by Henry A. Giroux
“Ignorance is Strength.”
— George Orwell
( February 8, 2017, Boston, Sri Lanka Guardian) In a strange but revealing way, popular culture and politics intersected soon after Trump first assumed the presidency of the United States. On the side of popular culture, George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, surged as the number one best seller on Amazon both in the United States and Canada. This followed two significant political events. First, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s advisor, echoing the linguistic inventions of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, coined the term “alternative facts” to justify why press secretary Sean Spicer lied in advancing disproved claims about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd. Second, almost within hours of his presidency, Trump penned a series of executive orders that compelled Adam Gopnik, a writer for The New Yorker, to rethink the relevance of 1984. He had to go back to Orwell’s book, he writes, “Because the single most striking thing about [Trump’s] matchlessly strange first week is how primitive, atavistic and uncomplicatedly brutal Trump’s brand of authoritarianism is turning out to be.”
In this amalgam of Trump’s blatant contempt for the truth, his willingness to embrace a blend of taunts and threats in his inaugural address, and his eagerness to enact a surge of regressive executive orders, the ghost of fascism reasserts itself with a familiar blend of fear and revenge. Unleashing promises he had made to his angry, die-hard ultranationalist and white supremacist supporters, Trump targeted a range of groups whom he believes have no place in American society. These include Muslims, Syrian refugees and undocumented immigrants, whom he has targeted with a number of harsh discriminatory policies. The underlying cruelty, ignorance and punishing, if not criminogenic, intent behind such policies was made all the clearer when Trump suggested that he intended to roll back a wide range of environmental protections. He asserted his willingness to resume the practice of state-sponsored torture and deny funding to those cities willing to provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.
Trump reaffirmed his promise to lift the US ban on torture by appointing Gina Haspel as the new CIA deputy director. Haspel not only played a direct role in overseeing the torture of detainees at a black site in Thailand, she also participated in the destruction of videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations. Trump’s enthusiasm for committing war crimes was matched by his willingness to roll back many of the regulatory restrictions put in place by the Obama administration in order to prevent the financial industries from repeating the economic crisis of 2008. In Trump’s worldview, there exists no contradiction between the principles and ideals of a democracy, on the one hand, and implementing state-sponsored torture, running “black sites” and waging an assault on poor people, immigrants, health care and the environment.
And this is just the beginning. The ruling elites, banks and other major financial institutions now find their savior in Trump as they will receive more tax cuts and happily embrace the loosening of government regulations, while their greed spins out of control. Should we be surprised?
The memory of totalitarianism, with its demand for simplistic answers, intoxication with spectacles of vulgarity, and a desire for strong leaders, has faded in a society beset by a culture of immediacy, sensations and civic illiteracy. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to underestimate the depth and tragedy of the collapse of civic culture and democratic public spheres, especially given the profound influences of a permanent war culture that trades in fear, and the ever-present seductions of consumerism, which breeds depoliticization and infantilism.
Another shocking and revelatory indication of the repressive fist of neo-fascism in the Trump regime took place when Trump’s chief White House right-wing strategist, Steve Bannon, stated in an interview that “the media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while…. You’re the opposition party. Not the Democratic Party…. The media is the opposition party. They don’t understand the country.” This is more than an off-the-cuff angry comment. It is a blatant refusal to see the essential role of a robust and critical media in a democracy. Such comments suggest not only a war on the press, but the very real threat of suppressing dissent, if not democracy itself. Unsurprisingly, Bannon referred to himself in the interview as “Darth Vader.” A more appropriate comparison would have been to Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in the Third Reich.
What is clear is that the dire times that haunt the current age no longer appear as merely an impending threat. They have materialized with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Trump and his administration of extremists epitomize the dire dangers posed by those who longed to rule American society without resistance, dominate its major political parties, and secure uncontested control of its commanding political, cultural and economic institutions. The consolidation of power and wealth in the hands of the financial elite along with the savagery and misery that signifies their politics is no longer the stuff of Hollywood films, such as Wall Street and American Psycho. If George W. Bush’s reign of fearmongering, greed and war on terror embodied the values of a kind of militarized Gordon Gekko, Trump represents the metamorphosis of Gekko into the ethically neutered Patrick Bateman. Yet, Trump’s ascent to the highest office in America is already being normalized by numerous pundits and politicians who are asking the American public to give Trump a chance or are suggesting that the power and demands of the presidency will place some restraints on his unrestrained impetuousness and often unpredictable behavior. Those members of Congress who railed against both Obama’s alleged imperial use of executive orders and later, during the Republican primaries, denounced Trump as unfit for office now exhibit a level of passivity and lack of moral courage that testifies to their complicity with the dark shadow of authoritarianism.
