Front Cover: American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism by Henry A Giroux
(City Lights/USA 2018)
American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism by Henry A Giroux is a collection of essays that aim to shake up Americans to the growing threat of Trump’s authoritarianism to America’s democratic institutions. The author observes that “while the United States under Trump may not be an exact replica of Hitler’s Germany, the mobilizing ideas, policies, and ruthless social practices of fascism, wrapped in the flag and discourses of racial purity, ultra-nationalism, and militarism, are at the center of power in Trump’s United States.”
As defined by the Oxford Online Dictionary, fascism is “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.” To examine the echoes of fascism under Trump, Giroux refers to Robert O Paxton’s nine “mobilizing passions” of fascism described in his work, The Anatomy of Fascism (2004). These include:
- sense of overwhelming crisis;
- subordination of the individual to the group;
- belief in victimization of one group to justify violence;
- dread of group’s decline;
- call for a purer community;
- authority of a natural leader;
- supremacy of leader’s instinct over reason;
- beauty of violence and efficacy of the will for group’s success; and
- right of chosen people to dominate others without restraint.
Giroux acknowledges that not all historians of fascism and totalitarianism—such as Corey Robin, Timothy Snyder, and Paxton himself—share his view that the United States is evolving into an authoritarian society. But Giroux insists that we cannot ignore Trump’s authoritarian behavior, nor his support for dictators and right-wing demagogues worldwide.
What’s more, Giroux argues, Trump has made the neoliberal culture of cruelty, inflicted on those left behind of our economic prosperity, the center of his policies. State-inflicted abuse and state violence hit us on several fronts: tax reform, budget cuts, funding endless wars, police brutality and impunity, attacks on health care and other social programs, and deregulations in the financial and environmental sectors. We cannot forget, also, Trump’s online threats and belittlement of those who criticize or oppose his policies.
Giroux contends that “[w]e live in an age of gangster capitalism, an age where fascism takes new, increasingly corporate, commercialized forms.” Those who are vulnerable among us have become undesirable and disposable. Numbered among them are the people of Puerto Rico, the Dreamers, and the mounting victims of mass shootings.
Not to be ignored is Trump’s embrace of white supremacists. Giroux views this and Trump’s initial choices of Stephen Bannon and Jeff Sessions (both since fired) to his administration as disturbing trends. The violence in Charlottesville against a prominently black community is further evidence of domestic terrorism and populist manifestations of fascism in the United States. Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio is yet another signal of his official position regarding racialized state violence against non-white immigrants. As Timothy Snyder has observed, authoritarian regimes consolidate their power by normalizing intolerance and bigotry.
The author points to Trump’s total disregard for the truth or proven facts, dismissed as “fake news,” as another indication of “a new hybrid form” of fascism. Reminiscent of George Orwell’s slogan, “Ignorance is Strength,” this glaring aberration undermines the public’s grip on evidence, facts, and informed judgment.
Neoliberalism, Giroux concludes, has created a perfect breeding ground for xenophobic, authoritarian, and patriarchal, right-wing political leaders. In supporting this gangster capitalism by bailing out Wall Street after the 2008 global financial collapse, both the Democratic and Republican pro-corporate parties have been accomplices in subjecting Americans to lives of indebtedness, joblessness, homelessness, and hopelessness.
Giroux calls for a “concerted attempt to figure how democratic socialism can secure justice, political sovereignty, and economic stability for all sectors of American society.” He believes that we the people cannot challenge neoliberalism and authoritarianism without also addressing sexism, racism, xenophobia, transphobia, and other forms of oppression.
Is the Trump regime more like a plutocracy as Robert Paxton believes? Is Trump merely a self-promoting con artist and pretender president, with little actual power, as Neal Gabler and other historians would like us to believe? Could the Trump administration bring about the end of democracy in the United States? Are Giroux’s fears baseless?
Since the publication of American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism, the evidence of the Trump administration’s fascist tendencies continue to mount. We are now complicit in the ongoing, inhumane treatment of Central American refugees seeking asylum from violence in their home countries. As our president continues to push the limits of his constitutional authority, it would be wise for us to heed the author’s warning not to normalize his authoritarian behavior.
HENRY A GIROUX