There is a strong sense of a counter-revolution to what is being orchestrated from the White House.
What Van Jones, on the night of the election called a ‘whitelash‘ – a carnival of repressed racism in response to having had a black President – is actually much broader than that.
I wrote on the day of the inauguration that this was a climate denial coup. But actually they’re giving free reign to all the sadistic and self-serving whims of the most reactionary elements of the ruling elites, regardless of how chaotic the results may be. The last few weeks have seen the lighting of bonfires under regulations and laws guaranteeing public access to healthcare and education, protecting the environment from rapacious slash-and-burn corporations and the real economy from those who would gamble it away in an afternoon, safeguarding the rights of women, refugees, and so much more. Their project will involve, as Richard Seymour details, austerity of a savagery never before imagined. The political scientist Robert Nichols writes: “this is what the Trump administration represents: a coup d’état by the ultra elite billionaire oligarchs, who have effectively eliminated the political-managerial class that used to sit between us and them”.
One obvious analogy to all this is fascism. Hitler’s rise was partly the result of the failure of the socialist revolution of 1918-19. But in our search for historical precedents we can also go further back. The Portuguese historian António Saraiva argued that the Medieval Inquisition was an attempt to hold down a class on the rise: the new merchants who were challenging the power of the church and the aristocracy. That counter-revolution involved the imposition of violence and terror over several centuries.
What is the nature of the heresy that Trump and Bannon have been tasked with repressing? The targets chosen in these first few weeks tell us very clearly: it’s our right to a stable climate. It’s women’s rights to control their own lives. It’s all the civil rights that were won by those whose ancestors built America’s wealth with their slave labour. It’s middle-class aspirations to a dignified life. It is, it should be clear by now, all forms of what can reasonably be called social progress and it’s the very notion that those who weren’t born into the elite class deserve to have rights of any kind.
Orchestrating this is the Grand Inquisitor himself, Steve Bannon, the Torquemada of our times. The fact that he was previously employed overseeing a network of far-right websites presenting ideology as news is of huge significance. For while over hundreds of years the various Inquisitions around Europe imposed their control through torture and public burnings, their contemporary counterparts make use of a far more advanced tool of social control and repression. It was thanks to the internet that they were able to gain power (as Jonathan Albright explains) and it is through trolling and shaming that they will rule. The priests of this movement don’t wear cassocks and carry incense; they sport chinos and brandish iphone 7s, and they express themselves not through papal bulls but through photos with photoshopped slogans ridiculing all accepted beliefs except the one that says that the Holy Church of the Rich, Nasty and Profoundly Stupid is sempiternus.