Truth, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Art

By Pablo Gonzalez

Donald Trump is a fascist. I do not use the term sarcastically, nor is it meant to be hyperbole; it is merely a fact, and a fairly evident one to anyone that has been paying attention. There has been very little alteration in the operations of fascist leaders since Benito Mussolini founded the political movement in Italy, and, though today they may hide behind labels such as “alt-right”, their game plan remains the same. Among many, many others, Italian writer and philosopher Umberto Eco wrote extensively about fascism and its legacy, including a fourteen-point list of its defining characteristics in his essay “Eternal Fascism”. It should come as no surprise that Donald Trump, referred to hereafter as variations of his imperial title, “The Fuzzy Pumpkin”, checks almost every box in the list.

The Angry Orange’s campaign and post-election behavior have been marked by deceit, paranoia, intolerance, xenophobia, and sexism, but perhaps the most damning, and the most worrying, of his qualities are his attitudes towards information and dissent. The fascist playbook relies on total control of a populace, and every action they take, every policy they pass through, serves to further that goal. They engage in syncretism, the combination and perversion of beliefs; picking and choosing in order to arrive at one truth, their truth, one that is absolute and unchanging. They create cults of tradition and personality, a normalization of behavior that would otherwise be considered abhorrent. It does not matter where the beliefs came from, or if they contradict each other. It matters only that the people follow those beliefs blindly and unquestioningly, and he has employed several tools to spread misinformation and splinter the American public.

Trump’s attempts at totalitarianism are evident in his interactions with the media. He is obsessed with public perception. He cannot stand the idea of anyone saying anything negative about him, regardless of veracity. In the only press conference he has taken part of since his election, Trump refused questions from CNN, labeling them “fake news”, before taking a question from Breitbart, an ACTUAL fake news outlet that (surprise, surprise) constantly publishes articles supporting Trump and condemning his opponents. Just a day after Trump’s sparsely-attended inauguration, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, accused the press of inaccurate reporting, then proceeded to lie about the number in attendance at the inauguration ceremony. Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President, went on to state that Spicer did not lie, but rather presented “alternate truths”, just after stating that, unless the media was willing to play ball, the administration would have to “rethink [its] relationship to the press.” Trump has been President for less than a week and he has already attempted state control of the media, threatening to shut them out if they continue to write negative (and accurate) pieces. They are shameless about their deceit.

I shouldn’t have to point out the similarities to Fascist Italy, or Nazi Germany, or literally every totalitarian regime that has ever existed. I shouldn’t have to point out the fact that this is a violation of the FIRST FUCKING AMENDMENT to the Constitution. I shouldn’t have to invoke a 220-year old document in defense of the press; yet here we are, sitting idly by while a group of thin-skinned, authoritarian racists continue to demean our most basic rights. Imagine if Obama had banned FOX News from the White House; he had ample reason to, but he never did, because he respected the FREEDOM of the FUCKING PRESS (as much as FOX News can be considered press). In Trump’s perfect world, no one would call him out on his bullshit; no one would point out his racist rhetoric, or the fact that every Tweet he sends out is a national embarrassment. He will try, every day for the next 1,400 days, to demean our right to information and to form our own opinion. Make no mistake; that is where we are headed. He will refuse interviews and he will ban news networks from the White House, before moving on to full-on censorship. Truth is the enemy of the tyrant, and he will do anything and everything in his power to stamp it out, but he will not succeed. In a world where the media does not report the truth, it will live on in art, and that’s something that terrifies our delicate, marigold President.

Some weeks ago at the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep received a lifetime achievement award for her decades of work on the screen, and used her acceptance speech to share her feelings regarding the spray-tanned plutocratic demagogue that today sits in the oval office. The speech triggered a response by the Fat Carrot himself, who immediately took his stubby, greasy fingers to Twitter to fire back at Meryl Streep, who, incidentally, has no Twitter account. This is not a first for the Clementine-in-Chief. Since the early days of his campaign, Trump has been engaged in an ongoing feud with Alec Baldwin, who has portrayed him in several Saturday Night Live sketches (rather accurately), ranting about the “attacks” and sending his brigade of weeaboo basement dwellers to harass the actor for having the sheer gall to make fun of him in a show where practically everyone is made fun of, including Hillary Clinton. Now, we can arrive at one of two conclusions: either Trump is self-conscious and neurotic to the point where he cannot stand anything resembling criticism, or he is simply intolerant of dissent in any form, which is textbook totalitarianism. Evidence points to the latter.