Wrongheaded Calls to “Give Trump a Chance”
As might be expected, a range of supine politicians, media pundits and mainstream journalists are already tying themselves in what Tom Engelhardt calls “apologetic knots” while they “desperately look for signs that Donald Trump will be a pragmatic, recognizable American president once he takes the mantle of power.”As comedian John Oliver pointed out on his show, “Last Week Tonight,” Trump is not ordinary and his politics forebode the storm clouds of an American version of authoritarianism. Oliver brought his point home by shouting repeatedly “This is not normal,” and, of course, he is right! It is even more surprising that Lesley Stahl’s “60 Minutes” interview with Trump portrayed him less as a demagogue than as a transformed politician who was “subdued and serious.” In addition, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported approvingly upon the transition, as if proposed White House counselor Steve Bannon and proposed attorney general Jeff Sessions, two men with racism in their pasts, were ordinary appointments. High-profile celebrity, Oprah Winfrey, stated without irony, in an interview with “Entertainment Tonight” that “I just saw President-elect Trump with President Obama in the White House, and it gave me hope.” This is quite a stretch given Trump’s history of racist practices, his racist remarks about Blacks, Muslims and Mexican immigrants during the primary and the presidential campaigns, and his appointment of a number of cabinet members who embrace a white nationalist ideology. The New York Times’s opinion writer, Nicholas Kristof, sabotaged his self-proclaimed liberal belief system by noting, in what appears to be acute lapse of judgment, that Americans should “Grit [their] teeth and give Trump a chance.” Bill Gates made clear his own and often hidden reactionary worldview when speaking on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” The Microsoft cofounder slipped into a fog of self-delusion by stating that Trump had the potential to emulate JFK by establishing an upbeat and desirable mode of “leadership through innovation.”
Such actions by the mainstream media and such highly visible pundits not only point to a retreat from responsible reporting and discourse, and a flight from any vestige of social responsibility, they also further the collapse of serious journalism and thoughtful reasoning into the corrupt world of a corporate-controlled media empire and an infantilizing celebrity culture. Normalizing the Trump regime does more than sabotage the truth, moral responsibility and justice; it also diminishes and sidelines the democratic institutions necessary for a future of well-being and economic and political justice. New York Times columnist Charles Blow observes insightfully that under a Trump administration:
The nation is soon to be under the aegis of an unstable, unqualified, undignified demagogue [who surrounds] himself with a rogue’s gallery of white supremacy sympathizers, anti-Muslim extremists, devout conspiracy theorists, anti-science doctrinaires and climate change deniers…. This is not normal [and] I happen to believe that history will judge kindly those who continued to shout, from the rooftops, through own weariness and against the corrosive drift of conformity.
Blow is right. Any talk of working with a president who has surrounded himself with militarists, racists, neo-fascists, anti-intellectuals and neoliberal fundamentalists should be resisted at all cost. It is well worth remembering that Trump chose Steve Bannon, a notorious anti-Semite and white supremacist to occupy the center of power in the White House. As Reuters reported, “White supremacists and neo-Nazis have rarely, if ever, in recent history been so enthusiastic about a presidential appointment as Donald Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon to be his chief White House strategist.” Trump has also surrounded himself with militarists and corporate ideologues who fantasize about destroying all vestiges of the welfare state and the institutions that produce the public values that support the social contract. Neal Gabler argues that the normalizing of Trump by the mainstream media is about more than the dereliction of journalistic duty. In his piece “And So It Begins: Normalizing the Election,” he writes:
Far more serious is their normalization not of Trump but of his voters. The former is typical cowardice under threat of reactionary populism. The latter is an endorsement of reactionary populism that may have far-reaching consequences for whether the country can ever be reunited after having been torn asunder.
