Reading, Watching 01.29.24
This is a regular feature for paid subscribers wherein I write a little about what I’ve been reading and/or watching recently. Hope you enjoy!
First off, Saturday was the three year anniversary of Unpopular Front. I just want to thank everyone for keeping it (and me) going. This all began as a very speculative little enterprise and I hardly dared to hope it would be as successful as it has become. Your interest, engagement, and support changed my life. So, once again, thanks for letting me do what I love!
My friend Rick Perlstein interviewed me for his new column The American Prospect. We chatted about the dreaded “fascism question.” A lot of regular readers here will be familiar with my whole schpiel there, but apparently Edward Luce of the Financial Times found our discussion compelling. Here’s what he wrote: “I have generally tended to dismiss comparisons between today’s right-wing populism and fascism. This excellent essay made me think twice.” Well, goshdarnit, Ed. He also has an opinion piece in that paper about Wall Street’s detente with Trump. Just to give you a flavor, this is how it starts:
The Financial Times had only nice things to say about Benito Mussolini in a June 1933 supplement entitled “The Renaissance of Italy: Fascism’s gift of order and progress”. Trains were running on time, investment was humming and friction between capital and labour was a thing of the past. “The country has been remodelled, rather than remade, under the vigorous architecture of its illustrious prime minister, Signor Mussolini,” wrote the FT’s special correspondent.
The 1930s ought to have buried the idea that business is a bulwark against autocracy. Today’s America offers a reminder. After Donald Trump’s attempted putsch on January 6 2021, US business leaders lined up to condemn the storming of Capitol Hill. Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan, issued a statement calling for a peaceful transition of power. “This is not who we are as a people or a country,” he said. In Davos last week, Dimon had changed his tune. Trump did many good things when he was in office, Dimon said. Business was ready for either Joe Biden or Trump: “My company will survive and thrive in both.”
Wall Street has much to hope for. A few years ago, I wrote about the relationship of the Trump administration to big business, where after looking at its policy and actions, I concluded, “Despite its populist or plebeian rhetoric, Trumpism basically was a system of directly resolving the issues of capital through the power of the executive. This came at the expense of even the small businesses who viewed Trump as their champion.”
If you are not a regular reader or are just forgetful, it may be worth briefly recapping my argument that there’s something a little fascist about Trumpism. It involves:
The rhetoric and fantasy of wounded nationalism, of national decline and decadence caused by racial impurity (“poisoning the blood and the fecklessness of liberal elites, and a promise of their permanent vanquishment and subsequent national regeneration.
The celebration of action and movement for its own sake; The declaration of unique historical importance and grandeur of the movement.
A charismatic leader; a “providential man” around whom an often literally messianic cult of personality has developed.
A populist attack on the political establishment that has melded itself to that same establishment as conservative elites’ compromise with the movement, seeing in it the only “popular punch” amid declining interest in their program.
The attempted employment of paramilitaries and mobs to intimidate politicians and overthrow the liberal democratic order.
You could also make a list of things that differentiate Trump from fascism, the lack of organized party structures, and the creation of a replacement state—an alternate bureaucracy—within that party, and so forth, but the five features above seem to signal “close enough” to me, at least.