Trump’s Pre-Fascism and Progressive Populist Opportunities

25 Jan

The Dismal Cartography of the Pre-Fascist State


Points of Departure


Listening to Donald Trump’s inaugural speech on January 20th led me to muse about what it might mean to live in a pre-fascist state. After reflecting on key passages and conversations with friends, I came to the view that all the elements were in place, although set before us with the imprecision of a demagogue. Yet I do not doubt that there are many ideologues waiting in the wings, perhaps now comfortably situated in the West Wing, ready to cover the conceptual rough spots, and supply an ideological overlay, and add the semblance of coherence. Considering the daily outrages emanating from the White House since the inaugural jolt, the coming years will be rough riding for all of us, with many cruelties being readied for those most vulnerable.


Of course, the Woman’s March on January 21st was temporarily redemptive, and if such energy can be sustained potentially transformative. It is odd to contemplate, but there just may be tacit and effective cooperation between the national security deep state and a progressive populism converging around their divergent reasons for being deeply opposed to the shock and awe of the Trump presidency. Trump may invent ‘alternative facts’ to restore his narcissistic self-esteem, but when it comes to program he has sadly so far been true to his word! This alone should encourage a unified, energetic, and determined opposition. If the Tea Party could do it, why can’t we?



The Pre-Fascist Moment


First, it is necessary to set forth the case for viewing Trump’s Inaugural Address as a pre-fascist plea:


  1. Locating power and legitimacy in the people, but only those whose support was instrumental in the election of the new president; the popular majority that were opposed are presumed irrelevant, or worse;
  2. Denigrating the political class of both political parties as corrupt and responsible for the decline of the country and the hardships inflicted on his followers;
  3. Presuming mass and unconditional trust in the great leader who promises a rupture with the past, and who alone will be able overcome the old established order, and produce needed changes at home and overseas;
  4. Making the vision of change credible by the appointment of mainly white men, most with alt-right credentials, billionaires either blissfully ignorant about their assigned roles or a past record of opposition to the bureaucratic mission they are pledged to carry out (whether environment, energy, education, economy);
  5. An endorsement of exclusionary nationalism that elevates ‘America First’ to the status of First Principle, erects a wall against its Latino neighbor, adopts a cruel and punitive stance toward Muslims and undocumented immigrants, hostility to womens’ rights, gay marriage, trans dignity, as well as posing threats to non-white minorities, inner city residents, and independent voices in the media and elsewhere;
  6. Lauds the military and police as the backbone of national character, loosens protection from civilian or military abuse, which helps explain the selection of a series of generals to serve in sensitive civilian roles, as well as the revitalization of Guantanamo and the weakening of anti-torture policies.
  7. The disturbing absence of a sufficiently mobilized anti-fascist opposition movement, leadership, and program. The Democratic Party has not seized the moment vigorously and creatively; progressive populist leadership has yet to emerge inspiring trust and hope; so far there are sparks but no fire.


Fortunately, there are some more encouraging tendencies that could mount anti-fascist challenges from within and below:


  1. Trump lost the popular vote, casting a cloud over his claimed mandate to be the vehicle of ‘the people.’ Furthermore, his approval rating keeps falling, and is now below 40% according to reliable polls.
  2. The signs of intense dissatisfaction are giving rise to protest activities that are massive and seem deeply rooted in beliefs and commitments of ordinary citizens, especially women and young people;
  3. American society is not in crisis, and right-wing extremist appeals are forced to rely on a greatly exaggerated and misleading portrayal of distress in the American economy, the evils of economic globalization and unfair trade relations that are widely understood to be largely ‘fake’;
  4. There are fissures within the Republican Party and governmental/think tank establishments, especially on international economic and security policy, that could produce escalating tensions within and challenges to the Trump leadership;
  5. There is growing dissatisfaction within the bipartisan intelligence and national security bureaucracies as whether Trump and Trumpism can be tamed before it wrecks the post-1945 international order that rests on America’s global military presence, a global network of alliances, and a disposition toward a second cold war focused on hostility to Russia; if untamed, impeachment scenarios will soon surface, based not on the real concerns, but constructed around economic conflicts of interests, emoluments, and unlawful transactions.   


