If We are Going to Turn America from the Fascist Path…

The US population as of October 23, 2018 is 328,863,150 persons. This is probably not an exact number, but it’s close enough. Based on the percentage of adults in 2014, a figure I assume has not changed that much, there are 256,513,257 adults in the US. For the week ending October 28, 2018, the Gallup survey Trump’s weekly job approval found that 40% of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing. The tracking polls is based on interviews of approximately 1,500 national adults (±3% error margin). Extrapolating from this poll, this means that 102,605,303 adults in the United States approve of Trump’s job performance as president. That’s a lot of people. 

Going after Trump with anger and ridicule, however cathartic one finds such activities (I confess to having a go at him quite a bit), is not going to fix the problem of more than 100 million Americans who, in some sense, want a president like Trump—especially a president who would do the things Donald Trump does. Indeed, I suspect that there well more than 100 million Americans who would support a politician pushing Trump’s agenda who wasn’t himself Donald Trump.

Unite the Right Rally, Charlottesville, Va, August 12, 2017

A recent poll finds that 6 percent of US adults describe their politics as “far right,” which translates to approximately 15,390,795 adults. That’s not a small number of hardcore nationalists who spill racist and xenophobic ideas into Trump’s base, which are then taken up by popular activists and mainstreamed. Many million more are sympathetic to far right ideas even if they don’t explicitly identify with them in polls.

Because rightwing sentiment is a mass phenomenon and thus not easily marginalized, careful thought needs to be put into the images and messages projected from the side that seeks to defends the values of a free, open, and democratic society—that is, the values of secularism, liberalism, humanism, and feminism.

It will not do to counter Islamophobia with Islamophilia. There are good reasons to fear the Islamization of the West, the spread of an ideology that weakens the values that support the traditions of secularism, feminism, homosexual rights, and myriad of other things that are important to a free people. When leftwingers show up at airports and cheer arriving Muslims or don the hijab out of “solidarity” with Muslim women or hypocritically elevate individuals like Linda Sarsour, they alienate working Americas who are concerned about the future of the West, not out of racism, but out of rational devotion to western culture.

The notion of “Islamophobia” is very troubling to people who know that criticism of their religion would never be characterized as something like “racism” with a term like “Christophobia.” As if defense of western values is “crazy” in the first place. It will not do to counter nativism, which is a very real problem, with rhetoric suggesting open borders.

Denying support for open borders while decrying every move to control immigration as “nativist,” “racist,” and “xenophobic” looks a lot like giving the game away. There are good reasons to support immigration rules and controls that have nothing to do with nativism, racism, and xenophobia. It will not do to reduce all nationalism to ethnic nationalism and frame patriotism as “chauvinism” and “bigotry.” The foundation of western society is civic nationalism and republican forms of government that operate in the context of a nation-state.

The reasons so many US adults approve of Trump’s job performance are many, but certainly a common piece is the frustration working class Americans feel with their falling living standard and the deteriorating social situation. Stagnant wages, shrinking benefits, disappearing retirement, overcrowded housing conditions, neighborhood disorganization—all of these are felt most acutely by working Americas.

Their frustration is exacerbated by what feels like a constant attack on American culture, its values depicted as racist, sexist, and xenophobic. White men especially are portrayed as the source of the world’s problems. For example, the left counterposes to the very real problem of Islamic terrorism the alleged problem of white male violence—not ultranationist or racist violence, which is the problem, but white violence, as if demographic categories express political and religious fanaticism.

Instead of a politics that speaks to their concerns, working class Americans see immigrants and corporate human resource strategies of diversity pushing them out of work; they see everywhere the politics of identity,  multiculturalism, and political correctness. They see their concerns for the preservation of their values and their culture depicted as racist, nativist, and xenophobic. They don’t feel at home in their own country (polls show that this is the experience of many native-born Europeans). They don’t feel that the institutions that ask for their support represent their interests. So when somebody like Trump comes alone, they have a vehicle through which to express their frustration. Trump is their catharsis. 

Until the left returns to defending and advancing the interests of the working class, I fear ultranationalism will continue to gain ground. We see the rise of rightwing politics not only in the United States, but throughout the West. The left would therefore do well by the working masses—who come in all races and religions—to abandon identity politics and return to class politics.

Class is the material reality we share independent of all social constructions. The left must cease reifying the categories that divide the working class, that fractures socialist consciousness, and forge a politics that brings working class Americans together around the two things they share: their common humanity and their exploitation at the hands of the capitalist class and its functionaries.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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