Trump’s militias are fascists, but does it matter?
Is it fascism? “Protesters are being snatched from the streets without warrants. Can we call it fascism yet?” asks a Michelle Goldberg column in the New York Times. Yes, Michelle, you can, though it doesn’t matter much. Goon squads would suffice, or storm troopers (Nancy Pelosi). There’s always been arbitrary power rained on the weak by police, Pinkertons, and other “security.” Fascism just added some theory and structure to the low-lifes it recruited.
Timing also matters. There are large sectors for whom “yet” doesn’t apply, they are “still” under attack and intimidation, as they’ve always been. But I agree there was a new shock seeing protesters scooped off the streets into vans (rented from Enterprise) by thugs in camo with no ID, though we’re told they’re a pastiche of federal agencies, like the FBI, Border Police, even TSA guys from the airports.
“Disappearing” U.S. citizens is a new wrinkle, derived from Latin American military dictatorships. If you’re arrested by commonplace cops, you know who’s got you and others know where to try to get you out or at least see how badly beaten up you are, usually by the same cop who charged you for assaulting them. But when you’re disappeared, no one knows who snatched you or where you are. It’s spooky, like the deliberate Star Wars gear that these federal agents wear. They drive you around awhile, ask questions, then release you. The scariest time under arrest is often in the van or wagon, when no one knows where you are, including you.
Revive the concept of the police riot. I wonder how people who were never there, picture the rioting anarchists that Trump decries. In fact, the riot is almost always conducted by the police. Most protesters are by their nature and wisdom peaceful, plus a small group that throw fireworks or bricks from a distance, or beat on bank machines, like one at Toronto’s G20 summit.
It’s the police who charge, pummeling everyone in their path. I first saw this at Columbia University in 1968, when they cleared protesters from campus buildings, cracking limbs and heads. I last saw it (personally) in Buenos Aires a year and a half ago, when a pregnant woman barely got out of their way.
I stress this is normal. An anomaly occurred in the late ’60s when the U.S. “weather people” decided to attack the cops first. You could see the surprise on the police faces when the protesters came running at them, said a witness. The weather folks were eventually decimated. If you want to take on state force, blow for blow, you go into the hills, or retreat into inner cities, to form an actual rebel army. Good luck with that.
What would Victor Serge say? He is my favourite figure from the Russian Revolution. He fought with the Bolsheviks, turned against Stalin, joined the Trotskyite opposition, was imprisoned, wrote prolifically, and died poor in Mexico City. He never gave up (which isn’t the same as never losing hope). What a disaster, he keeps saying, in various ways. Ah well, we had no choice. Let’s keep going and hope it works out.
Another volume of his journals was recently published. The reason I think of him now is that, if you’re inside a mortal struggle, you aren’t fundamentally concerned with understanding it, though you try. Your imperative is to keep going. If you don’t, anything gained till then, will be lost along with the future.
There are those, like Leninists, who thought you need a “correct analysis” in order to prevail, but I think history and common sense indicate no one’s ever quite smart enough to nail it all. If you somehow can carry on, eventually everything that worked against you might start, with luck, working for you. That’s why I don’t think it matters much if this is fascism yet.
The deep logic of Trump’s turn to deputized goonery, is that military force is the only thing, in recent decades, that the U.S. state has been granted full legitimacy for. Health? Education? Not so much. Mostly they’ve inflicted it on others but, since that hasn’t gone well lately, why not turn it on their own?
Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.