According to Meriam-Webster, fascism 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.”
Fascism is most commonly associated with Benito Mussolini’s Italy and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, with embracing violence as a reformative tool and dismantling democracy.
Donald Trump: Fascist?
And it’s not just the kids at Berkeley and Brown. MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan recently wrote an article titled “Donald Trump is running for president while pushing a fascist platform.” Now, Trump is an unfortunate choice for president, a guy who often exhibits shoddy judgment and regrettable behavior. But labeling Trump a fascist is not a serious assessment. Actually, labeling Trump a fascist isn’t even a responsible assessment, for it deludes the word and cheapens the atrocities that true fascists have committed. True fascists tear down existing regimes, halt elections, and commit genocide in the name of racial purity.
Trump, meanwhile, was upset and moaned about an election that he lost (but did nothing to prevent) before ultimately relinquishing power. According to Hasan, Trump is pushing a fascist platform because of “his Muslim ban, his remark about the “very fine people” in Charlottesville, Virginia.” Donald Trump’s behavior is unfortunate and ill-suited for the President of the United States – but it’s not fascist behavior. Saying so suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of what fascism is.
Trump is Not a Fascist
In late 2020, Vox author Dylan Matthews followed up on a 2015 piece he had written, which surveyed political experts on whether Trump was a fascist. In 2015, the unanimous assessment was that Trump was not a fascist. In 2020, “the responses were, again, unanimous, albeit tinged with much greater concern about Trump’s “authoritarian and violent tendencies.” However, “no one thinks Trump is a fascist leader, full stop.”
Some of the people Matthews consulted “expressed concern that describing Trump as a fascist undermines the term and leads to a misanalysis of our current political situation.”
Trump has a well-documented history of poor behavior, of saying things that he shouldn’t have said. “But things could always get worse,” Matthews wrote. “There really are leaders who suspend elections, dissolve legislatures, throw large numbers of citizens into camps without trial or appeal, who turn their nations into one-party states oriented around a cult of national rebirth.”
According to the University of Texas’s Jason Brownlee, fascist leaders of the past “not only pursued right-wing policies, they also built-up mass-mobilizing parties and paramilitary organizations with the goal of sweeping aside alternative movements and establishing single-party dictatorship.”
Roger Griffin, a professor at Oxford Brookes University, called Trump a “wheeler dealer,” but not a fascist.
“Even in four years of incoherent and inconsistent tweets, he’s never actually done a Putin and tried to make himself a permanent president, let alone suggest any coherent plan for overthrowing the constitutional system. And I don’t even think that’s in his mind. He is an exploiter, he’s a freeloader. He’s a wheeler and dealer. And that is not the same as an ideologue,” Griffin said. “So he’s absolutely not a fascist. He does not pose a challenge to constitutional democracy … He doesn’t care about the rules, but the core system he doesn’t want to change, because he’s somebody who’s profited by that system.”
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor and opinion writer at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison 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. Harrison listens to Dokken.
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