In a very interesting and well researched online article by Dylan Matthews that asks the above question, the short answer is “no,” but the longer answer is that in his unique way he may be more of a concern to us than if he were. In a couple of brief paragraphs, the author insists that while Trump is not a Fascist, he is
. . . still illiberal. To be very, very clear: Donald Trump is a bigot. He is a racist. He is an Islamophobe and a xenophobe. He profits off the hatred and stigmatization of traditionally oppressed groups in American society. That makes him, and his European peers, and racists in other eras in American history, a threat to crucial values of equality and fair treatment, and a threat to the actual human beings he’s targeting and demonizing. And he’s in particular mainstreaming Islamophobia, which is on the rise in recent months, as seen in a recent incident in which a Muslim engineer was harassed at a Fredericksburg, Virginia, civic meeting. “I’m really not sure those views in Fredricksburg would be aired were it not for Trump’s ‘mainstreaming’ of these prejudices,” [the UK’s Matthew] Feldman says.
Kevin Passmore, a historian at the University of Cardiff and author of Fascism: a Very Short Introduction, puts it well: “For me, the point about Trump’s proposals is not whether or not they are ‘fascist,’ but whether or not they are moral.” And they very clearly are not.
[See also my earlier post “Smoke Before Fire.”]
I must confess I have thought of the Trumpet as a Fascist, as I have many of the knee-jerk conservatives on the far right who spread hatred, seek to close off the country to immigrants, expand policing, invade privacy, and generally play the role of ugly Big Brother. But while these are qualities that are found in those whom history knows as thoroughgoing Fascists, we are told that this is a rather loose use of the term. For one thing, Fascists always advocate the violent overthrow of the status quo, something that none of those on the far right advocate — so far as we know. Although I would point out in passing that the Trumpet may well be guilty of inciting riots given the fact that the incidence of Mosque burnings in this country have risen alarmingly since his hateful comments about the Muslims.
But the author’s comment in the above quote takes us to the key point: while Donald Trump may not be a Fascist, strictly speaking, he may indeed be even more frightening in his total immersion in himself, his blind ambition, and apparent lack of any moral fiber whatever. The really troubling question remaining after all this is: Why on earth he is so popular in this country with so many people? Is it possible that the lunatic fringe has moved to the political center in this country and that people are so sick of politics as usual they will settle for someone, anyone, who promises simple solutions to immensely complex problems? I suspect this is so. For those who find it too difficult to think — and those numbers are growing — a person’s ability to make gray issues appear black and white with simple answers ready at hand is easily mistaken for genuine wisdom. And this man also knows how to play on America’s fears and deep-seated prejudices.
The Founders insisted that this democracy could only survive if the citizens were educated at least to the point where they could recognize fraud when they saw it. But this hope seems to have disappeared in the dense smoke of political rhetoric, an anemic educational system, and an entertainment industry that appeals to the lowest urges in us all. After all, if Dirty Harry can eliminate crime with his .44 Magnum, why can’t we all? Make My Day!
An important blog, Hugh. Thank you for writing it. Trump is scary, indeed, and mostly for what he is bringing out of Americans: the “mainstreaming of Islamophobia,” as the one story you quoted said, and the driving of political discourse further toward mean-spirited, reactionary shouting that borders on paranoia and school-yard tactics.
He’s certainly a demagogue, and he’s got no moral fiber, as you said. He’s also, indeed, a fraud — he’s a proven liar; and a trained, professional performer whose, books, TV shows and real estate deals all centered on winning through the pose, the personal attack, and misrepresentations. He’s always sold out everything and anyone — including his own credibility — to win. Now, he’s selling out Muslims, and almost anyone on the lower strata of society (scapegoating easy targets, in other words). The sad thing is none of his campaign behavior is new. Like Hitler, Trump’s early book telegraphed his methodology, heartlessness and ego.
On that last quality, it makes me wonder about the fascism question. Haven’t most fascist regime or leaders — although the leaders have been certainly demagogic — also relied upon an organized structure or following? The “state,” or paramilitary, or a party based on fear and hierarchy? It seems like he has no interest in or respect for any organization, institution, or legal or legislative process. I am not knowledgeable enough to really say on that. But it seems Trump is much more of a lone operator — his ego demands it — than a leader of cultish formal organization even before he’s taken office. Maybe in his case, that would come when he took office, which, yeesh, would be hideous and scary because he’s already proven to draw the admiration of white supremacist groups across the country.
Whatever he is, he is bad for America, and I’m glad you keep shedding light on the things that make him troubling.
Good comment, Dana. As you say, the fascists we have known, such as Hitler, Stalin, Franco, and the like are usually at the head of a movement; they have a following that is dedicated, if not zealous. But might this not be said of the Trumpet as well? He may prefer to be a loner, but he certainly has a growing following of zealots who use his words to inspire their actions — e.g, burning Mosques. But he has not (yet) advocated the violent overthrow of the United States.
I think you may be right, Hugh. He may not have an actual, official paramilitary following right now. But from what I have read, there would be many already-well-organized militia and white supremacist groups that would willingly mobilize for/behind him. And, the folks who support him in the polls … they are, indeed, followers. He also keeps honing his message around the types of slogans and fear-mongering that suggest more than simply a political or policy revamp: America is out of control, if Syrian refugees come in “there could be a military coup,” his support last night for Middle Eastern dictators, the “wall,” etc.
I came across the following story in reading a newsletter from the Southern Poverty Law Center. I thought it might add to the post above:
Several Republican presidential candidates rebuked Donald Trump for proposing to ban Muslim immigrants, but then three of them participated in an anti-Muslim conference hosted by the extremist organization that inspired Trump. Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina all spoke, giving a stamp of approval to a conference that claimed liberals are covertly working with radical Islamists to transform the country into a socialist state. Ben Carson also attended, though he had declined to criticize Trump’s proposal.