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“Fascism Out Loud”: Trump’s Escalating Racist Rhetoric & the Far Right’s Plan for a Slow Civil War

StoryDecember 21, 2023
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As the 2024 presidential election campaign heats up, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is escalating his racist rhetoric, repeatedly saying in recent days that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” drawing comparisons to Hitler. Journalist Jeff Sharlet says, “Even more important than the substance is the spectacle, the drama, that makes him the exciting and, in fascist terms, the man of action.” Sharlet explains Project 2025, an agency-by-agency plan backed by a coalition of conservative groups for implementing fascism if Trump regains power, and how the former president is giving the far right the national stage they’ve always wanted.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end today’s show looking at Donald Trump’s increasing authoritarian rhetoric on the campaign trail. Over the weekend, Trump claimed immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the country.

DONALD TRUMP: When they let — I think the real number is 15, 16 million people into our country, when they do that, we got a lot of work to do. They’re poisoning the blood of our country. That’s what they’ve done. They’ve poisoned.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Trump’s remarks sparked widespread criticism. Vice President Kamala Harris said Trump’s words were, quote, “similar to the language of Hitler.” On Tuesday, Trump doubled down during a campaign stop in Iowa.

DONALD TRUMP: It’s crazy, what’s going on. They’re ruining our country. And it’s true: They’re destroying the blood of our country. That’s what they’re doing. They’re destroying our country. They don’t like it when I said that. And I never read Mein Kampf. They said, “Oh, Hitler said that,” in a much different way.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump was standing between two Christmas trees.

We’re joined right now by Jeff Sharlet, award-winning journalist and author, professor of English and creative writing at Dartmouth College, author of several books, including The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War. Of course, Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary are the first two for the Republicans. The Democrats have changed their primary schedule.

Jeff, first respond to this “poisoning of the blood” and the comparisons to Adolf Hitler. His wife, Ivana Trump, the mother of his first three children, who died falling down the stairs a little while ago, had said that he had a book of quotes of Adolf Hitler on his bedstand. Take it from there, Jeff.

JEFF SHARLET: Yeah, I think it’s fascinating that Trump volunteers, “I haven’t read Mein Kampf.” And, in fact, the book he’s alleged to have had, and seems to recently have had, was a different book of Hitler’s. But what’s fascinating to me is he’s going out of his way to say that and to repeat that language, after it’s already — the comparison has already been made. And I think he’s invoking that because it’s chaos and it’s drama. And I think he’s counting that in his base he’s going to be more helped by the high drama of Hitlerian operatics in World War II than the comparison to the worst fascist dictator in history. I don’t think he’s dodging it. I think he’s going toward it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, what do you think, Jeff, of the consequences of not taking these words of Trump’s seriously? And also, you know, is this likely to diminish his support or, in fact, increase it?

JEFF SHARLET: I mean, we can just — all we need to do is sort of look what’s happening. It’s increasing the support. Again, he’s understanding that drama and spectacle are what he purveys.

But in terms of not taking it seriously, I’m glad a lot of the press is still covering this race like it’s a horse race, as opposed to a last gasp of the closest thing we could — you know, let’s hold on to what we have of American democracy. We’re starting to look at something called Project 2025. This is a 900-page blueprint put together by Trump’s allies, the Heritage Foundation, funded by Koch money. Press has made a lot of Koch — about the Kochs endorsing Nikki Haley, but they’re covering their bets. A 900-page blueprint for day one. Remember, Trump says, from day one — “On day one, I’m going to be a dictator,” which is another bit of language that I think he’s kind of rope-a-doping the press. “I’m going to be a dictator. I’m just joking. No, no, on day one, I’m going to be a dictator. Just joking. What was that word I kept saying? Dictator.” Again, even more important than the substance is the spectacle, the drama, that makes him the exciting and, in fascist terms, the man of action. Then you’ve got this 900-page document that lays out, agency by agency, with every right-wing think tank on board, with the personnel, 20,000 personnel, already figured out, recruiting 5,000 lawyers to fight for this, with — talking about concentration camps, domestic surveillance, all the facets of a full-sized fascist government. He doesn’t have to have read that, just like he doesn’t have to have read Mein Kampf, to hit those notes.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in the 2025 document that people should understand, this 30-chapter, as you said, 920-page document funded by the Heritage Foundation, the Koch brothers, talking about defunding the Department of Justice, dismantling the FBI, breaking up the Department of Homeland Security, Departments of Education and Commerce — and your title of your book, the subtitle of The Undertow, Scenes from a Slow Civil War, can you tease that out as we move into 2024, what you mean by a “slow civil war”?

