Donald Trump is a fascist, Part Eight

Whether Donald Trump is a full-fledged fascist or “merely” a proto-fascist depends on which historian’s definition of fascism you prefer. Part eight of a series.

Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention.

Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention.

Click here for all the other parts of this series

In conclusion – why Donald Trump is a fascist

This analysis has examined seven different definitions of fascism and how Trump’s statements match the various characteristics of each. And the conclusions have varied significantly depending on the specifics of the definition. If we look at each definition, here’s how the conclusions ranged:

  1. Derived from “The History of Fascism and Nazism” class, spring 1994. Conclusion: Trump is almost certainly a full fascist
  2. Fascism according to Stanley G. Payne’s 13 characteristics. Conclusion: Trump is probably not a proto-fascist
  3. Fascism according to Roger Griffin’s “fascist minimum” definition. Conclusion: Trump is almost certainly a proto-fascist and probably a full fascist
  4. Fascism according to Kevin Passmore’s definition. Conclusion: Trump is probably a proto-fascist
  5. Fascism according to Emilio Gentile’s ten characteristics. Conclusion: Trump is probably not a proto-fascist
  6. Fascism according to Robert Paxton’s definition. Conclusion: Trump is almost certainly a proto-fascist and is on a path to become a full fascist if he can take power and retain it
  7. Fascism according to Umberto Eco’s 14 characteristics of Ur-Fascism. Conclusion: Trump is very likely a fascist

Of the seven definitions, two result in a strong conclusion that Trump is a full fascist, two more conclude that Trump is most likely a proto-fascist and may be a full fascist, one concludes that Trump is probably a proto-fascist, and two that Trump is probably not even a proto-fascist, never mind a full fascist.

So why have I concluded so strongly that Trump is a fascist when the experts’ own definitions vary so much?

I discount much of Emilio Gentile’s definition for three reasons. First, his characteristics are mostly applicable to movements and groups of people, rather than to individuals. While all of the definitions have this problem to some extent, Gentile’s definition is the most difficult to specify down to an individual level. Second, several of his characteristics can only be assessed after a political movement has taken power. This makes those aspects of his definition essentially useless for identifying and stopping fascists before they take power. Third, we know from both Mussolini’s Fascists and the Nazis that ideology plays a secondary role to amoral pragmatism in the acquisition of power, and Gentile’s characteristics are focused heavily on ideology.

I discount some of Payne’s definition for one of the same reasons. Payne breaks his 13 characteristics into three groups – ideology, negations, and style/organizational factors. Trump matches only two of Payne’s five ideological characteristics (with partial matches to two others), but again, fascists don’t care much for specific ideology as they’re in the process of taking political power. Mussolini himself didn’t bother defining his “Doctrine of Fascism” until eight years after he’d started ruling Italy. Given that five of Payne’s 13 characteristics are specifically ideological, I think it’s reasonable to discount those somewhat. And if we do that, Trump looks more like a proto-fascist than a non-fascist.

Image Credit: Benmalke

Image Credit: Benmalke

Finally, the fascists were best defined by what they did and who they did it to. And by that definition, what Trump is calling for – restricting civil rights based on someone’s religion, deporting massive numbers of innocent Mexicans, calling for Muslims to have to wear special identification, questioning the legitimacy of the current government as well as the next election if the outcome doesn’t put him into power, collectively punishing entire communities of people for the actions of a few, attacking minorities specifically because they’re minorities and thus soft targets – are the very things that fascists did in the 1930s.
Donald Trump, quoting Fascist Benito Mussolini (credit: BBC)

Donald Trump, quoting Fascist Benito Mussolini (credit: BBC)

It is 2016, and Donald Trump is officially the Republican candidate for the Presidency of the United States. Yet journalists, commentators, and historians have been asking whether Trump is a fascist since July 2015, a month after Trump announced his bid for the Republican nomination.

That we even had to ask whether Trump is a fascist is shocking.

That the answer is apparently “Yes, with a few caveats” is profoundly disturbing.

And the fact that there are tens of millions of Americans – people who have supposedly been raised with the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, ideals that are antithetical to fascism – who support a fascist is downright terrifying.

After all, it’s 2016. Our grandparents and great-grandparents supposedly defeated fascism 71 years ago. Unfortunately, those who fail to learn from history will be given another opportunity. This election year has the potential to be the start of a very painful second lesson.

Umberto Eco, like my instructor in 1994, sees history as a warning sign – “Caution – fascism might happen again. Here’s why that’s bad and here’s how to recognize it.” At the end of his Ur-Fascism essay, Eco writes

Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Blackshirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world.

As a student of history, I feel the dual duties to point out fascism where it exists as well as to refrain from pointing out fascism where it does not exist.

Donald Trump is a fascist. The risk he represents to America and the world must not be ignored. He cannot be allowed to win the Presidency.

5 replies »

  1. Trump is not a “real” fascist, he is a postmodern one, meaning he is just playing one on teevee for profit. Simple performance art to make money off of fools. Trump will “own” a huge angry and aggrieved “market” of tens of millions of dumped voters who will buy his conspiracy theories about a stolen election and gobble up any books, media products, freeze dried “Trump” Prepper food, etc. he will offer them in the future to help “take back America.”

    The actual political “sin” of Donald Trump is that he is reigniting very real and smoldering racist and xenophobic passions into a flame in the service of his fake candidacy. And the self serving Republican leadership, turned sociopathic after decades of Atwater/Ailes/Rove wedge baiting, is politically damned for their failure to condemn him and cut ties with him.

    • A. Hick – You point out what may be the biggest flaw of my whole analysis – I don’t address the question of whether Trump really believes what he’s saying, as opposed to the possibility that he’s saying it just because he thinks it’ll win votes. I thought about attacking this question head-on at one point, but decided that it led down a rabbit hole from which there could be no escape and so I chose not to go there.

      But I think there’s some evidence that he’s not just playing a fascist on TV. He’s been racist against blacks for decades, ever since his earliest forays into real estate. He’s been a misogynist just as long. I heard on the radio (NPR) in the last couple of days when the interviewee said that Trump had been calling for a wall on the Mexican border for at least 10 years, but there are so many other references to Trump’s border wall that I haven’t been able to verify that. In my experience most CEOs are authoritarian, at least in their interactions with their employees, so it would be unusual for Trump not to be. But those don’t make Trump a real fascist, just an awful person (as does Trump’s conspicuous consumption, his belligerence when attacked, and on and on).

      I’m not sure we can know whether Trump’s fascism is real or not. I choose to believe Trump at his word and what he’s said, because Mussolini and Hitler both said exactly what they were planning on doing, and then did it. I don’t think we can afford to roll the dice on the assumption Trump is faking it – the entire world has too much to lose if we’re wrong.