Editor: This article is over 7 months old but still resonates today – one day before the election.
Okay, America – are we ready for fascism?
Is this a legit question these days? It happens that a lot of political commenters, pundits and journalists are asking the question: ‘is the good ol’ US of A ready for an American brand of fascism, in the form of the Donald Trump for president movement?’
As the presidential campaign season degenerated into racist and xenophobic diatribes by the Republican front runner, with those images of Trump supporters pledging their loyalty to him in Hitleresque salutes, after that scene in Chicago when the Trump rally was cancelled, triggering skirmishes between Trump supporters and demonstrators, it seems everybody is forming an opinion of whether Donald Trump is a fascist, comparing him to Hitler and Mussolini, and other dictators.
Those denouncing Trump as a fascist include who you’d expect – progressive and liberal journalists and commentators, like Bob Dreyfus on TomDispatch, who called Trump a “proto-fascist”, or like Robert Reich who called Trump out as a fascist. Also, moderate columnist Dana Milbank writing in the Washington Post sees Trump as flirting with fascism.
But those calling Trump on his extremism also include conservative columnists and commentators. They include Max Boot, right-wing columnist who tweeted: “Trump is a fascist. And that’s not a term I use loosely or often. But he’s earned it.”Boot is also a conservative fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and who had been advising Marco Rubio.
In response to Trump’s calls for a ban on Muslims, a Jeb Bush national security adviser John Noonan wrote on Twitter:
“Forced federal registration of US citizens, based on religious identity, is fascism. Period. Nothing else to call it.”
Abe Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor, called the Hitleresque salute an “offensive, obnoxious and disgusting… fascist gesture.”
Right-wing extremist radio head Glenn Beck has also compared Donald Trump to Hitler.
Equally vociferous on the question, the mainstream media has picked up the question. Newsweek asked what the world would look like under a Trump presidency, suggesting a darkness? A New York Times editorial asserted that Trump had “brought his party and its politics to the brink of fascism.”
It has also entered the realm of foreign politics. When asked about Trump, this is what was said by Mexican president Pena Nieto:
“… these strident expressions that seek to propose very simple solutions” and said that sort of language has led to “very fateful scenes in the history of humanity. That’s the way Mussolini arrived and the way Hitler arrived.”
The issue of Trump and fascism has entered the cultural sphere of American life as well. George Clooney called Trump a xenophobic fascist. Bill Maher made a scary comparison between the GOP front-runner and the German dictator on “Real Time with Bill Maher”. Conservative comedian Louis C.K. called Trump a Hitler and urged people not to vote for him. “Saturday Night Live” ran a spoof of a Trump television ad that tied Trump to Hitler.
Yet, significantly, it’s not just pundits, columnists and comedians who have real issues with the Trump campaign being over the edge. A new survey found that nearly half the country sees “fascist undertones” in the Trump campaign. Nearly as many opined that he encourages violence at his rallies. HuffPost.
It’s a legitimate question. So, is Donald Trump a fascist?
With his racist, xenophobic calls to deport 11 to 12 million Mexicans – which would be, if carried out, the most massive forced transfer of human beings in history – and his calls to ban Muslims, his non-disavowal of David Duke and the Klan, his belligerent glorifications of counter-protesters being beaten, his threats of violence, Trump could very well be building a racist, populist mass of angry white people that could evolve (devolve?) into a an army willing to physically intimidate protesters, the media – even other politicians.
Journalist Dreyfess ponders how Trump could mobilize an angry army by staging rallies across the country with armed militias and the right-to-carry movement.
Consider how Trump threatened “riots” if he is not chosen at the Republican nominee at their convention this summer in Cleveland. Here is what he said:
“I think we’ll win before getting to the convention. But I can tell you, if we didn’t and if we’re 20 votes short or if we’re 100 short and we’re at 1,100 and somebody else is at 500 or 400, because we’re way ahead of everybody, I don’t think you can say that we don’t get it automatically. I think you’d have riots. You’d have riots…
“I’m representing a tremendous, many, many millions of people, in many cases, first time voters. If you disenfranchise those people, and you say, ‘I’m sorry, you’re 100 votes short’ … I think you’d have problems like you’ve never seen before. I think bad things would happen. I wouldn’t lead it but I think bad things would happen.”
Trump also has threatened to send his minions to disrupt Bernie Sanders’ rallies – as Trump has blamed Sanders’ supporters for disrupting his events. Trump’s own private security are beating up protesters, his own campaign manager roughed up one young man counter demonstrating.
The litany of incidents of violence at Trump rallies and events has been documented by others and is not needed to be repeated here, except to say it it still happening. The latest was at a Tucson Trump rally over last weekend where he again called for a fence to keep Mexicans out and again called to ban Muslims.
Here are some of those incidents, recorded by journalists covering Trump’s campaign: people protesting at his rallies have been manhandled, punched, threatened and physically removed from events. The candidate said he would consider paying the legal fees for a supporter who was charged with assault for punching an anti-Trump protester in the face.
