Whether Donald Trump is a full-fledged fascist or “merely” a proto-fascist depends on which historian’s definition of fascism you prefer. Part four of a series.Click here for all the other parts of this series
Fascism according to Kevin Passmore
Cardiff University’s Kevin Passmore developed another definition of fascism for his book “Fascism: A Very Short Introduction.” The entire definition is available in Passmore’s book and at Wikipedia, but the most important parts are addressed below.
Fascism is a set of ideologies and practices that seeks to place the nation, defined in exclusive biological, cultural, and/or historical terms, above all other sources of loyalty, and to create a mobilized national community.
Trump’s rhetoric is intended to appeal to a definition of national identity that is white and racist. In his speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump said that “We will rescue kids from failing schools by helping their parents send them to a safe school of their choice,” which is coded racist rhetoric as well. Note that Trump didn’t contrast “failing” with succeeding, but rather “safe.” The implication is that failing schools are dangerous and that safe schools are succeeding. And where are most “failing” and dangerous schools located? In minority neighborhoods and in urban areas. His anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim positions are similarly coded to appeal to whites who are afraid of brown people moving into their neighborhoods.
Similarly, Trump is defining his America in Christian terms. Muslims are not welcome partly because their beliefs are different from the dominant Christian ethos. At one point Trump was pro-choice, but he’s become anti-abortion except for cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother. And his proposal to change IRS rules on churches not being allowed to preach politics from the pulpit and donate to political campaigns will disproportionately advantage Christian churches.
And Trump called for “Americanism, not globalism” in his RNC speech. Americanism, or American exceptionalism, is nationalistic – we’re better than all the other nations because of our history and our values.
By defining America in this way – white, Christian, and exceptional – Trump doesn’t have to convince his supporters that they should value their nation above other sources of loyalty. Their current loyalties equal their loyalty America.
Passmore is unclear what he means by a “mobilized national community” within the definition. Given this, it’s also unclear whether Trump wants to create that sort of community.
Passmore’s second characteristic is “implacable hostility to socialism and feminism.” Trump regularly disparages Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and other powerful women simply because they’re women. Trump accepts that some of the socialism-inspired government safety net programs (Social Security, Medicare) are useful, but he attacks energy regulations as “job killing” and financial regulations like Dodd-Frank as preventing normal people from being able to take out loans. Trump has pledged to replace the Affordable Care Act with a plan that “bring much-needed free market reforms to the healthcare industry.”
Based on his attacks on women and his anti-regulatory stance, Trump appears to be hostile to both feminism and socialism. But his position on government safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare suggests that his opposition to socialism is not “implacable.”
The next characteristic of fascism as identified by Passmore is “the advent to power of a new elite acting in the name of the people, headed by a charismatic leader, and embodied in a mass, militarized party.”
Trump, as a billionaire, qualifies as an elite. His council of economic advisors is similarly packed with his fellow ultra-rich. And Trump claims to be working for the people – “I am your voice” – while his wealth along places him firmly in the traditional American elites. The main difference is that Trump’s “new elite” supporters claim to be working for the American people, instead of simply doing what they always do – work for their own personal interest.
Passmore’s definition points out that, while “[f]ascists are pushed towards conservatism by common hatred of socialism and feminism,” they are “prepared to override conservative interests – family, property, religion, the universities, the civil service – where the interests of the nation are considered to require it.”
Trump’s advisor Chris Christie has said that Trump might ask Congress to write a new law that would make it easier to fire government employees. Trump has indicated that he would consider eliminating the Department of Education. He opposes a complete abortion ban. He has called for saving Social Security. These positions are all in opposition to modern conservative, Republican values. Whether he’ll continue to oppose these positions if he takes the Presidency is a fair question, however – fascists have historically been very ideologically flexible when it comes to doing anything to stay in power. This point is something that Passmore also points out:
The last characteristic of Passmore’s definition is something that can’t be known unless Trump wins the election. According to Passmore,
[Fascism tries to] assuage discontent by accepting specific demands of the labour and women’s movements, so long as these demands accord with the national priority.
Access to [special organizations for workers and women] and to the benefits they confer upon members depends on the individual’s national, political, and/or racial characteristics. All aspects of fascist policy are suffused with ultranationalism.
The closest Trump has come to making access and benefits contingent on someone’s “national, political, and/or racial characteristics” is Trump’s call to end birthright citizenship. However, given that citizenship is critical for accessing housing, medical care, employment opportunities, and food assistance, the impacts of ending birthright citizenship are difficult to exaggerate.
So where does this put Trump on Passmore’s characteristics? Of the 10 unique characteristics identified above, Trump closely matches at least six of them, partially matches three more, and fails to match only one.
Part Five – Fascism according to Emilio Gentile – will be published tomorrow morning