Normalization is code for a retreat from any sense of moral and political responsibility, and it should be viewed as an act of political complicity with authoritarianism and condemned outright. What is being propagated by Trump’s apologists is not only a reactionary popularism and some fundamental tenets of an American-style authoritarianism, but also a shameless whitewashing of the racism and authoritarianism at the center of Trump’s politics. In addition, little has been said about how Trump and his coterie of semi-delusional, if not heartless, advisors embrace a version of Ayn Rand’s view that selfishness, war against all competition and unchecked self-interest are the highest human ideals. In addition, arguments in defense of such normalization appear to overlook with facile indifference how the rhetoric of authoritarianism has become normalized in many parts of the world, to grave effect, and that the Trump administration has clearly demonstrated an affinity with that sort of hateful rhetoric. How else to explain the support that Trump has received from a number of ruthless dictators who head reactionary governments, such as the Philippines, Turkey and Egypt, among others? Such a danger is all the more ominous given the current collapse of civic literacy and the general public’s increasing inability to deal with complex issues on one hand, and the attempt, on the other hand, by those who maintain power to ruthlessly promote a depoliticizing discourse of lies, simplicity and manufactured distortions.
Ominous Echoes of a Totalitarian Past
The United States has entered a new historical conjuncture that echoes elements of a totalitarian past. Hannah Arendt, Sheldon Wolin and Robert Paxton, the great theorists of totalitarianism, believed that the fluctuating elements of fascism are still with us and that as long as they are, they will crystalize in different forms. Far from being fixed in a frozen moment of historical terror, these theorists believed that totalitarianism not only “heralds as a possible model for the future” but that its “protean origins are still with us.” Arendt, in particular, was keenly aware that a culture of fear, the dismantling of civil and political rights, the ongoing militarization of society, the attack on labor, an obsession with national security, human rights abuses, the emergence of a police state, a deeply rooted racism and the attempts by demagogues to undermine education as a foundation for producing critical citizenry were all at work in American society. Historical conjunctures produce different forms of authoritarianism, though they all share a hatred for democracy, dissent and human rights. More recently, Robert Paxton in his seminal work, The Anatomy of Fascism, provides a working definition of fascism that points to both its anti-democratic moments and those elements that link it to both the past and the present. Paxton’s point is not to provide a precise definition of fascism but to understand the conditions that enabled fascism to work and make possible its development in the future. Accordingly, he argues that fascism is:
A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints, goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
It is too easy to believe in a simplistic binary logic that strictly categorizes a country as either authoritarian or democratic and leaves no room for entertaining the possibility of a mixture of both systems. American politics today suggests a more updated if not different form of authoritarianism or what might be called the curse of totalitarianism. In Trump’s America, there are strong echoes of the fascism that developed in Europe in the 1920s and 30s. For instance, there are resemblances to a fascist script in Trump’s scapegoating of the “other;” his claim that the United States is in a period of decline; his call to “Make America Great Again;” his blatant appeal to ultra-nationalism; his portrayal of himself as a strongman who alone can save the country; his appeal to aggression and violence aimed at those who disagree with him; his contempt for dissent; his deep-rooted anti-intellectualism, or what Arendt called “thoughtlessness” (i.e., denial that climate change is produced by humans) coupled with his elevation of instinct and emotion over reason; his appeal to xenophobia, national greatness and support for a politics of disposability; his courting of anti-Semites and white supremacists; his flirtation with the discourse of racial purity; his support for a white Christian public sphere; his use of a kind of verbal waterboarding to denigrate Muslims, Blacks, undocumented immigrants and women’s reproductive rights; his contempt for weakness and his enthusiasm for hyper-masculinity.
Trump’s totalitarian mindset was on full display both during his inaugural speech and in his actions during his first few days in office. In the first instance, he presented a dystopian view of American society laced with racist stereotyping, xenophobia and the discourse of ultra- nationalism. Frank Rich called the language of the speech “violent and angry — ‘This American carnage stops right here’ — reeking of animosity, if not outright hatred [and that] the tone was one of retribution and revenge.” As soon as the speech ended, the normalizing process began with the expected tortured clichés from various Fox News commentators calling it “muscular,” “unifying,” “very forceful,” “just masterful,” and Charles Krauthammer stating that it was “completely nonpartisan.” The fog of self-delusion and denial was in full swing at CNN when the historian Douglas Brinkley called Trump’s inaugural address not only “presidential” but “solid and well-written” and the “best speech” Trump has made “in his life.”
