We cycled down from Kings Cross to Cambridge Circus around five, and reached Trafalgar Square about five thirty. The square was still full but there were open spaces on Whitehall and all the way down to parliament square, which was almost empty. The police were quiet and off to the sides but with no hostility between them and the crowd at all. A line of police horses narrowed the entrance to Whitehall, not closing it off, but ensuring that people could only go through in small groups. One woman in early middle age stood stroking the flank of an unprotesting police horse with a blissed out expression, while the rider tried to look disengaged.
An astonishingly peaceful and good-humoured crowd, 80-90% white; very greenbelt. Unlike Greenbelt, though, there were youngish people, and many in the thirties, which are entirely missing from GB. Few children, of course, though not none. The usual suspects were there: socialist worker, the stop the war coalition, momentum, even. But this was not a particularly left wing crowd in the sectarian sense.
Bumped into Name Redacted [who after all works at Chatham House] outside the National Gallery and failed entirely to recognise him. He took a picture of Claire and me – she in her T shirt that says in rather flowery copperplate script “Well, the patriarchy won’t fuck itself”. I hope to get this back from Bill eventually.
There were incomprehensible speeches delivered from from an invisible rostrum somewhere down near the bottom of the square. Screens showed a speaker we guessed to be David Lammy, but almost all the action came from the signs of the crowd around us. I never did see the very best one, which had been on my twitter feed somewhere – “I came here to drink tea and fight fascism, and now I have drunk my tea.”
Others ranged from the sincere: “Trump: I hope you get stuck on the central line in rush hour” to the self-consciously patriotic – “Feed him to the corgis” – through to the merely heart-felt: “Fuck off, you cunt-faced Muggle”
As the evening wore on the crowd became less and less self-consciously political, and more of an ordinary Friday night on a summer evening joyousness. This was middle London, if not Middle England. Yet when we had first entered the square and were pushing our way through the dense crowd in front of the National Gallery, I had had the strangest, uncomfortable premonition that this was one of those peaceful demonstrations that suddenly gets fired on. I remembered a scene from the television adaptation of the Handmaid’s Tale. I thought, mastering myself, not this time – that would be ridiculous – but in five years’ time, when people are still doing this, from a sense of duty against despair, someone is going to charge this crowd, or shoot, and it will all be drowned in a welter of violence. And if not here, in America.
When we got home, the boys wanted to know why we’d bothered and why people called Trump a fascist. I should have sent them Fintan O’Toole’s piece from the Irish Times about Trump as a “Prefascist”. But I said he had all the elements of fascism – the belief in a strong leader, that national destiny stuff, the use of racial minorities as a scapegoat who must be purged if America is to be made great again; the subordination of legality to the will of the people – except for the glorification of war as the purifying purpose of the people. That is as yet missing, though it is present in the outer fringes, the survivalists and the KKK. It would be difficult for such an obvious draft dodger as Trump to sell, and difficult also when so many of America’s troops are black or latino and the army is so comprehensively integrated. But I don’t underestimate the ability of the US to sell itself anything.
The last period when I was obsessively thinking about
global American politics was the turn of the century and then the run up to the Iraq War. In those days I used to worry about “Weimar America” emerging after the Vietnam War. That was before 9/11, when we worried about sanctions, or at least I did. After the Twin Towers the militarism of the American nation was on flamboyant display, though I would not have understood this had I not travelled in the country in November 2001. The way that people treated uniforms in public then was more telling even than the craziness of the media. Well, there’s very little of that after the long defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it will revive some time. It must. There hasn’t been nearly enough of a defeat to inoculate the country against a belief in military salvation and in an era of nuclear weapons there probably never will be. When that happens, the two waves of proto-fascism will join in the middle.
The main thing wrong with this analysis, so far as I can see, is that Trump has no party. Fascism was organised around parties, and physical membership. Perhaps this is less necessary in an age of social media. I don’t know. It’s certainly true that in Church politics, and the great schism there, physical presence has not been important to either side. The imaginary community can be constructed and maintained online. But where are the boundaries? Where are the membership cards?