August 1, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The Fascist Mind Is Dumb
The last thing we should do is pretend it's smart.
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There was a mini-scandal on Twitter Wednesday so small it might not matter, but I think it does. It speaks to an issue I’ve raised here, which is that very smart people overrate their ability to identify obvious idiocy and thus make the mistake of looking for concrete reasons why the president attacks major cities like Baltimore.
Donald Trump does not attack cities, because, as smarty Will Wilkinson said, they are proof that “the liberal experiment works—that people of diverse origins and faiths prosper together in free and open societies.” He attacks them because they’re cities.
The fascist mind is dumb.
It all started when Jonathan Weisman, a Times’ politics editor, posted this:
He deleted that tweet before posting a mea culpa of a sort: “Earlier this morning I tried to make a point about regional differences in politics between urban and rural areas. I deleted the tweets because I realize I did not adequately make my point.”
Actually, he did make his point adequately. He was inferring that people of color in the Deep South or the Midwest don’t count. Because they don’t count, Democratic presidential candidates need not bother with them while courting their white counterparts. Weisman’s whitewashing drew the ire of what seemed like the entire black commentariat. It was a deluge of outrage forcing Weisman to say sorry.
Greg Sargent did not defend Weisman, but the Post columnist did try to suss out the greater political context of Weisman’s post, which he said is the urban-rural divide in the country that some say explains white working class resentment for being left behind in an economy rigged by global elites living in cosmopolitan cities. He said:
Cities are both home to elites and places of terrible urban poverty — decline and suffering coexist with rebirth and human flourishing.
But they are in some ways multicultural and economic success stories.
That’s what Trump’s reacting to.
I have no doubt Sargent is right that there is a real urban-rural divide. The social science seems pretty convincing. According to Mark Muro, a senior policy wonk at the Brookings Institution, the president’s “Baltimore bile speaks to racial animosity but also to the deep grievances of rural and small-town interests of his base that are increasingly being left behind by successful, dynamic, and diverse cities.”
But I doubt something.
These people believe cities are bad. Therefore, cities are bad.
I doubt Trump voters are animated by a resentment caused by economic conditions. The president’s base is middle class, not working class, if we define class by annual income, not education. People who are truly working class, including lots of white people, didn’t vote for Trump. They voted, as they have historically, for the Democrat. To the extent that Trump voters feel resentment that’s economically based, it’s the resentment of a petite bourgeoisie for not being able to be more bourgie.
So to say that Trump voters are motivated by resentment as a result of economic conditions may be to give more credence to their claims than those claims actually deserve. The president is not attacking cities because they are “multicultural and economic success stories.” He attacks them for reasons far dumber than that.
It seems clear, to me anyway, that Trump voter resentment is not caused by economic conditions as much as it’s caused by plain-old politics. They believe cities are taking advantage of them—and they won’t stop believing that even if a Democratic president somehow improves their rural economies. That’s because evidence and reason have nothing to do it. These people believe cities are bad. Therefore, cities are bad.
They believe cities are taking advantage of them, because the Republican Party has for decades been telling them we are real Americans while they who live in urban centers are atheist, criminal, lazy, parasitic, or even diseased. Meanwhile, “real Americans” are pure, hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying and virtuous. “We” are the makers in other words. “They” are the takers. The more very smart people seek an empirical basis for fictive fascist thinking, the more they actually legitimize fascist politics.
According to Jason Stanley’s now seminal How Fascism Works, cities are a classic fascist target. Fascism—or white nationalism or white supremacy or whatever you want to call it—rejects pluralism and tolerance, two keystones of urban life. He wrote:
Everyone in the chosen nation shares a religion and a way of life, a set of customs. … Fascist politics targets financial elites, “cosmopolitans,” liberals, and religious, ethnic and sexual minorities … characteristically urban populations. Cities therefore usefully serve as a proxy target for the classic enemies of fascist politics.
As I said, evidence and reason don’t matter. Fact is, blue states and their big cities actually subsidize red states and their rural economies. The former sends more in federal tax dollars to Washington than the latter, and the latter receives more in federal tax dollars than the former. If anyone is a taker it’s “real Americans.”
Understanding this is important to the 2020 election but also to its press coverage. If Weisman is any indication, the media’s narrative is: What economic policies can Democrats propose that will entice Trump voters to support them? That question, however, is based on a yuge assumption—that their claims are based in reality.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.