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American Fascism

It started out as a joke. Donald Trump for president? The guy who says “You’re fired” and is infamous for his hair? Sounds like an SNL skit. After a while—after it became clear that he was running to win—I asked myself, “Is he just trolling everyone? The Republicans? The Democrats? He can’t be serious when he says these things.” But say things he did, and continues to do: veterans, black people, Hispanic people, Asian people, disabled people, overweight people, Muslim people, women. Donald Trump has ridiculed and dehumanized just about every group in the country.

And yet his poll numbers have continued to climb for months now, with recent numbers suggesting he is within 6 percentage points of Bernie Sanders and 3 percentage points of Hillary Clinton. And all of this is done to the sound of the smug, self-satisfied laughter of our country’s elite, who continue to reassure themselves, “It will never happen.”

But it can happen. And the continued derision of our country’s progressives, particularly amongst the crucial constituency of millennial voters, is what is allowing it to happen. Before I came to Harvard, I grew up in rural Northeast Georgia, and as a result I am acutely aware of the fundamental emotional disconnect between our country’s upper tier and the average American. I realize that in an age defined by partisan newscasting, education disparities, and social media echo chambers, this country lacks mutual understanding. In the Harvard bubble, we do not truly get what causes our countrymen to speak, think, and live in the way that they do. Because of this lack of understanding, we deride Trump as a joke, or label all Trump supporters as idiots, and, in turn, fail to recognize the legitimate concerns of America’s ailing middle class, leaving our nation critically vulnerable to Trump’s fascist campaign.

Outside of Harvard, many members of America’s formerly thriving middle class are furious. They are terrified. They feel powerless in a society that was ruptured by the Recession of 2008, and in its economic reconstruction, they feel left behind. So, in looking for someone to blame, many have latched onto a figure who promises an end to the political establishment, with a campaign that harkens back to an age of national pride and, more than anything, economic security and optimism. But what they have found is one of the greatest domestic threats to America in our nation’s history.

Something that has constantly shocked me at Harvard is just how insulated many of my classmates—particularly those who are from upper class urban and suburban backgrounds—were from the material and psychological impact of the Great Recession. See, my experience, like the experiences of millions of Americans from the easily derided, yet electorally crucial, “fly-over” regions of the U.S., was much more harrowing. I grew up in Gainesville, Georgia, a town that was ravaged by the Great Recession.

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Home foreclosure signs dotted both sides of almost every street and highway, seemingly stable jobs and lifestyles vanished, money for our textbooks evaporated, marriages shattered, children turned to drugs, and lives fell into ruin. It affected everyone in my small town in some way. Budget cuts to Georgia public education led to furlough days, inability to purchase sufficient textbooks, layoffs, hiring freezes, and classrooms stuffed to the brim with students. Small businesses shut down in droves, leaving our town square, among many other areas of the town, utterly barren.

There is a sentiment in many of our nation’s middle class households that while the rest of America was suffering, the “establishment,” the political and corporate elite who arguably caused the financial crisis in the first place, avoided responsibility, either through explicitly illicit activity or through simple negligence. For many Americans, Trump, an apolitical figure, represents the strongest rejection of the “establishment,” that, in their minds, ruined their livelihoods.

I hope this article is wrong. I hope my friends and classmates are right—that Trump isn’t in any possible, conceivable way the threat that people seem to think that he is. After following this election closely, though, talking to friends from back home, and studying history, I am increasingly afraid of the threat that Donald Trump poses. I believe that he could win not because of his iconoclastic personality and hateful, racist rhetoric, but because citizens feel alienated from the political and economic processes of the post-Recession world, because fascism promises strength, and because people agree with Trump’s lofty goal to “Make America Great Again.”

In a period where everyone, especially our generation, is speaking into their own social media echo chamber, it terrifies me to think that millennials and increasingly our entire nation have been lulled into a state of apathy towards the political process. Politics matter, words matter, and hateful rhetoric to the cheer of millions matters. We must recognize where Trump’s voters are coming from, understand that some of the sources of their fear and anger are legitimate, and then, with this knowledge, wake up and fight back. It is time for us, as a nation, to recognize that Trump’s campaign is an affront to the idea of equality of opportunity for everyone, regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation, that we as a people are striving to obtain.

Trump represents a false sense of security who appeals to the most instinctual feelings of fear that turn us against our neighbors because of the color of their skin or the name that they use when they talk to God. Our generation of Americans has been blessed to have never lived under a figure whose words have promised so many chilling actions of hate and intolerance. So my message to my friends from back home in Georgia and at Harvard, is to remind ourselves that we don’t have to have lived under Benito Mussolini or George Wallace to stand up united as a generation and a nation to declare, in one voice, “No.”


William F. Morris IV ’17-’18 is taking a year off to intern in a public defender's office and advocate for mental health awareness.

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