Donald Trump and American Fascism

Laws are meant to be broken.  And so as Donald Trump edges ever closer to the White House, I am not surprised to see there’s been a precipitous uptick in violations of Godwin’s Law regarding the promiscuous use of the word “fascism.”

First promulgated by writer/lawyer Michael Godwin in 1990, Godwin’s Law states that in any online argument the longer it goes on the greater the probability that someone will bring up Adolf Hitler or the Nazis.  At that point the person guilty of invoking Hitler against an opponent forfeits the argument.

It’s a shame “fascism” has been hurled so carelessly against ideas and individuals we dislike since the indiscriminate invocation of the “F-word” now discredits its correct use against the anti-democratic tendencies exhibited by the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee and many of his most loyal followers. 

Fascism is a specific thing and not some idiosyncratic anomaly confined to a particular time and place in mid-20th century Europe.  Indeed, fascism may be the most natural form of politics there is since “populist nationalism” (as scholars call it) feeds our instinctive hunger for identity, group solidarity and belonging.

Experts define fascism as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood.  Fascism also manifests itself by cults of unity, energy and purity in which a massed-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues -- without ethical or legal restraints -- the goal of internal cleansing and external expansion.

In times past when people felt their community under siege from strange and fearsome forces they did not understand, literacy tests or other qualifying measures were often administered before the rights of full citizenship were granted to marginalized “outside” groups. 

After watching the rise of Donald Trump, I am tempted to insist that everyone be required to take T. W. Adorno’s famous “authoritarian personality” test.

I recently took professor Adorno’s test and discovered that my “F-score” (where “F” stands for “fascist”) is 2.63.  This identifies me as a “liberal airhead” -- at the other end of the spectrum from those who “have trouble keeping the lint off of their brown shirts.”

Adorno’s F-score measures such characteristics as:  conventionalism or conformity to traditional societal norms; authoritarian aggression against individuals who don’t adhere to conventional values; power, toughness and a preoccupation with the strong/weak, leader/follower dimension; stereotyping of the individuals within different groups; and finally anti-intraception, which is the rejection of inwardness, imagination, tender-mindedness and self-criticism.

To a disturbing degree, Donald Trump has been checking the boxes on the roll call used by scholars to distinguish fascist regimes from democratic ones.

There is, for example, Trump’s “America First,” “nobody is going to mess with us” boastfulness that reflects fascism’s chauvinistic nationalism. 

Trump reflects the standard fascist disdain for human rights when he tries to persuade followers they should look the other way should a Trump Administration torture, execute, assassinate or incarcerate its “enemies.” 

Trump has used his call for keeping all Muslims out of the United States as we build a thousand-mile wall across our southern border with Mexico to rally the American people into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate any perceived threat or foe – a classic fascist tactic.

Trump’s promise to “open up” the libel laws so he can more easily retaliate against reporters who oppose him is reminiscent of the state control and censorship of the press familiar in fascist regimes. 

His boast that he is the “most militaristic” candidate in the race, one where Trump promises that a “wrecked” and “underfunded” military will get more even as he cuts taxes and domestic budgets elsewhere also reflects the disproportionate sway which the military, martial values and outright militarism enjoy in fascist societies.

And finally, Trump’s caddish, disgraceful behavior toward women – especially strong-minded women who contradict or challenge Trump’s standing and authority – is a symptom of the rampant sexism that exists in fascist regimes which are almost exclusively male-dominated and where traditional gender roles are rigidly enforced.

As conservative author Robert Kagan wrote this week in a Washington Post column titled, “This is how fascism comes to America,” The Republican Party’s treatment of Donald Trump as a “normal” political candidate would be laughable were the GOP’s craven surrender to “Trumpism” not so perilous to the republic.

The “Trump phenomenon,” as Kagan calls it, has nothing to do with policy or ideology or even the Republican Party that birthed this “singular threat to our democracy.”

Trump followers stick with him not because he offers remedies to their economic stagnation or dislocation, says Kagan, since Trump’s agenda is a cavalcade that “changes daily.”

Instead, says Kagan, what Trump’s followers like about him is that he offers “an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence.”

What all of Trump’s “incoherent and contradictory utterances” have in common, says Kagan, is that they “provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger.”

I agree with Kagan. Trump is no fascist.  But he is an egomaniac and a bully who empowers those pre-existing conditions in the American body politic that fuel fascist movements.

