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Trump and the Christofascist Volk
For fascists, elites are whoever they don’t want to have power
Image: John T. Bledsoe; Orville Faubus, governor of Arkansas, speaks against integration, 1959.
You can find an index of all my substack posts on fascism here.
Christofascist commentator Rod Dreher rushed to celebrate Trump’s arraignment last week in the usual method that Trump sycophants always celebrate the orange one’s every squalid failure and success. “Trump is rich,” Dreher burbled, “but he is totally not the ruling class. It’s about culture.”
Many scoffed, and for good reason. Trump is an extremely wealthy real estate heir who appeared in multiple Hollywood films and a very successful television reality show before being elected president. As journalist Radley Balko writes, it’s ridiculous to claim that social justice advocates and trans people are the ruling class while Trump, who has held the most powerful office in the world and may well do so again, is somehow an everyman because he eats his steak well done.
It's tempting to just dismiss Dreher as an ignorant partisan ghoul. And he is an ignorant partisan ghoul. But he’s also putting forward deliberate, calculated, and effective propaganda. Trump is not seen as part of the ruling class because of “culture”. That culture is, specifically, white supremacy.
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A working-class Fuhrer is something to be
Fascists believe that the leader embodies the aspirations and will of the people, or volk. As Heidegger said, “The Fuhrer himself and he alone is the German reality, present and future, and its law.” The leader is a quintessence of authenticity; he is an organic manifestation of the people themselves, and speaks with their voice, not as a separate class or authority imposed upon them.
You can see the same dynamic in Orville Faubus’ speech against integration of the Little Rock schools in 1958. Faubus reiterated that “our objective has been to maintain the peace and good order of the community” and claims, “I was not elected Governor of Arkansas to surrender all our rights as citizens to an all-powerful federal autocracy…”
Faubus used the first person plural over and over to present himself as speaking for a unified community facing oppression from outsiders–those outsiders meaning the Federal government, but also, more importantly, Black people. Faubus, like Trump, insists he is not part of the ruling class, because he speaks for a “culture” of oppressed whiteness. How can you be an illegitimate elite when the people speak through you?
This is why Trump’s supporters—and often the mainstream press—compulsively claim that Trump is a vessel for legitimate economic grievances, even though study after study shows that his followers are motivated by racism, not poverty. In a racist society like the US, white supremacy is viewed by many as a legitimate grievance—and indeed as the legitimate grievance. Trump, as a wealthy cishet Christian white man, speaks for the traditional, righteous social order, the Christofascist community of natural authority and hierarchy which Dreher reveres. “Ruling class” suggests corrupt coercive power; it does not apply to Trump, for Dreher, because Trump’s power, in his view, is righteous.
The (((ruling class)))
If Trump is not the ruling class, then who is? Dreher doesn’t get into it, but the answer isn’t all that hard to figure out. As Faubus says, if Christofascist leaders are just the downtrodden volk, then the ruling class must be those corrupt elites who siphon power and authority from its proper channels.
The nefarious tyrants aren’t people who actually hold power, like Trump. They are people who have too much power—people who, in other words, should have no power and no place in culture or society, and yet continue to take up space, breathe air, and engage in public discourse. They are Jewish people, Black people, LGBT people, women, young people, Muslims, immigrants, indigenous people, people of color. They are people like Gonzalo Curiel, the Latino judge assigned to the Trump University case, who Trump said could not be impartial because he was “Mexican.” They’re people like Ruby Freeman, the Black Georgia election worker who Trump accused, utterly without evidence, of stealing votes. They’re people, for that matter, like Barack Obama, who Trump accused for years, again with no evidence, of not having been born in the United States.
Curiel, Freeman, Obama, trans people who want health care, women who want reproductive health care, are all elites for Dreher and Trump because they are all seizing power (ie daring to exist) when by all rights they should be buried in a righteous wave of whiteness, as per the swarming of the white-robed Klan in Birth of a Nation. When Dreher says Trump is not “ruling class” he’s not trying to describe actual power relations. He’s describing his view of an ideal “culture”—one in which people like Trump rule.
Dreher isn’t (just) a clown
Again, when Dreher says Trump isn’t part of the ruling class, a lot of people’s first impulse is to mock him. And mocking him is good! He’s a fool and a shithead, and he should be mocked.
It’s important to realize, though, that Dreher, and Tucker Carlson, and Batya Ungar-Sargon, and all the other right-wingers who cosplay as working-class heroes, aren’t spewing bullshit because they’ve made an intellectual error. They are spewing bullshit because they want to drown the country, and the world in bullshit. They want to promulgate a different definition of elites, of ruling class, of “normal” people, of the public. They want to establish a fascist understanding of authority, in which people like Trump have no limits on their power, and marginalized people are pushed out of public life—through silencing, ethnic cleansing, imprisonment, or genocide, they don’t much care which.
Dreher is a dingbat. But he isn’t confused or misled. He’s a committed fascist. And he says that Trump isn’t part of the ruling class because he wants Trump to rule.