Among the chants that rang out as thousands took to the streets in anti-Trump marches in cities and towns across Britain on Monday night was: ‘This is what democracy looks like!’
Indeed. And it was heartening to be part of it. Even Oxford, not known for its febrile political culture, massed thousands in a speedy response to two things: President Donald Trump’s travel ban on all citizens from seven mainly Muslim states, and British Prime Minister Theresa May’s promise of a state visit (Queen, pomp and circumstance included) to the new US leader.
The 90-day travel ban, officially on the grounds of protecting Americans from terrorism, demonizes a specific group of people on the basis of race and religion and effectively calls open season on Muslims. It is also without logic. Syria, Iran and Iraq are among the countries included but not Saudi Arabia, which provided most of the bombers for 9/11 – still the biggest terrorist attack the US has ever suffered.
Over the weekend we witnessed the pain and suffering of people, many of them refugees, affected by the US president’s brutal and suddenly imposed executive order. That the chaotic order was made on Holocaust Day was not lost on many observers.
But we still seem reluctant to say, of the politics emerging from the White House, that: ‘This is what fascism looks like!’
Now trying to define fascism is a tricky and highly contentious activity. But a quick survey of around 20 different political and philosophical attempts to do so reveals that Donald Trump meets the criteria of a fascist leader (pudgy) hands down.
In the first few days of his presidency, the fascist rhetoric has turned into reality. The scapegoating and apocalyptic fearmongering that fuels fascism has not toned down with high office. Trump’s wish to bring back torture is a clear indication of repressive intent. The similarities with Nazi Germany in its early days are too chilling to ignore.
But if you use ‘fascist’ to describe Trump – or indeed any of the other nationalist leaders on the rise in Europe (including Britain) – you are likely to be accused of hyperbole.
Part of the problem is that the word has been overused, especially by some on the Left, to insult anything they don’t like. But when you see an actual wolf in the henhouse, it’s necessary to cry out that this is what you are seeing – rather than quietly say that there’s a greyish-sort-of-a-dog about.
It may be semantics but what we call things matters. One of the most destructive effects of the machinery of fascism is that if you do not properly identify it and take a stand against it, you can easily become a part of it – especially if you do not, at this moment, belong to a group that is being targeted.
Those who lick the boots (let’s be polite) of fascists – say, in the quest of a post-Brexit trade deal, or to protect a ‘special relationship’ – need to have no illusions about what they are doing.
Identifying Trump as a fascist puts on the spot those who are doing his bidding, and gives due credit to those who follow their conscience and refuse to obey, as he makes his way through the list of targets – Muslims, women, sexual minorities – whose rights and freedoms are to be assailed.
Hitler was democratically elected. Say it three times, à la Trump. The trouble was not enough people, at the time, saw the monstrosity of his hate-fuelled politics and where they could lead. Not enough people took a stand at the time – or in time.
This is why immediacy and numbers matter – whatever the armchair cynics at the BBC say about the pointlessness of protest.
We need to be out there on the streets wherever in the world we live; clogging the system with our petitions; holding politicians, officials, corporations to account; agitating at every point and turn.
This is a critical moment in history. The good news is that we are alive to do something about it.
Here are some petitions:
Avaaz petition against Trump bigotry
Petition to UK Parliament to stop Trump state visit
Open Rights Group against UK passing bulk data to Trump’s administration
And a planned protest on 18 March in London.