Once in the Oval Office, Trump not only enacted measures to facilitate building a wall on the Mexican border and prevent people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, he also cleared the way for resurrecting the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Trump’s broader assault on environmental protections is indicative of his disregard for the rights of the Native Americans who protested the building of a pipeline that both crossed their sacred burial lands and posed a risk to contaminating the Missouri River, which is the primary water source for the Standing Rock Sioux. In response to Trump’s inaugural address and early policy measures, Roger Cohen, a columnist for The New York Times, wrote a forceful commentary suggesting that Trump’s neo-fascist tendencies were on full display and that his presence in American politics contains echoes of former dictators and augurs badly for American democracy. He argued:
But the first days of the Trump presidency … pushed me over the top. The president is playing with fire. To say, as he did, that the elected representatives of American democracy are worthless and that the people are everything is to lay the foundations of totalitarianism. It is to say that democratic institutions are irrelevant and all that counts is the great leader and the masses he arouses. To speak of “American carnage” is to deploy the dangerous lexicon of blood, soil and nation. To boast of “a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before” is to demonstrate consuming megalomania. To declaim “America first” and again, “America first,” is to recall the darkest clarion calls of nationalist dictators. To exalt protectionism is to risk a return to a world of barriers and confrontation. To utter falsehood after falsehood, directly or through a spokesman, is to foster the disorientation that makes crowds susceptible to the delusions of strongmen.
The grave period Americans are about to enter into under a Trump regime cannot be understood without an acknowledgement of the echoes of a totalitarian past. With Trump’s election, the crisis of politics is accompanied by a crisis of historical conscience, memory, ethics and agency exacerbated by an appeal to a notion of common sense in which facts are regarded with disdain, words reduced to slogans, and science confused with pseudo-science. Under such circumstances, language is emptied of any meaning and constitutes a flight from ethics, justice and social responsibility. As language rapidly loses meaning, the American public is inundated with empty slogans such as “post-truth” and “fake news.” This culture is part of what Todd Gitlin calls “an interlocking ecology of falsification that has driven the country around the bend.” Against the background of an infantilizing culture of immediacy, spectacle and sensationalism, Trump will govern as if he is running a reality TV show, endlessly performing for an increasingly depoliticized public. But there are more dangers ahead than the toxic seduction of politics as theater and the transformation of the mainstream media as an adjunct of the entertainment industry or for that matter, a growing distrust of democracy itself.
The Complicity of the Media and Attacks on the Press
Under casino capital, the alleged celebration of the principle of a free press hides more than it promises. Noam Chomsky, Bill Moyers and Robert McChesney, among others, have observed that the mainstream media now work in conjunction with the financial elite and the military-industrial-academic complex as an echo chamber while further indulging in the rituals of shock, celebrity culture and spectacularized violence in order to increase their ratings. Earlier this year, CBS CEO Les Moonves stated that his network’s inordinate and disastrous coverage of Trump “may not be good for America but it’s damn good for CBS.” Moonves openly gloated not only because the network was pumping up its ratings but was also getting rich by inordinately covering Trump’s presidential campaign. As he put it, [T]he money’s rolling in … [T]his is going to be a very good year for us…. It’s a terrible thing to say, but bring it on, Donald. Go ahead. Keep going.” Moonves made it clear that the power of mainstream media in general has little to do with either pursuing the truth or holding power accountable. On the contrary, its real purpose was to normalize corruption, lies, misrepresentation, accumulate capital and allow the transformation of the press to become an adjunct of authoritarian ideologies, policies, interests and commodified values — if that is what it takes to increase their profit margins.
Normalization is about more than dominant media outlets being complicit with corrupt power or willfully retreating from any sense of social responsibility; it is also about aiding and abetting power in order to increase the bottom line and accumulate other cowardly forms of power and recognition. This is evident in the fact that some powerful elements of the mainstream press not only refused to take Trump seriously, they also concocted embarrassing rationales for not holding him to any viable sense of accountability. For instance, Gerard Baker, the editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, publicly announced that in the future he would not allow his reporters to use the word “lie” in their coverage. NPR also issued a statement arguing that it would not use the word “lie” on the grounds that “the minute you start branding things with a word like ‘lie,’ you push people away from you.” In this truly Orwellian comment, NPR is suggesting that calling out lies on the part of governments and politicians should be avoided by the media on the grounds that people might be annoyed by having to face the contradiction between the truth and misinformation. This is more than a retreat from journalism’s goal of holding people, institutions and power to some measure of justice; it also legitimizes the kind of political and moral cowardice that undermines informed resistance, the first amendment and the truth. While such actions may not rise to the level of book burning that was characteristic of various fascist and authoritarian regimes in the past, it does mark a distinctive retreat from historical memory and civic courage that serves to normalize such actions by making dissent appear, at best, unreasonable and at worst, an act of treason.
