Was George W. Bush More Fascist Than Trump?

Was George W. Bush More Fascist Than Trump?
Photo by Pexels Eric Yeich

Who was the bigger nightmare, Dr. Frankenstein, or the monster he created?

That's the basic question being posed in this post's headline, and one raised in a tweet by Murtaza Hussain, who writes at The Intercept:

There's an impressive paper trail now that documents how Bush's War on Terror and massive expansion of the national security surveillance state (from which my early career benefited, if I'm being honest) literally incubated Trump and Trumpism. And as I say in the short clip below from an upcoming episode of the pod, if you were a Muslim or brown person in the Bush years, there's a good chance you felt like you were living in a fascist America. There's also a paper trail showing connections between the national security state during the War on Terror and the erosion of democracy for brown people.

The reason a lot of people/libs view Trump as a great rupture was because they were white and/or property-owning during the Bush years, which meant they were doing relatively well. Democracy worked for them as long as they weren't planning a Jihad, so that sort of person didn't necessarily see the fascism in Bush's policies.

Having said all that, Trump's rhetoric was far more fascistic and far less civil than Bush's rhetoric. There is a popular fascist energy out in civil society and the Republican base now that was more muted and under control during the Bush years. And of course people are far more economically insecure today than during the Bush years--something Trump and the far right have actively exploited.

But in terms of policies and their circumscription of democracy at home and abroad, Bush and Trump were either both fascist or neither were. There's a certain kind of leftist that doesn't want to acknowledge Trump as fascist because 1) fascism describes a unique historical phenomenon and any new iteration must be called something else, 2) fascism means disappearing communists and socialists into prisons and killing them and that isn't happening yet, or 3) mainstream libs use the fascist specter to ignore progressive demands for policy change in favor of doing basically nothing but fight Trump and Republicans.

I mean whatever. There's more I could say about the "fascist debate" on the left, but for now the point is I have no problem describing Trump or the MAGA phenomenon as fascist, yet I recognize that the Bush years were even more dystopian than today for some people. I don't deny that Bush was fascistic in the sense that an earlier era of black radicals used that term.

But crucially, today's far right populism is downstream of Bush's neoconservatism. What I hope we get out of raising the comparison of Bush and Trump is how the latter is a creation of the former. That the neocons are repulsed by Trump does not mean they weren't his maker. At any rate, they are both strands of a common reactionary politics that prizes capital over workers and a social order based on racial and gender hierarchies. Those things go together, and one strengthens the other. So if you want political equality, you can't cede the economy to oligarchs. And if you want economic equality, you can't cede the "liberal rights revolution" to the new right.