Certainly in my lifetime, with the possible exception of the Great Depression, America has not been tested as it is now. Maybe not since the American Civil War has so much been at stake, and put at risk.


Traditional reliance on political parties and elections will not be helpful until the political climate is radically altered by forces from below and without or above and within. It is strange, but the two main forces of resistance to the pre-fascist reality menacing the country’s and the world’s future are progressive populism as evident in the widespread grassroots protest movement taking shape in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s ascension to the presidency, and the deep state as exhibited by the anti-Trump defection of intelligence and national security specialists from both Republican and Democratic ranks during and after the recent presidential campaign.


Finally, the depiction of the present political reality as ‘pre-fascist’ rather than ‘fascist’ is crucial to this effort to depict accurately the historical moment associated with Donald Trump’s formal induction as the 45th president of the United States. To speak as if the United States is a fascist state is to falsify the nature of fascism, and to discredit critical discourse by making it seem hysterical. There is no doubt that the pieces are in place that might facilitate a horrifying transition from pre-fascism to fascism, and it could happen with lightning speed. It is also sadly true that the election of Donald Trump makes fascism a sword of Damocles hanging by a frayed thread over the American body politic.


Yet we should not overlook the quite different realities that pertain to pre-fascism. It remains possible in the United States to organize, protest, and oppose without serious fears of reprisals or detentions. The media can expose, ridicule, and criticize without closures or punitive actions, facing only angered and insulting Trump tweets, although such a backlash should not be minimized as it could have a dangerous intimidating impact on how the news is reported. We are in a situation where the essential political challenge is to muster the energy and creativity to construct a firewall around constitutional democracy as it now exists in the United States, and hope that a saner, more humane political mood leads quickly and decisively to repudiate those policies and attitudes that flow from this pre-fascist set of circumstances.


12 Responses to “Trump’s Pre-Fascism and Progressive Populist Opportunities”

  1. Kata Fisher January 25, 2017 at 3:03 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    The Fall is Skying!

    A Note:

    It seems that everyone is bearing consequences of their civil-ecclesiastical evils and disobedience — and Church has no part in any of that … after all, there is the separation of the Church and the state/s — and we all know where that comes from — from extreme civil disobedience and civil radicalism ( civil or illegitimate-ecclesiastical) radicalism.

    At last, it will be due to being thankful for Trump, and most of his humble ideas — because the man means business — and far from being a humble man he is and/or not! … am sure that he will do it legitimately and his way.

    By the way professor Falk, what goes around comes around — that is exactly what you have said.

    I do hope that you and everyone else are having a wonderful day.

  2. Beau Oolayforos January 25, 2017 at 6:14 pm #

    The news today that Trump intends to move soon on the Border Project made me re-read Ozymandias, which foretells the eventual fate both of Mr Donald and of his wall.

    Speaking of pre-fascist conditions, the NSA repository in Utah reminds me of the Nazi takeover in Holland – citizens’ information, including ethnicities, had already been gathered, with the most benign intentions, by the Dutch government. House-to-house searches and interrogations were unnecessary – everything was available from public records, which made rounding up and deporting Jews to the camps much easier.

  3. Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka January 25, 2017 at 11:52 pm #

    Richard’s cry from the heart makes me recall a conversation in the summer of 1985 in Moscow at the world festival of Youth and Students, with Kurt Julius Goldstein, a communist veteran of the Spanish Civil War, a survivor of concentration camps as well as the notorious ‘Death March’. When I met him he was the head of the confederation of anti-fascist fighters (doubtless a pro-communist front organization). I asked him the main mistakes the antifascists of the 1930s made, the mistakes that he would not repeat if he were put on a time machine. He said– and I published it at the time– that they, the Left of that time, confused nationalism, populism and chauvinism with fascism, and that they should have differentiated between these and fascism, adopting a strategy of uniting or working with all those diverse (even unsavory) elements of an anti-status quo orientation who could be united, neutralizing those who could not, and identifying, isolating and targeting the fascists. He said the Left was insensitive to the grievances of those misguided social forces and did not know how to approach them– which opened the space for fascist appeals to resonate and monopolize. I believe the same mistakes should not be repeated today. Further examples would be the sectarian errors of the Iranian Fedayeen in relation to the Khomeini phenomenon and the self-isolationism of Russian communists led by Zyuganov, which enabled Putin to monopolize statism and nationalism. While I endorse Richard’s identification of ” progressive populism” and the dissident ‘deep state’ elements, one must not fail to grapple with, and adopt a new approach, to the phenomena of nationalism and patriotism, including American nationalism and patriotism. Those are the 500 pound gorilla and the elephant in the room.

