Whether Donald Trump is a full-fledged fascist or “merely” a proto-fascist depends on which historian’s definition of fascism you prefer. Part three of a series.
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Fascism according to Roger Griffin
Roger Griffin, historian and author of “The Nature of Fascism” and numerous other fascism-related books in the 1990s and 2000s, has defined fascism as follows:
Fascism is a political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra nationalism.(from “The Palingenetic Core of Fascist Ideology,” a chapter in A. Campi (Ed.), Che cos’è il fascismo? Interpretazioni e prospecttive di richerche (pp. 97-122). Rome: Ideazione editrice, 2003., via libraryofsocialscience.com)
This statement is Griffin’s attempt to create an objective definition of a “fascist minimum,” the minimum criteria that all fascisms share. Unfortunately, this single sentence is so nuanced and uses enough academic language that it takes Griffin several pages to explain what it means.
“Palingenetic” as it applies to politics literally means a national rebirth, but Griffin writes that this is not a “restoration of what has been,” but rather a “‘new birth’ which retains certain eternal principles (e.g. ‘eternal’ Roman, Aryan, or Anglo-Saxon virtues) in a new, modern type of society.” In the May 2016 Vox article, Griffin rejected Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan as being palingenetic, saying that “[a]s long as Trump does not advocate for the abolition of America’s democratic institutions, and their replacement by some sort of post-liberal new order, he’s not technically a fascist.”
Since May, however, Trump has advocated for changes to our democratic institutions that could well result in their being abolished or changed beyond recognition. For example, the press is explicitly protected in the First Amendment, yet he wants to make it easier to sue journalists for reporting. He wants to reverse the law that prevents churches from engaging in political advocacy, freeing clergy to tell their congregations how to vote and permitting churches to donate money directly to political campaigns. He wants to repeal Obamacare and strip healthcare from the millions of Americans Obamacare covers, but doesn’t have a viable plan to replace it. He wants to abolish the EPA or neuter it to the point of ineffectiveness. He wants to eliminate birthright citizenship, which was part of the 14th Amendment that also banned slavery. He wants to block immigration so completely that it would even apply to our NATO allies, in contrast to the American ideal written in “The New Colossus” (for the Statue of Liberty’s unveiling): “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” He’s even gone so far as to suggest he might reject the election results if he loses, putting democracy itself at risk. Whether these all qualify as “democratic institutions” to Griffin is a fair question. There is little question, however, that Trump’s views represent an attack on the key American values of equality, fairness, multiculturalism, and democracy, all of which are “liberal” values as they are usually defined by fascism.
That said, Trump has not yet defined what would replace each democratic institution he is attacking. This means that, while Trump likely hits Griffin’s definition on the “abolition of America’s democratic institutions” side, Trump doesn’t yet match Griffin’s definition on the “replacement by some sort of post-liberal new order” side.Griffin defines “populist” as a “regenerated national or ethnic community” that is “conceived in a profoundly anti-egalitarian spirit,” where “a vanguard is necessary to undertake the heroic task of spreading the vision and seizing power” in order to wake up “the People,” cleanse society of “alien” influences, and overturn “decadence.” Trump’s greatest appeal is to a specific community – middle-aged and older, poorly educated, blue collar white men. This community has seen significant economic decline over the past few decades and so they are primed to respond to populist calls for a rebirth of their community. Trump’s authoritarianism (his “anti-egalitarian spirit”) was on display during his speech at the Republican National Convention, especially in his claims that he alone could solve America’s problems and that he alone was the voice of America. Trump has called for mass deportations of undocumented immigrants and for denying entry to Muslims, which sounds like cleansing “alien” influences out of the United States. And Griffin defines decadence as a period of national economic and moral decline, rather than ostentatious displays of wealth, and Trump has been talking about reversing the supposed decline of the U.S. since he entered the race back in June 2015.
Ultra-nationalism, as Griffin defines it, is “not just an overtly anti-liberal, anti-parliamentary form of nationalism” but a form of nationalism that also includes “the vast range of ethnocentrisms which arise from the intrinsic ambiguities of the concept ‘nation’” and the many ways that “racism can express itself as a rationalized form of xenophobia.” As documented in Part Two of this series, Trump is obviously anti-liberal. His willingness to bypass Congress on most of his top issues may or may not be “anti-parliamentary.” Trump’s “Americanism, not globalism” is American nationalism writ large, yet stripped of many of its positive historical connotations (such as being a refuge for oppressed people around the world). And his racism is a “rationalized form of xenophobia” in that we have seen Muslims commit terrorist attacks in the US and we do have significant challenges with respect to undocumented immigrants and crime, drugs, and employment. However, Trump’s rationalized racism is also convenient in that it ignores terrorism by whites and Christians, it indulges in anti-immigrant victim blaming, and it ignores the many benefits that immigrants have historically brought to the US.
As of May 2016, Griffin didn’t consider Trump a fascist. However, this analysis of Trump’s statements and positions as they relate to Griffin’s “fascist minimum” does not seem to support Griffin’s claim. Based on this analysis, Trump seems to meet the definition of a fascist.
Part Four – Fascism according to Kevin Passmore – will be published this afternoon