When fascism comes to American it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.________ William W. Wise

Fascism should rightly be called Corporatism, as it is the merger of corporate and government power. Benito Mussolini

In the aftermath of the violent “insurrection” and the second Trump Impeachment Trial, scholars of fascism, who once debated vociferously how many Nazis could dance on the head of a pin, are now mostly admitting that the only thing authentic about Donald J. Trump was his fascism. But many (if not most) pundits still neglect the fact fascism is not the sole parlance of our feckless Führer. The hairsplitting debates included the dictum that fascism was purely a European phenomenon, ignoring the fact that Hitler, himself, once told of how he learned his craft from observing the treatment of blacks in America. Indeed, fascism is more American than apple pie (actually a Swedish or Dutch invention). Moreover, the undercurrents of fascism are much more than racial hatred and rabid nationalism, it has deep and powerful roots in our financial institutions and in our neofeudal economic ideology.

Putsching Beyond His Weight

In his two-faced denunciation/vindication of Trump, Mitch McConnell would have us believe that he was merely an aberration, and the rest of the apples in maggot invested pie are just fine. Trump was a bit unique in his reinversion of long-standing tradition of corporate corruption, which Princeton Professor, Sheldon Wolin, labeled “inverted totalitarianism”. Among other things, Wolin suggested that American fascism did not necessarily require a charismatic leader, all the better to hide its institutional apparatus. Trump’s full-frontal fascism shocked our sensibilities, but should not rob of our senses. Deeply imbedded the bowels of our political economy, we are essentially fascist enterprise, and Trump was merely a manifestation of its accumulating malfunctions.

Many us revel in how our system has seemed to prevail. But has it? Were it not for his mismanagement of the pandemic, Trump would have four more years to complete his conversion process, armed with digital surveillance and control mechanism which would make Goebbels giddy. Moreover, it is vital to note a failed putsch in Munich, actually set-in motion a solidification fascist forces in Germany. New and perhaps more skillful demigods and fake populists are waiting in the wings to reintroduce the world wind. Meanwhile, financial and corporate forces struggle to repair their tattered wizards curtains and reassembled their shattered ideological imperatives. Furthermore, some of the major new engines of our economy, personified by the folks in Silicon Valley, seem to harbor their own fascist expectations. Hence, these remain increasingly perilous times.

Taming Totalitarianism?

The challenge remains one that only a few economists and fewer legislators recognize. In their path breaking study Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty Darren Acemoglu and James Robinson, explained that beyond having a vast frontier (and genocidal policies for its indigenous inhabitants) America succeeded because it had managed to battle the forces of extraction with those of inclusion. However, in a recent reappraisal they observed that we had pretty much pissed away the institutional elements that had made America great. Plus, I would add that contrary to his battle cry, Trump has done absolutely nothing to restore them. Obviously, rebuilding an inclusive economy is vastly different from the fascist trick of merely invoking mythical past glories. Moreover, the “way of life” associated with industrial dominance and cheap energy (paid for by endless wars) will never come again. Not to mention the colossal displacement of heretofore well-paid white-collar jobs made possible by the ever-increasing applications of automation and artificial intelligence.

For the last 40 years, under the guise free market utopianism, a new deification of oligarchy prevailed. Only in very recent years have people began to realize that what is good for Wall Street is NOT good for average Americans. Interesting enough, iconic economists who sought to subdue the forces of fascism (Hayek, Friedman, etc.) actually ended up installing a new and more subtle Feudal system. They provided an anti-political economy that extolled the virtues of ancient extractive and exploitive forces and outlawed inquiry into inclusive institutions altogether. In other words, these so-called “neoliberalists” built the bulwark of subliminal fascism. Institutions were allowed to again coalesce around the interests of rentiers (unproductive extractors) and undermine the countervailing power labor and shared prosperity concerns. When these arrangements ultimately failed yet again with the collapse of the mid 2000s, and the risks of galactic scale financialization were forced upon the public at large, the ideological charade was exposed. It was socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor, all along. This peek behind the curtain not only re-awakened progressive concerns, it reignited the longstanding hysteria about socialists and the alien within that were the phony rationale for fascist pogroms. The seed of this hysteria would propagate quickly in the fertile soil of institutionalized racism, misogyny, and militarism of America, with its incapacitated political culture.

Robinson and Acemoglu have now set a new agenda to discover those institutions that restore enough power to state to allow progressive economic regulation without releasing the Kraken. In essence, they suggest we need to find a way to restore inclusive institutions, and this first requires “learning to live with Leviathan.” While I recognize that the pretense of the weak state only allows the oligarchs to rule, ultimately culminating in more virulent fascism, but are they really optimistic about taming totalitarianism? Well, at least they recognize the centrality of institutions, as well as the dystopian dead ends in both within markets and Marx. They seem to earnestly believe that the search for a “third way” remains paramount. So, all I say, is good luck with that, and God’s speed.

Gregory A. Daneke, Professor Emeritus, School of Business, Arizona State. Other teaching posts: Michigan & Stanford. Gov. service: GAO, DOE, and White House.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store