    • Richard Falk January 26, 2017 at 12:49 pm #

      Dayan: Your comment is extremely important, and makes me feel that I need to supplement my views
      on the pre-fascist situation with attentiveness to the legitimate grievances and aspirations of Trump
      supporters. It is not enough to discredit Trump and worry about where he is leading the country and the
      world. If you have further thoughts on this, I would be most grateful to receive them. As it is your
      comment provides fascinating and historically and ideologically relevant insight. Warmly, Richard

  4. ray032 January 26, 2017 at 6:24 am #

    And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;
    Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.

    On August 21,2017, there will be a Total Eclipse of the Sun, and of ALL NATIONS, only the US will be on the path of Total Darkness. CanaDa and Mexico will see only a Partial Eclipse. If that’s not a sign of the sun and the moon, what will it take?

    The advent of Trump is bringing life to that ancient projection of a TIME in the human experience that is made possible by Instantaneous Global Communication the Masses did not have access to before the arrival of TV and Internet.

    Read this interesting particle in Forward titled, ‘How Erratic Trump Unnerves Even Netanyahu’

    “After eight long years of feuding with Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is approaching Republican newcomer Donald Trump with far more caution and reserve than anyone anticipated.

    Trump was supposedly the great hope of Netanyahu’s right-wing pro-settlement base. And yet, within hours after Trump’s inauguration Netanyahu was scrambling to restrain allies on his right who wanted to take advantage of Trump’s ascent to advance stalled settlement initiatives.

    Among the measures Netanyahu swatted back was a bill pushed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the settler-backed Jewish Home party (and Bibi’s political rival), to annex to Israel the urban West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, just east of Jerusalem. Another was the so-called regularization bill, which would legalize wildcat settlement outposts established in violation of Israeli law on private Palestinian land. The bill is meant to circumvent Israeli Supreme Court orders to dismantle such outposts, some of which have gone unexecuted for years.”

    What is most disturbing is learning of the “so-called regularization bill,” I was not aware of before this morning. Israel does have the economic-military power to pass such Legislation, but the net effect will be to create more resentment, rebellion and terrorists in an uglier vicious cycle. What kind of people even think such a Law could ultimately create the conditions for Peace with their Palestinian neighbours?

    It reinforces what the Jewish Patriarchs did as recorded in Genesis 34 posted in an earlier article. What the descendants of the Patriarchs did to the people in the same land 400 years later, not only killing the men, but also killing the women, children and livestock, would be called a Genocide if the UN and International TV existed existed then.

    There is an ongoing War between the Spirit and the Flesh from before the Foundations of the earth. God assigned the Spirit beings called Angels, to be “Ministering Spirits” for those Humans who SHALL BE Heirs of Salvation of the Seed of Abraham.

    Some Angels thought themselves to be Superior beings over humans, and refused to follow the Eternal’s Directive to serve Humans. That fissure and mindset is embedded in many human minds and spirits within Nations and Cultures to this very Day.

  5. ray032 January 26, 2017 at 6:57 pm #

    Richard, complementing your article, is this from The Rutherford Institute I never heard of before now.

    ‘Has the American Dream Become the American Nightmare?’

    “Most Germans, so far as I could see, did not seem to mind that their personal freedom had been taken away, that so much of their splendid culture was being destroyed and replaced with a mindless barbarism, or that their life and work were being regimented to a degree never before experienced even by a people accustomed for generations to a great deal of regimentation … On the whole, people did not seem to feel that they were being cowed and held down by an unscrupulous tyranny. On the contrary, they appeared to support it with genuine enthusiasm.” ― William L. Shirer, The Nightmare Years 1930-40

    For too long now, the American people have allowed themselves to be persuaded that the government’s job is to take care of us: to feed us, clothe us, house us, educate us, raise our children, heal our infirmities, manage our finances, protect us from our enemies, guard us against all dangers (real and imaginary), and provide for our every need.

