The Return of Fascism: Three Triggers of the Next Reactionary Wave by James Taichi Collins

When Joe Biden finally clinched his electoral victory against Donald Trump on Saturday, November 7th, it reminded me of the day President Obama announced the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. It was a day I remember feeling puzzled. Liberals celebrated in the streets and on social media, but I felt nothing. My initial thought was that the killing was a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and international law. The legal action would have been to take Osama Bin Laden to the international criminal court. My confusion over Bin Laden’s death was that I couldn’t help but think that while I wanted justice served, this was still a victory for U.S. imperialism. Once again, the United States flaunted its power to the rest of the world and asserted its prerogative to do whatever it wants. 

So here we are with liberals getting ready to “go back to brunch” and celebrate a Biden victory. I wish I could join in the rejoicing. But like the day Osama Bin Laden died, something has left me with a hollow feeling. I’m glad that we voted Trump out – but something is off. We longed for a Deus Ex Machina landslide Biden victory. We wanted to take back the Senate and repudiate a racist Republican Party. But instead, we got a narrow win that embarrassingly defied predictions and expectations. Whether it is winning the popular vote and somehow losing seats in the house, or how exit polls indicate that almost half the country thinks the COVID pandemic is going “very well” or “somewhat well,” or how white college-educated women flipped from Hillary to Trump. We didn’t think it was possible, but we came out of this election to learn that this country is crazier than ever. 

But where do we go from here? Instead of making predictions about what will happen in the short term, I want to reflect on these last four years of the Trump presidency to predict the long-term future. Not so much on his character, his corruption, or even some of his policies, I want the reader to focus on what Trump reveals about America. Because even if Biden will be our next president, the unexpected performance by the Republicans in this recent election indicates that the ideology that produced Trump is here to stay. And we will be spending our lifetime fighting it. 

Let’s take a step back and remember how we got here. In 2015, Donald Trump, a reality T.V. show host, wanted to run for president so he could get a raise from NBC. When the network removed him from his show, Trump decided to go along with the performance. Before long, he led in the polls for the Republican primary after making sexist and racist remarks. He defeated the entire Republican establishment to win the nomination and faced Hillary Clinton in the general election. Hillary garnered more of the popular vote, but thanks to the arcane rules of the electoral college, Trump won the presidency by carrying rustbelt states that typically voted Democrat. Through a comedy of errors, the most unqualified man who didn’t want to be president stumbled to the White House against the roadblocks put in place by the entire media and political apparatus.

From this perspective, it feels like Trump became president by accident. And thus, it is easy to dismiss these four years as merely the result of unfortunate circumstances. It is also tempting to think that everything is back to “normal” under Biden. 

But let’s now take a different perspective on how we got to where we are. In 2015, according to a Princeton study, “working-age white men and women without four-year college degrees were dying of suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related liver disease at unprecedented rates.” While midlife mortality rates were going down in other wealthy industrialized countries like the UK, Canada, and Germany, they rose in the United States. According to a Harvard study, 94% of the 10 million new jobs created since 2005 were temporary positions. Two-thirds of the U.S. would struggle to cover a $1,000 emergency. 42 million people throughout the nation suffered from hunger. And with the student debt bubble about to burst, 71 percent of all U.S. workers said they were in debt.

In this context, was it a mystery that the electorate revolted against the status quo? If it were not for Trump, some other demagogue would have emerged from the scene to exploit the crisis America is facing. While it may have been a twist of fate that placed the presidency in Trump’s particular lap, it is not a coincidence that fascism emerged in a nation that felt humiliated from its declining capitalist economy. 

There is a case to be made that fascism in Germany would never have taken over the country if it were not for the Great Depression and the Treaty of Versailles. Or that neo-Nazi groups today like the Golden Dawn in Greece would never have seen their popularity rise if it were not for the austerity measures that Greece was forced to endure by the European Troika. Racism and White Supremacy, of course, do not need economic stagnation to exist. But such stagnation is a fertilizer that grows these reactionary beliefs to a poisonous ideology that harvests mass public appeal. 

While there may be left-wing alternatives to a declining economy – like a Bernie Sanders-style New Deal populism – there is no question in my mind that the far-right alternatives will remain potent in American politics for a generation. The reason is what I call the Three Triggers of the Next Fascist Wave — three undeniable social-economic developments that will arise in the coming decades and will shape the way the right-wing will respond. 

The first development will be the end of a white majority in the United States. The second will come when the global number of Muslims overtakes Christians, making Islam the most popular religion in the world. And the third will be climate change.

