I know you’ve seen the Photoshopped images of Trump in Nazi attire, or with a Fuhrer-esque mustache, or some other kind of outlandish caricature that insinuates he’s Hitler reincarnated. And certainly this is nothing new – I’m guessing as soon as we had some kind of program that allowed us to manipulate photos, someone was creating Hitler memes. Hillary as Nazi was quite popular this past election season, and Obama as Hitler has been a perennial favorite – perhaps only slightly less popular than Obama as Lucifer. (The inconsistency evident in the Obama as Hitler meme always sort of screamed out at me, but I guess a lot of his haters don’t realize it’s not possible to call someone a communist AND a nazi at the same time – more on that in a minute).
Apparently, a lot of people aren’t aware of one of the oldest internet memes in existence – Godwin’s Law. There are many iterations of this law, but basically the idea is that if you bring up Hitler or the Nazis in your argument, you’ve immediately lost your debate – or at least ended any pretense of rational discussion.
But ever since then-candidate, now-President Donald Trump stormed on to the political playing field, calling out the Mexicans for sending over rapists and murderers, the old rules of ‘debate’ have been rapidly re-written – mostly in a downward direction. Calling other people names didn’t diminish Trump’s popularity – it increased it. The GOP won both houses of Congress by calling Obamacare ‘socialism’.
And many have said that Godwin’s Law shouldn’t disqualify an argument – some people are indeed Nazis.
So is Trump a modern-day Hitler? Well, it certainly doesn’t help your cause when groups like the Ku Klux Klan endorse you, and noted white supremacists proclaim ‘Hail Trump!’ at rallies while other participants applaud gleefully and do that Hitler salute thing. But I’d have to say no. While these groups have endorsed his behavior, he hasn’t endorsed theirs – although he may have been slower to make that clear than many would have liked.
And while he spent a lot of time demonizing others on the campaign trail, his ‘final solution’ for those groups is building a wall, not a gas chamber. You could argue that he wants to marginalize certain groups in society, but you can’t seriously claim he wants to kill them. Donald Trump is not Hitler, nor is he a Nazi.
But is he a Fascist?
This is a more difficult question, for while historians pretty much agree on the parameters of 20th century European Fascism, there’s much less agreement on how to describe it in a 21st century American context. Here’s one attempt summarizing Fascism’s key tenets:
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. Fascism rejects assertions that violence is automatically negative in nature, and views political violence, war, and imperialism as means that can achieve national rejuvenation. Fascists advocate a mixed economy, with the principal goal of achieving autarky through protectionist and interventionist economic policies.
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that there’s a lot in that definition that can be said to be true about Trump and those with whom he surrounds himself. Liberal democracy is used here as a synonym to western democracy, and doesn’t refer to how we use the word ‘liberal’ in American political conversations. But Trump et al are actively questioning many of the foundations of how democracies have functioned since World War II. Obsolete is exactly the word he would use for many respected institutions such as NATO or the EU itself. The GOP is eagerly hoping to effectively have one-party rule until the next election cycle (Mitch McConnell will have probably used the ‘nuclear option’ in the Senate by the time you read this, effectively ending bipartisanship for the next two years) – but both parties are guilty of that. However, Trump has repeatedly claimed that he, and he alone, can fix America’s problems – only the charismatic strongman can make America great again.
Trumps followers want police and military to use more force, not less, to keep the rowdies at home and abroad in line. (Trump’s AG just issued a directive today that basically bars the Federal government from preventing state and local police from using excessive force). Violence has been condoned at Trump’s rallies since the beginning, the idea of locking up political opponents cheerfully encouraged and embraced. Trump’s recent budget proposal has called for massive increases in military spending, one might guess in preparation for a new decade of American imperialism – Trump himself said we should have kept Iraq’s oil for ourselves after our invasion.
As far as that last statement pertaining to autarky goes (had to look that one up myself), I don’t think a more apt description of Trump’s views on international trade could be written.
The above definition doesn’t mention anti-Semitism or the widespread formation of independent militias that, in my opinion, were key parts of Fascism in the last century – the parallel components in the American version being anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim rhetoric and the ramping up of paramilitary groups such as the Bundy Bunch. No one knows for sure how Donald Trump really feels about an American society armed to the teeth, but he certainly went after that vote.
I don’t see a totalitarian bent to the administration – although Trump himself is still pretty chuffed he won; he’s president and you’re not. And, it’s bizarre how cozy so many members of his team are with communist Russia. Apparently socialism is very, very bad, especially as it pertains to everything Democrats do, but a Cold War communist like Putin is all right. Historically, Fascist groups have been virulently anti-communist.
So, in conclusion, it’s a mixed bag, but definitely more than enough to set off alarm bells. While the Trump movement doesn’t fit the textbook definition of Fascism, there’s enough there in my opinion to be considered Fascism light.
Or, as another writer says so much more eloquently, a degraded, cartoon version of Fascism. We’ll look at his ideas in my next post.