“Fascism” is today an insult, and generally for good reasons. When you realize that the Nazis were fascist, it kinda gives the movement it’s own bad name regardless of what “fascism” really is. Mussolini didn’t exactly help. So the word, “fascism” is often used to describe “extreme political action that I don’t like.” And for various reasons related to its authoritarian nationalist aspects, it has been described over time as right-wing.
Hence why it’s a label that has been used as a pejorative against Republicans over time, but much more actively against Trump and the alt-right of late.
The problem, however, is that most people who use the label have a VERY weak understanding of what fascism truly is. Fascism is its own comprehensive political philosophy and description for how a nation should be run. Thus if you want to call someone a Fascist, you should probably first compare what they’re doing with what fascism TRULY is, not with what you think it is.
I’ve done that. And for that reason I’ll state right up front my thesis: Donald Trump is close enough to a fascist to deserve the label.
Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s describe fascism and see if my thesis holds.
What is Fascism?
Fascism is a hyper-nationalist political and economic system that holds the edification of the State or the Nation (in some cases related to race) as the all-encompassing goal. This demands that the Nation be strong both economically and militarily, and that it be self-sufficient and not beholden to other nations for support (which would signify weakness). The needs of the Nation transcend freedom, liberalism, individualism. These things are only tolerated to the extent that they bring honor and strength to the Nation.
A strong authoritarian government is the vessel by which this edification is brought about, hence why “the State” and “the Nation” become synonymous. Actions which strengthen the Nation are to be lauded. Actions which diminish the Nation are deplored. People who diminish the Nation are deplored, and marginalized, and [in some cases] subjected to outright arrest or death.
Economically–as I previously touched on here–fascism is a mixed-economy where government and business cooperate to serve the interests of the state. It differs from socialism in that socialists want outright government ownership of the means of production, and a redistribution economy where all are equalized. Fascism is still a planned or managed economy, but done for the Nation rather than for “the people”.
To quote Mussolini, “The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State—a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values—interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people.”
This is the concept. People develop their worth through service to the Nation, whether that is direct service through something like the military [which is fetishized in a fascist nation], or indirectly through economic ways, in all things they are serving the Nation. The Nation is paramount; individual wants, desires, beliefs are secondary by a wide margin.
Are Republicans Fascist?
In America, fascism as an insult is largely used against Republicans and right-leaning fellow-travelers. The reasons for this are obvious. Generally “the left” has been the globalist, socialist, liberalist side of most political divides. Typically “the right” has been the patriotic, militaristic, nationalistic, pro-authority (law & order conservatism) side of most political divides. So, naturally, the left calls the right fascists.
I don’t think that’s remotely fair. I think the left/right divide is generally more of an idealist/pragmatist divide. The left is trusting and open. The right is guarded and closed. The left thinks you need a strong central government to provide for its people. The right thinks you need a strong central government to protect its people (from enemies foreign and domestic). The mainstream of neither party is anywhere near as authoritarian as their detractors on the other side suggest.
So yes, while there are elements on the fringe left that are authoritarian communists, there are elements on the fringe right that are authoritarian fascists. Oddly, the two aren’t much different from each other, when you get down to brass tacks.
But no, it is NOT fair to claim that Republicans are pro-fascism.
Is Donald Trump Fascist?
Here, I think a good example would be to refer to some of the descriptions of Fascism in Wikipedia:
Nationalism is the main foundation of fascism. The fascist view of a nation is of a single organic entity that binds people together by their ancestry, and is a natural unifying force of people. Fascism seeks to solve economic, political, and social problems by achieving a millenarian national rebirth, exalting the nation or race above all else, and promoting cults of unity, strength, and purity.
I’d argue that Donald Trump is absolutely a nationalist. Moreso than any President that I recall. In fact, I think most of his immigration policies are FAR more driven by nationalism than racism. Donald Trump doesn’t care about the rest of the world. He doesn’t care about people in other countries. He wants to protect America by keeping the “riffraff” of other nations out of our house. He wants to protect America by keeping manufacturing here and foreign products out [he REALLY wants tariffs on everyone].
All you really need to do is take a look at his inaugural address–for which I’ll use bullet points since he can’t really talk in complex sentences…
- From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.
- At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.
- America will start winning again, winning like never before.
- When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.
- A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions.
- In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving.
Donald Trump is no globalist, that’s for sure.
Fascists believe that liberal democracy is obsolete, and they regard the complete mobilization of society under a totalitarian one-party state as necessary to prepare a nation for armed conflict and to respond effectively to economic difficulties. Such a state is led by a strong leader—such as a dictator and a martial government composed of the members of the governing fascist party—to forge national unity and maintain a stable and orderly society.
Trump has repeatedly attacked members of his own party for failing to fall in line with what he wants. He believes he speaks for the American people as a whole. He’s constantly frustrated that our democratic processes stop him from doing what he knows is necessary for the Nation.
Now, I have not seen him push for a totalitarian state. However, he’s expressed admiration on numerous occasions for Vladimir Putin, as a “strong leader”. He’s tried to muck with the DoJ to interfere or stop federal investigations/prosecutions. And he’s recently pardoned Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of failing to follow court orders, because he supports what Arpaio was doing. This certainly suggests that he considers the power of the government to be a fluid and amorphous thing, which shouldn’t be repressed by silly things like “laws”, “separation of powers”, “checks and balances”, “constitutions”, and “courts”.