Trump has been quite astute in his rhetoric, creating a nebulous “other” to be filled with artists, liberals, homosexuals, immigrants, and ethnic minorities, in a way that is almost too similar to prior fascist movements. Since the early days of his campaign, Trump has embarked on a crusade against “Hollywood elites”, which is his favorite term for any artist who opposes him. He has attacked screen actors, as well as Broadway performers. He has convinced his supporters that they suffer because of the “Hollywood elites”, immigrants, and minorities. They live in not-so-blissful ignorance of who is actually keeping them down. Fascists are experts at deflecting blame; anyone who does not agree with them is at fault. Anyone who is not onboard is an enemy. Anyone who doesn’t agree is lying. Dissent is treason. There is a reason fascist governments have historically oppressed artists. It’s a house of cards, lies upon lies, upon empty promises. They rely on the quiet consent of the people in order to conduct their cruelty, so they cannot bear to have any pesky “cultural elites” pointing out their duplicities.

The year 1936 marked the start of a bloody ideological conflict known as the Spanish Civil War. The following two years saw Spain ripped apart, as democrats, left-leaning republicans battled the extremely right-wing (fascist) Nationalists, led by Francisco Franco, who would go on to become dictator of Spain for the next 36 years. Both during the war and after, for at least the first ten years of his rule, Franco habitually repressed, censored, and terrorized the media, the arts, and the public overall, in an attempt to stamp out dissent. This came to be known as the White Terror, and it resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. The Nationalists executed and imprisoned anyone they knew or even suspected of being monarchists, members of the Republican or Popular Front parties, educators, artists, intellectuals, Freemasons, and Basque nationalists; in short, anyone who was not part of the Spanish, fascist “us”. Franco sought to silence the populace through sheer force, terror, and death.

One of the victims of the White Terror was Federico Garcia Lorca, a respected poet and playwright, today considered one of the greatest Spanish writers of all time. Garcia Lorca was a known socialist and homosexual, and this was all the fascists needed to end his life. He was murdered barely a month after the war began at the age of 38, leaving many poems and plays unwritten. He was part of an influential group of poets known as the Generation of ’27, writers united by a desire to push the aesthetic boundaries of their art form. The Generation of ’27 was not especially political or socially-inclined; its members generally preferred more avant-garde, surrealist subject matter, but this was inconsequential to the fascists. Art provides hope, and hope can mobilize a population. Hope is deadly to tyrants like Franco, and Mussolini, and Trump. By the end of the war, most of the members of the movement had been murdered or imprisoned, with the exception of those lucky enough to escape into exile, and those who allowed themselves to be repressed purely out of self-preservation.

We are not there yet and, with any luck, we will not arrive there. Trump engages in a more elegant form of fascism, one that relies on misinformation to break the nation into groups that are too busy blaming each other to realize who is truly at fault, but then, he didn’t have to rely on anything else. Mussolini murdered, tortured, and cheated his way to his post. Franco waged a bloody war to take it by force. We didn’t have to be persuaded in such a way; we gave up our freedoms willingly and quietly, to a man who so clearly suffers from narcissistic personality disorder that any word against him shatters his fragile, little ego. Perhaps he is not a fascist after all; perhaps he is nothing more than a petulant child who demands respect and throws a tantrum when he does not receive it. Perhaps he simply grew up never knowing the difference between love and respect. Maybe he’s just showing early signs of dementia. I don’t know. I won’t pretend to know the workings of the Peeled Cantaloupe’s twisted mind. What I know is what I’ve seen over the past year, and in the early days of his administration, and it looks very familiar.

I am an artist. I am an actor, and a writer, and I know that when Trump is done with the media, he will turn his attention to us. He has already begun; he has painted us as one of many enemies to his supporters, has labeled us “Hollywood elites”. I wasn’t aware that I was part of the upper crust of society, but perhaps you can forgive that, given that my bank account has a fifty-fifty chance of being empty at any point in time, and the fact that I drive a Corolla. Simple mistake. I know that when the state controls the media, and it will, we will be next in line, and he will have the full weight of his ignorant masses behind him. I don’t care. I am not afraid. I will write about him then in the same way that I write about him now, with nothing but ire and disgust, because art is dissent. We will not be quiet. We will not lie down. We will continue to demean and undermine the forces of tyranny, because that is what artists do. We will continue to fight tooth and nail for what’s true and what’s right, because anything else would be an insult to Garcia Lorca, and Miguel Hernandez, and the thousands of other writers, actors, painters, and musicians who died because they refused to kneel.

If they threaten us, we will ignore them; if they censor us, we will shout ever louder; and if they turn off our lights and sack our stages, we will act, and write, and sing, and play, and mock, and laugh, and fight, and FIGHT, in the dark, in dive bars, and speakeasies, and dimly lit coffee shops. That’s a promise we will keep.

Pablo Gonzalez is an LA-based actor and writer. He is a graduate of the Florida State University’s Creative Writing program.


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