by Brendan Cooney
“I do love Donald Trump… I love the wrecking ball. I love the fact that he is making things visible.” ––Chris Cutrone
Neo-fascist, proto-fascist, authoritarian populist, alt-right, alt-light …. Whatever label one chooses for the global resurgence of rightwing politics of the most reactionary nature, all of these movements share a common thread. They are not just conservative. They are opposed to the entire enlightenment project, the notion that the cause of human freedom and equality can and should be pursued rationally through the collective pursuit of truth and science. They wish to replace these ideals with authoritarianism, racial/national identity, and “post-truth” politics.
Left-apologists for Trump assist this creeping fascism in two ways. For one, they attempt to normalize Trump and Trumpism while throwing shade at the Resistance. But they also engage in post-truth styles of argumentation that muddy the waters so that their audience cannot tell right from left, freedom from slavery. In this way they lay the ground for the fascist advance.
Speaking of the relation of the Nazi party to the democratic institutions of Germany prior to the Enabling Act that granted Hitler exceptional legislative power, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels said, “As the wolf bursts into the flock, so we come.” By this he meant that the Nazis did not participate in the democratic institutions of Weimar society as good sportsmen. Rather, they took advantage of the openness of these institutions with the intent to destroy them.
In our time we face a similar threat: the presence everywhere of forces that seek to undermine truth itself, to destroy reason and science. These forces enter into the flock with the attempt to destroy it. The left is particularly susceptible because the left has failed to developed institutions that hold individuals accountable for their statements and positions. Instead we have isolated fiefdoms of thinking, each with its own celebrity intellectuals and its own publications. With this comes each fiefdom’s own means of ignoring alternative points of view, of refusing to concede ground in debates even when one is wrong, and of retreating into mystification in order to avoid being exposed. Left-Trumpists are adept at the old game of using the language of Marxism to dress-up authoritarian apologetics as real theory; of using the guise of Marx to condemn those who fight for freedom.
Left apologists for Trump can be commonly heard using several classic tropes of post-truth politics: what-about-ism, deliberate omission of fact (a type of lying), and substitution of clear argumentation with evocative story-telling. Chris Cutrone’s recent writings and comments about Trump are a classic example of such apologetics.
A great deal of left-Trumpism takes the form of what-about-ism, in which all of Trump’s crimes are excused by turning the camera away from Trump to focus instead on the sins of neoliberalism. Chris Cutrone’s admiration for Donald Trump comes from the fact that he sees Trump as a reflection of the crisis of so-called “neoliberalism.” Cutrone thinks that Trump, a peddler of lies and conspiracy theories, pierces neoliberalism’s veil of illusions to expose its hypocrisy.
Despite the inconsistent application of the label “neoliberal,” despite lack of clarity on the difference between neoliberalism and capitalism, the left has spent so many years critiquing and fighting against neoliberalism, instead of fighting against capitalism, that it cannot imagine a greater enemy. Anything that threatens neoliberalism, it assumes, must be better.
Assuming Trump to be a rejection of some or all of “neoliberal orthodoxy,” it heralds the rise of Trumpism as the death knell of neoliberalism. Thus, they respond to all criticism of Trump with what-about-ism: What about all of the deportations that happened under Obama? What about the brutality of neoliberal austerity? What about Obama’s wars?
But to say “what about Obama?” does not excuse Trump for his crimes. The Trump apologists behave as if to rationally evaluate the extreme danger of Trumpism, to say that Trumpism represents a slide toward neo-fascism, means somehow to defend neoliberalism. This is simply not the case. There is no logical reason why one cannot condemn the crimes and transgressions of Obama, the Clintons, and the rest of them, roundly condemn the Democratic Party, and at the same time argue that Trumpism is an existential threat on a totally higher level. I have no problem holding those two ideas in my head at the same time. That is because I know that what-about-ism cannot change the truth of a thing.