Fascist economics supported a state-controlled economy that accepted a mix of private and public ownership over the means of production. Economic planning was applied to both the public and private sector, and the prosperity of private enterprise depended on its acceptance of synchronizing itself with the economic goals of the state. Fascist economic ideology supported the profit motive, but emphasized that industries must uphold the national interest as superior to private profit.
Economic self-sufficiency, known as autarky, was a major goal of most fascist governments.
Fascists promoted social welfare to ameliorate economic conditions affecting their nation or race as a whole, but they did not support social welfare for egalitarian reasons
Trump has repeatedly publicly cajoled corporations to stay in the US, because he believes that American manufacturing is an aspect of National power, and that anyone doing business in this country should consider that a higher goal than individual corporate profits.
Trump is pushing for punitive tariffs, scrapping trade deals, and in my opinion is absolutely a mercantilist. I haven’t heard anything that suggests he desires 100% autarky, but that is perhaps merely due to the fact that it’s absolutely politically unfeasible in our global economy. Wherever he CAN get it, he pushes for everything to be done within our borders.
Trump is not an egalitarian socialist, that’s for sure. But he’s not opposed to state intervention. On many occasions, he has praised single-payer systems in other countries as “great” (which is the highest compliment Trump gives) and has stated that we need some sort of universal healthcare system in America, although it would be public-private hybrid.
Fascism emphasizes direct action, including supporting the legitimacy of political violence, as a core part of its politics. Fascism views violent action as a necessity in politics that fascism identifies as being an “endless struggle”. This emphasis on the use of political violence means that most fascist parties have also created their own private militias (e.g. the Nazi Party’s Brown shirts and Fascist Italy’s Blackshirts).
In the inaugural speech, Trump said: “We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action – constantly complaining but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.” Granted, that could be a meaningless platitude.
But his actions in reaction to Charlottesville to not unilaterally denounce the alt-right protestors and to equivocate on the violence being “both sides” suggests an unwillingness to offend those who could be his political “brownshirts”.
This, I realize, is getting into the territory of “wild speculation”. I don’t know what’s in Trump’s heart as it relates to Charlottesville. But he didn’t exactly offer much clarity.
Fascism emphasizes both palingenesis and modernism. In particular, fascism’s nationalism has been identified as having a palingenetic character. Fascism promotes the regeneration of the nation and purging it of decadence.
I’ll admit, I then had to look up palingenesis: “Its meaning stems from Greek palin, meaning again, and genesis, meaning birth. It is a central component of Roger Griffin’s analysis of Fascism as a fundamentally modernist ideology.”
Hmm, sounds kinda like “Make America Great Again”, doesn’t it?
Trumps inaugural address was replete with his characterizations of the American political system as corrupt, as self-serving of those in politics, as serving globalist masters before nationalist masters, and how he was going to change all that. His final lines of his address:
“Together, We Will Make America Strong Again.
We Will Make America Wealthy Again.
We Will Make America Proud Again.
We Will Make America Safe Again.
And, Yes, Together, We Will Make America Great Again.”
The idea of the current incarnation of the Nation as corrupt and of a rebirth through Trump to a more pure state is exactly the sort of play that past fascists have used to gain power.
So What Does This All Mean?
The fascists of history may have been evil, but they weren’t stupid. In post-WWI Europe, they preyed on the fears and disillusionment of populations who had just finished the War to End All Wars, and were dealing with rapid industrialization and a significant change to their ways of life. For many, the things they held dear were in peril, the world was changing in ways that they had trouble adapting to, and someone showed up promising to make it all better and return their past glory.
Today, the world is facing a change for which it is unprepared. The global instant communication of the internet is breaking down political, social, international barriers. It is remaking economies and breaking business models. It is enabling globalization to accelerate, and people are scared. People who thought they understood the world in 1997 are now bewildered by the world of 2017. And they want the old ways back. Trump preyed on those fears and didn’t tell them “you have to learn to survive in this new world”, he said he was going to make us great “again”–bring back the glory of the past.
Now, I don’t think Trump is going to lead us into The Holocaust, Part Deux. But I do think his tenets of nationalism and mercantilism are dangerous. They lead us into trade wars, into economic conflict, and could destabilize the world economy. As has been said many times, “When goods don’t cross borders, armies will.” And military action, destructive though it may be, is not a matter of fear to a fascist–it is how a Nation proves its strength. There are many sources of potential provocation out there in the world. Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, just for starters. Once we start mucking with the world economy and other nations start blaming America for those problems, one can only imagine that new sources will emerge.
But further, protecting Americans from globalization and this new world is the wrong tack. It’s hard for a mercantilist to grasp, but globalization, free markets, and gains from specialization, comparative advantage, and trade make us ALL richer. We need to understand how to continue to help Americans be great in a global marketplace, not shut our borders to people, ideas, and goods. North Korea–perhaps the most fascist nation existing on earth today–has already tried that.
To me, Donald Trump checks off too many boxes in his words and deeds, and it seems to me that he is politically and economically a fascist. But whether you agree with me that Trump is a fascist or not, it’s still hard to look at what he’s proposed and done and not see the danger that his Presidency brings to all Americans and to other peoples around the world. Hyper-nationalism and mercantilism has no place in the modern world, regardless of the label we apply to it.