The subject of Madeleine Albright’s latest book is of utmost significance as the influence of the far right increases.
Authoritarianism laced with xenophobia and racism, accompanied by inequality, corporate hyper-power and refugee-flows from war-ravaged regions, has returned as a polarising force in Britain, Germany, Sweden and US President Donald Trump’s America.
President Trump’s attacks on democracy and rule of law, and admiration of nationalist-chauvinist ‘strongmen’ (such as Vladimir Putin), test the mettle of American political democracy. Ms Albright calls on political elites to disown President Trump and reassert American core values and identity. Her own encounters with fascism and gratitude to America for offering refuge are probably the most authentic parts of the book, the driver of her sincere ‘never again’ plea. Disappointingly, the book is a major let down on both its core subject – fascism – and on the current legitimacy crisis in the US.
Ms Albright provides no historically-accurate definition of fascism to differentiate political systems. Instead, she lumps together North Korea, Venezuela, Turkey, Hungary, Egypt, fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and communist Russia.
The superficial resemblances between communism, fascism, authoritarianism and tyranny do little to illuminate any historical regimes’ origins or dynamics.
For example, Soviet communism clearly had repressive features that superficially rhymed with Nazi Germany’s, but the former’s stated aim was universal equality, the latter’s the triumph of a master race that led to the Holocaust and war.
Fascists come to power with traditional elites’ assistance and jostle with them for influence; communists do not.
Moving on to the present day, Ms Albright omits consideration of the conditions that enabled Trump or of where responsibility might lie – for example in the corporate-oriented economic model that generates inequality, and enables corporations to capture political party agendas and globalise, marginalising ordinary Americans.
That alienation and inequality was sharpened by America’s illegal war on Iraq, and on terror, and exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis, fuelling Tea Party-driven rightward shifts in the Republican party.
The Occupy Wall Street protest and Bernie Sanders represented the force of left opposition. Crucially, that is the political swamp that birthed Trumpism.
Yet, despite Ms Albright’s correct recognition that fascists rarely take power without the active connivance or cowardice of conservative and mainstream elites – and fascism historian Robert Paxton’s assessment that fascists govern with corporate support – no responsibility is assigned for the current political dispensation to the Wall Street-oriented globalising Democratic party of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Ms Albright knows but one kind of politics – that of the elite to which she belongs. The solution to the Trump problem therefore lies with those responsible for his rise.
There is no mention of mass opposition to Trumpism – those who march against the fascists; besiege Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centres.
Unwittingly or otherwise, Ms Albright’s call to political elites to combat the march of the right is a form of pragmatic appeasement.