Whether Donald Trump is a full-fledged fascist or “merely” a proto-fascist depends on which historian’s definition of fascism you prefer. Part two of a series.
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Fascism according to Stanley G. Payne
Stanley Payne is a historian from the University of Wisconsin and the author of “Fascism: Comparison and Definition.” He has generated a list of 13 characteristics that he thinks are necessary for a political movement or ideology to be fascist, and he classified them into three groups – ideology and goals, negations, and style/organization.
- Espousal of an idealist, vitalist, and voluntaristic philosophy, normally involving the attempt to realize a new modern, self-determined, and secular culture
- Creation of a new nationalist authoritarian state not based on traditional principles or models
- Organization of a new highly regulated, multiclass, integrated national economic structure, whether called national corporatist, national socialist, or national syndicalist
- Positive evaluation and use of, or willingness to use violence and war
- The goal of empire, expansion, or a radical change in the nation’s relationship with other powers
Trump shows aspects of the first characteristic in that he supports an idealistic philosophy in pursuit of a new modern and self-determined culture that is rooted in the idea of American exceptionalism. Voluntarism is “a theory that conceives will to be the dominant factor in experience or in the world,” and while Trump’s language has echos of the national and personal ambition and aggression that comes with the concept of Will to Power as described by Nietzche, Trump hasn’t explicitly called for his supporters to exert their will upon the nation to change it.
Trump also shows signs of wanting to create a nationalist state with him as king of the mountain. As discussed previously, he has questioned the legitimacy of the electoral process and has implied that he’ll only accept the results of the election if he’s the winner. This indicates his authoritarianism as much as his repeated use of “I am your voice” during his Republican National Convention speech. His views are blatantly nationalistic, appealing to the greatness and exceptional nature of the US. As such, he appears to be calling on his supporters to help him turn the US into a nationalistic, authoritarian state. The question becomes whether that state is “based on traditional principles or models” or not, but it’s too early to say. Trump’s conception of the US is based on a mythology of US history rather than actual history, but we probably won’t know if his government is traditional or not until and unless he takes the Presidency.
Trump’s economic plans don’t have any indications of wanting to restructure the US economy as radically as implied by “national corporatist, national socialist, or national syndicalist” models. And Trump claims to want to eliminate regulations, not impose more. As such, it’s fair to say that Trump does not match up with this characteristic.As for Trump’s “[p]ositive evaluation and use of, or willingness to use violence and war,” he’s long used violent metaphors, talked about hitting or beating up his political opponents, and the like. CNBC reported that Trump has repeatedly asked experts why the US shouldn’t use nuclear weapons on our enemies, although there hasn’t been confirmation of this at this point. What there is confirmation of is that Trump has publicly said he’d consider nuking somewhere in the Middle East in revenge for an ISIS attack on the United States. That’s both an overreaction and an example of collective punishment that is prohibited by international human rights law. This willingness to use violence, even the ultimate form of violence yet devised, for something other than deterrence indicates that Trump matches this characteristic.
Trump has not called for the empirical expansion of the United States, but he has called for a “radical change in the nation’s relationship with other powers,” specifically the United Nations, our NATO allies, Russia, China, and Mexico. Threats of trade wars and abandoning our allies to Russian or Chinese aggression, even “renegotiating” our national debt would radically alter our position in the world.
So of these five characteristics, Trump matches two, partially matches two more, and doesn’t seem to match the last.
It’s useful to note, however, that Mussolini didn’t publish the Doctrine of Fascism until after the Fascists had ruled Italy for nearly a decade. Many historians have found that fascists are flexible in their ideology and philosophy – they’ll claim to believe whatever they think is most likely to get them into power and then keep them there. So it may be possible for a full-blooded fascist to match only a few of of Payne’s characteristics and still be clearly identifiable as a fascist.
