Donald Trump has signed an executive order that will limit immigration and refugees from some Muslim-majority countries, fulfilling a campaign-trail promise to introduce what he dubbed “extreme vetting.” The order blocks to the US from citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, and Libya for 90 days and as well as indefinitely suspending admission of Syrian refugees. Trump’s decision has sparked fury and anguish around the world. Is Trump an ultra conservative or a fascist? Ronan O’Callaghan, lecturer in International Relations and Politics at University of Central Lancashire, offers his explanation: Trump isn’t Fascist; he is a massive liberal dump.
Donald Trump is a fascist! Or at least Donald Trump plays a fascist on TV, and in public. I’m not sure if he plays a fascist in private. But he does play a rapist in private, all in the name of banter. Anyway, Donald Trump has been so good at playing a fascist on TV and in public for the last few years that the U.S. people elected him president. Well, not all the U.S. people, or even a majority of those who voted, but enough of them in the right states did, and now he’s playing both a president and a fascist on TV and in public. I don’t know if he’s a fascist president in private. But he is a rapist in private, a grabber of women’s privates.
Now there are obvious problems with describing Donald Trump as a fascist, and in calling him a fascist I was, in part being factious. There are, nonetheless, tangible elements of fascism to Trump’s politics and platform. During his election campaign, Trump embraced fascist sentiment and mooted a lot of far-right policies. These policies were, in turn, very popular with Trump’s electorate. Fashionable fascism, or as those kids on the internet call it #fash. Those who didn’t identify with #fash, were quick to criticise and ridicule Trump’s proposed policies. However, even after Trump’s victory, there remained an underlying belief that Trump was only playing a fascist to get elected, and would adopt a more moderate position when he started playing at being president. They were wrong.
The last twelve days have unequivocally demonstrated that Trump is more than happy to enact extremist policy while in office. Reminding ourselves that this has been less than two weeks, Trump has: repealed state health care, removed all information on climate change from governmental websites and literature and banned governmental employees from making any reference to it, dismissed evidence that a foreign government interfered in a U.S. election as unimportant, banned any governmental funding for groups who even suggest that women should have control over their own bodies, used the Whitehouse Press team to disseminate easily disprovable misinformation, refused to answer media questions that do not further his agenda and threatened to stop talking to outlets that present him in an unfavourable light, fired the Attorney General for questioning an executive order, and imposed a 20% border tax on Mexican imports to pay for a multi-billion dollar wall to be constructed on the Mexican border. And those are just the highlights!
The biggest controversy surrounds Trump’s recent ban on Muslims entering the U.S. Let’s be clear that Trump’s order is a Muslim ban. Trump repeatedly called for a ban on Muslims throughout his election campaign. Even his buddy and advisor, Rudy Giuliani, has stated that Trump specifically asked how they could implement a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. The fact that the ban focuses on seven nations rather than all Muslims is a product of legal restrictions, not intent. This weekend, Trump introduced a 90 day ban on citizens from seven (predominantly Muslim) nations (Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq) from entering the U.S., and suspended U.S. intake of all refugees for 120 days. In addition, those with dual citizenship in any of the seven nations are also banned. The policy, Trump, proclaims will enable the security agencies to implement a policy of ‘extreme vetting’ that is necessary to protect the U.S. population from the threat posed by radical Islam.
In response to the order, people across the world have joined together in protest at the racialised discrimination implied in the ban’s remit. Pointing to the fact that no citizen of the seven banned nations has ever committed a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, protesters argue that the ban represents an overt securitisation of Muslim peoples based on racial prejudice rather than any actual threat. In other words, Trump is pretending that Muslims from these countries are a major threat to U.S. people in an attempt to cash in on the popular contempt in which his electorate hold Muslim people. In turn, the charge that Trump is a bona fide fascist has been utilised as a rallying cry to encourage people to protest. The central argument is that Trump’s order resonates with similar securitisation and criminalisation of Jews under European fascism in the 1930s and 1940s, and the general predilection of fascist regimes to cultivate control via the populist securitisation of marginal threats. While it is heartening to witness the scale of the protests and the willingness of people to actively challenge what Trump is doing, it remains important to maintain some critical reflection while resisting his politics and policies.
In Adam Curtis’s recent Hypernormalisation documentary, he contends that the complexity of politics in the modern world has created a trajectory of simplification. The complexity of globalised political networks has generated a public desire for simplification, which, in turn, has been capitalised upon by mainstream Western political parties. Curtis, drawing upon thinkers like Ulrich Beck and Jacques Ranciere, argues that this desire for simplification has helped create a post-political world in which major changes or ideological debates are precluded in the name of the ‘sensible management’ of societies and economies. This system of Liberal management has permeated across the Western World for the last three decades, culminating in political systems predicated upon simple narratives that are increasingly detached from any factual basis. What has been recently termed ‘post-truth’.
