A Brief History of Fascist Lies is the title of a new book by Federico Finchelstein, the author of a number of books on fascism and populism. Finchelstein both draws distinctions that slot politicians into categories (such as fascist or populist) and points out the overlaps and the shades of gray, the forerunners and the enablers.
Not only have there been politicians who resembled Trump in other countries in recent decades, but the appearance of Trump — I think — depended on the regimes of Bush the Lesser and Obama. And the Trumplike politicians sprouting up today come out of their own countries’ traditions as well as feeding off and feeding into fascist tendencies in the United States.
Trump is supposedly a populist rather than a fascist, because he is elected (even if he cheats?), and because he encourages bigoted violence but has no plan for genocide. Of course he drops tens of thousands of bombs a year on parts of the world not labeled “white,” advances climate collapse, and risks nuclear war, but that stuff can’t make him anything other than “American,” since every U.S. president does those things.
Trump encouraged racist and xenophobic violence prior to the 2016 election and has done so ever since. Some of us have urged his impeachment and removal for that, among many other outrages, for four years running, but The Resistance in Congress preferred Russiagate and Ukrainegate. An anti-Semitic shooter in Pittsburgh is one of many who have parroted Trump’s rhetoric. Nazis who came and rallied here in Charlottesville thanked Trump for boosting their cause.
So, there has been something different about Trump’s racism and violence. And, given that, who really cares about his lying?
But here’s the thing: a Trump supporter is someone who has been told and believes that Trump-inspired racist violence is not racist or violent. It is self-defense against the Jews or the Mexicans or the Blacks or the Progressives or the Socialists. A Trump supporter believes that Trump speaks the truth, even when Trump contradicts himself, and believes that Trump has done more good for the black community than anyone else with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, believes that Trump is the least racist person alive, believes that Trump has created the greatest economy ever, believes that Trump is a bringer of peace and tranquility, believes Trump is saving the earth’s environment.
Trumpers will promote him as the bringer of peace and tranquility while themselves using quite a lot of hostility and aggression, but their position is not “I’m an obnoxious jerk” — it’s “I am a missionary enlightening the heathen liberals.” According to Finchelstein, “fascist and now populist liars play in a league of their own,” while “[l]ying is incidental to, say, liberalism.” No two things are identical, I’ll readily agree, but has Finchelstein seen war? Which war was lying incidental to? Is lying incidental to Russiagate (in which Finchelstein seems to believe) or to the placing of faith in the “Intelligence Community”? What about the placing of faith in the corporate media? According to Finchelstein, accusing the media of lying relies on the idea that only your Leader can be a source of truth. Yet I notice both that U.S. media outlets lie frequently and that Trump is a source of bile.
Yet I also notice that the long description of fascist lying in Finchelstein’s book seems in many ways to resemble most religions and quite a few philosophy departments, but ordinary liberal politics not so much. Fascist lying, Finchelstein says, involves a divine, messianic, charismatic leader who speaks only the truth and who alone speaks the truth, a truth that is arrived at through intuition that gets at secret, unconscious knowledge. In fact, fascism consists of openly stating what is generally true but concealed. (Each Trump press conference results in social media filling up with the comment “He’s saying the quiet part out loud again.”) Fascist lying is not in support of any policy or program, but of a faith in a “leader.” A key fascist lie is that dictatorship is the truest form of democracy (which must make suppressing votes a way of counting votes).
When White House press secretary Sarah Sanders says that God put Trump on the throne, or Trump himself tweets a thank you to people recognizing him as the second coming of God, this is not incidental to the fascism — er, excuse me, populism– but would be out of place in most lying scheming politics. Consequently, Finchelstein warns against focusing on Trump’s insanity or corruption, rather than on the mythic ideology of his followers.
Next week, if Trump announces that he won the election, his supporters will take it as gospel without wanting proof. But if Biden mumbles that he thinks he just might come out on top once everything is properly considered, his supporters will tentatively attempt some research and calculations. One group is in a church service. The other is at a bingo game.