It’s a very OLD fascist demand for allegiance.
Yeah, I did it too. I saw an article (Trigger Warning: that’s a Fox News link) being passed around about Trump declaring May 1st to be “Loyalty Day”, and my fascist radar started going off. I couldn’t believe it – the Cheeto Mussolini wants me to drop a knee and swear my fealty… on MAY DAY?!?!? Of all the days, he picked May Day? Unbelievable.
This has to be planned, I thought. Bannon. Or maybe Miller. Trump didn’t come up with this, he’s busy watching YouTube tutorials on shoe-tying every morning.
I took that article and I posted it, and I gave it my own verbal middle finger. And I stand by the statement. But, come to find out, it needs some clarity.
So, I already knew what May Day is… kinda. I knew the basic concept and principles behind it. But I didn’t know the history of May Day, not really. I knew that it was a day for honoring the Working Class, and the struggles and progress that workers have made throughout history, much to the dismay of the elite. And I knew that it has been observed for a long time. And I thought that was enough. Or, rather, I didn’t think enough about it.
After I saw the “Here’s Trump With Some Brand New Fascism” story, I happened to see a bit of information that caught my eye. From the first sentence, I knew that I had stumbled upon an opportunity to learn something, and that, with a little luck, I’d end up with a slightly More Accurate View.
“Hi, everyone.” That greeting glared at me. She addressed it to “everyone”, but she was talking directly to me. How could she not be? I had made my post about never bowing down to his Cheeto-ness just minutes before, and she knew it. I knew what was coming.
“When you hear that Trump has declared May 1 ‘Loyalty Day,’ you’re going to be tempted into the ‘Trump exceptionalism’ trap.” Lot to unpack in that Tweet. But mostly it meant that I wasn’t as accurate as I wanted to be.
Like I said, I stand behind my statement. I don’t pledge allegiance to any flag. And I damn sure don’t intend to just show an automatic loyalty to any state, much less any loyalty demanded by an oversized Oompa-Loompa. Especially when it is demanded on a day like May Day.
But, apparently, I needed some actual examination, some self-criticism of the “why” behind my stance, particularly when it came to my outrage at his choice of days. Some of the Tweets in that thread clued me in to what I had been missing. The “Trump exceptionalism” that I was guilty of, and guilty of propagating, was particularly concerning to me. That fool isn’t exceptional, unless we are considering his complete incompetence and buffoonery.
That trap has it’s rusty iron jaws around the ankle of Liberal America right now, and, hell, even some of Conservative America. But usually, I attempt to at least maintain an air of objectivity. Reactionary garbage is what I despise most about Centrists. Speaking through emotion without critical thinking.
But, alas, I failed in that this time.
I was being shown that I, too, was guilty of falling into reactionary thinking. And even though my statement is still valid, my reasoning behind it wasn’t. I have corrected that, and now I wish to pass that on to you. It would be irresponsible of me not to.
May Day has been observed around the world for a long, long time. I knew it was widely known as the real Labor Day, and in the past it was honored by a general strike among workers and unions, in many different fields and industries and in many different nations. I knew it was also known as International Worker’s Day – which should be enough of a clue as to the principle behind it, if you know anything at all about Wobblies.
But where I was lacking was my knowledge of the history behind May Day, and without an understanding of that, one cannot truly grasp the importance. And without an understanding of the importance, it is impossible to know the reality behind a Trump declaration of “Loyalty Day”. What you are left with, then, is a completely reactionary understanding.
May Day in some places is actually a Springtime holiday, but the one I am talking about was set as a commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in the late 1800s. Quick background – on May 4th, 1886, a peaceful labor demonstration in support of strikes demanding an 8-hour workday took a left turn.
At the time, long hours were not unusual. Sometimes laborers were forced to work for 12, 16, even 18 hours a day, and there was no overtime compensation. Several workers had been killed by police a few days before, so things were already tense. When police moved in to violate the right of the people to peaceably assemble, everything went south. Allegedly, an unknown person threw a bomb as the cops moved in, and a riot broke out. Seven police officers were killed, and at least four civilians, not to mention dozens wounded, as the cops started firing rounds into the crowd.
Eventually, in highly publicized court proceedings, eight Anarchists were convicted of conspiracy. Apparently, they had evidence that one of them had built the bomb, and none of them had thrown it, but they all conspired and most got death sentences. Four were hanged, two committed suicide in jail rather than face the hangman, and the other two ended up having their sentences commuted.