Trump’s “tough-guy, get-mad-and-get-even approach” has tapped into what the Founding Fathers feared most when they first established our democratic republic, namely “popular passions unleashed -- the mobocracy,” says Kagan.

Where fascist movements and regimes have arisen in other democratic and quasi-democratic countries over the past century, Kagan says they too lacked a coherent ideology and clear set of prescriptions for what ailed society.  Instead, fascism appeared as a “bundle of contradictions united chiefly by what, and who, it opposed.”

And so, as Kagan says, this is how fascism comes to America: “Not with jackboots and salutes but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac ‘tapping into’ popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.”

 

Views: 337

Comment by Safe Bet's Amy on May 21, 2016 at 8:30pm

Ted, I respectfully submit that you have no idea what so ever what the fuck you are talking about.

First of all, Godwin’s Law has to do with the Nazis and damn little to do with fascism (other than the real fascist Mussolini being someone who Hitler liked and wanted to emulate).

Secondly, Trump most certainly IS a fascist by definition, FFS.  Fascism is the belief in strong authoritarian nationalism.   The authoritarian part is EXACTLY how Trump both seems himself and how he is perceived.   He also is a strong nationalist who believes in the power of a strong government to pretty much take what ever it pleases.  He expresses this via his rabid elitism and corporatism.  

Remember that Mussolini said fascism was "rule by corporations".  Trump is the poster child for that.

Comment by nerd cred on May 21, 2016 at 10:39pm

Your My F Score is: 1.57  
You are I am a whining rotter.

Not much of a fascist, I guess. 
So proud.

Comment by Ted Frier on May 22, 2016 at 6:27am

Amy,

I get your points.  I understand there are differences between the Nazi Party and fascism as a political system I think most people are comfortable using the terms interchangeably.   Also, my only point in saying Trump is not personally a fascist was to note how much of his campaign is about ego not ideology.  That may not be much of a distinction since, as you point out, Trump is by nature an authoritarian bully and everything else about his campaign reeks of fascism.  That was the main point of my post.

 

Comment by JMac1949 Today on May 22, 2016 at 7:21am

Facism, Schmacism, Nazi, Fartzi:  Trump is a facade that bigots use to cover their racist paranoia.  Yesterday Austrians rejected both established political parties in their election and for the first time since the Second World War, the traditional parties of the center left and center right were knocked out of the race. Candidates supported by the far right Freedom Party and the Green Party will be facing off in a runoff election.  That is direct reaction to the EU immigrant crisis coming out of North Africa and the Middle East.  To one degree or another the same kind of thing is happening throughout the EU.  That's why Bernie Sanders polls better than HRC in November and defeats Trump outright.

Comment by Ted Frier on May 22, 2016 at 7:56am

Fascinating map, JMAC.  A few years ago I wrote how both American and world politics was beginning to resemble the Middle East, by which I meant that the world was experiencing a wave of right-wing politics as multi-cultural nation-states were fracturing along religious, ethnic, racial and "tribal" lines.  This is the true "cycle of history," the ebbing and flowing of societies that first unite disparate communities into a single regime under universal principles (as America was formed from 13 colonies) and then witness their disintegration into their component parts (as we did during the Civil War).  The current polarization and dysfunction in Washington is a symptom of this phenomenon.  

Comment by Ted Frier on May 22, 2016 at 8:21am

Amy,

In a recent Boston Globe interview, my former boss -- one-time Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, now running for VP on the Libertarian ticket -- articulated the distinction I was trying to make between the fascist tendencies Donald Trump was provoking without being a committed fascist himself.

According to the Globe's account:

In his first interview as the Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld had a particularly pointed reference when asked about Donald Trump’s plan to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.

“I can hear the glass crunching on Kristallnacht in the ghettos of Warsaw and Vienna when I hear that, honest,” Weld, the Republican governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997, told The New York Times on Thursday.

The 70-year-old former two-term governor—who has agreed to be the running mate of Libertarian candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson—said he is “not horrified by everything” Trump has done and wouldn’t call the presumptive Republican nominee a fascist or Nazi.

But he did say Trump’s hard-line immigration policy was alarming.

“My Kristallnacht analogy does evoke the Nazi period in Germany. And that’s what I’m worried about. A slippery slope,” he told the Times, later adding, “We got to watch it when we get exclusionary about people on account of their status as a member of a group.”

 

Comment by Safe Bet's Amy on May 22, 2016 at 9:37am

I realize that some may think we are quibbling over semantics, but the definition of what fascism is, especially in regards to whether Trump is a fascist or not, is kind of important.

