Hitler is Not Dead: On the Politics of Exceptionalizing Donald Trump

Originally published on Hampton Institute

“At the end of capitalism, which is eager to outlive its day, there is Hitler. at the end of formal humanism and philosophic renunciation, there is Hitler.”

—Aimé Césaire, Discourses on Colonialism

We are in a sociopolitical moment where it is arguably more crucial than ever to challenge widespread, and often deliberate, misapprehensions regarding historical precedents, to avoid remaking past mistakes and repeating history when so much is at stake. Fascism is a socio-economic and political project and system of governing that began the moment Europeans first made contact with West African shores. The process continued when the Euro-American bourgeoisie further invaded Indigenous territory in conquest for expanding markets and sources of capital, and marked the creation of what we know today as America—the most powerful and technologically advanced hyper-militarized carceral-police state and exporter of capitalist, imperialist, and colonial violence and domination that the world has ever seen. The consequential violence and contradictions that have been exposed the last four years, which by many have been attributed solely to Donald Trump and co., are simply the demands and material consequences of capital and white supremacy (which go hand-in-hand, and are essentially inseparable). The exceptionalizing of Trump or his administration is short-sighted and dangerous. In reality, any US president would be tasked with such a role and responsibility.

Yet, what the liberal media apparatus and ruling class has spent the last four years doing to Trump—much like the West has historically done to Hitler—making him out to be an ‘exceptional’ evil, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, as a means of separating themselves from (what is largely described as exclusively Trumpian or Hitlerian) political crimes, represents an incredibly grotesque and ahistorical deliberation on the part of the elite. In other words, Hitler was not the first Hitler and Trump is not the first Trump. And they certainly won’t be the last. Trump, just as Hitler was, is not the exception but the rule of what white-supremacist-patriarchal capitalism is capable of, and what this system is willing to do (or produce) to maintain its naturalized order and rule. And if we allow them to continue to exceptionalize what Trump is doing, or has done up until this point—even if he’s doing it in unorthodox ways—we will be bamboozled yet again as yet another, more effective, less blatant Trump will inevitably rise.

What Hitler did, and what Trump is currently doing—as in their (racialized) political, economic, and war crimes—are not exclusive or unique to either of them as individuals, despite what Western (revisionist) history and the professional liberal media class would like to have us believe. But instead, racial terror, violence, and genocide, is and always has been the point of the Western (and American) project. It is built into the fabric of the of the West—it is all Euro-American’s have ever known, culturally and politically. And they will, as we have seen, continue their terror and violence because the political economy is sustained on such; until the entire project is brought to a halt. The global capitalist political economy is predicated on and sustained through racialized violence, and cannot be attributed solely to any one individual leader or figurehead. When I say that Hitler, or Trump in this case, are not exceptional evils, despite both being individually evil and worthy of our condemnation: it is to say that every western leader—namely in the context of US presidents—has blood on their hands. And all have, both individually and collectively, terrorized and massacred countless people, as their policies and upholding of US hegemony, by means of imperialism, [neo]colonialism, and global capitalism, has directly and indirectly led to such deadly consequences.

“When I switch on my radio and hear that black men are being lynched in America, I say that they have lied to us: Hitler isn’t dead. When I switch on my radio and hear that Jews are being insulted, persecuted, and massacred, I say that they have lied to us: Hitler isn’t dead. And finally when I switch on my radio and hear that in Africa forced labor has been introduced and legalized, I say that truly they have lied to us: Hitler isn’t dead.”

— Aime Cesaire

I would like to preface the rest of this by stating that when I speak of Hitler, it is not just in the context of the individual—but an idea, as Aimé Césaire would describe it, both abstract and material, that is innate to western civilization and the maintenance of the regime which has global implications. Hitler was, quite literally on record, inspired by the United States’ treatment of Black and Indigenous people in America. But, the US, and the West at-large, has exceptionalized him, as if they are morally and politically above his crimes. How is what Hitler, and now Trump, did and are actively doing so unspeakable to the professional liberal apparatus, when such crimes have always been committed against racialized people on a global scale? How can we take seriously the largely performative outrage and condemnation that the Hitlers or Trumps of our world have incited in liberals when similar crimes have been enacted on racialized persons on a global scale by political leaders such as Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama, all of whom they admire? What is Hitler to the African, whose enslavement, rape, theft, dispossession, and exploitation served as a template for what would be exported to other colonized nations and peoples for the purposes and demands of Western capital? What is Hitler to the Palestinian whose terror and whose terror and ongoing genocide is being supported and funded by the US (and every single one of our politicians)? What is Hitler to the Iranian, Korean, or Chinese whose subjugated positionality is that of the result of US imperialism and global capitalism? What is Hitler to any racialized, imperialized, or colonized nation or peoples who have reaped the consequences of Euro-American capital and rule?

