If you want to beat Donald Trump, you have to do more than call him a fascist
To triumph over Trumpism, we need more than rhetoric. We need a broad-based political movement.
The American political establishment, from the Democratic Party elite to their Republican counterparts, have discovered something alarming. There is now wide agreement that Donald Trump is a gigantic bigot and at least a quasi-fascist. He has been described as such by many ideologically diverse politicians and commentators, from the liberal Martin O'Malley to the conservative Max Boot.
And it hasn't dented his support at all. On the contrary, Trump has surged ever higher in the polls.
As Matt Yglesias argues, Trumpism is the natural result of conservative political strategy. Republicans refuse to accept immigration reform — even though it could potentially help them make inroads among Latinos. They have also long refused to promulgate any economic policy that isn't preposterously slanted towards the rich. Their only political road left is turning out lower-class whites — a not insignificant number of whom are outright racists — with rank race- and Muslim-baiting. As Ta-Nehisi Coates once wrote, race hustling — "profiting from their most backward impulses...stoking and then leeching off of their hate" — has a long history in American politics. As Greg Sargent points out, the rest of the GOP field, and particularly Ted Cruz, is only slightly behind Trump in anti-Islam fear-mongering.
Trump is obliterating the GOP brand among Latinos. Other minority groups who might have a natural affinity for conservative policy — ironically, including American Muslims, who are generally well-off and broke for Bush in 2000 — will be repelled by the perception that the GOP is the party of racists. Any such damage to the Republican image will be extremely hard to undo, so there will be continual temptation to go all in on the politics of racism.
Demonstrating the bigotry of Trumpism is a worthy and necessary task. Condemning Trump as the rebirth of Mussolini (as I have done), or attacking his supporters as unpatriotic, is worthwhile. But it's not enough.
It's time for liberals to start thinking about what to do against a political opponent that openly subscribes to bigotry. It's time to start building anti-fascist political institutions. I fear that calling Trump a fascist will make no dent at all in the Trump phenomenon. Left-leaning Americans need to start thinking about building the brute political muscle to beat him.
What does that mean? Namely, that only a broad-based political movement, aimed at providing jobs and economic security for every American of every race, can permanently defeat what Trump represents.
That means politically activating the people who are the recipients of Democratic policy but do not vote (particularly the poor). One of the most devastating lines I've heard in American politics comes from a Republican political advisor in Kentucky: "People on Medicaid don't vote." That is part of why Matt Bevin was able to cruise to easy victory in that state after having promised to snatch health insurance from hundreds of thousands of people.
Unions should take the lead. Organizing is flaring up in food and service industries, contributing to small policy successes such as a $15 minimum wage at the city level. A small fraction of VW workers at a Chattanooga plant recently got union representation — the first United Auto Workers victory at any foreign-operated firm. Further organizing is desperately needed, and Democrats who know what's good for them should immediately pass pro-union legislation such as card check or a repeal of Taft-Hartley the second they get a chance.
Churches also play an underrated role in left-leaning politics. Though regular church attendance is generally correlated with more conservative politics, fully 40 percent of people who attend church weekly still voted Democratic in 2004 (and 49 percent of white Catholics). As Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig points out, the teachings of Jesus Christ are highly amenable to a left-leaning interpretation.
Other parties could also be built up, particularly in insanely corrupt blue states like Illinois or New Jersey. The sad truth is that the Democrats — the party of Andrew Cuomo, Hillary Clinton, and Rahm Emanuel — are not a particularly great vehicle for the sort of policy that would actually benefit unions or the poor. The Working Families Party has had limited success shifting the balance of power in New York politics; more could be done.
Inequality in America is enormous. For the first time since the '60s, at least a majority of Americans are not in the middle class. This is another way of saying that society has largely ceased to function for great swathes of the population. That, I believe, is a big root cause behind the rise of Trumpism. Anger and hatred — powerful political motivators indeed — fester under such conditions. To beat Trump, we can't just call him a fascist. We have to build the movement and institutions that will eradicate the inequality and anger in which fascism thrives.