The orange fascist? (Photo: Letras Libres)
The Social Media Fascist
The October issue of Letras Libres, a Spanish language literary magazine, features Donald Trump on its cover with the words “Fascista Americano” placed above his upper lip - the American Fascist or the American Hitler. Enrique Krauze, the editor of the magazine, has openly criticised on numerous occasions. He describes him as a “sociopath drunk on himself.
“Donald Trump is a sociopath drunk on himself. His religion is hatred. His god is Donald Trump. He is also addicted to empty adjectives. He is not a man of his word or of words as markers of truth.” - Enrique Krauze
Krauze’s profile of Trump seems pretty adequate, considering that most of the things he claims are proven to be wrong (the quintessential post-truth politician), he is openly racist and misogynist. His entire campaign aims at playing with the fears of those left behind by globalisation. His answers are extremely simple and he clearly defines America’s (and his personal) enemies. There is no question whether he is a right-wing populist. But is he a fascist (as Krauze and Jeb Bush’s national security advisor claim)? Can he even be compared to Hitler (as the former president of Mexico, Cher and Louis C.K. have)? Or is he just an extreme narcissist - an eccentric businessman, a sociopath, a bigot, who happens to think that he is the perfect fit for the most powerful job in the world?
While the comparisons with fascists from the past (and their rise to power) might sound somewhat reasonable when looking at his demands (don’t allow Muslims into the country, make innocent relatives responsible for terrorists’ actions, economic policies, etc.), his campaign lacks the symbolism, the paramilitary wing and the coherent political vision. His rallies are often extremely unorganised. The only unifying factor seems to be the hate against the system and the “Make America Great Again” hats and t-shirts. However, similar to Europe (and Latin America) in the 1930s, faith in the capitalist system and globalisation has suffered tremendously with the 2007 financial crisis. Further, the Western interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya (and inaction in Syria) have highlighted grave foreign policy failures. Just like fascists in the past, Trump is giving simple solutions, points out the incompetence of the elite and promises a future of prosperity that can be easily obtained.
Of course, on average, US citizens have never been this well off before, despite increasing inequality in some parts of the country. It is also difficult to argue that the recent domestic and foreign policy failures are at the same scale as 90 years ago. These movements were driven by the young who were fascinated by modernity and technology. Trump, on the other hand, seems to want to bring back the 1950s, where steel and coal dominated the economy. Old white men as well as conservative ideologues, who have turned to him in their hate for Clinton, are his core supporters.
"He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
One of the most striking similarities, however, is the communication and propaganda techniques the veteran fascists and Trump use. Hitler had the radio. Trump has Twitter. Over the last seven years he has written on average 15 tweets per day, the overwhelming majority written by himself. Or in Trump’s words: “During the day, I'm in the office, I just shout it out to one of the young ladies who are tremendous. I have tremendous office staff. […] And I'll just shout it out, and they'll do it. But during the evenings, after 7 o'clock or so, I will always do it by myself.” Hardly any politician or celebrity writes this many tweets themselves. In comparison, Hillary Clinton’s account is managed by her social media team and only very few tweets actually are signed by her. On average the team writes 6.5 Tweets per day. It also shows how authoritarian Trump’s campaign is managed. He is happy to sacrifice a professional appearance for complete control over everything in his campaign (quite similar to the management of Trump Organization).
Followers of presidential candidates and other politicians on social media services. (Graph: KNE)
“You know, it's interesting. I started off a number of years ago, and I now see that, over the weekend, I picked up, like, almost 100,000 people […]. You know, I have millions. And it's really an asset. I really enjoy doing it, but it's really an asset. You see what's going on. And there is some genius there. I mean, you will get—you will read some of the stuff, there is genius there. You have to find the right genius. But it is a powerful thing. I mean…” - Donald Trump
Twitter is the most Trumpian social media service. It almost appears like his speeches are Twitter inspired, with short, simplified messages, a lack of content and merely repeating statements (like retweets). And of course the occasional insult and racist retweet. He has given all his opponents catchy (and insulting) names, such as Crooked Hillary, Little Marco, Lyin’ Ted, Crazy Bernie and Low Energy Jeb. The controversial tweets help get media coverage and his supporters don’t seem to care. Quite the contrary, they love him for his disregard for political correctness and his relatability, what Eric Trump, his son, calls “authenticity” and “common-sense politics”. His tweets could have been written by some old disgruntled man in a small town pub. For example this tweet he wrote last week at 2:30 AM: “Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia [Machado] become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?”. Needless to say, Machado, a former Miss Universe, never starred in a sex tape nor did Clinton help her acquire US citizenship. Trump, however, did call her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeper”, mocking her Latino heritage, in the past.
He also famously makes completely outrageous allegations, such as claiming that he “always gets audited by the IRS” because he is a “strong Christian”. Although this can also be seen as a strategy to make him attractive to conservative Christians who fear the secular state. Trump is the first presidential candidate since 1972 to not release any tax returns. According to a New York Times investigation, he might have not paid any federal income taxes between 1995 and 2013. While this might be legal, it again highlights that he is probably not as rich or successful as he claims to be. Further, this could have enabled Trump to not pay any federal income taxes on the $45 million he received from his company that made the $916 million loss (and any other income up to that amount), even though investors saw their shares become worthless and many small contractors weren’t paid. Of course this is all speculation but Trump’s insistence on not making his tax returns public and lying about not being able to do so, suggests that he has good reasons to do so (i.e. a lot of dodgy business to hide or by far not as wealthy as he claims). Not to speak of the huge conflict of interest he would have as a president.