“During the Second World War the country became incensed against the Japanese—not against the Germans. The Germans were never incarcerated, the Japanese were. And now the Iranians and other people like that. Europe had nothing against Hitler and neither did [America] until he turned his guns against them.”

 — James Baldwin

Fascism is not something that can be simply born or defeated via electoralism—in countries that are capitalist, colonialist, and/or imperialist from their inception, as was such in the case of the US and Germany. An able and willing fascist participant can absolutely run for office, uphold such an order, and maybe even advance it in a wide variety of ways. But there has not been a case in which fascism begins or ends with said individual or political act of simply voting. So while yes, the ruling class technically “allows” its subjects the illusive option to vote for and “elect” (with conditions, of course) whomever will be the upholder of said system, it is the system itself — that makes way for the empowerment and upholding of individuals, ideologies, and violence—that needs undoing, not just the figurehead representing it. Which, again, is what makes it ncessary to expose the liberal exceptionalizing of Trump’s regime of violence—because the capitalist ruling class will easily relieve Trump of his duties of upholding the white-supremacist fascist order and replace him with someone who will effectively maintain the white power structure with grace and class, just as liberals like it, in a way that is socially acceptable to the vast majority of American people (and the West at large). Because the vast majority of Americans are simply unaware of the extent to which political violence is exported globally. And the amount of violence, terror, and death that elected leaders—from the self-proclaimed progressives to the unabashed neo-conservatives—are directly responsible for.

To reiterate, the inevitable ascension into the fascist order began when Europeans set foot on the shores of West Africa—not the 2016 general election in the US. Germany, for example, alongside the Euro-Americas, enslaved and massacred Africans with impunity centuries prior to the unfortunate birth of Hitler, the individual, and yet we are to believe fascism began with Hitler? Or, in the American sense, with Trump in 2016? Despite the incessant crimes of capital, which as we know, as Marx taught us, “[came] dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt” throughout history, including such crimes that birthed the bastard child of Europe now known as America? If it took multi-country war and an immeasurable amount of bloodshed led by the USSR to defeat the fascist beast in Germany—never mind the reluctance on the part of the US to get involved until Germany threatened US hegemony with its prospects of expanding its rule on a global scale—how are we supposed to believe that fascism is something to be defeated by merely checking off a box?

America was born as a nation, as an ideological extension of a European bourgeois political, cultural, and libidinal desire to expand new markets to generate more capital—even if it meant resorting to the utmost diabolical means. Hitler is not dead. As the US’s values, institutions, global legitimacy, and grip on the world—namely the colonized world—is in decay, there is far too much evidence of just this fact. And everything we are seeing that the professional liberal class has duplicitously yet meticulously attributed solely to Trump and his ilk, whether in reference to the political repression happening across the country on the part of the carceral police state, the neglect of millions of citizens in a midst of a global pandemic and economic turmoil, or the hypervisibility of armed white militia groups, is simply a product of white-supremacist capitalism and its reaction to, and delaying, its inevitable demise.

The state at-large, and its upholders—whether in the form of the institutionalized agents or vigilantes—is reacting to the desires and needs of capital and whiteness. And regardless of who is president, these contradictions will continue to rise in these times because the needs of capital and whiteness largely come at the expense of the non-white and super-exploited, rendering it unsustainable and almost always in a constant state of flux and turmoil, and constantly in need of protection and adaptation. Hitler is not dead.

“We must resign ourselves to the inevitable and say to ourselves, once and for all, that the bourgeoisie is condemned to become every day more snarling, more openly ferocious, more shameless, more summarily barbarous; that it is an implacable law that every decadent class finds itself turned into a receptacle into which there flow all the dirty waters of history; that it is a universal law that before it disappears every class must first disgrace itself completely, on all fronts, and that it is with their heads buried in the dunghill that dying societies utter their swan songs.”

— Aimé Césaire, discourses on colonialism

Fascism—as well as the personification of such in the form of Hitler and Trump—is the inevitable outcome of a global capitalist system whose entire economy is predicated on constant racialized war, terror, and violence, and unsustainably expanding and creating new markets to achieve such a feat. Hitler is not dead. Fascism is simply “capitalism in decay.” If we want to end, or even remotely challenge fascism, we must work to eradicate capitalism.

The misunderstanding of fascism begins with the deliberate political positing of [neo]liberalism as in-opposition or an alternative to the fascist order. When in actuality, history has shown us that it is in cahoots with, if not, an actual strand of fascism in and of itself. Liberal democrats often spout rhetorical devices such as, “there is no middle ground; pick a side.” Such statements are not to emphasize the crucial sociopolitical moment we find ourselves in, which necessitates that we choose between fascism or socialism—in the face of pending climate doom and deteriorating material conditions—but to guilt us into voting for Democrats over Republicans.