Such actions become apparent in efforts by the mainstream press to rage against the rise of “fake news,” suggesting that by doing so, their integrity cannot be questioned. Of course, the term “fake news” is slippery and can be deployed to political ends — a maneuver which is on full display particularly when used by Trump and his merry band of liars to dismiss anyone or any organization that holds him accountable for his fabrications. Hence, there were no surprises when Trump at his first president-elect press conference refused not only to take questions from a CNN reporter because his network had published material critical of Trump but also justified his refusal by labeling CNN as fake news — reducing the term to a slogan used to silence the press. Clearly, we will see more of this type of bullying repression and censorship, and traditional democratic public spheres, such as higher education, will also feel the brunt of such an attack.
Any analysis of the forces behind the normalization of the Trump administration and its assault on the truth, if not democracy itself, must include the powerful role of the conservative media in the United States. Former conservative radio talk show host Charles Sykes recently published a remarkable op-ed arguing that over the last few decades, right-wing media played a major role in discrediting and delegitimizing the fact-based media. In doing so, it destroyed “much of the right’s immunity to false information.” According to Sykes, conservatives, including himself, created a “new post-factual political culture” that has become so powerful that even when the Trump administration is caught lying, it does so with impunity because it believes that “the alternative-reality media will provide air cover” that allows it to pollute “political discourse” and discredit “independent sources of information.”
Evidence of this major assault on truth can be measured in part by the magnitude of the lies the administration produces, which are truly Orwellian. For instance, Kellyanne Conway attempted recently to justify Trump’s executive order banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries by referring to what she called the “Bowling Green massacre, an alleged terrorist attack by Iraqi refugees that was to have taken place in 2011. According to Conway, Obama instituted a six-month ban on Iraqi resettlements. The attack never happened, no Iraqis were involved and the Obama administration never instituted such a ban. It gets worse. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently claimed that Iran had committed an act of war by attacking a US Naval vessel. That never happened. What did happen is that a Saudi ship off the coast of Yemen was attacked by Houthi rebels.
Normalization has many registers and one of the most important is the control by the financial elite over commanding cultural apparatuses that produce, legitimize and distribute highly selective media narratives that shore up the most reactionary ideologies and financial interests. The mainstream press says little about how such actions serve as an apology for the egregiously reactionary nature of Trump’s ideology and policies. Moreover, they fail to note how distortions of the truth, the endless production of lies by governments, politicians and corporations, along with the media’s flight from civic literacy, serve to bolster authoritarian societies willing to distort the truth while simultaneously suppressing dissent. Under such circumstances, it should not be surprising that Trump’s authoritarian and hateful discourse, threats of violence, loathing of dissent and racist attitudes toward Muslims, Blacks and Mexican immigrants are downplayed in the mainstream media. These structured silences have become more and more apparent given the benign manner in which the supine press and its legion of enervated anti-public intellectuals and pundits treat Trump’s endless nighttime Twitter outpourings and his incessant choreographed public fabrications.
For instance, The Wall Street Journal’s refusal to address critically Trump’s endless lies and insults is matched by the highbrow New Yorker’s publishing of a piece on Trump that largely celebrates uncritically how he is viewed by conservative intellectuals, such as Hillsdale College president, Larry Arnn. Arnn supports Trump because he shares his view that “the government has become dangerous.” If Arnn were referring to the rise of the surveillance and permanent war state, it would be hard to disagree with him. Instead, he was referring to the government’s enforcement of “runaway regulations.” What Arnn and Kelefa Sanneh, the author of the New Yorker article, ignore or conveniently forget is the fact that the real danger the government poses is the result of it being in the hands of demagogues, such as Trump, who are truly dangerous and threaten the planet, American society and the rest of the world. When Kelefa Sanneh mentions Trump’s connection to the “alt-right,” he underplays the group’s fascist ideology and refuses to use the term “white supremacist” in talking about such groups, reverting instead to the innocuous-sounding term, “white identity politics.” Trump’s misogyny, racism, anti-intellectualism, Islamophobia and hatred of democracy are barely mentioned. Sanneh even goes so far as to suggest that since Trump has disavowed the “alt-right,” his connection to neo-fascist groups is tenuous. This is more than an apology dressed up in the discourse of ambiguity; such reporting is a shameful retreat from journalistic integrity — an assault on the truth that constitutes an egregious act of normalization. This is only one example of what is surely to come in the future under Trump’s rule.
