Trump’s wor­ri­some bond with dic­ta­tors

Pres­i­dent’s as­so­ci­a­tion with right-wing dem­a­gogues should be viewed as a warn­ing sign

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - HENRY A. GIROUX

Trump’s en­dorse­ment of right-wing dem­a­gogues such as Duterte, Putin, and Er­do­gan, in par­tic­u­lar, is more than an aber­ra­tion for a U.S. pres­i­dent.

There are im­por­tant lessons to be mined his­tor­i­cally regarding how we ex­am­ine Don­ald Trump’s sup­port from and for a num­ber of ruth­less dic­ta­tors and po­lit­i­cal dem­a­gogues. Trump’s en­dorse­ments of and by a range of ruth­less dic­ta­tors are well-known and in­clude Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah elSissi, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Tayyip Er­do­gan, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte and the for­mer French pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ma­rine Le Pen, the leader of the Na­tional Front Party. All of th­ese politi­cians have been con­demned by a num­ber of hu­man rights groups in­clud­ing Hu­man Rights Watch on Tor­ture, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional and Free­dom House. All of th­ese politi­cians share a mix of ul­tra­na­tion­al­ism, xeno­pho­bia, Is­lam­o­pho­bia, anti-Semitism, ho­mo­pho­bia and trans­pho­bia.

His­tor­i­cal mem­ory sug­gests that a tem­plate for un­der­stand­ing Trump’s em­brace of rogue states, dic­ta­tors and neo-fas­cist politi­cians can be found in the rep­re­hen­si­ble his­tory of col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween in­di­vid­u­als and gov­ern­ments, and the fas­cist regimes of Italy and Ger­many be­fore and dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. For in­stance, one of the dark­est pe­ri­ods in French his­tory took place un­der Mar­shall Philippe Pe­tain, the head of the Vichy regime, who col­lab­o­rated with the Nazi regime be­tween 1940 and 1944.

As He­lene Fou­quet and Gre­gory Vis­cusi have noted, the Vichy regime was re­spon­si­ble for “about 76,000 Jews (be­ing) de­ported from France, only 3,000 of whom re­turned from the con­cen­tra­tion camps … Twenty-six per cent of France’s pre-war Jewish pop­u­la­tion died in the Holo­caust.” For years France re­fused to ex­am­ine and con­demn this shame­ful pe­riod in its his­tory by claim­ing that the Vichy regime was an aber­ra­tion, a po­si­tion that has been re­cently taken up by Ma­rine Le Pen, the neo-f as­cist Na­tional Front can­di­date. Not only has Le Pen de­nied the French gov­ern­ment’s re­spon­si­bil­ity for the roundup of Jews sent to con­cen­tra­tion camps be­tween 1940 and 1944, she has also used a to­tal­i­tar­ian script from the past in ap­peal­ing to eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism in or­der “to cover up her fas­cist prin­ci­ples.”

Mem­o­ries of col­lab­o­ra­tion with f as­cist dic­ta­tors func­tion his­tor­i­cally to deepen our un­der­stand­ing of Trump’s as­so­ci­a­tions with right-wing dem­a­gogues as a warn­ing sign that of­fers up a glimpse of both the con­tem­po­rary re­cur­rence of fas­cist over­tones from the past and what Richard Falk has called “a pre­fas­cist mo­ment.” Trump’s en­dorse­ment of right-wing dem­a­gogues such as Duterte, Putin, and Er­do­gan, in par­tic­u­lar, is more than an aber­ra­tion for a U.S. pres­i­dent: It sug­gests more omi­nously his dis­re­gard for hu­man rights, the sup­pres­sion of dis­sent, hu­man suf­fer­ing, and the prin­ci­ples of democ­racy it­self. Trump’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with dic­ta­tors and right-wing rogues also sug­gests some­thing more omi­nous.

It is against this his­tor­i­cal back­drop of col­lab­o­ra­tion that Trump’s as­so­ci­a­tion with var­i­ous dic­ta­tors should be an­a­lyzed. The case of Duterte is par­tic­u­larly telling. Warn­ing signs of a “pre­fas­cist mo­ment” abound in Trump’s invitation to Duterte to visit the White House. Duterte has sup­ported and em­ployed the use of death squads both as mayor of Davao and as the pres­i­dent of the Philip­pines. The New York Times has re­ported that “more than 7,000 sus­pected drug users and deal­ers, wit­nesses and by­standers — in­clud­ing chil­dren — have been killed by the po­lice or vig­i­lantes in the Philip­pines” un­der Duterte’s rule. More­over, he has sup­ported a na­tion­wide killing ma­chine that in­cludes giv­ing “free li­cence to the po- lice and vig­i­lantes” to kill drug users and push­ers while al­low­ing chil­dren, in­no­cent by­standers and oth­ers to be caught in the indis­crim­i­nate vi­o­lence. He has called for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama “the son of a whore,” has com­pared him­self to Hitler, has stated that Trump ap­proves of his drug war, and has threat­ened to as­sas­si­nate jour­nal­ists. Duterte’s ruth­less­ness is cap­tured by pho­tog­ra­pher Daniel Bere­hu­lak who while work­ing in the Philip­pines stated that he had “worked in 60 coun­tries, cov­ered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent much of 2014 liv­ing in­side West Africa’s Ebola zone, a place gripped by fear and death” but added that what he ex­pe­ri­enced in the Philip­pines “felt like a new level of ruth­less­ness: po­lice of­fi­cers’ sum­mar­ily shoot­ing any­one sus­pected of deal­ing or even us­ing drugs, vig­i­lantes’ tak­ing se­ri­ously Mr. Duterte’s call to ‘slaugh­ter them all.’”

In his en­dorse­ment, sup­port and le­git­imiza­tion of a range of dic­ta­tors and right-wing ex­trem­ists, Trump has em­u­lated a pe­riod in his­tory of shameless com­plic­ity with the ide­olo­gies, poli­cies and prac­tices associated with fas­cism it­self. Si­t­u­at­ing Trump within the his­tor­i­cal legacy of col­lab­o­ra­tion with f as­cist states and lead­ers pro­vides a new lan­guage for ex­am­in­ing how far Trump might go in push­ing au­thor­i­tar­ian poli­cies, and how his­tor­i­cal mem­ory can be used to pre­vent such prac­tices from be­ing nor­mal­ized. Trump’s col­lab­o­ra­tionist en­dorse­ments of­fer in­sights into what the pre­lude to au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism looks like in con­tem­po­rary terms by en­abling the pub­lic to un­der­stand how fas­cism can be nor­mal­ized by es­cap­ing from his­tory.

Henry A. Giroux is a widely-pub­lished so­cial critic and McMaster Univer­sity pro­fes­sor who holds the McMaster Chair for Schol­ar­ship in the Pub­lic In­ter­est, the Paulo Freire Dis­tin­guished Scholar Chair, and is a Vis­it­ing Dis­tin­guished Univer­sity Pro­fes­sor at Ry­er­son Univer­sity. Born in Rhode Is­land, he held nu­mer­ous aca­demic po­si­tions in the U.S. and now lives in Hamil­ton.

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