The second group of characteristics is what Payne calls the “Fascist Negations:”
- Anticonservatism (though with the understanding that fascist groups were willing to undertake temporary alliances with other sectors, more commonly with the right)
Trump’s antiliberalism is unambiguous. He thinks that government has grown too large and wants to deregulate businesses and banking, especially increasing domestic energy development and eliminating environmental protections. But more than that, he rejects the source of liberalism – the Enlightenment and the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution – inalienable rights, life, liberty, brotherhood, equality. Trump has called for the end to birthright citizenship. He wants to unfairly restrict on the liberty of Muslims by subjecting them to religious profiling in opposition to Justice Department policy and the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of “equal protection under the law.” He has publicly attacked judges who don’t rule in his favor, threatening the Constitution’s separation of powers. And he doesn’t think that everyone should be treated fairly, as shown by his stated goal of overturning federally guaranteed LGBT marriage rights and his tax plan would dramatically lower taxes on the wealthiest Americans and completely eliminate the financial windfall tax otherwise known as the estate tax. These are some of the most fundamental tenets of liberalism, and Trump rejects them.Trump’s anticommunism is less obvious, but that’s largely because there’s some overlap between certain types of liberalism and communism. His tax plan overturns the Marxist idea, which is embedded in the US’ progressive taxation, of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” His council of economic advisors is packed with ultra-wealthy real estate magnates like Trump himself. Trump has said that he might eliminate the entire Department of Education in order to give more power to the states and eliminate Common Core, a program that may, over the long run, result in better educated citizens as compared to the rest of the developed world. And the Republican platform calls for the sale of public lands held in trust by the US government.
Finally, Trump is also anticonservative. Trump says he’s OK with some limited amount of LGBTQ rights, just not defined at the national level. He wants to add exceptions to an abortion ban – in cases of rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is threatened. He claims that he will save Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid without cuts. All of these are anticonservative positions, yet Trump has also clearly formed an alliance with traditional conservatives. He was blessed as a “baby Christian” by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson. He’s been endorsed by many Republicans who have come to see him as their only hope to oppose Hillary Clinton.
The examples above illustrate how Trump has all three of the fascist negations identified by Payne. But what about Trump’s style and organization characteristics? There are five of them:
- Attempted mass mobilization with militarization of political relationships and style and with the goal of a mass single party militia
- Emphasis on aesthetic structure of meetings, symbols, and political liturgy, stressing emotional and mystical aspects
- Extreme stress on the masculine principle and male dominance, while espousing a strongly organic view of society
- Exaltation of youth above other phases of life, emphasizing the conflict of the generations, at least in effecting the initial political transformation
- Specific tendency toward an authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of command, whether or not the command is to some degree initially elective
As of publication, Trump has not called upon the Republican Party or any subset of his more virulent supporters to form a party militia. Nor has he obviously attempted a “mass mobilization with militarization of political relationships.” So Trump does not yet have this characteristic.He is a demagogue, however, and that means he uses arguments based on emotion and deception instead of logic and reason. He likes to prominently display his own name, like how he had his name elevated over the American flags during the Republican National Convention. And he often has an unusually large number of US flags behind him during his speeches, invoking nationalism (even jingoism). These examples indicate that Trump has several of these characteristics, but perhaps not all of them.
As for Trump’s masculinity, there is no question that he has “extreme stress on the masculine principle and male dominance.” He’s had three wives, and he’s cheated on at least one of them. He’s denigrated women journalists and women in general. He’s had a habit of debasing women since 1990, if not earlier. But there’s no indications of him holding an “organic view of society” (as in society behaving like an organism).
As for his views on youth, he seems to be exalting mostly middle aged men rather than youths. But whether this will change in the event of a Trump presidency can’t be known today.
Finally, Trump’s demonstrated that he has a strong “Specific tendency toward an authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of command.” And he’s using the US electoral system to try and take power, as both Mussolini and Hitler did successfully.
With respect to Trump’s style, he has one of the five characteristics in total, plus partials on two others. Added these to the other characteristics and we see that Trump strongly matches six of the 13 characteristics, has partial matches on four more, and as of today doesn’t match the last three.
Payne was interviewed for an article about whether or not Trump was a fascist at Vox in May. In that article, Payne rejected the notion that Trump was a fascist. Payne said that Trump’s nationalism wasn’t revolutionary enough to qualify as fascist because his nationalism wasn’t focused on “breaking down all the standards and the barriers.” As we have seen since May, however, Trump has been rejecting the standards of politics and attacking the barriers that govern American lives, from preemptively casting doubt on the election’s results to calling for a “refinancing” of the US federal debt to approving of torture to calling for the mass deportation (and possible crime against humanity) of 11 million Mexicans.
So there’s an argument to be made that Trump has already punched through Payne’s specific criticism from May. But according to Payne’s characteristics, Trump probably doesn’t have enough fascist tendencies to qualify as a full-fledged fascist. He might well qualify as a proto-fascist, however, and as we’ll learn later from another historian, even proto-fascism is dangerous, especially when proto-fascism is in the process of becoming rooted in the political system.
Part Three- Fascism according to Roger Griffin – will be published tomorrow morning