This desire for simplified politics and narratives is, in part, driven by nostalgia: a nostalgic yearning for a (mythical) time in which politics was simple, accessible and clear cut – left versus right, good versus bad, etc. This nostalgic desire is both complicit in the Trump phenomenon and elements of the resistance to it. It, obviously, resonates with Trump’s ‘America First’ and ‘Make America Great Again’ sloganising, which allude to a return to a simpler time when the U.S. was a major industrial power populated by Western European (white) immigrants, and predicated upon Christian moral precepts. Again, this is a largely mythological reading of U.S. history, but one that provides a clearly digestible simple narrative. Simplified nostalgia, however, is also abundantly evident in the willingness, of critics and protesters, to describe Donald Trump as a fascist. Noting the fascist elements of the Trump phenomenon, and in far-right politics in general, is important. Yet this is only one aspect of what is happening in Western politics. The growth and form of contemporary far-right populism is a complicated new ideological formation that is a product of, rather than a protest against, Western liberalism. By uncritically deploying the term ‘fascism’, we risk constructing another simplified narrative. A nostalgic narrative in which the clear dividing lines between good and bad are restated in a way that allows liberal politics and politicians to wash their hands of any responsibility for the emergence of a populist right, and to present Western liberalism as an effective remedy to Trump and his ilk.
Both the global Women’s Marches that followed Trump’s inauguration and the protests against the Muslim ban can be viewed, in some respects, as attempts to repurpose the rejection of Trump and his politics to fit within a liberal narrative. Specifically, the idea that Trump (and the far right in general) should be viewed as the ramification of rejecting centrist liberal doctrine: without liberal centrism, politics becomes polarised and this leads to the emergence of fascism. Or alternatively, only liberalism is capable of managing society in a way that militates against extremist politics. In turn, this narrative fosters the belief that liberalism is a cure to Trump’s ‘fascism’. To solve the problem of the far-right, all we need to do is recommit to liberalism. This is why people like Angela Merkel, François Hollande, and Barack Obama are currently being lauded in the media for their condemnation of Trump, and why celebrities like Madonna were front and centre during the Women’s Marches. Again, this is not to suggest that everyone who attended the marches was doing so in the name of liberal values, or even that liberal politicians and celebrities should not be standing in opposition to Trump. Instead, it is intended to serve as a reminder that Trumpism and the growth of far-right populism in the Western world is a result of liberalism, not a diametrically opposed reaction to it. As such, it is highly problematic to give credence to a narrative in which liberalism and liberal values (as they have been adapted in the West for the last number of decades) are proposed as an effective antidote or solution to the far-right.
In Jacques Derrida’s Of Hospitality, he argues that to practice hospitality means to open yourself toward what is other. Hospitality, in this respect, is always a risk: the risk of opening yourself to the unknown. Liberal hospitality/immigration policy, in contrast, is fuelled by what I have previously termed “familial reciprocity” Familial reciprocity implies that hospitality should be based on the ideal of familial recognition: we only offer hospitality to those in which we recognise ourselves. In other words, hospitality offered to other people because they are like us. This ideal of hospitality has been evidenced in the immigration policies of liberal states over the last few decades. While multiculturalism is viewed as desirable within liberal ideology, this plurality runs in tandem with an expectancy that immigrants will accept the fundamental values of their new home. For instance, David Cameron’s demand that those living in the UK adopt British values. In a more general sense, liberalism is premised on the idea that all people should accept universal precepts such as human rights, the creed of free market economics, and so on. As such, liberalism is a Western ideology that offers hospitality to those who broadly accept Western values. If perspective immigrants do not, or are deemed to not, accept these principles, they will not be permitted entry.
In this sense, Trump’s desire to ban immigrants with a ‘Muslim’ identity is radical interpretation of existing liberal logics. Liberal states have increasingly turned to a complex web of identity markers to filter between potentially threatening and non-threatening immigrants. The mass border and surveillance infrastructures that have been proliferated in in the years since the September 11 attacks stand as a testament to this ideal of hospitality and immigration: a vast, ever expanding network of information gathering that determines threat based firmly on identity and the risk calculations associated with various identity markers. For example, when Barack Obama introduced a six-month ban on Iraqi refugees in 2011, he argued that this was a response to a direct threat his Administration had identified: some Iraqi refugees are potentially a threat to the U.S. and, therefore, we will ban all Iraqis. In short, if there is uncertainty regarding immigrants, if we’re not sure that they accept our values, the liberal response is to prevent the threat before it crosses the border. Obviously this uncertainty has been primarily directed at Muslim nations for the last decade, and refugees in particular. For instance, European leaders’ resistance to the intake of Syrian refugees was so staunch, that they were willing to pay an autocratic Turkish government to keep them from crossing into Europe, and watch as they drowned in the Mediterranean lest it encourage immigration. Trump’s rhetoric is extreme, but it is, nonetheless, a progression of the existing liberal response to Muslim immigration.
