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Truthout - July 22, 2019

It is both strange and disconcerting that almost none of the mainstream reporting on Trump’s rally examined its clear similarities with staged rallies in Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Much like Nazi rallies, Trump’s rallies seek to turn politics into a grandiose theater of nativism, while presenting the head of state as a kind of demigod. In addition, there is the preaching of hate, which functions as a kind of quasi-religious experience used to trade off and amplify mass anger largely directed at those considered the enemies of the state — in this case women of color who are criminalized by virtue of their political beliefs, race and ethnicity. Seizing upon the potentially violent energy of his followers, Trump transforms their heightened anxieties and collective fears into a mass disdain for Muslims, immigrants, Black people and others.

Trump’s manipulation of the crowds at his rallies brings to mind French reactionary theorist Gustave Le Bon’s depiction of crowds as governed by “impulsiveness, irritability, incapacity to reason, the absence of judgment and of the critical spirit [and] the exaggeration of the sentiments” — a depiction that Hitler read and was inspired by.

Such expressions of hate and racial cleansing are about more than the privileging of fear and emotion over reason. They also constitute an updated version of a mob frenzy that encourages its participants to take pleasure in demonizing others. This “politics of the spectacle” reinforces the social emptiness at the heart of neoliberal societies, filling it with fear, illusion and endless nativist and racist rants while offering the immediate gratification of misdirected pleasure. Trump’s spectacles of fear and racism portray politics as pure theater mediated through the elemental forces of hatred, bigotry and the triumph of power.

In her chapter on “The Drama of Illumination,” in the anthology on Art, Culture, and Media Under the Third Reich, art history scholar Kathleen James-Chakraborty describes how Nazi rallies used public spectacles to unify Nazi supporters around policies that demonized socialists, gays, communists and Jews, all the while drawing attention away from unjust economic and social issues. She writes:

The ingredients of Nazi spectacle may have been familiar, but the degree to which they were now injected into the daily lives of millions of Germans was certainly unprecedented. So was the degree to which they were intended to promise blind obedience to the authoritarian state. Such spectacles could only work if they were comprehensible and thus potentially appealing to the masses upon whose support the ostensible legitimacy of the state depended.

The fascist spectacle echoed a totalitarian logic in which desire became a target of politics. As Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi wrote in Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy, the relationship between fantasy and agency in these spectacles was reconfigured to produce “the prevalence of the senses over sprit, self-abandonment, and the release of passion.” Culture was transformed into a pedagogical practice of disruption, a pedagogical vehicle used to unleash the collective passions of abhorrence, loathing and cruelty. ...
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