JEFF SHARLET: I think the slow civil war — I mean, first of all, we look at the casualties of — that are already happening, people, pregnant people, forced to have children or suffering physically, even dying, the epidemic of trans and queer suicide, all these facets of a growing concentration of fascist policy. But the slow civil war also takes place through lawfare, through the laws that prevent people from getting the things they need. They are casualties of that.

What we see in that document is the blueprint for a massive acceleration of it. It’s an eight — the plan is based around 180 days. And they go back to — Heritage Foundation made its name by making a similar document for Ronald Reagan in 1980, 60% of which was implemented within the first six months of his administration. They cite that, and they say, “OK, but that was for Reagan. Now we’re in the age of Trump. We need to go much further.” That’s the term that they actually use, “much further.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Jeff, how representative would you say this document is to the far-right conservative movement? And do you think, irrespective of whether Trump is elected or not, some of these policies will be carried through, or an attempt will be made to carry them through?

JEFF SHARLET: Yeah, I think that’s the other thing we have to remember. One, if, through some fluke of fate, it is, after all, Nikki Haley — a possibility I don’t take seriously, but if it does happen — this is ready-made for her, as well. But it’s also ready-made for right-wing activism. It’s putting the stamp of Trumpism. And that’s coming not from one group or another that’s been taken over, but Heritage Foundation, Alliance for Defending Freedom, which is the group arguably responsible for overturning Roe. We see the Christian right organizations. We see the libertarian big business organizations. We see the intellectuals, as it were, of the right-wing movement, Claremont Institute, Hillsdale College. It’s a convergence. The document represents 400 contributors, many, many of them former Trump officials, defense contractors. So, I think what it — it’s a document also meant to display, once and for all, the full sort of application of the competence of the wonks put to work for the fury of Trump’s fascism and to sort of say, “OK, everybody’s on board. This is the shape. This is the project.” The project is Trumpism, regardless of where the man is.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, you’re in New Hampshire, Jeff. Nikki Haley got the endorsement of the governor there, of Governor Sununu. The significance of this? And her response to President Trump, talking about the comments about the blood and the polluting of the blood of this country, she said, are simply not helpful. If you can end by talking about what this language does and how it shapes the entire discourse, and what you think the media needs to do in response?

JEFF SHARLET: I’ve been impressed, actually, that they have stepped up a little bit more than they have been recently with just — not only just that language, but “vermin” and this kind of exterminationist language. It’s important to remember that “poisoning the blood” doesn’t just come from Mein Kampf, but it runs like a very poisonous undercurrent through American right-wing rhetoric. I’m looking at a document from 1957, a call by The American Mercury, a right-wing publication, for citizens’ trials, and it reads like it could have been written yesterday, and it talks about poisoning the blood. This is this kind of low throne that’s always been there, and Trump is now putting it on the national stage, giving it that platform that the far right has always wanted and was just a little bit, I think, afraid to claim. They were worried, “If we say this out loud, maybe we’ll lose the people.” And now they’re discovering that the people they want are coming to them because they are naming the F-word, fascism, out loud.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Sharlet, we want to thank you for being with us, professor of English and creative writing at Dartmouth College, author of several books, including The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! produced with Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura. Special thanks to Julie Crosby. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks for joining us.

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