But Trumpistas cannot shake their whataboutism as long as they substitute neoliberalism for capitalism. As long as they continue to chase after the neoliberal bogeyman, they will be unable to comprehend being anti-Trump and anti-capitalist. Thus, Cutrone’s aphorism “Anti-Trumpism is the problem and obstacle, not Trump.”
The other reactionary intuition underlying this aphorism is a vision of politics in which the masses have no agency, existing only as constituencies to be won over by parties. Thus the Resistance, because it is not led by some sort of socialist party, must by default be neoliberal reaction.
By contrast, if we consider a different orientation––in which the goal of liberatory politics is the self-development of masses of people rather than their passive recruitment into parties––the Resistance offers many hopeful examples of people fighting Trumpism while maintaining independence of bourgeois parties as well as traditional vanguard parties. For instance, Dreamers have kept up a steady campaign of resistance against politicians in both parties (even shutting down a Nancy Pelosi press conference) as they fight for a clean Dream Act and against the expanded powers of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) police. Marxists should be following and engaging with the development of ideas in these movements rather than fighting against them because they do not fit into some preconceived vision of socialist politics.
Left apologists for Trump make similar arguments to the arguments advanced by Stalin and the German Communist Party (CPG) in their theory of “Social Fascism.” They argued that the real enemy was not Hitler’s Nazi Party but instead the Social Democrats. The theory of social fascism held that the social democrats represented a veiled form of the rule of capital, a sneaky reformism that mystified the real violence of capitalism, whereas the fascists just represented the pure naked expression of capitalist violence. The communists thought that fascism’s ability to pierce through the veil, to “make things visible” as Cutrone says, would lead the working class to see capitalism in all its reality, leading to a communist revolution. They also hoped that after the social democrats were swept aside, the terrain would be clear for the CPG to take over: “After Hitler, our turn.” Instead, all those CPG members were sent to Hitler’s first concentration camps.
The parallel between this and contemporary left-Trumpites is striking. Slavoj Žižek, Cutrone, and others make essentially the same argument as the CPG. They love Trump because he pierced the veil of illusions and “made things visible.” Maybe this piercing of the veil will de-mystify politics and the workers will rise in revolution, they hope. As Žižek and Cutrone have argued, anything is better than the status-quo neoliberal order, and thus anything that changes it is better—even an authoritarian, racist, proto-fascist state—especially anything that takes the Democrats down a notch and separates them from any of the working class parts of their base. This, they believe, will create an opening for a left party to spirit away the mythical “white working class” by means of economic populist projects. (At least, this hope is implied in their arguments.)
What Stalin and the CPG failed to realize is that the “made-visible” form of the capitalist state did not lay bare the contradictions of capital for all to see, but rather just replaced social democratic mystification with a much more dangerous ideological form. Fascism represented a total escape from class-based politics, a retreat into mytho-poetic cultural nationalism and racial pseudo-science, all dependent on the role of modern communication technology to create a post-truth political landscape.
Prior to the rise of fascism, mass politics was assumed to be a phenomenon of the left. Thus, leftists were completely taken off guard by the rise of mass political parties of such a reactionary character. History is repeating itself now, with parts of the Left seduced by the energy and dynamism of the Trump base. These left-Trumpists assume that if there is a working-class part of the Trump base, and if they are fired up against the status quo, then the Left should pander to these racist authoritarians. But by doing so, left-Trumpists are just stoking the flames of post-truth politics, making things less visible, not more visible.
Deliberate omission is also a great source of obfuscation in the work of left-Trumpists. Many left apologists for Trump, including Cutrone, almost completely ignore Trump’s racism and misogyny, and his full-on assault on the institutions of free speech and democracy. Instead, Cutrone reduces Trump to his economic proposals, trying to fit them into a narrative framework of post-neoliberalism. Cutrone attempts to normalize Trump by arguing that Trump’s proposed policies on trade, etc. are inevitable given global shifts in trade, part of a new paradigm that is replacing neoliberalism. I disagree with the entire Regulation-school framework of Fordism/neoliberalism/post-neoliberalism, and I think it is silly to say that this “post-neoliberalism” points inevitably to Trumpism, but the point here is that Cutrone’s framing of his analysis allows him to look only at economic populism while ignoring the fascism. It is “Mussolini made the trains run on time” all over again.
