Teach-In: Fascism in America:
Could It Happen Here?
Is It Happening Here?
What Is the Danger that the Trump/Pence Government Poses?
April 27, 2017
Humanity faces an extreme emergency with Trump’s rise to power. On April 28, this nationally live-streamed Teach-In deeply explored, from different perspectives, the essential nature of the Trump/Pence Government, the relevance of the history of fascism, the threat it poses to humanity and the planet itself, and the dangers of normalization.
“You’ve got to go to war with science if you’re a fascist, because if you have absolute authority you get to say what’s true… And we’ve seen with Trump just an extraordinary war on science. … “
Rush transcript of Kierán Suckling’s presentation:
Well, hello everybody, can you hear me? Great, well, I’m the executive director of environmental group and, as I’m sure everyone knows here, Trump is a disaster for, for the environment. Just in the last few days, for example, he issued a executive order to initiate a process to strip protection from a billion acres of land and water that were put in place by past presidents going back to Clinton. He has revoked rules that formerly made it illegal to dump coal mining waste into streams. He has approved the most dangerous pesticide in use today, one that is known to give brain damage to children. And I could go on and on, but what I’m mostly going to talk about tonight, though, is not environmental issues per se, but dealing more toward the authoritarian tendency, or the fascist tendency with which he puts these in place, because obviously he’s not the first president to harm the environment, and my group certainly sued the Obama administration many times over policies that we didn’t like, just as we sued the Bush administration. With that I will note: we have sued Trump every single week of his presidency so far, and we will continue to do so, which, by my calculation, means we need to sue him about another fifty times or so. But I want to talk about that authoritarian tendency because, while we were forced to sue the Obama administration on many, many times on environmental issues, when the court order came down saying, “Obama, this is wrong, you can’t do that,” the Obama administration would accept that order as the law of the land. He had a bad policy, but he did not have an authoritarian policy, and so he would accept that order, whereas I think what’s extraordinarily dangerous about Trump is his refusal to acknowledge the courts.
So, stepping back a bit to the question here, you know, fascism: can it happen here? Is it happening here? Yeah, I think it is happening here. I think it can be stopped, I think it will be stopped because there’s been an extraordinary resistance rising up with Trump, of people seeing this like I’ve never seen before in my years of doing this work. I think it will be stopped, but only because of that resistance, which is going to have to keep growing and being, getting stronger and more insistent every day. But we’re seeing a lot of signs, a lot of warning signs, and so I want to talk about some of those. Some I’ll just list, some I’ll talk a little bit in more detail.
And one is nationalism. If we look back, or even just sideways at current fascist regimes, one of the things you see very consistently is this fascism, I’m sorry, this nationalist tendency. It doesn’t mean all nationalists are fascists, but that is a common denominator to them all. With that nationalism, you see a racism and a marginalization of others consistently across the board, because in part fascists need enemies to fight at all times.
And that brings up another more psychological characteristic, which is this intense sense of victimization, and you see this with Trump throughout his whole history before he even got into politics, this constant sense that he, one of the richest men in the country, now the president of the most powerful country on Earth, is the victim. And you see that constantly with him. It’s one of the reasons I like to call him “Trump the thin-skinned.” And that is also a characterization you see here for many, many who are fascist, authoritarian leaders. And not just personally. Because they’re speaking to their base, telling them that they are also the victims, they’re the victims of the outsider. They, these people, who typically are the people with the least power possible, somehow they are threatening you. Alright, somehow your life is existentially threatened by gay people. You are a threatened by Jews. You’re threatened by immigrants, the least powerful people in our entire nation. So this constant sense of victimhood, fear, and violence, and with that I think, you know, the thing is he has this constant sense of self anger, aggrandizement with Trump and again with other authoritarian leaders, this need to constantly promote themselves of how great they are, goes just perfectly with the sense of victimhood.
There’s a convergence with industry, and the interests of industry. And this is a complicated one, because it’s not just industry overall, but picking and choosing industries and getting them on board with threats. And you see this with Trump, and industries have learned early on if you get on board with his agenda he’s going to promote you, if you don’t he’s going to attack you and that your stocks are going to decline. And so this real convergence of interests between the authoritarian and industry that develops.
There is an endorsement of violence. Endorsement of violence in all aspects of life. And so Trump himself, as a sexual predator, and someone through his public actions has promoted that as acceptable at that level in his election events running for president, encouraging people to violently attack people in the audience opposing him, inviting people to come and be violent at the inauguration, to launching Tomahawk missiles. This notion that violence is acceptable, normal in all facets of existence is a very deep authoritarian fascist tendency.