The Hard Road Ahead
Under Trump’s regime of economic, religious, educational and political fundamentalism, compassion and respect for the other will almost certainly be viewed with contempt while society will increasingly become more militarized and financial capital will likely be deregulated in order to be free to engage in behaviors that put the American public and planet in danger. A form of social and historical amnesia appears set to descend over American society. A culture of civic illiteracy will likely be produced and legitimated along with a culture of fear that will enable a harsh law and order regime.
Policies will almost certainly be enacted in which public goods, such as schools, will be privatized, and a culture of greed and selfishness will be elevated to new heights of celebration. There will likely be a further retreat from civic literacy, civic courage and social responsibility, one matched by a growing abandonment by the state of any allegiance to the common good. Fear and the threat of state violence are threatening to shape how problems are addressed, and a growing culture of dissent may soon be ruthlessly suppressed in all of the public spheres in which it has functioned in the past. The free-market mentality that gained prominence under the presidency of Ronald Reagan will likely accelerate under the Trump administration and continue to drive politics, destroy many social protections, celebrate a hyper-competitiveness and deregulate economic activity. Under Donald Trump’s reign, almost all human activities, practices and institutions are at risk of becoming subject to market principles and militarized. The only relations that matter will likely be defined in commercial terms, just as civil society will be organized for the production of violence.
It is most likely that the most dangerous powers of the state will be unleashed under Trump against protesters, Black people, Muslims and undocumented immigrants. They will also be unleashed against the environment and against public and higher education. Surely, all the signs are in place given the coterie of billionaires, generals, warmongers, Islamophobes, neoliberal cheerleaders and anti-public demagogues Trump has appointed to high-ranking government positions. Americans may be on the verge of witnessing how democracy ends and this is precisely why Trump’s election as the president of the United States must not be normalized.
Trump’s repressive and poisonous attitudes and authoritarian policies will not change his role as president. If his first two weeks in office are any indication, he plans to consolidate his power and will be more reckless than he was during the primaries and presidential campaigns. Trump’s narcissism, indifference to the truth and intensive use of the spectacle will further increase his view of himself and his policies as unaccountable, especially as he institutes a mode of governance that suppresses the opposition and deals with his audience directly through the social media.
Fortunately, a number of diverse groups, including unions, immigrant rights groups, anti-fascist organizations, Black liberation groups, congregations and faith-based organizations, legal coalitions and reproductive rights groups, along with teachers, actors and artists are organizing to protest Trump’s neo-fascist ideology and policies. As George Yancy pointed out to me in a personal correspondence, such actions are unique in that they make the political more pedagogical by elevating protests, modes of resistance and criticism to the level of the cultural rather than allowing such criticism to reside in the voice and presence of isolated, prophetic intellectuals. Moreover, a number of independent publications, along with various public intellectuals, such as Anthony DiMaggio, Robin Kelley and members of the Black Lives Matter Movement, are producing instructive articles on both the nature of resistance and what forms it might take.
The current onslaught of revenge and destruction produced by Trump’s updated version of authoritarianism is glaringly visible and deeply brutal, and points to a bleak future in the most immediate sense. We live at a time in which totalitarian forms are with us again. US society is no longer at the tipping point of authoritarianism; we are in the midst of what Hannah Arendt called “dark times.” Individual and collective resistance is the only hope we have to move beyond this ominous moment in our history. Fortunately, the arrogant presence of this neo-fascist regime is not going entirely unchecked: The great collective power of resistance has ignited. Hope and a sense of humanity are in the air and the relevance of mass action has a renewed urgency. Demonstrations are taking place every day; some mayors are refusing to allow their cities to be placed under Nazi influence; and marginalized people and their co-strugglers are marching in record-breaking numbers to protect their rights. This resistance will continue to grow until it becomes a movement whose power is on the side of justice not injustice, bridges not walls, dignity not disrespect, compassion not hate. Let’s hope this resistance will dispel Orwell’s nightmarish vision of the future in our own time.
Note: This piece draws on some ideas that appeared first in “Normalizing Trump’s Authoritarianism Is Not an Option,” an article published by Tikkun Magazine on January 19, 2017.
Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and dis the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His most recent books are America’s Addiction to Terrorism (Monthly Review Press, 2016) and America at War with Itself (City Lights, 2017). He is also a contributing editor to a number of journals, including Tikkun, the Journal of Wild Culture and Ragazine.