The Haymarket Massacre is widely accepted as the origin of the International Worker’s May Day observance. May 1st was the day set to begin general strikes to support the 8-hour work day, and those strikes are what led to the Haymarket Massacre. Those workers who risked their lives, and those who died, are the reason you aren’t working 60-70 hour weeks without additional compensation for anything over 40. In a show of solidarity with them, and with those who still struggle for worker’s rights and better working conditions around the world, you should absolutely be on strike today. They can’t fire us all.
Here’s where Trump’s demand for loyalty comes into play. When I saw it, I thought What fresh fascist hell is THIS?!?!? But it isn’t fresh at all. It’s almost as old as the May Day observance itself. Throughout the years, in many nations around the world, but particularly in the US, May Day was co-opted as a national holiday in support of the state. Even in many of the Eastern European states under the USSR, governments would hold parades and show military power, and heads of state would greet the people. In 1921, the US Government called it “Americanization Day”. In 1955, it was renamed “Loyalty Day” under President Eisenhower. It has literally been declared that every year since 1958, when it became a legal holiday.
Every President since then has made this proclamation, including Obama. It’s almost a tradition. It’s not a new thing by any means, but what it is is an attempt to further divide – and therefore oppress – the working class, by diminishing the importance of May Day and the Haymarket Massacre and appealing to some form of Patriotism – or, what I would call Nationalism. Hey, kids, Nationalism isn’t just for White Supremacists.
Demanding loyalty in this way was also a reaction to the Red Scare – otherwise known as propaganda that was forcibly shoved into the American people’s heads because of fear that there would be a worker’s uprising in the US like there was in Russia. So they started talking about how May Day was a big thing in Russia, and how the godless Commies and their dictator were evil, and you don’t want to be like them, do you? No, you don’t, so be loyal to the US. And you can still see the effects of this today.
It isn’t a coincidence that this is also around the same time that “In God We Trust” was added to our paper currency (it had been on coins for some time already, but it was made into law under – you guessed it – Eisenhower), and “One Nation, Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance (again, Eisenhower) – in clear violation of the First Amendment, I don’t mind pointing out. The American public couldn’t be anything like those godless Commies, so let’s make sure we constantly reaffirm our faith in our country AND in God. And thus the myth of the Christian foundations of the United States became a staple in the Conservative Right’s rhetoric.
I’ll also point out that it was around this time that general strikes for May Day started to die down. With a recent rise in the actual understanding of what Socialism really is, after breaking away from the Cold War propaganda, we’ve seen a resurgence, and this year will possibly have the biggest observance we’ve seen in the US in some decades. But, this is also coming in the midst of a second Red Scare – with Trump’s supposed ties to Putin being the icing on the big ol’ Syria-Russia shit cake.
But here is the point – this isn’t some new form of fascism we’re seeing, although that was my initial thought as well. No, this is a story almost as old as May Day itself. It’s just a newer version, but it’s still indoctrination – forced Patriotism.
Forced Patriotism isn’t Patriotism at all. To blindly support your nation simply on virtue of being born there is not Patriotism, it’s Nationalism. The United States was founded on the principles of seeing major problems with the current system, finding a way to address those problems, and implementing it. Loyalty doesn’t do that. True Patriotism in the United States today can be seen in those critical of this country and the system we live under, not in those who give blind allegiance. To see a problem is to see the opportunity for improvement – to improve life for everybody, not just for the few.
Trump’s “Loyalty Day”, though fascist in its origins – Mussolini valued lifelong loyalty above all else – is just an old form of fascism that has somehow made its way through the history of the United States basically unnoticed. But because this one came from Trump, people perked their ears up a little this time around. Myself included. And with the added benefit of this perceived “Trump Exceptionalism”, we are seeing these sorts of actions and policies for what they really are – authoritarianism.
But the danger of the “Trump Exceptionalism” trap is that we are attaching his face and name to these things, rather than understanding that these things are not exceptional to Trump. They are a result of the system under which we have lived for so long. And the potentially disastrous result of that is that, once he is no longer there for us to pin these things on, once he is replaced with a shiny smooth-talking feel good president like the one who just left office, we will once again be lulled into sleep to ignore these things. Or even to accept them.
We need to make sure that we recognize fascism no matter where it comes from, or who, or even how nice it sounds. Maybe we can actually start identifying and addressing the systemic problems rather than pinning all hope, or blame, on a figurehead that is only a symptom of those problems.
In the end, yes, Fuck Trump. But more than that, Fuck This System. We can do better than this. And we should.
Oh, and best regards on this May Day.
Richard Waite is the author of A Mostly Accurate View and the host/producer of the AMAV Revolution Radio podcast.