Trump’s business empire and his career have been a contended issue during the campaign. He claims that his business experience gives him the authority to be the next president of the United States. But because he refuses to publish his tax returns, it is unclear how successful the company really is or how wealthy Trump actually is. Those who have scrutinised his business dealings and have an insight in the Trump Organization give a different picture than the official version. Marc Fisher, senior editor at the Washington Post and author of the book “Trump Revealed”, says that his career has been a “rollercoaster”. While his business in the 1980s and 1990s used to be dominated by more complex managerial and financial decisions funded by debt (e.g. his casinos in Atlantic City that eventually went bankrupt), he has now almost completely shifted to licensing his name and to TV appearances, such as the reality show “The Apprentice”. Or as Tim O’Brien, editor at Bloomberg and author of "TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald”, puts it: “He has been a successful businessman in self-promoting himself.” He continues explaining that Trump is “not a great entrepreneur” but rather that he is “skilled at keeping himself in the public eye and keeping a certain perception of who he is”. Essentially he is connecting the name Trump with success and wealth and he has been working very hard at creating this myth.
Trump claimed that U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel has made "rulings that people can't even believe." "He's a Mexican. We're building a wall between here and Mexico." So obviously, according to Trump's logic, the Indiana born judge must be biased.
A pretty Trumpian speech: utterly self-centred, slightly racist and misogynist, repeatedly mentioning "Crooked Hillary" and "not good" and lots of gossip.
In the last 7 years, he has used social media to enhance the “Trump myth”. Twitter enables him to seem approachable. “He is one of ours”, as his supporters like to say. He combines fascism’s racist worldview and the central charismatic figure with modern forms of communication. He also celebrates the former “greatness” of the nation, just like Mussolini and Hitler did. His campaign is centred around the promise of making average working class American as successful as him. But “Make America Great Again” doesn’t follow the regular American dream pattern. He claims that the system is rigged by the elite and that a strong leader is needed to make the country “great again”. The elite isn’t his only enemy. Muslims, Mexicans, Chinese, minorities and women do not play a central role in his "vision". He makes conspiracy theories appear as facts and then denies having mentioned them altogether, despite evidence existing on his Twitter account and on YouTube. He has persistently spread the conspiracy theory that Obama was not born in the US. He has claimed on several occasions that Muslim Americans celebrated 9/11. He has denied global warming and claimed it is an invention by “the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” When confronted during the presidential debate, he quickly interrupted Clinton, claiming “I did not. I do not say that.” For Trump the truth isn’t based on facts but on social media likes. If thousands of people retweet and like his posts (or if they seem convenient at the moment) they are true to him.
His racist and nationalistic views, his authoritarian business and campaign management, his opposition to liberalism, his calls for a strong leader and his protectionist economic policies (“China is destroying us!”) clearly indicate fascist tendencies. While he might not be a fascist in the traditional sense, he is most definitely a populist who has successfully marketed himself in the social media age as a potential president of the United States, despite being completely incompetent and ignorant about economic, foreign and security policy. The traditional media has been obsessed with Trump’s ridiculous views and angry tweets. He doesn’t need a propaganda minister. He has Twitter. Social media fascism might be the more appropriate characterisation of Trumpian politics.
Here are some of Trump's more controversial tweets:
“We are leaving Iraq after expending a tremendous amount of blood and treasure. We should be reimbursed with oil! -- Don't give it to Iran.” October 24, 2011
“Iran is moving troops into Iraq under the guise that it is helping out. Actually, they will take over Iraq and all of their oil. Stupid U.S.” - January 10, 2012
“We should have gotten more of the oil in Syria, and we should have gotten more of the oil in Iraq. Dumb leaders.” - March 16, 2012
“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” - November 6, 2012
“Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure,it's not your fault” - May 9, 2013
“Remember that I predicted a long time ago that President Obama will attack Iran because of his inability to negotiate properly-not skilled!” - November 10, 2013
“How amazing, the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s “birth certificate” died in plane crash today. All others lived” - December 12, 2013
“So, lets get this right. Steve Jobs dies and leaves his wife everything-billions of dollars. Now his wife has a boyfriend (lover). Oh Steve!” - August 19, 2013
“Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!” - March 28, 2014
“The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!” - August 2, 2014
“Do not go back into Iraq unless they agree, in a signed formal instrument, to give the U.S. 50% of their oil reserves.Make the deal dummies!” - November 7, 2014
“….likewise, billions of dollars gets brought into Mexico through the border. We get the killers, drugs & crime, they get the money!” - July 13, 2015
"@TheBrodyFile: On the Muslim issue: It might help @BarackObama if he actually supported Christians religious liberty rights.” - September 21, 2015
“I LIVE IN NEW JERSEY & @realDonaldTrump IS RIGHT: MUSLIMS DID CELEBRATE ON 9/11 HERE! WE SAW IT!” - November 25, 2015
“I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct. Instead I will only call her a lightweight reporter!” - January 27, 2016
“You have no idea what my strategy on ISIS is, and neither does ISIS (a good thing). Please get your facts straight - thanks. @megynkelly” - July 27, 2016
“.@CNN just doesn't get it, and that's why their ratings are so low - and getting worse. Boring anti-Trump panelists, mostly losers in life!” - September 17, 2016
“I won the debate if you decide without watching the totally one-sided "spin" that followed. This despite the really bad microphone.” - October 1, 2016
“Just announced that Iraq (U.S.) is preparing for battle to reclaim Mosul. Why do they have to announce this? Makes mission much harder!” - October 2, 2016