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Is Donald Trump Really a Fascist?

Donald Trump
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona back in 2016. Credit: Gage Skidmore.

In respectable society, criticizing Donald Trump isn’t just fashionable – it’s requisite.

And there’s plenty to criticize: Trump is inarticulate, unprofessional, rude, hyperbolic, devoid of empathy, deficient on policy, clearly the strangest person ever to occupy the presidency. But consistently, Trump bears a more significant charge: fascist.

Is Trump a Fascist? 

“Donald Trump and His Two Forms of Fascism,” a Mother Jones headline offered. “Biden speech last night called out Trump fascism. Good,” NBC declared. “What Trump and Orvan want: It’s fascism – it’s not a metaphor,” Salon wrote. “If Trump looks like a fascist and acts like a fascist, then maybe he is one,” The Guardian mused.  

Fascism is a serious charge, typically reserved for the likes of Hitler, Mussolini, and Pol Pot. Is Trump a fascist, too?

No.

Let’s be serious. Calling Trump a fascist is another example of “concept creep,” a modern phenomenon in which discreetly defined concepts are used so frequently and carelessly that they lose their meaning. Other terms, methodically being expanded to the point where they no longer meant what they used to mean, include “violence,” “trauma,” “gaslighting,” and “literally.”

Fascism, which today is used to describe just about any politician you disagree with, has a rigid definition. According to Merriam-Webster, fascism, pronounced fa-shi-zem, is “a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.” 

So, that’s what fascism means (literally, as in the pre-Twitter understanding of the word). If you’re using fascism in any way not consistent with the above definition, you’re misusing a serious, serious charge – one associated with numerous genocides and political upheavals.

Now, working with the real definition of fascism, rather than the Mother Jones definition or your gender studies professor’s definition, let’s apply Trump’s behavior methodically to the definition, to gauge whether we get any overlap.

Fascism is 1. a political philosophy or regime that 2. Exalts nation and often race above the individual AND 3. Stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by A. a dictatorial leader B. severe economic and social regimentation AND C. forcible suppression of opposition.

Okay, 1. Trump’s MAGA was a political philosophy, sure. Most politicians subscribe to some overarching political philosophy. 2. Does MAGA exalt nation and race above the individual? MAGA explicitly exalts America above other nations (“America First”) but MAGA wasn’t especially heavy on exalting America before the individual. Actually, Trump spoke less to the power of our unity, less to our collective efforts than many of his predecessors (“ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”). Trump’s rhetoric appealed to a demographic who believed strongly that they had to fight to preserve their individual freedom in the face of an oppressive and ever-advancing state; the type of people who own firearms to protect themselves from the government, who drive trucks equipped for the zombie apocalypse and have a basement full of post-apocalyptic supplies.

Moving on to the second part of factor 2. Did Trump promote race above the individual? Trump took a lot of heat as a racist and a xenophobe. His 2016 campaign was centered around cubing illegal immigration; he executed an immigration ban that seemed pretty clearly designed to curb Muslim immigration; Trump certainly appealed to white nationalists. But did Trump exalt the white race above the individual, the way Hitler exalted the Aryan race above the individual? No, of course not. Being racially insensitive, or wanted to curb illegal immigration – like Obama before and Biden after – is not on par with fascist racial attitudes. 

If we accept the definition of fascist at face value and the elements test prescribed within, Trump fails at element 2 as he does not place nation or race above the individual. But for the sake of thoroughness let’s continue. 

3. Did Trump stand for a centralized autocratic government? No. When Trump was faced with the COVID crisis – the type of crisis most true autocrats would seize as an opportunity to consolidate power – Trump demurred; he told the governors to deal with it. Trump gave away power at the moment a Hitler-type would have declared martial law. So Trump did not stand for a centralized autocratic government, nor was he A. a dictatorial leader. Instead, Congress and the Judiciary held Trump in check, regularly thwarting the Executive’s agenda. Nor did Trump preside over B. severe economic and social regimentation. No. Our economy and society were structured the same under Trump as his predecessor and successor. Lastly, C. Did Trump oppress the opposition? No. Trump and his GOP cronies were often accused of voter suppression – which is a commonly made charge, often deployed casually. Concerning oppressing the opposition, gerrymandering and using tactics that make it harder for poor people to vote are not oppression – certainly not by the standard that fascists oppress their opposition, not by the standard of modern Russia, where Putin’s critics and opponents mysteriously keep ending up dead or in jail. 

Donald Trump

Former President of the United States Donald Trump speaking with attendees at the “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona. Image by Gage Skidmore.

Trump is a problem for so many reasons: he’s anti-intellectual; he’s marketed himself as a savior of the middle and working class while in reality he’s an elite corporatist, happy to enact an agenda that further decimates the middle and working class; anecdotal evidence suggests he treats women poorly; his interactions with foreign leaders impede diplomacy; his persistence that the 2020 election was stolen casts doubt on US election validity. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms to heave at Trump. But he’s not a fascist.  

Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. cormac

    September 13, 2022 at 2:51 pm

    whenever people start yapping about “running the govt like a business” because a businessman knows how to balance the budget etc etc i tell them you can’t run govt like a business because it’s not a business it’s a govt…meaning a business has appointed heads thru out and one all powerful boss at the top and nobody under them have a say or a vote…that’s not a democracy, thats fascism…

    if you don’t love democracy and the constitution and want one “boss” whom you can worship move to russia…or north korea…or saudi arabia…just get out of the usa

    american..love it or leave it

  2. fatty labelle

    September 13, 2022 at 3:37 pm

    Ok, so fatso is not a fascist because he was too stupid unlike mentioned others to get it implemented. It doesnt matter that he tried, and stirred up others and seperated kids from parents for 5 years. The laziest writer will always follow the easiest storyline, and pander to those who dont read things not easily explained.

