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Guest columnist Vijay Prashad: Fascism in the age of digital reproduction

  • In this Tuesday, March 20, 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump holds a chart highlighting arms sales to Saudi Arabia during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. AP photo

  • Jair Bolsonaro arrives to cast his vote in the presidential runoff election in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday. Ricardo Moraes/Pool Photo via AP



Tuesday, October 30, 2018

You blame Trump for everything. I admit: It is hard to disagree with you. He is a disagreeable person. There is the sexism and the predatory behavior. There is also the racism and the transphobia. Add to that his acidic rhetoric, the grisly way in which he dismisses all that he dislikes. But then again, there is more to Trump than meets the bile duct. He’s so ordinary these days. So unoriginal.

Our world is suffocated by monsters. Few countries are immune to their emergence. Brazil just elected a man worse than Trump, more reckless in his rhetoric and more dangerous with violence. Jair Bolsonaro has openly called for the execution of Afro-Brazilians, the LGBTQ community, leftists, anyone whom he dislikes. Bolsonaro also wants to cut down part of the Amazon rainforest — a sure way to hasten the annihilation of the planet. He looks back at Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985) with nostalgia. What was wrong with the dictatorship, he is asked? They did not kill enough people, he answers.

Then there is India’s Narendra Modi, the prime minister who oversaw the massacre of 3,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. And Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines who believes that the murder of thousands of criminals is the way to cleanse Filipino society. Or Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who believes the best place for a journalist is in prison. Or the King and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, who have not only pursued a genocidal war against Yemen but have recently been caught out in the assassination of a journalist. Then there is Viktor Orban, who would like to build a giant wall around Hungary and who uses fear as the glue for Hungarian nationalism. Orban is one of the many Euro-fascists who litter the continent from Holland to Austria.

What defines these neo-fascists is not their attitude to this socially vulnerable population or that one. It is their attitude towards desolation. No doubt that over the course of the past 40 years, economic inequality has grown and despair has increased. No doubt that older ideas are now faded — ideas of privatization, of training us into entrepreneurs for a fast-paced ideas economy. Success has eluded most of us. Instead, we are overworked and underpaid, precariously employed and socially exhausted. A small number took all the gains, and the rest of us sit on the edge of economic and social bankruptcy. These neo-fascists came to us with new and cruel ideas — blame the socially vulnerable. Blame the migrants, for it is they who take your jobs. Blame the gays and lesbians, for it is they who have maligned your social order. Blame someone who does not control the world, for even if you can’t improve your life, you can feel bigger and better than them.

Duterte and Bolsonaro, Trump and Modi — these are not unique people. They are caricatures of each other. Tough men who believe that they will take society by the throat and make it cough out jobs, build walls to purify their social worlds and make women do what they think women must do. This is fascism in the age of digital reproduction — carbon copies of men who throw their weight about, turn desolation into venom and then sit back and talk of the ugliness of human nature.

You believe that electoral democracy is the antidote to Trump. But there is a problem that democracy has not yet overcome: that hate is a more powerful emotion in a democracy than love. It is so easy to appeal to the worst human instincts, to turn neighbors against each other and to allow testosterone to become the campaign’s fuel. It is an old magician’s trick, the trick of the eye, an optical illusion: Don’t look at your fading bank balance, but look over there at a caravan of desperate people who are leaving their countries destroyed by war and climate change and heading toward your home. Don’t look into their eyes, for if you do, then you will see humanity. Instead, look at them as an indistinguishable mass — and fear them or, better yet, hate them. Democracy facilitates this.

So much more is needed than the ballot box. More social organization, more new projects for new ways to live. It is not credible to talk in the language of entrepreneurialism and privatization. None of this is appealing. More realistic to talk of relieving the burdens of family budgets by universal health care and universal public education, by a wider array of public options for transportation that go through more green spaces and toward community centers and ecological cooperatives. Nothing like being outlandish in proposing new projects that make a mockery of the suffocating ideas of the neo-fascists. Not just Trump, but also those who are his doubles: the Orbans and the Dutertes, the Modis and the Bolsonaros.

​​​​​​Vijay Prashad is the Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. His most recent book is an edited volume, “Strongmen,” with essays by Eve Ensler (on Trump), Burhan Sönmez (on Erdogan), Ninotschka Rosca (on Duterte), Danish Husain (on Modi) and Lara Vapnyar (on Putin). He lives in Northampton.