Is Trump A Fascist?

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!

Powerful Toys

Ever since I went back and read Hannah Arendt’s exceptional study of violence, written in the late 1960s, I have been pondering the possible reasons for this country’s fascination with things violent. You may recall that she argued that violence is the result of a sense of powerlessness and it is when we begin to feel the frustration that arises from a sense that we have little control over our lives that we begin to gravitate toward violence. I have always thought this was the allure of an entire series of movies like “Dirty Harry” — an angry cop who has little patience with procedure and simply goes straight for the bad guy and shoots him dead with his huge Magnum hand gun (Freud take note). “Make my day!” It’s a quick and gratifying “solution” in a Kafkaesque world where molasses-slow procedures often allow the criminal to go free and tie up the police in yards and yards of red tape.

And as I noted in my earlier blog, we have a growing number of reasons to feel powerless as our world becomes increasingly crowded and angry, bills keep piling up, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel, the government is clearly composed of ambitious idiots without a brain among them, and nothing seems to get done. So if Arendt is correct in her analysis, and it seems likely, we shouldn’t be surprised by the increase in violence in this country and around the world. The fact that violence is more prevalent in this country may simply come down to the fact that we have access to more lethal weapons with very few enforceable restrictions and those who use them to kill people always make the headlines. The rest of the world may eventually catch up with us.

But related to our growing sense of powerlessness is our expanding fascination with electronic toys, especially the hand-held devices that give us the illusion of power in an age when we have very little to say about the events that surround us. What is especially interesting in this regard are the XBoxes with their incredibly violent programs that allow the user to take charge of a situation and repeatedly wipe out the “enemy” with a push of the button — not unlike the maniac who walks into a school with an assault rifle and proceeds to shoot real children. If one is in the XBox world long enough it makes sense that he might well lose his bearings and forget where the fantasy world leaves off and the real world begins. And given the ready accessibility of weapons and ammunition….

In a word, electronic devices — and I speak of all electronic devices, not just the violent ones — give us the illusion of power at a time when we sense we are losing power in the real world where problems keep mounting up and solutions seem farther and farther away. For most of us this is simply some sort of compensation for our inability to make changes in the real world. But, coupled with our growing cultural narcissism, for others it may translate into violent actions.

Nietzsche thought that the fundamental urge in all human action was the love of power. I suspect that’s where Hannah Arendt got her clue to our present malaise. We crave power and as we sense that we are losing it we seek alternatives that will restore that sense of power. Electronic devices, even cell phones, do precisely that. The awesome weapons that those who commit violent acts wield are quite possibly an extension of this same urge; the few who take those weapons into crowded places and start shooting people may have lost their sense of where they are, wandering in the real world they can no longer distinguish from the fantasy world where they are indeed all-powerful.