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The horrific authoritarian and fascist regimes of the 20th century might seem like a distant memory to some, as are the prophetic works by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. But, according to famed educational philosopher and pedagogue Henry Giroux, neo-fascism in the form of Trumpism has reared its ugly head in 2018.
In American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism, the Hamilton, Ont.-based Giroux eloquently yet forcefully makes the case that the United States has indeed become a fascist state, embodying many of the characteristics of the regimes of the 20th century as well as current prototypes (Russia, Egypt, Hungary, Turkey, Philippines, etc.). According to Giroux, “elements of 20th-century fascism that haunt the current age no longer appear as mere residue, but instead as an emerging threat.” Through a number of essays, Giroux argues Trump and his Trumpists not only emulate regimes of the past, but also bring to the table a new corporate authoritarianism that perpetually normalizes white supremacy, ignorance of the masses and massive concentrations of wealth in the hands of the few.
The term fascism can be and is often loosely applied, which is not terribly helpful when trying to identify fascist regimes and then resist them. But Giroux is clear and provides a conceptual analysis of fascism, which resonates with the current regime in the United States. He points out that the experiment of this republic is a failed one, and that “the Trump presidency has unleashed a type of anti-politics that unburdens people of any responsibility to challenge — let alone change — the fundamental precepts of a society torn asunder by open bigotry, blatant misogyny, massive inequality and violence against immigrants, Muslims, the economically disadvantaged and communities of colour.”
Trump’s attacks on the most vulnerable have somehow become normalized — his attacks on women, First Nations, immigrants, so-called “dreamers,” African-Americans, the poor and those he sees as disposable.
Trump’s presidency, a symptom of the decline of democracy in the United States, is based on what Giroux calls manufactured ignorance, supported by white supremacy, massive militarization and a fundamental historical amnesia. It is the lack of historical consciousness on which Giroux bases most of his writings. As Orwell foreshadowed in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Trump has attempted, and arguably succeeded, in rewriting a white nationalist shared experience through the lens of his hero, former U.S. president Andrew Jackson. In a perplexing move, Trump has managed to glorify the most genocidal president in American history and provide a narrative to his rootless followers that they are somehow victims of the system.
Fascism, according to Giroux, is founded on power and ignorance, and this new hybrid of fascism “of anti-intellectualism, ideological fundamentalism and retreat from the ethical imagination” is at its very core destroying any semblance of democracy. American Nightmare is not only a conceptual analysis of fascism in the U.S., but also a massive wake-up call to the left. The Democratic party has imploded and has perpetuated the fascist state, according to Giroux, and so a newly energized and envisioned resistance is required.
The antidote to this neo-fascism is twofold, and first rests in Giroux’s notion of “Democracy in exile.” This concept is the “space in which people, families, networks and communities fight back. It unites the promise of insurrectional political engagement with the creation of expansive manifestations of justice — social, economic, environmental.” We see this manifestation in the form of Black Lives Matter, the massive women’s protests immediately following Trump’s preposterous inauguration and the backlash to draconian immigration policies which ban certain people from entering the country and rip children away from parents.
The second force required to combat authoritarian and Trumpist fascism is that of history. History, or the shared human experience, and the ability to think historically are paramount to providing citizens with the necessary tools of imagination, critical thought, empathy and the ability to communicate effectively.
And so there is a call to action for educators from Giroux. There is a call back to the humanities and history and that “(h)istory unexpurgated provides us with a vital resource that helps to inform the ethical ground for resistance, an antidote to Trump’s politics of disinformation, division, diversion and fragmentation.”
As Canadians, this is an essential text with which to engage. While we might observe the U.S. at arm’s length, there is also a politics of fear, ignorance, hostility and nationalism which lurks in the shadows — one that sees the banning of asylum seekers, the reworking of curricula, a rewriting of white nationalist history and the concentration of wealth and power in the few.
Canada is not immune to these fascist tendencies, and American Nightmare might serve us well as the first step in resistance.