And then the, the blatant lying that you see is also something you see across, and, this is a very complex psychological thing which I’m not even going to try to unravel entirely, but I’ll say a little, one thing about it. It’s an exercise in power to just get up and say things that are just absolutely untrue in public, and then to keep insisting on them. One of the things that is an exercise in power. It’s saying, “I don’t care what everyone else thinks, I don’t care what the critics say. I have the power to stay with this and to stick with this, and I’m going to show you that by doing something so outrageous,” and so, you know, he will actually claim, “I have the, the biggest electoral margin victory in history over Clinton.” And just, any six-year-old can go on the internet and show that’s not true. But it’s not that Trump exactly is wrong; it’s that this is a demonstration of raw power, and so telling him he’s wrong doesn’t take away from that. In some ways, it feeds that machine. There’s something really, I think, profound that all of us as resisters, we have to think about, which is that there is a way in which fact-checking him feeds that system. Which is not to say you can’t do it, but we have to think about how to do it, how to do it differently or maybe more importantly how to combine it with something else other than fact-checking.
And then finally, and most obviously, I suppose, is this concentration of absolute power in the executive office, which Trump holds, is the very definition of fascism. And I want to talk about that more, and specifically this: it seems to me, if you’re going to succeed in being a fascist, you read the fascist manual. One of the things you realize quickly is you have to go to war the media. You cannot be a fascist if you do not, because the media will expose you. It will object. And you cannot be a fascist unless you deal with that, unless you go to war. And of course, you’ve seen that with Trump for a long, long time now. I’m not going to go into detail because it’s, and since it’s so obvious when, I’m sure you all remember at one point, even calling the media, “the enemy of the people.” You know, sort of classic move. “If you attack me, you attack the people. If you attack me, you attack the nation. I am the authority. I essentially am the symbol of society, of the nation.” And so we’ve seen that and we’ll keep seeing this, and by the way, not just in his verbal statements, of course, but the media were attacked physically. During his election, you might remember the, I forget what you call them now, but the little areas that the media were forced to sit in during his rallies was an extraordinary exercise of power over them, and also extraordinary weakness, frankly, of the reporters to go in there. Now if you went outside them you would be arrested, as some of them were. But so what? That’s your job at that point is to get arrested, to refuse that power, to take that hit. Because you know what, you’re a member of the media, which means you’re probably white and middle class, you’re going to survive. They’ll put you in jail, they’ll take you out, all right. Not that hard to do, and it’s your job to put yourself on the line at that moment.
You’ve got to go to war with science if you’re a fascist, because if you have absolute authority you get to say what’s true. And that doesn’t work very well if you’ve got a bunch of scientists running around collecting data and telling you other things, like “and this is false.” And we’ve seen with Trump just an extraordinary war on science. Not just in his denial of things we know are true: denying global warming and so forth, putting people in charge of his agencies who also think that, but literally removing thousands of web pages from government websites that are there to present the science that has been collected about human health, environmental health, history, everything. I mean he is just scrubbing the availability of all of this scientific information that our agencies have been collecting for decades because he doesn’t want it out there. He, on one of his orders, told the federal agents that they no longer have to present data, for example, on animal welfare. Right now there’s there were various laws, zoos, other people, have to bring update reports every year. Just take those away, take all that data. And that’s why we have, just recently, this march on science, which we have, march for science, rather, across the country, which, in my 30 years of doing environmental activism, I’ve never seen scientists go and rally in the streets as scientists. It was truly, on the one hand chilling that they needed to do that, that it’s coming to that, but on the other hand really remarkable that they did do it. And not just here, all over the world. Scientists were marching in London against Trump. An extraordinary display of resistance.
