By Ian Conte, Copy Editor
Image from Forbes
Is Donald Trump a Fascist? This question has become quite common, with political commentators across both isles criticizing the US President for his violent response to Black Lives Matter protests, his cruel mishandling of Latin American immigration, and rampant corruption throughout his administration. According to the literature and scholars of Fascism, however, Trump doesn’t fit the bill.
But giving a solid answer to this question is complex. It is notoriously difficult to give a complete definition of fascism. So rather than compare Trump to some concrete definition of what a fascist is, this question can be answered by analyzing some of the key characteristics of Trump’s leadership and government and contrasting those with two of the 20th centuries most infamous fascists: German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler and Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini.
A key foundation of fascism is the idea that violence and war “rejuvenate” a nation, and that violence can and should be exercised whenever possible. While Trump often promotes violent response to protests, he does not exercise violence in his government in the same capacity that Hitler and Mussolini did. Additionally, he seems to avoid overt militaristic foriegn policy, and takes after President Theodore Rosevelt’s “Big Stick” approach.
Another foundation of fascism is a mass anti-individualist state, where each citizen is seen only as a cell in the organism of the nation. Hitler and Mussolini worked tirelessly to cement Fascism and hyper-nationalism into the national culture, and heavily promoted the idea that the nation was a sacred organism to which every citizen had to devote their lives to sustain.
Trump, being the big-headed billionaire he is, is a hyper-individualist. Trump has demonstrated time and time again that he wants nothing to do with the collective and those below him.
Fascist governments survive on an expansive single party, mass mobilization of citizens in support of fascism, and a complete consolidation of political power. Hitler and Mussolini ruthlessly rooted out all of their opponents within government, forced their parties to dominate their legislative bodies, and quickly grabbed all of power in their governments.
Trump has turned the Department of Justice into his family’s lapdog, and made attempts to install his supporters in several branches of government. However, his Republican Party has actually lost ground in Congress during his term, and is not expected to recover.
Additionally, Trump has done nowhere near the work he would need to do to add to his power and mobilize the majority of citizens to support his presidency. He is the most divisive president in US history, and severely lacks popular support of its people. The US is simply too large and too decentralized already to provide the conditions necessary for a speedy transition to fascism, let alone support a fascist ruler.
When handling the media, fascists will stamp out all non-cooperative journalism via assassinations and persecution. While Trump takes any chance he gets to denounce his critics in the media, he has yet to go anywhere near the lengths of Hitler and Mussolini.
All of this being said, there are certainly characteristics of Trump’s presidency that closely parallel the characteristics of fascism.
Fascism requires a cult of leadership, where the leader of the fascist movement is held at a god-like status. Much like Hitler and Mussolini, Trump wants everyone in and outside of his circles to believe that he is strong, remarkably healthy (despite his recent contraction of COVID-19), and hyper-intelligent. He ignores every accusation made against him and touts that he is the greatest president in US history. Trump expects praise from everyone, no matter his behavior.
Fascists also pretend that their administrations are sound, but their governance is almost always chaotic and surrounded by lies. Trump’s administration maintains few consistent policy goals, and its officials repeatedly contradict each other. The Trump administration also has a turnover rate like no other presidential administration in recent US history. Its failure to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic is a perfect example of this, where mixed messages and strife among the inner administration has led to more deaths than WWI, Vietnam, and Korea combined.
Trump also supports the fascistic ideal of a “lost golden age.” This is very clear in his campaign slogan: “Make America Great Again.” Much like Trump, Hitler and Mussolini garnered support for their movements by recalling the days of their respective countries’ previous strength, and promised a swift return to the glory days under their regime.
Most significantly, Trump has founded his ideology in an “Us vs. Them” mentality, and defines himself according to everything he is not. He has outlined a list of enemies to the American state, including, but not limited to: Antifa and the “radical left,” China, Iran, Latinx communities, LGBTQIA+ people, BLM “looters” and “thugs,” and many, many more.
The majority of Trump’s immigration policies are rooted in racism – he clearly seeks to reestablish a US where whites held a greater than 80% majority of the population. Trump has significantly expanded the powers of ICE, which has led to the establishment of concentration camps across the nation where Latinx immigrants are deterred without resolve.
However, it is important to note that Trump has yet to enact explicit widespread discriminatory policies at the same level of those in Hitler’s Germany. Hitler touted the idea of a superior “Aryan Race” and considered all other people inferior. Hitler institutionalized this idea with the 1935 Nuremberg Race Laws, and his ideas on the inferiority of Jews, Gypsies, and other European minority groups motivated the deaths of over 6 million people in the Holocaust.
Mussolini, on the other hand, was hesitant to enshrine racism in law at the beginning of his rule. Towards the end, following a prolonged war in Ethiopia and continued ties with Nazi Germany, Mussolini exercised increasingly militant racism towards Muslims, Jews, and people of African decent.
Trump has made his immigration policy more racist, incited white grievance and “reverse racism” as a political tactic, and has repeatedly refused to denounce support from white supremacist groups. He refers to Black communities with racist “dog whistle” terminology, and has exasperated state-sanctioned violence against minorities.
However, we have yet to see state enforced ethnic cleansing and extermination of minorities as in Nazi Germany. Trump’s racial policy is more harsh than Mussolini’s early years, but has not met the level of the racial policy of Hitler’s early years.
In conclusion, Trump certainly displays many Fascistic tendencies. But he is nowhere near the precedent set by fascists of the 20th century for the scope and exercise of governmental power. Obviously, this doesn’t set the bar very high, and President Trump still has plenty of flaws which should not be ignored, but it’s a stretch to place him among the likes of Hitler and Mussolini.
Roger Griffin, professor of history and political theory at Oxford Brookes University, and author of “The Nature of Fascism,” argues that Trump is actually a right-wing populist. Unlike a fascist, Trump doesn’t want to do away with the Constitution and the existing government. He doesn’t fetishize violence and war as the ultimate cleanser of society. Trump is simply a racist who wants to maintain the current system and continue to deny its benefits to the minority groups he’s interested in oppressing.
Griffin puts it best: “You can be a total xenophobic racist male chauvinist bastard and still not be a fascist.”