Friday, December 4, 2015

Is Donald Trump a Fascist?

Interesting column by Ross Douthat on the relationship between the Donald and the Fascist Menace:
But the charge can be easily fleshed out with more examples. . . . Trumpism, however ideologically inchoate, manifests at least seven of the hallmarks of fascism identified by the Italian polymath Umberto Eco. They include: a cult of action, a celebration of aggressive masculinity, an intolerance of criticism, a fear of difference and outsiders, a pitch to the frustrations of the lower middle class, an intense nationalism and resentment at national humiliation, and a “popular elitism” that promises every citizen that they’re part of “the best people of the world.”

Does this sound like Trump? Well, yes, it rather does: His bravado and performative machismo (complete with mockery of the weak, unattractive and disabled), his obsession with how we get “beat” by other nations and need to start beating them instead, his surprisingly deft exploitation of blue-collar economic anxieties, his dark references to Mexican “rapists” and other immigrant threats, and as of this week his promise to not only bomb and torture our foreign enemies into submission but to round up their families as well — no, it isn’t hard to match Eco’s list to many of the Donald’s greatest hits.
Another vaguely fascist thing about Trump, says Douthat, is that he fits badly with traditional American conservatism in precisely those areas that have made American conservatives un-fascist:
American conservative tradition has always included important elements — a libertarian skepticism of state power, a stress on localism and states’ rights, a religious and particularly Protestant emphasis on the conscience of an individual over the power of the collective — that inoculated our politics against fascism’s appeal.
Trump has no interest in any of these things, especially not local autonomy or states' rights.

So I would agree with Douthat (and Jamelle Bouie) that Trump has many characteristics of a fascist. I say that in an analytical sense, not just as insult. In the wake of Hitler's apocalyptic war with the world, fascism has come to mean mainly "something bad," but before Hitler came along fascism with an ideology with particular goals, and I think that many people in America and elsewhere are instinctive fascists. Teddy Roosevelt and his followers, for example, had a lot of fascist traits, especially the cult of action, the worship of the great leader, and the contempt for little matters like the territorial integrity of Colombia.

But although I regard fascism as a living ideology and a real threat in the world, I am not the least bit afraid of Donald Trump. I have considered my thoughts on him with some care. I have done this because I simply cannot take him seriously, but I know that many people couldn't take Hitler or Mussolini seriously, either. To me Trump is a political clown from the world of reality television, and I don't believe that he will ever have much more support than he does now. He has risen to prominence because a big block of American voters are not really being represented by anyone in Washington -- I have in mind people too culturally conservative, anti-immigrant, and anti-welfare to vote Democrat, but who hate Wall Street and feel with some justification that the economy is casting them aside. But although this is an important group it is nowhere near a majority, and I doubt Trump's electoral staying power.

Douthat also points out another way in which Trump's rise is nothing like the rise of Fascism:
Trump may indeed be a little fascistic, but that sinister resemblance is just one part of his reality-television meets WWE-heel-turn campaign style. He isn’t actually building a fascist mass movement (he hasn’t won a primary yet!) or rallying a movement of far-right intellectuals (Ann Coulter notwithstanding). His suggestion that a Black Lives Matter protester at one of his rallies might have deserved to be roughed up was pretty ugly, but still several degrees of ugly away from the actual fascist move, which would require organizing a paramilitary force to take to the streets to brawl with the decadent supporters of our rotten legislative government.
Right. Fascism was always about the Leader, but it was also about the Movement or the Party. Trump is a loner, proud that he has not even bothered to seek the support of money men or disaffected intellectuals. As a one-man crusade he can get a lot of attention and do quite a bit of damage, but he is no threat to our system or our civilization.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

I don't care if Trump is bad at being a fascist - he's still a fascist.

It's the fact that a fascist is running for president of the United States in 2015, and that significant portions of the population are taking him seriously and rallying behind him, which scares the willies out of me.

Trump himself may not be a major threat, but he is the bellwether of the progressing state of American politics. The fact that the current environmental conditions can support the serious development of this kind of candidate is more than troubling. What if in the near future, an actually competant fascist runs?

Waiting until a crisis emerges to become concerned is one of the great hallmarks of foolishness. These things need to be anticipated and averted early, because by the time they've become readily alarming, it can easily be far too late. It is foolish to sit by and ignore the evidence of climate change until we're all knee deep in rising sea levels, and it is equally foolish to pay no mind to proto-fascists like Trump when they may soon be followed by more problematic figures.