I can see why a devote libertarian like your old boss might use a "tailored" definition that much more aligns with Kagan's because neoconservatism (which is where Kagan comes from) holds a lot of the same pro-authoritarian views most libertarians do (and sure as hell stealth, quasi-Republicans like Johnson do).

HOWEVER, a much more commonly held (and correct ~ based on historical political systems, most especially in Italy where fascism originally came from) view is along the lines of Robert Paxton's definition:

"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."

This TOTALLY aligns with what Trump has spouted about "walls", weapons, immigrants, the economy, etc.  "Lets make American great AGAIN" is his mantra after all.  He also happily tweets freakin Mussolini quotes, FFS.

So, for the majority of American's who reside left of center (i.e. non-Democrat REAL progressives and Independents) there is NO doubt on whether Trump is a fascist or not.  The only question is how many good "Italians" are supporting him.

Y'all can use Adorno’s "F Test" all you want, but I am going to stick with the tried and true Duck Test ~ "If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck." ~ because there is no doubt ol' Donald is "waddling", "paddling" and "quacking" like a fascist.

Comment by Rob Wittmann on May 22, 2016 at 11:39am

I read the Kagan piece, too, and thought it very good.

What interested me the most was who wrote it. Kagan is a solid conservative with a strong base in the national security establishment. He's of a type, similar to Kissinger, Brzezinski, Keegan, Schelling and Luttwack. Required reading at military academies and war colleges the world over.

That Kagan is writing this may be indicative that the national security establishment (which was always supportive the Bush family, to a degree), does not like Trump very much. We know the Bush family dislikes him greatly, due to his classless campaigning against Jeb Bush and blaming of 9/11 on former President Bush. But we really haven't heard from members of the National Security Establishment. Many of them, of course, if they are in the active employ of the U.S. or allied nations, cannot legally come forward and express disapproval of Trump. But some, such as those who work for ostensibly neutral national security think tanks, like RAND or Brookings, have the ability to criticize Trump. And I am seeing this more and more.

Legally speaking, what happens if Trump wins the election and orders the military or defense establishment to carry out an unconstitutional or illegal order? I don't mean an act that's in some ambiguous gray area of jurisprudence. I mean a clear-cut violation upon which no reasonable people would be in disagreement.

Would the military, by refusing to carry out such an order by an elected civilian, create a constitutional crisis through their refusal?

This worries me. As of yet, I think Trump has more of a chance of beating Hillary Clinton than most people think. And I am hoping that if he wins, his advocating of war crimes would pan out to be nothing more than rhetoric. What happens if a President willfully orders the commission of blatant war-crimes?

And what if he doesn't accept Congressional impeachment proceedings and acts against them? This is not fanciful talk, but a legitimate concern, given that this lunatic may very well win the GOP nomination.

Comment by nerd cred on May 22, 2016 at 1:02pm

Rob - your question has been a topic of conversation beyond here.

You are required not to follow an unlawful order,” Hayden added. “That would be in violation of all the international laws of armed conflict.”

That's from a Bill Maher interview earlier this year. Michael Hayden, of course, formerly headed both NSA and the CIA. (quote emphasis mine)

In March, a retired Army general reiterated the point in the WaPo after some of Trump's particularly vile rhetoric. (“That’s what leadership is all about.”) He specifically cites the UCMJ as requiring troops to refuse unlawful or unconstitutional orders.

Trump, of course, has talked in circles and backtracked all over the place since the subject came up and the people who know said publicly that the American president doesn't have dictatorial powers, even over the military.

I thought the UCMJ required troops to refuse some orders and I thought I had seen reports recently of military people stating that. I googled to confirm: "generals will refuse trump" so my results are limited to that.

Comment by Rob Wittmann on May 22, 2016 at 5:12pm

Nerd Cred: Very true. I saw those same reports. But the dynamic wouldn't simply end there. A man like Trump would sack officers, and keep replacing them until he found cronies who would obey his direct orders. The more one does this, the more one has to hope that lower officers would refuse on their own initiative, rather than say "I was just following orders."

I believe Congress would bring Trump up under articles of impeachment, as a blatant war crime would constitute "high crimes and misdemeanors." Granted, many on the Left have argued, for some time, that almost every President since FDR has committed war crimes. But I'm not talking about crimes by way of proxies, or covert operations. Nor am I talking about the legally ambiguous ether where many questionable actions take place. I'm talking about clear-cut violations of Geneva and Nuremburg. I think these would be impeachable offenses.

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