Let’s examine the first trigger. The United States is expected to be a majority-minority country by 2050. Once white people are a minority, white privilege will have a whole new meaning. It will no longer have the status of being the “majority,” and the white voting bloc will have a much harder time overriding the democratic process. It is a loss of privilege: the guarantee that their race will always have some representation in power due to their strength in numbers. And throughout history, when the privileged class loses its status in any way, they react. 

For instance, within the Jewish population in Israel, higher birthrates among Palestinian Arabs has been a constant source of fear. This has led to efforts to preserve Israel as a majority “Jewish state” by encouraging more Jews to marry each other. (Think of the free Birthright Trips for American Jews funded by Sheldon Adelson.) And most critically, it has prevented Israelis from embracing a one-state solution because citizenship for Palestinians living within Israel’s borders would eliminate the Jewish majority. 

Israel’s recent history shows how the threat of what they call “the demographic time-bomb” is reflected in their politics. Israel used to be dominated by the center-left, with their first prime minister David Ben-Gurion and their first female prime minister Golda Meir being members of Labor Zionist parties. But as Israel’s demographics started to shift in the last few decades, Israeli voters have elected far-right leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu, who won reelection after reelection by stoking fears of Arab voters

We can already see how the United States is attempting to address its own “demographic time-bomb” with policies borrowed from Israel’s occupation of Palestine. For instance, when asked about the idea of building a wall at the Mexican border, Trump’s response was revealing: “Walls work,” he crowed, “just ask Israel.” Of course, Trump is referring to what critics call the “Apartheid Wall” in the West Bank that annexes land and prevents free movement for Palestinians. Apartheid is what fearful, privileged populations utilize to protect their status. Though Trump may leave the White House, calls for a wall on the southern border will undoubtedly return as large sections of White America grow more fearful of losing their majority.

Take this haunting exchange, which went viral back in 2016, between “Alt-Right” White Supremacist leader Richard Spencer and a Hillel Rabbi at Texas A&M University. It begins with the Rabbi asserting his religion is about accepting other peoples and asking for an open dialogue to teach Spencer about the values of “radical inclusion.” Spencer, however, responds: “Do you really want radical inclusion into the State of Israel? And by that, I mean radical inclusion. Maybe all of the Middle East could go move into Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Would you really want that?” The Rabbi was left speechless as Spencer went on to say, “Jews exist precisely because you did not assimilate. That is why Jews are a coherent people with a history and a culture and a future. It’s because you had a sense of yourselves. I respect that about you. I want my people to have that same sense of themselves.” 

Richard Spencer may now be on the fringe of the American political spectrum. But just as Israel slipped into the far-right, Spencer’s desire to preserve a white majority in the U.S. is likely to become a mainstream idea. Even those liberals who preach radical inclusion on the surface may, like Spencer’s interlocutor at A&M, balk at the idea when they realize that they are losing their majority status. 

Israel and the United States are not the only examples of what a frightened majority population may do. In Argentina, fears among the white majority of a growing Bolivian indigenous population have resulted in a crackdown on migrants. The Dominican Republic has carried out mass deportations of black Haitians, including those born in the country. One of the best sellers on Amazon right now under the category of immigration is the “Strange Death of Europe,” in which conservative writer Douglas Murray stokes fears about how Europe is becoming “unrecognizable.” It is already clear that white majorities in various countries worldwide do not want to lose their status. Similarly, it is not whether white people in the U.S. will react to their loss of status, but when. As global developments converge, it increasingly seems like the deadline will be sometime before the year 2050. 

Coinciding with the loss of the white majority in the U.S. is the second trigger: Islam becoming the world’s largest religion, overtaking Christianity by 2050. Fears of a “Clash of Civilizations” have existed since the 1990s. But since Trump’s Muslim ban, Islamaphobia is likely to play a more substantial role in American politics in the years to come. 

The global rise of Islam poses a threat to the cherished eschatology of the Christian Right in the U.S. This influential group believes Trump is a prophet from the Book of Revelations. And he has rewarded their unshakable loyalty with actions designed to fulfill their vision for the end of the world: The decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was, in Trump’s own words, “for the evangelicals… [who are] more excited by that than Jewish people.” And why is that? According to Pastor Nate Pyle, “What kick-starts the end times into motion is Israel’s political boundaries being reestablished to what God promised the Israelites according to the Bible.” The Christian Right believes it is their god that should have dominion over the world. They conclude that Jews will ultimately need to go to Israel and die so the Messiah can return. If this is the coveted destiny for a group with whom the Christian Right is now allied, one can only imagine how alarming Islam’s rise will be. They would rather see Armageddon than Islam take over as the dominant religion in the world.

