If you were wondering when America’s transition into a full-fledge fascist state would be publicly announced, you need look no further than General John Kelly’s press conference on Thursday.
Here is the key paragraph of his speech:
“You know, when I was a kid growing up a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred. Looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore, as we’ve seen from recent cases. Life was sacred. That’s gone. Religion. That seems to be gone as well. Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer. I just thought the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die in the battlefield, I thought that might be sacred.”
If you were under the illusion that certain members of Donald Trump’s cabinet or staff would act as a restraint on him (Mattis or Kelly), I’m sorry to destroy your illusions, but Trump’s entire regime rests upon fascists, and it’s fascists all the way down. This paragraph, after all, offers the same narrative of decline, decadence, and degeneracy that animates all fascist movements. Here are the totemic items supposedly held sacred during Kelly’s childhood:
Let’s start with women. Gender norms constituted a significant preoccupation in fascist politics. Fascism posits itself as the reinstitution of proper gender boundaries and properly gendered behaviors after a period of confusion and flux typically termed “decadence.” We must have the return of strong, virile men and submissive women in order to right our ship of state. These gender norms are heavily implicated in the centrality of race and purity in the typical fascist vision of the nation, for the decadence we must overcome is often linked to the “mongrelization” or “miscegenation” said to have weakened the racial stock. Women are the bearers of the pure seed of our people and, as such, must be protected by these strong, virile men from all those swarthy outsiders who would come and impregnate our women with their vicious, viscous seed.
Women are held as sacred (not in and of themselves, but for what they represent) because the life of our (narrowly defined community) is sacred. God is the one who ordained this, and noble is he who sacrifices his life for the sake of the community. Blood and Soil, baby.
Okay, so Kelly’s not out there with his tiki lamp chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” but these few sentences hit many of those fascist touchstones. Political scientist Manus Midlarsky identifies narratives of decline as one of the drivers of political extremism—what historian Ben Kieran calls a “golden age” mythology that holds our highest point in the past, a point that fascists insist we recover or recreate. As Aristotle Kallis writes, “the core of fascist utopianism consisted in an uncompromising effort to reclaim an ideal Fatherland for the reborn national community.” And by no accident did Kelly repeat and repeat the word “sacred” in his little speech, for as Emilio Gentile has shown, fascism constitutes a political religion that imbues the regime with a sense of the sacred in its attempt to sell very specific modes of salvation for the political community.
As I’ve written before, Donald Trump’s entire presidential campaign was a fascist enterprise, but I think many people imagined that “the system” would somehow constrain these worst impulses of his. But it’s no accident that, once he secured the nomination, the entire Republican establishment bent toward his will; at the individually level, Republicans began to replicate his narrative of collective decline, for there has always been a fascist core at the heart of most social conservative movements. After all, evangelical protestantism is built around the impulse toward revival and renewal, also offering a “golden age” mythology linking the present moment to the distant past, seeing the 2,000-year interlude as an era of decline and decadence that must be overcome. Moreover, social conservatism preoccupies itself with controlling the private lives of the citizenry, so as to draw darkly those boundary lines that tend to be a bit fuzzy around gender or race or class. Christians in America aspire less to be the shining city on the hill to which all others look in awe and wonder and instead now obsess over the minutiae of your daily life to ensure that all women of child-bearing age are properly fertile and that no men are “little sissy boys.”
But all this has been said before. However, there is something I believe many scholars have overlooked, and that is the place of the exception in the fascist worldview. It functions a bit like the role of the exception in religious communities—the people who exempt themselves from specific rules privately as long as they give public voice to propriety and righteousness. In the Catholic Church, for example, a priest publicly acknowledging his current sexual relationships “gives scandal” to the Church, but a priest confessing those privately has a much lower hurdle to clear because he still at least upholds the order of things. Here in Little Rock, a few years back, a woman was fired from Mount St. Mary’s Academy after marrying her lesbian partner of many years quietly in another state. She was already well known as gay by her peers, but it was the potential scandal of the publicly acknowledged relationship that had to be punished—not her sexual orientation itself. Likewise, many a Baptist preacher has exempted himself from prohibitions against alcohol or pornography and, with a clear conscience, preached the next day against those very sins. Private hypocrisy is tolerable as long as the public form is maintained.
Very little has been raised publicly about the extent to which Donald Trump embodies the Exception in our modern American fascist movement—and he very much does. Military communities prize honor and valor, while religious communities hold purity as central. So here is Donald Trump, recipient of five draft deferments, four for college and one for the “bone spur” epidemic that swept America’s elite populations during the Vietnam War. (Quick joke: How is Donald Trump not like Adolf Hitler? Hitler actually served in the army.) Donald Trump, who openly bragged that he spent the war years sleeping with as many women as possible, that STDs constituted his own “personal Vietnam.” Donald Trump, who has openly bragged about his adulterous conquests and participation in orgies (and who enjoyed the company of child rapist Jeffrey Epstein) and has gone through three wives now and openly brags about sexually assaulting women. Donald Trump, who openly offered disdain for former POW John McCain and the loss—dare we say “sacrifice”?—of a Gold Star family. Donald Trump, who increasingly seems to have collaborated consciously with Russian intelligence in order to aid his political campaign.
In other words, the man the fascists have lined themselves up behind is the one who least embodies the virtues of heroic masculinity at the core of fascist ideology, but they are more than happy to embrace the exception as long as it promises to uphold the rule.
General Kelly, you have made yourself the slave of a draft-dodging, reprobate, cowardly, dishonorable, treasonous piece of shit. And the fact that you are willing to make such an exception of such vermin tells me that you are basically exactly the same person down under.