The purpose of a trial-run (and the test-marketing of fascistic initiatives) is to normalise ideas and behaviours that people formerly might have recoiled from. Trial-runs also allow the prospective fascist regimes to test, refine and calibrate their ideas for maximum impact and the next critical steps. An article from the Irish writer and columnist Fintan O'Toole argues that this is exactly what is happening now in the US and across a range of European countries.
One element of this is the rigging of elections (see States of Mind (read here) on how the US Republicans are rigging elections -- it was Stalin who said that it's not the votes that count, but who counts the votes that matters)). The privatisation of election-voting machines has eroded any transparency of this process in the US; gerrymandering of districts and the discriminatory control of voter registration are other insidious ways this is happening. But an altogether different kind of rigging was also evident in, for example, the external interference in the US presidential and "Brexit" referendum votes. No country is safe from this kind of interference. We can call these collectively the "processes" of democracy and they are being manipulated and abused in order to weaken democratic values.
The other main element of fascism is the direct destruction of democratic values and the reversion to tribal identities based on fear - and the demonisation of "the other." This is already in full flood in Europe and the US right now. O'Toole points out that fascism does not require a majority... and this is crucial to understanding where we are. He argues that it typically comes to power with around 40% approval and then uses its influence to control and intimidate - to consolidate and grow its power-base. The next step is that the people need to be "blooded" and accept forms of increasing social cruelty as an inevitable part of the shared purifying process. This is a kind of moral desensitisation since fascism always depends on popular compliance with increased levels of savagery. Already the Christian right in the US is extremely well organised to support everything shitty Trump can introduce and has not blinked whenever he has shown a blatant disregard for human rights - or social cohesion. The same story can be told about Poland, Hungary and would be popular amongst many populist parties in The Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany and the UK.
As O'Toole says..."It is this next step that is being test-marketed now. It is being done in Italy by the far-right leader and minister for the interior Matteo Salvino. How would it go down if we turn away boatloads of refugees? Let’s do a screening of the rough-cut of registering all the Roma and see what buttons the audience will press. And it has been trialled by Trump: let’s see how my fans feel about crying babies in cages. I wonder how it will go down with Rupert Murdoch." He goes on..."Trump’s claim last week that immigrants “infest” the US is a test-marketing of whether his fans are ready for the next step-up in language, which is of course “vermin”."
And let's keep American Muslim families separated from each other by banning visits from relatives across a range of Muslim countries. Trump does this to pretend Americans will feel safer when all the indicators and polls show that events like the travel ban actually drive up the mass psychology of fear. And when people are fearful they can be controlled like sheep - and demand more of the same. But lest we forget, Europe has some scum of its own in the shape of its rightwing populist movements who are just as capable as Trump of exercising the worst kinds of prejudice and cruelty.
What O'Toole doesn't mention is what States of Mind calls "bandwagoning" - the willing participation of populations in the secondary and later phases of the malevolent fascist folly. We have seen this directly in Bosnia, Beirut, Baghdad and Belfast - anywhere where polarisation and fear of "the other" is taking root - and one side is beginning to get the upper hand. We see it everyday in the US already where Trump's polling numbers have turned strongly upwards. It's already in Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland and Turkey. It's what happens when otherwise sensible - but fearful - people who are, for the most part, naturally opposed to fascism and extremist positions, recognise which way the wind is blowing and fall in behind it - all too easily. Fear stops people thinking and they begin to sniff the wind to find out where it's safest to stand. And under conditions of personal uncertainty people are naturally attracted towards the side they believe will prevail or be outright victorious. It is what Nietzsche called "the herd instinct" and "the herd" can be very wrong.
The popular forces that made Hitler's Germany, Franco's Spain and Mussolini's Italy possible cannot be explained without understanding the role that first anger, then fear and finally bandwagoning play in this phenomenon. And it's "bandwagoning" that creates real momentum and provides the final critical mass to fascist movements in democratic situations. Only fraternity - and a strong engaged sense of citizenship - can prevent it.
Fascism needs to be stopped before it takes root since, once it gets a grip, experience shows it will take over. Either the electorate grows a spine and engages to protect the democratic process and values...or.... it doesn't bear thinking about.
When fascism begins to take hold "bandwagoning" means the voter can become a threat to democracy - and democratic values.