It is not just Evangelical Christians who fear a growing Muslim population. Closeted racists from the left will also react and defect to the right. After 9/11, we heard not just conservative Evangelical commentators but also secular intellectual figures like Bill Maher, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins, raising the specter of a “Clash of Civilizations” between the West and the Islamic world. On his show, Real-Time, Bill Maher responded to the news that Mohammad was the most popular baby name in the U.K. by asking his panel, “Am I a racist to feel alarmed?” His audience neither cheered nor heckled – there was simply a silent hush that seemed to indicate an uncomfortable admission to Maher’s sentiments. 

When it comes to pondering the views of liberals towards Muslims, I cannot help but revisit the day the U.S. killed Osama Bin Laden. The vast majority of the U.S. population, including liberals, saw nothing wrong in sending armed forces to a Muslim country with whom we were not at war. Their approbation revealed, in my view, micro-Islamaphobia among the U.S. public. Undoubtedly, the violation of national sovereignty ruffled some liberal feathers, but not enough to prompt any meaningful condemnation. And we must ask if this reluctance was simply due to their elation at ridding the world of a terrorist or if it was equally due to a sense that the sovereignty of a Muslim nation could be more easily brushed aside. Muslim majority nations understand this double standard, and even before Trump’s Muslim ban, Islamaphobia has driven U.S foreign policy. Not just in Bin Laden’s death, but also the NSA surveillance program against Muslims, the bombing of Doctors Without Borders hospitals, and in the widespread support among the American public for the U.S. drone war program. It is only a matter of time before this foreign policy becomes domesticated with backing from both far-right religious fanatics and liberals. 

We now come to the third development likely to trigger a fascist response: climate change. The World Bank estimates that the climate crisis will lead to 143 million more people becoming “climate refugees” by 2050. The vast majority will come from Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia, with migrants fleeing from famine, droughts, superstorms, desertification, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, air pollution, rain pattern shifts, and biodiversity loss. Climate change will consequently act as a third trigger to fascism by complementing and accelerating the first two triggers – as refugees from the Global South are forced to move to white Christian states in the West. 

Trump himself may have been too stupid to make the connection between climate change and immigration. Still, factions within the far-right are already politically motivated to battle climate-related migration. Two mass shootings in 2019 – one in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the other in El Paso, Texas – provide extreme though sobering examples of how far people might go to combat demographic changes caused by the climate crisis. Although driven by hate for different groups, Muslims, and Mexican immigrants, respectively, both shootings had one thing in common. The shooters in both Christchurch and El Paso explicitly identified themselves with “Eco-fascism.” In a manifesto titled “Inconvenient Truth” (named after the Al Gore documentary), the El Paso assailant criticized American consumer culture for the destruction of the eco-system. “The environment is getting worse by the year,” he writes in his manifesto. “Most of y’all are just too stubborn to change your lifestyle. So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources. If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.” 

Although conservative commentators on the right have been in denial about climate change, Eco-fascists on the far-right understand almost more than anyone how climate change will result in real consequences. They are aware of the unimaginable catastrophic doom that the climate crisis will unleash. However, their solution is not to show compassion for climate victims but to embrace an “every-man-for-himself” policy, or “America First.” In a 2007 report on climate change’s security implications, former CIA Director R. James Woolsey predicted that “altruism and generosity would likely be blunted” on a much warmer planet. If there is a global scarcity of food and water, fascists will argue for the legitimacy of a survival-of-the-fittest approach. They are likely to gain mass public appeal and force progressives to make unsavory concessions. Imagine, for example, a Green New Deal jobs program with E-verify or a border wall equipped with solar panels. The Eco-fascists will attempt to widen their right-wing coalition with promises of economic stimulus to their cohort, at the expense of denying resources to all others. 

These three triggers of fascism are what we are facing in a post-Trump America. These last four years revealed that even without these three triggers, white America is already alarmed at the number of immigrants and Islam’s ascendency. The Republicans’ ability to keep control of the Senate, win down-ballot races, and gain more votes than Obama in 2008, indicates they are already in an excellent position to move their platform even further to the right and win a majority next time around. 

So what can we do now? I understand why people are celebrating Trump’s defeat. But like Osama Bin Laden’s death, it is not a victory that roots out the evil for good. Just as the so-called “War on Terror” didn’t end with Bin Laden’s death, our battle against fascism is far from over. It may have only just begun. 

We must stay organized. We must be prepared to defend our immigrant and Muslim brothers and sisters. We must realize that the four years of Trump is a prelude to what’s to come. Victory is not assured. But as the American socialist author, Chris Hedges writes: “I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists.”

James Taichi Collins is a “Zainichi” Korean-American, born and raised in Wakayama, Japan. He moved to the United States in 2012 to attend college at the University of Delaware, where he received his degree in Political Science and became a community organizer. He has since worked in various electoral races from Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s 2018 primary, to Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign in Iowa. James identifies as a socialist and currently resides in Astoria, Queens.

Leave a Reply