Yet this is just one aspect of the liberal conception of immigration that has bled into Trump’s politics. While the security dimension focuses on dangerous identities, the market dimension is concerned with commodification: an immigrant is desirable only insofar as they are conceived as a net surplus to the economy and society. I have previously written about the link between the liberal commodification of immigrants and the rise of far-right populism. However, to briefly revisit this discussion: liberal politicians have consistently cultivated the idea that unskilled, poor immigrants are a key factor in internal economic depravation. They have done this, in part, because it diverts attention from the exploitative nature of contemporary capitalism and their complicity in this exploitation. Instead, of focusing on the ways in which wages and industry have been undercut in the name of increasing corporate profits, liberal politicians have both implicitly and explicitly laid the blame on unskilled legal and illegal immigrants. In turn, former working class, industrial communities in North America and Western Europe have accepted this idea, leading to the rise of populist far-right parties that openly advocate a return to ‘harder’ borders and decreased immigration. The ubiquity of this belief is evidenced by the fact that even the purportedly ‘hard-left’ Jeremy Corbyn has begun to look toward a more restrictive immigration policy in the UK. However, the liberal rejection of immigrants does not extend to skilled workers, who are routinely courted in terms of states’ desire to attract the best and brightest. What this all means, of course, is that unskilled immigrants from poor nations and more deprived backgrounds are undesirable, whereas wealthier immigrants are to be welcomed. As such, the liberal commodification of immigration tells us that passage through the border should be granted only if the immigrant is viewed as ‘profitable’, and immigrants should be removed if they are not. It is no surprise that no other president deported as many illegal immigrants as Barack Obama. Again, Trump’s policy is an extension of this logic. Not only is the Mexican wall entirely premised on the belief that Mexican immigrants are a primary cause of U.S. poverty, the Muslim ban also contains elements of commodification. Immigrants coming from the banned countries, where war and economic destitution are rife, are likely to be poor and unskilled – they are not a profitable investment from Trump Inc. In particular, Trump’s anti-refugee rhetoric is driven by a belief that refugees are a drain on, rather than an addition to, society. This is simple market logic – the Muslim ban removes a perceived economic drain, and makes ‘America’ appear more secure by doing so. What Trump no doubt views as a win win policy, for him.
None of the above should be viewed as a reason not to oppose Trump and his brand of politics. He is certainly the most repugnant U.S. president in living memory: a man-child more concerned with scoring popularity points than pursuing any type of civic vocation. However, it does a disservice to the complexity of contemporary political structures and ideological debate to present Trump as a simple fascist. What is important is that the resistance to Trump is not hijacked in the name of a return to the liberal politics that, in part, created a platform through which Trump’s election was possible. Western liberalism, as it has existed since the 1980s, is dying a well deserved death. It cannot maintain the inequalities, posturing, and downright bullshit upon which its system of order and morality is based upon. Trump is an extension of the very worst elements of liberal logics – if he is fascist, his is a liberal fascism, that could not exist without the groundwork laid by liberal politics. Therefore, a rejection of Trump cannot, and should not, resolve itself into a simplified narrative that potentially reinvigorates liberal ideals. Co-option of protest against Trump by the liberal orthodoxy will only result in the perpetration of the system that allows far-right populism to grown and flourish. Instead, Trump, Farage, Le Pen et al should be viewed as an opportunity to posit a different form of politics, a form of politics that embraces the uncertainty and risk associated with genuine change. There are contemporary grass-root movements and conventional political groups throughout the world that are already advocating forms of this systemic change. As academics, activists, and people not content with Trump and the far-right it is our responsibility to take control of the narrative and not repeat past mistakes. We have new mistakes to make and should not be afraid to make them.
Photo credit: ©2017-Fibonacci Blue/ Protest against Donald Trump on inauguration day, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 20, 2017
 Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000).
 Ronan O’Callaghan, Ethics as Response: Walzer, Just War and Iraq, (London, Routledge, 2016).
 See, Louise Amoore, The Politics of Possibility: Risk and Security Beyond Probability, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013).