An analysis of the Trump movie shown at the Capitol Rally: An exercise in fascism

February 4, 2021 • 12:45 pm

This is an interesting analysis of the two-minute film shown to the crowd that assembled at the Washington, D.C. pro-Trump rally on January 6, right after Donald Trump, Jr. and Rudy Giuliani spoke. And you know what happened after that! (Thanks to reader Ken for calling this to my attention.) The analysis by Jason Stanley goes through the movie frame by frame, and gives a written discussion of how it fits into the tradition of fascistic propaganda. I recommend watching the movie first (click on the Vimeo site below), then read the article and then re-watch the movie with fresh eyes.

Jason Stanley is the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University and an expert in the history and workings of fascism. His piece appears at the site Just Security, described by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law School as

“an editorially-independent online forum co-founded by CHRGJ Faculty Co-Chair Professor Ryan Goodman. It provides rigorous analysis of US national security law and policy, aiming to promote principled and pragmatic solutions to national security problems faced by decision-makers. Just Security‘s masthead includes people with substantial government experience, civil society attorneys, academics, and other leading voices.”

This is just to show you that this is no basement-dwelling YouTuber who did the analysis. You should take it seriously.

Okay, first skip the headlines below and watch the short movie. Then go back, click the headlines below and read Stanley’s analysis. I have a few thoughts at the bottom.

 

Stanley appears to know what he’s talking about, and emphasizes the many tropes of fascism that appear in this movie. There’s the father figure (Trump), the emphasis on the nation’s fears, the identifying of an enemy (apparently blacks and Jews), and the reliance on the military. The only thing I’m dubious about is Stanley’s identification of the Jews as the explicit enemy that needs to be overthrown. On the other hand, he does make some good points: this movie was carefully confected, and some of the images seem to make sense only in an anti-Semitic context.

Clearly, Stanley sees the movie as good fascist propaganda, and I can’t say I disagree. But was it really intended to prompt the demonstrators’ assault on the Capitol? I don’t do psychologizing so much, but Stanley seems to say, “yes”:

Each of us can decide what moral responsibility Trump personally has for a video to rouse his supporters at the rally. How much of a role the White House or Trump himself may have played in deciding to show the video and sequencing it immediately after Giuliani’s speech, we don’t know. But it is worth noting that the New York Times recently reported that by early January, “the rally would now effectively become a White House production” and, with his eye ever on media production, Trump micromanaged the details. “The president discussed the speaking lineup, as well as the music to be played, according to a person with direct knowledge of the conversations. For Mr. Trump, the rally was to be the percussion line in the symphony of subversion he was composing from the Oval Office,” the Times reported.

Worldwide, there have been many fascist movements. Not all fascist movements focus on a global Jewish conspiracy as the enemy, and not all of them were genocidal. Early on, Italian fascism was not anti-Semitic in its core, though it later turned that way. British fascism was not genocidal (though it also was never given the opportunity to be). The most influential fascist movement that takes a shadowy Jewish conspiracy as its central target is German fascism, Nazism. Nazism did not start out in genocide. It began with militias and violent troops disrupting democracy. In its early years in power, in the 1930s, it was socialists and communists who were targeted for the Concentration Camps, torture, and murder. But it must never be forgotten where Nazism culminated.

As a secular Jew, I have to take particular care when leveling the charge of anti-Semitism because it feeds into my own biases. So I reserve judgment here, but ask you to watch the movie and read the analysis with a clear head, and then come to your own conclusions. I’d advise you to do both watching and reading, for this kind of authoritarianism, no matter what you call it, is still heavily afoot in America.