Stop Calling Trump a Fascist!

We should stop calling Trump a fascist not because he isn’t one. In fact, the themes of national decline and weakness, the whipping up of ultra nationalism—making America great or white again, the personality cult of the party leader, a face, a name, an image plastered in every visual and aural field, the inflated use of the first person pronoun (“I and I alone” can fix it) are all clearly in accord with a “real definition” of fascism. However, politics is less about real definitions (essential constituents of an entity) than nominal ones (the functioning of a name attached to an idea) and no one has understood this better than Trump himself whose unprecedented rhetoric has so fully harnessed the power of naming (or name calling) or branding. Naming is an important political act, as is well attested by Jeff Schoep and other leaders of the Neo-Nazis who now go by the innocuous moniker of the alt-right. The left would do well by taking the symbolic value of names more seriously and asking if “fascism” is effective and precise enough to describe the phenomenal contemporariness of Trump’s agenda.

We miss the newness of what Trump represents if we use categories from the 1930s to describe what we are seeing now in 2016. We must begin by naming this new phenomenon to see it for what it is.

Fascism took its name from the fasces (the bundle of rods with the protruding head of an axe) carried by the ancient Roman lictor. It symbolized sovereign power over life and death—the power that could “let live and make die” as Foucault so succinctly put it.[1] In the twentieth century, the fasces served as the symbol of an authoritarian sovereign state that arrogated the power to control all aspects of social life through de facto law to dissolve distinctions between private and the public. The member of a fascist state was a political subject through and through—there was no other source of his or her identity except through that bestowed or confiscated by the state. What is key here is the fact that modern fascism and National Socialism were largely anti-individualist, anti-materialist discourses that referred to notions such as “spirit” and “national destiny,” they were big government and big brother ideologies. The kind of state that Trump and his supporters envision, their assertion of what the true American subject is or ought to be is almost the inverse of that. Contemporary white nationalism and the desire for racial purity, the kind of state espoused by Trump and his vast coalition of neo-Nazis, entail no doubt a cleansing. But a cleansing not simply of people of color, immigrants, and assorted others, but of the political itself, which depends on difference and dissent, and therefore of politics (as demo-cracy) as the terrain of participatory struggle for change.

Trump offers to run the country like a business and his sole qualification for President is his self-trumpeted business acumen, his ability to cut a deal, make a buck, and watch the bottom line. So surely, a businessman who promises to substitute politics with business, to rebrand the state into an enterprise, and transform the political subject citizen into a consumer, and to deploy the market as the only adjudicator of the “truth” of his administration,[2] a businessman who runs on the platform of ending political life itself, cannot properly be represented by the political authority symbolized by the fasces. A state that is no longer a state but a business that cares only for its own self-interest, for a better deal for itself, is a state that views good governance as at best a by-product of capital returns. Trump’s idea of running the country as he runs his businesses, putting American first, means quite simply a zero-sum game: a better deal for ourselves (or is it himself?) and “tough crap” for others. So, what counts is what can be counted. In the end it’s crap or all about crap. Money is crap and crap or faeces as we now well recognize (thanks to Freud’s “Character and Anal Erotism” (1908)) is intimately connected to money.

Freud suggested that traits of “orderliness, parsimony and obstinacy,” are linked with the anal stage of childhood development that manifests symptomatically in avarice and gold lust. Let me be clear: I’m not here interested in the Donald’s psyche or his erotic life. I’m more interested in naming and defining the source from which he and the agenda he espouses, find their symbolic value: faeces not fasces. Can we now hold our noses and talk about faecesism?

As is well known in affect theory, affects are em-bodied, they have no other source than the experience that our bodies undergo. The affect of anality is related to the affect surrounding money, by its profound attachment to the body’s own products—its deep self-interest. The making of money by money for money (what Aristotle distinguished as chrematistics as opposed to oikonomia), avarice as such is rooted in obstinacy and a particular type of self-interest that goes beyond the care for continuing or maintaining life. It is properly not an interest in the self but in the quantifiable products of the self. Here the self itself is viewed as a product, and the product, the thing, holds onto the self as capital. Perhaps the greatest ideological and material accomplishment of neo-liberalism is the substitution of human labor (and capital labor relations) with the concept of human capital, and with it politics and political subjectivity. Faecesism is not merely the idea that the body’s productive power is a form of capital. It is not just bio-power or the harnessing of bio-power by political forces. Rather, insofar as the political itself is transformed into a business, and the self-interest of capital accumulation, its logic of brutal calculability in its indifference to life will always aim at equivalence—sameness of economic exchange, as opposed to equality—of political differences.[3]

Let us make no mistake: Faecesism is not simply the promotion of the idea of human capital to a political ideology; it is the erasure of the political by capital. What is remarkable about Trump and what he stands for is not dictatorial and authoritarian state power. A dictator is a man who is a committed political ideologue, a person who cannot be influenced on policy, whose political authority is unquestionable. As Michael Lewis said recently, the Donald is perhaps one of the most manipulable persons with regard to national policy or diplomacy ever elected to high office. “It all depends on who he’s seen last” and his notorious unpredictability comes from being at the mercy of his advisors and egregious lack of decision.

The implications of faecesism for political life are ultimately what we have to contend with. In a sense, what it aims at is the end of political life, of the voiding the very possibility of politics. If the Nazis eliminated people whom they perceived as different, and as representing incommensurable interests, faecesism is about eliminating the concept of difference itself as giving rise to any form of political life. Foucault spoke of the Nazi state as a suicide state. Faecesism then is another kind of suicide state—it is literally about sending government down the toilet.


[1] See Lecture 11 of Michel Foucault et al., “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the College de France, 1975-76, (New York: Picador, 2003), 239-263.

[2] See Foucault’s lectures The Birth of Biopolitics on the notion of the market as the site of veridiction under neo-liberalism, (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

[3] Jean Luc-Nancy develops Derrida’s distinction in After Fukushima (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014). See also Derrida’s Glas (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), and the essays “On the Priceless and the Going Rate of the Transaction” in Negotiations, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002) and “No Apocalypse, Not Now” in diacritics 14, no. 2 (1984): 20-31.


Kalpana R. Seshadri is professor of English at Boston College where she teaches courses in contemporary theory and literature. She is the author of HumAnimal: Race, Law, Language (Minnesota, 2012)Desiring Whiteness: A Lacanian Analysis of Race (Routledge 2000) and is currently at work on a project dealing with economic theory and the non human with the tentative title Post-Human Economics.