Trump has been openly embraced by white nationalists of all stripes; they have called him one of their own. He brought Steve “let them call you a racist” Bannon, and Sebastian “Hungarian Guard” Gorka into the White House. There has been a dramatic spike in hate crimes and a rise in membership in white-nationalist organizations since Trump’s election. White-nationalist politics have become mainstreamed, as have post-truth news and conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, Trump has moved quickly to consolidate power around himself by attacking the judiciary, attacking the Justice Department, stocking courts with Trumpites, attacking the press, bringing the Republican Party under his control, and moving to immunize himself against legal threats to his presidency. Trump’s hate-mongering has turned from rhetoric to reality as he has launched a full-out assault on immigrants and refugees (see note 3). Where the Trump steamroller has been delayed or blocked, it is because of the massive Resistance against him, not some inherent moderation within Trumpism itself.
The strategy of omission dovetails with attempts at dialectical sleight-of-hand, in which we are supposed to be distracted from Trump’s racist authoritarianism by clever little observations about the hypocrisy of the status quo.
Take, for instance, Cutrone’s response in an interview with Doug Lain, in which Lain asked him what he makes of Trump’s racism. His answer is a case study in evasion-masked-as-clever-left-analysis. Cutrone began with the provocative statement that Trump
makes the distinction that any conservative would make, that is between the good people and the bad people. There is a point to that. There is such a thing as drug gangs and human trafficking and all of that. That is a reality of any immigrant community has organized crime as a very important constituency of its social reality …. He sees that as a problem.
Cutrone cleverly took the question of whether or not Trump is a racist and turned it into a question of whether or not there is organized crime in the immigrant community.
Immediately grasping the usefulness of such apologetic logic, Lain chimed in,
What I notice about Trump is that he throws the opposition into irrationality. For instance around his statements that Mexicans are rapists. If you look into what he’s talking about, you know the rate of rapes amongst illegal immigrants and the people who are trying to get into this country, women are often subjected to sexual abuse and rape and it’s an astronomical figure ….
At this point, Cutrone responded, “That’s right,” and then went on a tangent about sanctuary cities harboring Mexican gangs.
This diversionary logic could easily be transcribed from a Fox News interview. But instead, it is here polluting the left, masquerading as a penetrating analysis of how Trump has “made visible” the contradictions and hypocrisy of our immigration system.
Nobody believes that this is what Trump is really saying when he calls Mexicans rapists or rails against MS13—not Trump’s white nationalist base, not immigrants themselves, nobody. (I doubt Cutrone and Lain believe this either.) Nor is this just a “demagogical rallying cry” based on “law and order conservatism,” as Cutrone put it. Perhaps the next thing Cutrone will tell us, in his search for the “kernel of truth in racism,” is that Trump’s “shit-hole countries” comment was really just about the poor sewer infrastructure in Africa, or that chanting “lock her up” was a commentary on the injustice of the criminal justice system.
What is shocking is the convoluted extent to which Lain and Cutrone go to avoid just calling Trump a racist, white-nationalist authoritarian. One would think that there is nothing to lose by doing so. I would be happy to hear now from Cutrone; why it is that he is afraid to make such an obvious statement?
Descent into Madness
What happens if we follow these ideas to the end? If the left adopts this sort of post-truth approach, then we have no ground to stand on and no ideas to offer the world. Then the left really is dead.
Cutrone’s interview with Lain illustrates this descent into madness quite nicely. The real kicker in the interview comes when the conversation turns to Trump’s misogyny and the MeToo movement. Here we learn from Cutrone that MeToo is “conservative sex-panic” aimed at controlling men’s sexuality. Cutrone even defends Trump bursting into dressing rooms at the Miss America Pageant: “He’s the proprietor. Of course he’s going to be walking through the dressing rooms.” Cutrone even goes so far as to make fun of one of the pageant contestants, saying, “I read one testimonial where a woman said she was naked under a robe. Well, like, then you weren’t naked!”
