The writing has been on the wall for the past year warning about the dangers of another horrendous rise in fascism exemplified by the election of Donald Trump as the US President. Parallels have been drawn with the events in Europe that led to World War II last century with a wave of hyper-nationalist politicians already threatening to splinter the European Union and the UK set to leave the power bloc that had been originally set up with the hope of keeping the peace. Alarmingly, the comparisons with Hitler did not deter Americans from voting for a demagogue who built his campaign on racism, anti-intellectualism, misogyny and truth distortion.
During his first week in office, Trump signed no less than six executive orders along with eight memorandums and one proclamation that warned of the rather disturbing presidency to come. Out of the window went any hopes that he may moderate his outrageous views. His most notorious order was the so-called Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry. The conspicuous word here is “foreign”, revealing the extent of xenophobia in the decree which is directed at seven Muslim countries. Not only was the entire US refugee admissions system suspended for 120 days but entry was banned from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
If anyone doubted that Muslims have become the new Jews as fascism goes mainstream, this unprecedented act of discrimination has removed those doubts. The rest of the world largely responded in horror though some leaders spoke with forked tongues still seeking to appease Trump. In Britain, Prime Minister, Theresa May, refused to condemn what had happened at first, and instead held Trump’s hand as she became the first leader to meet the new President in Washington. There the pair pledged their commitment to the “special relationship” between the two countries. In contrast, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, warned the executive order went against her “interpretation of the basic tenants of international refugee support and cooperation”.
The ban sparked worldwide protests including in the US. In Britain, the protests were focused on calls to cancel a proposed state visit with a staggering number of signatories, more than 1.8 million, for an online parliamentary petition to stop the visit, 180 times more than the minimum needed for the Government to respond. Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said it would be “totally wrong” for the visit to go ahead. Liberal Democrat Leader, Tim Farron, insisted any visit should be on hold until “his disgraceful ban comes to an end.” In a rare intervention, House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, warned that Trump was unfit to customarily address MPs because of Parliament’s long-held opposition “to racism and to sexism”.
In the US, the country was heading towards a potential constitutional crisis due to legal challenges to the legitimacy of the ban. The case was expected to end up before the Supreme Court after the drastic measures were halted by a Federal Court which raised questions about the remit of Presidential power. Theoretically, the Judiciary and the Executive are equal branches of the Government that are crucial to the separation of powers in Washington. This reveals just how deep-seated the problem is of the people voting in a person with no political experience and tendencies towards fascism. It is forebodingly unprecedented for America.
The war between the two branches of Government is over now as Trump seeks to exert political power largely through unilateral executive orders. Many have drawn parallels between Trump and Mussolini. There is no doubt that aggressive nationalism, racism, patriarchy and authoritarianism are back on the agenda along with overt demagoguery, vicious misogyny, actual violence, complete disregard for the truth and threats to free speech. Muslims may be the main victims in all of this but few should be complacent about the much wider implications of Trump’s rule and the warnings for all if fears of civil unrest become a reality. It is not just in the US that disillusionment with the ruling classes is being exploited by unscrupulous demagogues.