It has never been more apparent that liberal democrats are the stabilizers and upkeepers of fascist rule—who exist to provide an illusion of “opposition” to the material actualities and consequences of liberal democracy, western capital(ism), and the white power structure at-large—while actively upholding the neoliberal fascist order and inhibiting even the slightest possibilities of progress. Left radicals, or anyone who has divested from bourgeois electoralism, are constantly punched down on and condescended to for daring to demand more than mild concessions (“reforms” that’ll just be poked, prodded, weakened and rendered obsolete the moment the next Republican gets into office) and milquetoast, uninspiring, career-imperialist Democrat candidates. There have been constant claims on the part of liberal democrats—and those sympathetic to their politics—of radicals being “child-like” and expecting “purity” for wanting a world without constant racialized violence, demanding political representatives that aren’t subservient to capital but to our material interests, and refusing to engage in lesser of two evils every election cycle. It is quite clear that liberal establishment democrats—and the opportunists who serve their rule—are categorically irrelevant to the dispossessed, colonized, racialized, super-exploited, and wretched of our world, beyond their attempts to postpone and/or flat-out hinder our drive to build a better world, and redirecting our aims back into the arms of the establishment.

Liberal democrats obediently assume their role as the “left-wing” of fascism—the “good cops” to the Republican “bad cops.” The covert fascists versus overt fascists. But at the detriment to us all, the fact still remains that they are both still cops and they are both still driving a fascist system to its inevitable conclusion. Democrats represent the only publicly legitimized and acknowledged political “left” party despite being overwhelmingly ideologically right wing. They allow and endorse mild concessions that will help keep the racialized, colonized, dispossessed, and super-exploited slightly comfortable enough—at the expense of one another and persons in the Global South and Third World—to remain complicit in their subjugation. They will even give impassioned monologues on social media, or in front of the cameras, yell at Republicans’ blatant political violence—while doing nothing materially to actually offer resistance or represent an opposition to said violence beyond rhetorical moral grandstanding. While Republicans don’t even pretend to care about providing subjects of their rule crumbs through these concessions. They don’t pretend to care about whether or not you vote because they accept and relish in their bad cop role. But ultimately, both parties truly cannot exist and flourish without one another. They are both incredibly useful, in their own way, as agents of capital, to the sustainment and growth of fascism.

I’d argue “centrism,” “conservatism,” and “republicanism” are not even economic ideologies—in fact, their ideology largely rests on the premise that they have none—beyond the rule of capital. So why else—beyond the aforementioned reasons—would you need two parties? Both parties are one in the same—just differ in tactics and approaches—but are united under the banner of upholding economic [neo]liberalism, i.e., capitalism. Which is why the rhetoric of “we have a choice between neoliberalism or fascism”—which has been an ostensible liberal talking point—as if, again, neoliberalism is, or could ever be, an alternative, reprieve, or in-opposition to fascism. How could something that has historically worked in cahoots with fascism be an alternative to its rule?

The fact that so much state-sanctioned violence, political repression, mishandling and neglect of the most marginalized—especially incarcerated, immigrant, and houseless populations—in the face of COVID-19, an ongoing housing crisis, unemployment, and economic turmoil, is happening in “liberal” cities and cities led by Democrats nationwide, should very much inform our understanding of the situation at hand. The fascist order will remain intact regardless of who is elected into office on November 3rd—despite the hand-wringing and finger-pointing over which party is more at fault for white-supremacist capitalism’s ills being exposed. The public perception and liberal media coverage of certain events and political violence will adjust accordingly. What we are seeing now, and have been seeing for the last four years is simply a declining empire doing anything and everything it can to maintain its tight (but loosening) grip on its own people—as well as the rest of the world. As evidenced by not just the uprisings and rebellions happening across the country and the world at-large, but the failed coup d’etat attempts—namely in Venezuela and Bolivia—which the professional liberals condemned, not from an anti-imperialist stance but because of Trump’s inability to do imperialism effectively.

If Trump is Hitler, what is Obama to people of Libya? Or Syria? Or Pakistan? What is George W. Bush Jr. to Iraqis? What is Bill Clinton to the people of Sudan? Yuglosavia? What are any and all of them to migrants who have been caged and deported, or Black people who have been executed by police in the streets on a daily basis, or workers who have been left without means to sustain basic life, or tens of millions who are surveilled each and every day? These things occurred long before Trump and will continue to escalate long after Trump.

The empire lives. For now. And Hitler is not dead.