It is clear what Trump represents: a gestational, proto-fascism that has been harnessed in the wake of an emboldened ethnonationalism across the Atlantic. Fascism is what capitalism traditionally exploited by emulating mass movements when threatened by steady left-wing movements and organized labor. Neither endangers capitalism today; instead, the crisis is strictly in-house. The liberal capitalist social order, as it successfully globalized with all its inherent contradictions, turned on itself by exceeding the biospheric limits available to it, hunting for systemic adversaries to devour. This is a truly nihilistic fascism.
In the context of the rotting corpse of a venal and inept technocracy, demagoguery markets itself as a slick product, while pandering to primordial impulses, tapping into resentment, and promising to avenge the downtrodden when all it really is doing is recalibrating its alliances with the elite. Gesturing towards prejudices on the margins, it plays to those constituents who do not trust government and its liberal-dominated media landscape. Libidinal fantasies that shocked and satisfied in equal measure are channelled into muscular resistance against political correctness, racial and religious pluralism, and reptilian-scaled globalists (not to forget their ‘cuckservative’ bedfellows).
By manipulating disenchantment through calculated opportunism in a realm of post-truth where facts are subjective, what Trump lacked in substance he amply made up for with a nauseating exhibition of power pornography, virility and machismo. More than any other American presidential candidate in recent memory, Trump understood the ideological power of politics as aesthetics. This is nothing new: Walter Benjamin notably detected in his 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” that fascism particularly relies on the aestheticization of politics. As Benjamin diagnoses:
“Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.”
Accordingly, fascism employs the latest technology in order to ignite the imagination of the masses through various symbolic currents, be it the fetishization of power, the virtue of violence, and national martyrdom. Fast forward to the present landscape: our postmodern cultural logic dictates meaning and facts are inherently flexible and only accountable to subjective interpretation. In this context, the aestheticization of politics becomes even more accessible, and Trump – the postmodern candidate par excellence – ultimately thrived on it.
Perhaps the threat of fascism in 21st-century America is more attuned to Huxley’s state-mandated addiction in Brave New World than Orwell’s iron-boot in 1984. As the hyper-real blurs evermore into a narcissistic narcosis by our meta-addiction to all things digital, the spectacle continues to reign supreme. And in the case of Trump, the spectacle was utterly triumphant.