    Where Americans go wrong is in failing to recognize that there’s always a catch to such devil’s bargains purportedly carried out for the good of all society.

    You want free education for your children? The government can take care of it. In exchange for free public schools, however, your children will be molded and indoctrinated into compliant, obedient citizens who reflect the government’s values rather than your own.

    You want free health care? The government can take care of that, too. In exchange, your medical decisions—how you live and die—will ultimately be determined by corporations to whom you are little more than a line item impacting their profit and loss margins.

    You want to be insulated from all things that might cause offense? That’s not a problem for the government. Its thought police will use hate crime laws to criminalize speech, thought and actions that may be politically incorrect.

    You want a guarantee of safety? Sure, but your local police will also have to be militarized and trained in battlefield tactics, your communities and communications will be subjected to round-the-clock surveillance, and you—the citizenry—will be treated as suspects and enemy combatants.

    You want to root out domestic extremism and terrorism? That’s just fine. But in the process of identifying and targeting terrorists, the government will have the power to label anyone who disagrees with its policies as an extremist/terrorist and subject them to indefinite detentions.

    Are you starting to get the picture?…………………………………………………………………

  6. Elaine McGillicuddy January 26, 2017 at 7:08 pm #

    Thanks for all your emails, Bruce!

    The Zumwalt one, and the Seymour Hersh one. (I had already posted Chris Hedges’ on revolt as the only way to go


    But the Richard Faulk article led me to go back into one of my FB posts to correct my comment, by way of “introduction”:

    I had originally written: Creativity comes to the rescue when resisting blatant fascist attacks on democracy!

    But then I added this:

    PS: IMPORTANT CORRECTION: I substitute “pre-fascist” for the word “fascist” after reading just now, Richard Falk’s article “The Dismal Cartography of the Pre-Fascist State.” Look here at his key words: “. . . . Finally, the depiction of the present political reality as ‘pre-fascist’ rather than ‘fascist’ is crucial to this effort to depict accurately the historical moment . . . To speak as if the United States is a fascist state is to falsify the nature of fascism, and to discredit critical discourse by making it seem hysterical.”


    • Kata Fisher January 26, 2017 at 9:02 pm #

      A Note: Actuay, when constitutional items and /or constitutional sovregnities Are iligitimatly annulled/misplaced and/or iligitimetly manipulied – you will have a full blown Nazism/Fashism before you can blink twice. Unless, civil-eccalistical structure is brought into Spiritual Authority of legitimate Juridical Person/s of the Constitutional Sovregnities — it will fall apart. We can go on and learn what happens to Iran, and how terribly mismanaged all that was. Once Constitutional sovrenity is dismissed and/or walks out — God luck we say to all figuring their ways out. Also, good luck finding legitimate constitutional substitutes, there after. It has nothing to do with views — but rather about sustaining human state of exsistance

  7. Kata Fisher February 3, 2017 at 10:11 am #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    This morning I was thinking about you, and I was wondering if your health and strength have returned well to you after you had knee replacement surgery. Since it has been more then serval weeks, I do hope that you are in good health now.

    • Richard Falk February 3, 2017 at 3:09 pm #

      Thanks, Kata, for your concern. I have recovered ahead of schedule, and although
      still doing some exercises, it seems like the surgery was a big success. Greetings, Richard

  8. Beau Oolayforos February 17, 2017 at 12:54 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    The pre-fascist events keep multiplying. When Trump offers to “destroy the career” of a state senator because she opposes civil asset forfeiture, one has the impression that he would do away with her life too, if he only had the power. No wonder he admires, even envies Putin, who can and does murder journalists he doesn’t like.

    And now, plans are underway for the National Guard to join in the immigration sweeps, who’ve abandoned all but the thinnest PR veneer of weeding out criminals. The dogs have been chomping at the bit, confined to their kennels, for 8 years. Now they’re out, and itching to kick ass – these animals LOVE to beat up Mexicans – I’ve seen it with my 2 eyes.


  1. Trump and “Gleichschaltung” – The Fifth Estate - January 26, 2017

    […] is the result of the chewing of the cud that followed a perusing of Richard Falk’s article “Trump’s Pre-Fascism and Progressive and Populist Opportunities”. Those opportunities, according to Mr Falk are there because it is still possible “to […]

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