Clearly, then, Trump is inciting his followers to either commit violence themselves against his targets, or to condone violence done in his name by his private security detail. No time in living memory has a major presidential candidate in this country sanctioned violence like this.
Trump’s calls to “make the country great again” and his appeals to a white, working class base who are the least educated and who haven’t regained what they had lost since the 2008 recession echo the calls by Adolph Hitler to make the German fatherland great again, to find retribution against those who he blamed for the excesses of the Versailles Treaty.
What Is Fascism?
I believe Donald Trump is a fascist. He may not fit neatly into the models of history but he is capable of building a populist movement of angry, white people who want to restore the system of white supremacy – a system they lost with a diversified nation – and an African-American president.
This is the danger he represents and why it’s so important for us to grapple with what his ascension to this point in our history means.
A fascist believes in fascism, so what is fascism?
In many of the journalistic discussions on whether Trump is a fascist, there is no clear working definition of fascism laid out. Some come up with check lists, like writer Naomi Wolf did back in 2007 in her fears about the Bush administration; she wrote “Fascist America in 10 Easy Steps“.
We must go beyond check lists in order to understand what fascism was or is. Also we have to understand that there’s differences between a fascist movement and a fascist regime.
Here’s a definition of fascism from Cambridge dictionary:
“a political system based on a very powerful leader, state control of social and economic life, and extreme pride in country and race, with no expression of political disagreement allowed.”
This is okay, but a good definition must go farther.
Fascism is a system where the economy, political system and cultural apparatus are controlled by a very small group or party, guided by a racist xenophobia that targets minorities, is militaristic, aggressive and violent, anti-democratic, where all politics and press are controlled, no dissent is allowed; it also can seen as the forging of an alliance between a military dictatorship with the corporate chieftains.
Amy Goodman interviewed the father of fascism studies, Robert Paxton, professor emeritus of social science at Columbia University. Paxton is the author of several books, including The Anatomy of Fascism. His recent piece is headlined “Is Fascism Back?” and a while ago wrote a piece on “The Five Stages of Fascism.”
In the interview, Paxton defined fascism:
fascism is a mass nationalist movement intended to restore a country that’s been damaged or is in decline, by expansion, by violent attacks on enemies, internal as well as external enemies, and measures of authority, the replacement of democracy by an authoritarian dictatorship.
To the question of whether Trump is a fascist, Paxton answered:
I think that Donald Trump shows a rather alarming willingness to use fascist themes and fascist styles, which—and the response this gets, the positive response, is alarming
On the violence, Paxton said:
… one of the qualities of fascism was that they admired violence. They thought that violence had an esthetic quality, provided it was violence directed toward the revival of a damaged country or damaged state. And a little of that redemptive violence is showing up in Trump’s rhetoric, because he’s suggesting to the crowd and encouraging them to think that it’s good to rough up people they disagree with. And this is an ominous development.
Steve Ross, a professor of history and scholar of fascism at the University of Southern California, said the incident where a protester was beaten up at a Trump rally and then condoned by Trump at the podium was an incident that illustrates behavior that is only steps removed from fascism.
“We had the same thing happening in Germany in the 1920s with people being roughed up by the Brownshirts and they deserved it because they were Jews and Marxists and radicals and dissidents and gypsies — that was what Hitler was saying,” Ross said.
“I’m not saying Trump is Hitler, but the logic of condoning violence against those who oppose you — you can imagine, a man who would condone it as a candidate — what would he do as an official president?”
One thing that we have to understand about American politics is that Trumpism didn’t just jump out of nowhere; what he espouses is not new. Since living memory, there’s’ been about one-third of the American electorate that has had a racist edge, from the days of George Wallace, to the Republicans’ use of Willie Horton type of racist stereotypes to gain their votes. Trump has found these people, brought them in from the fringe and have made them and their politics the mainstream. He has given them a voice.
There’s certainly been other times in our history where fascism reared its ugly head in our midst. The Ku Klux Klan had 6 million members back in the 1920s, and staged huge marches in Washington, D.C. Before our entry into World War II, there were huge organizations of American brownshirts, and Hitler had a lot of supporters within the elite industrial class (like Henry Ford, the Duponts).
One could rightfully argue that the system of Jim Crow was a type of fascism that African-Americans were forced to live under. Certainly how we handled Native Americans over the centuries could be argued that it was an extension of a type of fascism for them.
And fascism has certainly been within our cultural psyche. I think of Jack London’s “Iron Heel”, of Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here”, and even of Philip K Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” – how the US lost WWII and Nazi Germany took over the East Coast, currently a popular television series.
However, there are 2 factors that stand out in our current American situation that dispel the similarities between us and Nazi German. First, we have over a 200-year tradition of democratic republicanism – the Germans did not have that history – which implies that there are many good Americans who wouldn’t let fascism develop here.
Second, our economy is no where near the state of the Germany financial mess after World War I, with huge rates of high unemployment, etc. Yet, we know that those angry white people who support Trump come from sectors of our economy that have not been lifted out of the Great Recession doldrums. Their perceptions are important. Trump can make themn great again.
