Trump’s “Historic Bloc” and the Crisis of Liberal Democracy

How come working-class whites and significant numbers of Latinos can support Donald Trump, a self-glorifying billionaire who has nothing in common with them and little understanding of their lives?

Italian political theorist and leader Antonio Gramsci asked a similar question about the appeal of fascism among the working class. Why could fascism, a project that favored the capitalist class, have so much support among working-class people, who, according to the conventional wisdom of the time, were supposed to side with the left? This was the fundamental question Gramsci considered in his famous prison notebooks, written from his cell after his arrest by the Italian Fascist government in 1926.

To describe this dynamic, Gramsci advanced the idea of ​​the “historical bloc,” among other concepts, to explain the unification of a constellation of groups with opposing interests into a seemingly homogeneous front. Such a bloc, he argued, blurs the lines between state and society and functions to suppress dissent in times of crisis and intense labor and social militancy, such as the one we live in now.

These blocs stand still by demonizing their foreign and domestic enemies, declaring a state of emergency and criminalizing legitimate social protest in the name of national unity. They can trigger malice among state security forces and among armed citizens. Such blocks need not be based on truth, facts, or consistent arguments.

Never rational, such authoritarian movements are based on pure emotion and a kind of right-wing identity politics, using common-sense ideas about how the world works among the working class to pull them from the left. The bloc depends on an intense identification with a strongman leader, the romance of violence to resolve conflict, and a selective reading of national history and culture that attracts groups who find protection by joining the bloc. , even if they are in a subordinate position.

Although the base of the Trumpian bloc is overwhelmingly white and male, 26% of Latinos support Trump over Biden. Many conservative Latinos identify with macho political posturing, pro-2nd Amendment rhetoric, simple public order solutions to complex problems, demonization of the left, and defiance of the Black Lives Matter movement.

This bloc, under the banner “Make America Great Again”, requires its followers – especially subordinate groups – to accept some degree of cognitive dissonance by submitting to the emotional call of a mythical moment of greatness. American. For many white working class people, this moment predates the rise of the civil rights movement, Latino immigration and multiculturalism, the idea that diverse people should have representation and rights in a pluralistic society.

For right-wing Latinos, that means ignoring historical and contemporary injustices inflicted on their community, such as the lynching of Mexicans by the Texas Rangers in the 1920s, the deportation of at least 1 million Mexicans in the 1950s, the separation of their parents’ children at the border or the alleged forced hysterectomies of Latina migrant women in immigration detention centers.

The purpose of the MAGA slogan is to bury history with its deep class and racial disparities and mask the crises of our time: savage inequalities, climate change, pandemics and racial conflicts.

Racism and xenophobia have historically provided the ideological glue that has prevented the white working class from supporting the most rabid sectors of the capitalist class and having their fate tied to other racials and immigrants. Even during the current economic catastrophe, it is easier for many working-class whites to identify with the Trumpian bloc, led by a billionaire rooted in the transnational capitalist class, than to have a sense of solidarity with Latinos or black people.

Historic right-wing blocs are emerging precisely when the left is strong and the right decides to no longer play by the rules of liberal democracy, the system of conflict resolution through representative government and respect for individual rights.

These are dangerous times that compel us to recall the fascist bloc that emerged in Italy in reaction to the Biennio Rosso, the great labor movement of 1919 and 1920, when workers took control of factories and continued production in defiance of the owners.

It emerged in Germany in the wake of the Weimar Republic, a liberal government, against the backdrop of intense workers’ struggles and one of the strongest communist parties in Western Europe at the time. And in the 1930s, authoritarian blocs in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic led to dictatorships and brutal repression that lasted much of the 20and century.

In the name of redeeming a victimized nation, fascist leaders like Mussolini and Hitler created historic blocs that destroyed liberal democratic institutions, outlawed dissent and even murdered their opposition, and channeled working class anger into a ultra-nationalist project at the service of Capitale. Fascism eventually led to the collapse of democracies in Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal and the death of 85 million people by the end of World War II.

These are unprecedented times, with a raging pandemic, millions out of work, rising hunger and poverty, racial tensions and clashes between police and protesters. The stability of America’s flawed democratic experiment is threatened by a historic bloc that gives the president the power to undermine democratic institutions and promote the use of violence against protesters and dissenters in the name of law and order. .

Trump may have created new symbols, like his red MAGA hat, and slogans to try to differentiate himself from the fascisms of the 20and century. But Robert O. Paxton, a prominent historian of fascism, noted in his classic book “The Anatomy of Fascism” that “a fascism of the future – perhaps an emergency response to a crisis as yet unimagined – has no need to perfectly resemble classical fascism in its outward signs and symbols” as being less dangerous.

Alfonso Gonzales Toribio is a political theorist and associate professor of ethnic studies and director of the Latin American studies program at UC Riverside. He is the author of “Reform Without Justice: Latino Migrant Politics and the Homeland Security State”.