World War II was the defining event of the twentieth century. Sixty million people lost their lives in the war against fascism. Europe’s fascism was instigated by the great nations of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria and Germany – Countries that could easily lay claim to being at the roots of Western culture. In the East, the European fascists were joined by the great nation of Japan.
Great nations went crazy. What went wrong?
Donald Trump’s success in the recent primaries has put the word ‘fascism’ squarely on our national agenda. Given the human suffering that fascism inflicted, it is well worth researching the causes.
Donald Trump’s success in the recent primaries has put the word ‘fascism’ squarely on our national agenda. Given the human suffering that fascism inflicted, it is well worth researching the causes. Perhaps we could prevent a recurrence.
Why did fascism happen?
In his classic study, ‘The Mass Psychology of Fascism”, psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, defined the fascist state of mind succinctly. He said, “Fascist mentality is the mentality of the subjugated "little man" who craves authority and rebels against it at the same time.”
Reich’s half-century old definition is a useful start. Fascism is an ideology with strong appeal to those who experience a loss of authority over their lives. A fascist state of mind develops in an alienating political and cultural environment. People who have lost control feel estranged from traditional sources of help and support upon which they once relied. When deprived of traditional support structures, irrational behavior prevails.
As institutions that once worked well begin to show perplexing contradictions, the fascist will seize on those contractions to generate mass appeal.
Today’s presidential election contest is an excellent example. Since the Great Depression the Democratic Party has represented the interests of working people. One of President Roosevelt’s great triumphs was the Wagner Labor Relations Act which sanctioned the right of working people to collectively bargain by organizing unions. These rights are administered by the National Labor Relations Board. For more than a half century, Democratic Party has been regarded as the institution that working people can turn to for protection of their interests.
Now, the Democrat’s frontrunner, former Secretary of State Clinton, presents numerous situations, rife with contradictions that enable a Trump to present a classic fascist appeal.
Consider the following:
- A worker loses a good manufacturing job because that job has been exported overseas as a consequence of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Yet Secretary Clinton and the Democratic Party supported the free trade agreement that exported the worker’s job.
- The worker then takes a minimum-wage job at Walmart with no health care benefits. Yet for many years Secretary Clinton sat on Walmart’s board of directors.
- A bank then forecloses on the worker’s home. Yet Mrs. Clinton received huge fees for delivering private speeches to the very bankers who put that worker’s family on the street. To add insult to injury, she refuses to release the transcripts of what she said to those bankers.
People who suffer such indignities respond to any immediate offer of relief, however outlandish. Blinded by the trauma, reason is thrown aside. They appeal for institutional relief with the embrace of strong figures who appear to reject the institutions.
Trump combines immigrant bashing with his professed opposition to Wall Street’s greed and avarice. He promises not to take the bankers’ money; he has plenty of his own.
Trump creates a perception that we are being left behind while the rest of the world moves forward. For example, he highlights China’s high-speed rail system and notes that our own transportation infrastructure lies in decay. Is he about to remind us that Hitler built the Autobahn and Mussolini made the trains run on time?
Yet Trump also promises to improve our social service structure without tax increases. He says he wants to cut tax loopholes for corporations and for the very rich and use the savings for social programs.
In the wake of the 2008 recession and taxpayer financed Wall Street bailout, Trump’s message appeals to those who feel the system is rigged and who crave relief.
What is perceived as irrational behavior by the media establishment and political leaders has a perfectly reasonable appeal to those who are suffering. Anger seethes just beneath the surface. Anger causes blindness to the path of reason.
The appropriate response
Politicians should publicly admit that they have an addiction problem. It is time for political leaders to enter a withdrawal plan to address their addiction to Wall Street’s financial narcotics. This would be followed by some tangible effort to compensate all those who have been victimized by the politicians’ addictive behavior.
A good first step would be for Mrs. Clinton to publicly release the speeches that she made secretly to Wall Street bankers. The first step in recovery is for the addict to admit they have a problem. As we all know, there are about eleven more steps to follow.
There is a chance to prevent the next Mussolini. It will require a dramatic new approach.
Robert M. Nelson