Yet the racism that has been exhibited openly since the election of our first Black president has continued unabated. Trump, don’t forget, ran for president in 2012 as a “birther”. Since 2008, the racist electorate, the Tea Party types, have been very agitated. They have not been able to accept Barack Obama, a Black man. And they are the fuel, the footsoldiers for Trump’s xenophobia.
In exit polling of GOP voters in that last round of Tuesday primaries for 7 states, two-thirds of them supported the ban on Muslims.
There is no question Trump is inciting the violence for his internal enemies. What about internationally? Trump has called for a new “General Patton” who will invade Syria and Iraq and roll over ISIS with an army of 30,000 to 40,000 American troops. He will order US military to use torture and target the children of terrorists.
Trump is totally against democracy. He doesn’t understand or doesn’t care to understand that there are three branches of the American government. He would crush dissent, would mussel the press. To do this, he would need the powers of a military dictatorship.
His view of himself places The Donald as the accomplished billionaire businessman at the pinnacle of power, as the overlord of both government and the economy. He would treat the country as a giant corporation, where he is the leader of the board of directors. The rest of us citizens are mere employees – who can be fired or kicked out. One giant corporation ruled by fiat from the top, is by definition, a system of corporatist fascism.
Trump would necessitate a fascist regime in order to carry out what he says he wants to do – forcibly round up 12 million Mexicans, build high walls and ban people based on their religion. If he was to force African-Americans back into an apartheid system, he would need fascist soldiers to carry it out.
We need not hope that the Republicans nominate him. It’s not good for us, not good for the country to have one of the two major political parties with a fascist at the helm. Once Trump grabs the apparatus of the state, it’s too late. Whether he’s able to carry it out, whether once elected, he can forge a fascist regime – is up for further debate about his efficiency. Whether law enforcement or the armed forces would carry out illegal orders is actually part of the national discussion going on.
What Do We Do to Counter Trump?
It is an historical lesson that once fascism takes firm control of the apparatus of government, it’s just too damn late. So, the lesson is that he and his fascism must be stopped from being elected to the highest office in the land.
So, let’s discuss this; let’s begin the debate on fascism at the grassroots level. Is Trump a fascist? Is his movement the proto-fascist movement that can take over our country?
Not only do we need to discuss the situation, we need to do more.
We must oppose him at every turn. Every time he shows up, he must be confronted by freedom-loving Americans. We must call him on his racism and sexism and corporatism. We must forge alliances with others who wish to counter Trumpism and its evils. White people, especially, need to stand up for the minorities that Trump targets, the Mexicans, Muslims, protesters, the media. We need to unite with everyone who opposes his misogyny.
There is hope for us, as our colleague Doug Porter over at San Diego Free Press informs:
More than twenty progressive and liberal organizations on both sides of the Hillary/Sanders split released a letter calling on all Americans to join together in taking action to oppose the candidacy of Donald Trump. Calling him “a five-alarm fire for our democracy,” the letter sets forth concrete steps to oppose the Republican front-runner — from protesting to organizing large-scale voter turnout efforts.
According to a press statement, the groups and officials “plan a massive nonviolent mobilization including protests, voter turnout efforts, and greater accountability for leaders who refuse to condemn Trump.”
Specifically, the letter calls for:
- Non-violent mobilization and organizing. What could Letters to the editor. Vigorous social media presence. Prayer vigils. Yes, yes, and yes.
- Asking every media outlet, corporation, and office-holder “Will you condemn Trump’s racism, misogyny and xenophobia?” … No one’s off the hook. .
- A voting renaissance. We know that a majority of Americans reject hate-baiting and racism—if we vote, we stop Trump, and we show that our country is better than this. We can do that while building an even more powerful progressive majority. We need to build a massive volunteer effort to door-knock, phone bank and have real conversations with voters of color, new U.S. citizens, women, Muslim-Americans, working class voters and white voters. It’s that simple.
Supporters of this effort include individuals affiliated with: Move On, Service Employees International Union, Greenpeace, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Jobs with Justice, the National People’s Action Campaign, the Sierra Club, the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, the United States Student Association and Color of Change.
Local San Diego Action
We can start with Mayor Kevin Faulconer – whose favorite for the GOP nomination was Marco Rubio, who has since dropped out of the race. Whether he plays it safe or refuses to endorse or bless the long-shot candidacy of Ohio’s John Kasich is up for grabs, but we need to demand that our mayor denounces Trumpism.
Then we can ask our City Councilpeople, our Board of Supervisors to do the same.
We agree with Porter, that …
“Every city in California should go on record with resolutions condemning The Donald’s policy ideas approved by elected officials. It would be great if San Diego was among the first. Start by sending our councilpersons‘ emails. Send one to the mayor while you’re at it. Let’s not forget our other elected officials, starting with school boards all the way to the legislature.”
What to say? How about:
Now is the time for all true patriots to stand up and oppose the violence, racism and misogyny of Donald Trump. Please find a way to publicly make your opposition known to this man’s un-American platform for ruining our country.
There is nothing more important than dealing with Trumpism. The future of politics in this country is at stake. The future of our freedom is at stake.
The very future of our country is at stake. Our future, our kids’ futures.