Here the two abandon all pretense at making some sort of Left analysis of Trump, and just become vulgar apologists for capitalism and misogyny: Because an employer owns his business he can do whatever he wants to his employees, especially women. Women who speak up should be mocked.
If the left adopts this elitist attitude to the anti-Trump resistance, refusing to accept that one can be anti-Trump and anti-capitalist, then the only way forward is to try to pander to the white-nationalist, misogynist Trump base, trying to buy them off with economic populism. This fear of confronting the Trump base, this assumption that the left should try to win them over with left populism, is likely a source of so much Trump apologetics. But perhaps these comments also reflect an even greater fear, the fear of movements like MeToo or Black Lives Matter, or the Dreamers, that operate beyond the control of what Cutrone and company deem “left.” Perhaps these movements have become too “upitty” in the eyes of some “leftists,” and thus they welcome Trump’s assault.
There is little difference, in my mind, between a Nazi and a Nazi-apologist, a Trumpist and Trump-apologist. Once you apologize for something long enough, you become that thing.
 In his pre-election Platypus Review article, “Why Not Trump?,” Cutrone wrote, “Everything Trump calls for exists already. There is already surveillance and increased scrutiny of Muslim immigrants in the ‘War on Terror.’ There is already a war against ISIS. There is already a wall on the border with Mexico; there are already mass deportations of ‘illegal’ immigrants. There are already proposals that will be implemented anyway for a super-exploited guest-worker immigration program. International trade is heavily regulated with many protections favoring U.S. companies already in place. Hillary will not change any of this. Given the current crisis of global capitalism, international trade is bound to be reconfigured anyway.”
 The fact that one can find continuities between Trump and what came before Trump does not mean that Trumpism cannot represent a qualitatively different type of politics. Historians recognize the growing authoritarianism of Franz Von Papen immediately preceding the rise of Hitler, but this does not mean that the Nazi party didn’t represent a qualitatively different politics than what preceded.
The key to identifying a qualitative change is not to show a lack of continuity with the past, but rather to see how quantitative changes can cause a qualitative change. To take the issue of immigration: Immigration activists called Obama the “deporter in chief” for the acceleration of deportations that happened under his administration. But the pace of deportations has accelerated rapidly since Trump came to office, with an unleashed ICE that is rabidly targeting non-criminal immigrants after Trump expanded the category of immigrants eligible for deportation. Trump has also dramatically constrained US refuge programs and has tried to end DACA. He has cancelled Temporary Protected Status for 86,00 Hondurans, 9,000 Nepalis, 200,000 Salvadorans, 45,000 Haitians, and 2,500 Nicaraguans. The Justice Department’s new official policy is to forcibly separate children from their parents at the border. He is trying to ban Muslims from entering the country. Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio who has bragged about creating concentration camps for immigrants. A former lawyer for the Philadelphia ICE office said, “after Trump took over, it was like somebody gave them an injection of testosterone. It was ERO on steroids” (ERO = Philadelphia’s Enforcement and Removal Operations). Many believe that this is just the beginning of a much more aggressive reign of terror.
 The orientation toward recruitment of cadre rather than development of ideas is precisely why many left parties engaged in frivolous forays into the Sandernista camp and the Green Party camp, mining these anti-neoliberal crowds for members at the same time as they engaged in all manner of apologetics for Trump, in order to downplay the dangerous game they were playing. One wonders whether they harvested enough recruits to make it worth all of the suffering Trump has caused immigrants, refugees, Muslims, women, people of color, trans people, LGBT people, etc.
 The rise of Trumpism has been made possible by the rise of post-truth politics and has simultaneously contributed to the normalization of post-truth politics.
 Zero Squared, ibid., minute mark 45:11.