism, and Republicans are not only not trying to stop it, many are openly cheering it. The rest of us — many of us, anyway — are aghast, overcome and exhausted…I see,” Blow continues, “two main groups of people who want Trump gone: the exhausted and the excited. The exhausted just need this nightmare to draw to a close. The excited have a replacement candidate about whom they are passionate. The former, I believe. lean more on the electability argument, and the latter promote the more transformative candidate. Both groups can be highly motivated to vote, but I will concede that it is a much better feeling to vote for someone rather than against someone. The exhausted contingent simply lacks the spark of excitement. Outrage, while essential, isn’t by itself sufficient. So, I say to the people who have tuned out: I get it. Take some time. But re-engagement is essential. The resistance is not dead. It’s not even flagging. I know that it can be dispiriting that Trump has done so much but suffered so little for it. But this is your season of action and influence. On Monday the electoral stretch kicks off with the Iowa caucuses. America has a choice to make, and you will be part of the choosing. Get excited! Manufacture enthusiasm if you must. Democrats have options. Yes, they each have hurdles and negatives, but there are also some striking positives. But none of this will matter if, in November, Trump’s opponent isn’t pushed over the top with overwhelming electoral energy. You simply can’t afford to stay disconnected.” Notice Blow’s failure to conceptualize popular resistance/engagement to fight Trump and Trumpism outside the realm of major party, candidate-centered electoral politics on the savagely time-staggered quadrennial schedule. The only democratic “energy” Blow can envision is “electoral energy.” The only popular “choosing” that matters comes through Caucusing and/or voting once every four years. That’s politics – the only politics that matters. “Resistance” is about voting for candidates. So is “engagement.”

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