You, and this is probably the most important one, you have to go to war with the court system. No fascist country in the history of the Earth has had a functioning court system. They’re utterly incompatible because a fascist, by definition, is the law and so cannot be held accountable to another law, and that’s what the court system is all about. I want to go in a little more detail on this, and read some things. First let me, actually I’m going to be able to, I’ll just give a slight little bit of background. I started the Center for Biological Diversity when I was going to graduate school at SUNY Stonybrook, and I was studying philosophy at that time, and I wasn’t particularly interested in the law. I think my attitude was pretty similar to many folks, which was sort of a probably a necessary evil, more or less. If people were just good we wouldn’t need this court system, and so far I viewed it as a fairly overly rule-bound morals. And then I got into environmentalism and I quickly learned just how incredibly important the law is to justice and to social movements, how incredibly important it was to the civil rights movement. And the way our government is structured we’ve basically got three pillars. We’ve got Congress, which independently creates the law. It can create whatever law that it wishes. It can’t be made to do so by the president. It can’t be made to do so by the courts. It has the absolute power in that realm of making laws. Then you’ve got the presidency and the executive. And the executive needs to carry out the laws of the Congress whether the executive likes it or not, but also has independent power. And then finally you’ve got the courts. And one of the most important things the courts do is to judge whether the presidency, meaning the whole executive system to the agencies, whether they are violating the law or not. And they can also judge Congress to say, is the law that you’ve created, is that in contradiction with the constitution? Because that is the one limit to congressional laws, Congress cannot violate the Constitution, and the courts are the one realm that can decide that. And it’s an incredibly important system, and in fact there’s a, you know, there are groups of lawyers nationally and all over the world, who, their whole work is to go into nations which are developing democracies and try to help them build a functioning legal system, because they will never succeed in becoming a fully functioning democracy unless they’ve got a working system. You can’t have justice finally without a functioning legal system.
And so I’ve grown to see how just incredibly important it is, and I think we’re seeing that today more than ever with Trump’s response to the law. So he was sued twice over executive orders on immigration, and twice those orders were struck down as illegal. And as I mentioned before, every president has various rules and laws, or the various rules they put in place are struck down. Every Congress has some laws it has created also struck down as unconstitutional. But for the most part, they accept that. Whether they wanted it or not, whether they agree with it or not, they accept it as something they must comply with, because the judiciary under our system is a distinct independent entity. So when Trump lost the first trial over immigration, this was one brought by the city of Seattle of course, one of his spokesmen, Stephen Miller, proceeded to talk about it. And here’s his description of what happened there, his response to that. He said, “Our opponents, the media and the whole world…” so he begins right there with an attack the media, “Our opponents, the media, the whole world will soon see as we begin further actions that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned,” which is what the court just did. He said, “I want to say something very clearly, and this is going to be very disappointing to the people protesting the president,” and I’ll point out in my next one, the other thing you have to go to war with to be a fascist is civil dissent. That comes in right here as well, “I want to say something very clearly, and this is going to be very disappointing to the people protesting the president. The president’s powers here are beyond question.” This is our president speaking. “The bottom line is the president’s power in this area represents the apex of executive authority.” And then kind of really just cutting to the chase he says, “The judiciary is not supreme. There’s no such thing as judicial supremacy.” Well, we call it the fucking Supreme Court for a reason, OK? It is supreme. The court system, and especially the Supreme Court, can overturn any policy of the president if it’s illegal, can overturn any law if it finds it to be illegal. That’s why we call it the Supreme Court. And I, myself, and my group, have filed many lawsuits. And I’ve lost a fair amount of them. I’m not happy about it. And when I lost them, some old growth trees got cut down. Some rivers got polluted because I lost that case. But I have to accept that I lost that in the court. Because if you don’t, that’s when you get chaos. Because if the court can’t answer that finally, there’s no other option, right, but guns. And once you go there, it’s violence and chaos, and so we all have to accept that. And this is most grating for Trump, and for every fascist around the world, right. Every fascist as they rose to power was challenged by the courts. And the courts said, “You’re wrong, you can’t do that, you don’t have that power.” And they are very bulwark against it, and so every fascist has gone to war with the courts, and that’s what we have seen here. In fact, the court order that Trump was railing against there, in this first case, I want to read a brief argument, but first let’s sort of point this out: the issue before the court was whether there could be a court case at all, because the Trump administration’s defense of its immigration order was, “This policy is not reviewable by the court system. You cannot judge me at all, I don’t have to prove I’m correct, because you have no right to judge me at all. This needs to be bounced out of court.” So his very legal argument was against the very power of the court. And this is why the court in its response wrote, “There’s no president- precedent to support this claim of unreviewability. It runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.” And that right there is what set Trump off to attack the court system and declare that he has supreme powers. And so we’re seeing this war with the courts that should be a sign to us that we’re going on.
I’m going to cut it short here because we’re, I’m sure we’re going to have time to talk in the question and answer session, but just listing the last point I wanted to make, you’re got to go to war with civil protests. You’ve got to declare violence against it. Ultimately you have to make it illegal, and we’re seeing this happen at the state level. So with that, I will pass it on to the next speaker.