    Looser + easy path + cheating mind + dumb followers = ‘get in line behind the others who are braver than you, like Tucker’

  3. Kennerley

    September 13, 2022 at 3:58 pm

    Yes he is.

    Nice try.

    The way all these columnists trip over themselves unable to call a spade a spade is hilarious. They’re just bootlicking on reflex lmao.

  4. Ghost Tomahawk

    September 13, 2022 at 4:04 pm

    All you had to say was Trump is not a fascist. Hes not. Because he does not subscribe to a police state type of govt.

    The end.

    Thats all you had to say.

    Everything else you said was wrong and complete garbage. Compare his policy to everything from Obama or Biden. No comparison. Both Obama and Biden were and are utter policy failures on every level. Trump wasnt perfect but compared to those clowns he was. Then there was Bush…who was a clown too. Trump fixed 16 years of bad economic and foreign policy…maybe more. Why fixed? Look at the US now. Its complete chaos. The border, the economy, crime, foreign policy, the military…its endless. Nothing is going right. This is Obamas 3rd term with his people calling the shots while the Easter Bunny is coralling Pedophile Joe and the prompter telling us what they want us to know while Ol Joe answers pre screened soft tossed questions and dodders off for tapioca pudding and his nap.

    Thats YOUR president. So before you slander Donald Trump look at the joke in the white house YOU installed.

    Kass youre a moron. Stop posting here.

  5. Tim

    September 13, 2022 at 4:26 pm

    (1) Applying a dictionary definition to identify fascism is pedantic (2) your primary argument us “Trump isn’t fascist because the courts stopped him when he tried to be” (3) anti-intellectualism is a trait of fascist, and you admit that he is that (4) misogyny is a trait of fascist, and you admit that he is that (5) worst of all, you did not address the one thing that may easily identifies the fascist: the “this is the problem and I alone can solve it”. Not “I have a better plan” or “we can work together” but “I can solve this”. Trump did this. Trump was exhausted by his followers for this. TRUMP IS FASCIST. Don’t take my word for it. Read Umberto Echo’s essay “Ur Fascism”. You’ll see the REAL definition of fascism. Even the journalists at Mother Jones know how to research a topic (because they quoted from works such as this). You should take notes rather than make snide anti-intellectial attacks about gender studies.

  6. 403Forbidden

    September 13, 2022 at 4:42 pm

    The democrats are the real fascists. Hillary, bill, Obama are fascists.

    On the other hand, republicans are imperialists who yearn for the old days of glory.

    Fascists like bill clinton made it possible for 9/11 to happen with his incessant merciless bombing of Iraq and Monica’s war and Monica Lewinsky bombing of Baghdad, and Jimmy Carter’s fascist love affair with Osama over Afghanistan and Obama’s military adventure in Libya in 2011 which gave rise to jihadist groups in Syria and also ISIS the most extreme religio-fascist entity in history.

    Democrats are the true fascists and the 80-yr-old piece of fascist dross now in the white house is 3x worse than LBJ.

  7. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    September 13, 2022 at 5:17 pm

    Of course, he’s not a fascist. Only the dumb and/or deluded believe he is, and that’s wholly based on what they’ve been fed by the wildly partisan major US media and what their like-minded progressive minions tell them.

  8. Walker

    September 13, 2022 at 8:37 pm

    The author mixes the leader and the followers. The proper way to define it is not to check Trump vs Fasism, but Trumpism vs Fascism. If we do this, we can answer a lot that this author misses.

    Point Two, Trumpism calls themselves and only themselves as being Patriotic. Patriotism is a central calling of Trumpism. This is based largely on race. So I would say clearly that Trumpism meets the second point of facism.

    Point three, Did Trumpism point to a central authoritarian government? “Only I can fix it” mix that with his attempts to overthrow the election or refuse to leave the White House. Also with his weaponizing of the DOJ against his enemies. And using his crowd to violently keep him in power.

    You can maybe say that Trump himself wasn’t “fascist” but he was in no way adverse to using fascism of his followers to keep authoritative power.

    One additional point that I would like to make. You said that he didn’t “oppress his opponents.” Using the example of COVID. This is not a good example nor a good definition. For one simple reason you conflate his followers with his opponents. His opponents wanted protection from the virus. They wanted the steps that Trump didn’t take which you say would have been fascist. While his people wanted their personal freedoms over the wants of their opponents. This is oppression of the opponents.

    No, the author is completely wrong. Trump followers wanted fascism and Trump used it to his benefit. That is the real definition of fascism.

  9. phil stacy

    September 14, 2022 at 9:23 am

    Trump represents voting citizens in charge of small government which is the opposite of fascism. It is fascism that is trying to destroy citizen voting control.

  10. Tomb

    September 14, 2022 at 12:09 pm

    Wow.
    You have just destroyed your image as a crazed liberal !!!!

  11. DHN

    September 14, 2022 at 2:21 pm

    It’s an irrelevant question to ask.

    Trump IS a clinical narcissist. Understanding that makes clear EVERYTHING he does. In practice it means if a fascist position glorifies his infantile ego, he’ll go with that. And if in the next week an anti-fascist position glorifies his infantile ego, he’ll go with that and deny the first position occurred.

    The only principle a clinical narcissist will follow is to say and do whatever is needed to glorify and protect that infantile ego… everything else is window dressing in support of that need.

  12. Brin

    September 15, 2022 at 9:06 am

    After January 6 does it really matter if he fits the old definition of “fascist?”

    No, he disqualified himself from ever holding any office again.

    Plus, and you know this, the definition of “fascism” has been the subject of much debate over the years. It’s not so cut and dried as you pretend.

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