American Culture

Donald Trump is still a fascist – 2018 (Part 1)

Before the 2016 election I identified Donald as a fascist according to criteria established by historians of fascism. The evidence of his fascism has only grown stronger since.

Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention.

For other posts in this series, please click here.

Before the 2016 election, I wrote an eight-part series in which I compared Donald’s behavior and apparent beliefs to seven different definitions of fascism. While Donald didn’t meet all the characteristics of any of the seven definitions, he hit many of the characteristics of each definition. My conclusion was that Donald was at least a proto-fascist, and probably an actual fascist in the mold of Benito Mussolini.

Since I published that series in August of 2016, Donald won the election and has been making significant changes to American politics as we understood it. Many norms of political behavior have collapsed, attacks on the rule of law and the Constitution have become commonplace, and we even have actual Nazis openly marching in a direct challenge to law enforcement and common decency. In other words, the United States has stepped away from democracy and American values and toward authoritarianism and unAmerican values.

As bad as all of that is, however, it’s not necessarily fascist. So I decided that I wanted to reexamine my conclusions from 2016 and ask the following: has Donald moved the United States closer to actual fascism? If so, comparing what we know now to what we knew in 2016 should tell us. Essentially, if Donald, his Administration, his supporters, and America in general match more of the characteristics of each definition of fascism than they did a year ago, then that strengthens the case I made in 2016 – that Donald is a fascist.

As time allows over the next few months, I’ll revisit each of the seven definitions I analyzed in 2016 to see how things have changed, for better or worse.

Fascism as I was taught it in 1994

In Part One of my “Donald Trump is a Fascist” series, I started with the definition I learned from my Penn State “History of Fascism and Nazism” class. The characteristics of that definition are as follows:

[A]uthoritarianism, nationalism, racism, xenophobia, using violence for political gain, and ruthless efficiency. And the conditions that Nazism thrived in included high long-term unemployment and economic malaise, plus years of political indoctrination. As part of my research for this series, I re-read “The Nazi Seizure of Power (revised edition)” by William Sheridan Allen and based on my re-read, I’d add living in fear to the list of environmental factors as well. Generic fascism, however, doesn’t need one of these characteristics – the ruthless efficiency. After all, there’s no question that Mussolini’s Italy was Fascist (that’s where the word comes from, after all), but the Fascists were hardly the model of efficiency that the Nazis were. In fact, my instructor once said that all the things that the Fascists invented, the Nazis perfected and mechanized.

In August, 2016, I concluded that the US faced every single environmental factor identified above – long-term unemployment, economic malaise, years of political indoctrination, and living in perpetual fear. I also concluded that Donald had five of the six characteristics of “generic fascism,” missing only the use of violence for political gain.

Former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and Donald before Arpaio was pardoned for a contempt of court conviction (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Between July 1, 2017 and January 31, 2018, I counted 305 different examples of Donald or members of his administration being authoritarian, plus another 66 examples of actual fascism (no instance identified as fascism is also identified as authoritarian, since fascism is authoritarian by definition), for a total of 371 instances. That’s 35.3% of the 863 total instances of horrible behavior in that time period. For example, Donald pardoned racist Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, referred to his military aides as “my generals,” has met multiple autocrats who would have been shunned by President Obama, and is waiving environmental laws to build the Mexico border wall. Donald’s Administration has been sued for invasive cell phone searches at the border, has blocked scientists from discussing their climate research, has banned phrases from the lexicon at both the EPA and the CDC, has blocked underage immigrants in detention from receiving legal abortions, and has delayed miner safety programs started by President Obama.

Donald’s nationalism (or, more specifically, his jingoism) was also tracked between July 1, 2017 and January 31, 2018. Of the 863 examples I’ve identified, 10.3% (89) were jingoistic in some way. For example, Donald and his Administration have repeatedly provoked confrontation with North Korea, threatened the United Nations and cut its budget, repeatedly attacked NFL players and the league for kneeling during the national anthem, attacked Pakistan for not doing enough against terrorism, frozen aid to Palestinian refugees, and talked up “America First” in front of a group of Asia-Pacific leaders.

Charlottesville, VA, August 12, 2017 – this man led a charge of League of shield and stick-wielding white supremacists into counter-protesters (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

There have been 182 examples of racism from Donald and/or his Administration between July 1, 2017 and January 31, 2018. The most egregious example was Donald’s responses to the Charlottesville white supremacist rally and the associated violence, but other examples include ending DACA, cutting refugee programs for children, blaming violence against women on immigrants, and referring to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” while presenting an award to Navajo code talkers – in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, a president who presided over the genocide of many Native peoples.

There have only been 43 unique instances of xenophobia (or of dehumanizing non-Americans and non-whites) since July 1, 2017, just over one every week on average. They include Donald’s continued and appalling lack of response to Hurricane Maria and the devastation of Puerto Rico, the various Islamophobic travel bans, calls to only allow entrance to refugees who can “assimilate” and to limit immigration to only skilled, literate immigrants instead of illiterate ones, and attacks on rules and laws that protect LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination.

Prior to the election, Donald made multiple vague threats against Hillary Clinton and protesters, but he never explicitly called for violence as a necessary tool of politics. As such, I haven’t been tracking this characteristic of as closely as I’ve been tracking the others. That said, Donald has downplayed the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, called on police to be “rough” with people in custody, and cut funding to groups who de-radicalize violent white supremacists and others on the far right-wing. Still, we haven’t seen Donald calling for a right-wing uprising to sweep Democrats and independents out of power via violence. Whether that’s because Donald is smarter than that or because he just hasn’t felt threatened enough to resort to violence is to be determined.

Unemployment rate, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1980-Jan 28, 2018

The environmental factors that lead to fascism are a bit confusing. There is no doubt that the economy is performing better now, a year after Donald was elected, than it was performing prior to the 2016 election. However, it’s not at all clear that this is due to anything Donald has done, although he has certainly claimed credit for all of it. Combined unemployment and under-employment is 8.9%, more than double the official unemployment rate tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), so we still have a significant jobs problem. But the economy in general is improving.

Does this mean that we’re losing the economic conditions we need for fascism to prosper? Not at all. If you look at the history of fascism in Europe, the economic factors that led to the rise of fascism subsided after the fascists took power. Unemployment dropped in Italy and the economy improved under Mussolini’s fascists, at least until the Great Depression hit. Unemployment in Nazi Germany dropped from about 33% in 1932 (when Hitler took power) to less than 6% in 1939 at the start of World War II – directly as a result of fascist policies. Essentially, fascism needs a poor economy to take root, but fascists want the economy to grow after they take power. Not only is it harder for the fascists to retain their power in a bad economy, a strong economy is required to pay for the military with which fascists wage war upon their neighbors.

Unlike the economy, the last year has seen more political indoctrination, not less. Trump has used race baiting, jingoism, propaganda, and demagoguery to attack the media, the FBI, Muslims, Mexicans, the environment, climate change, science, intellectuals – pretty much everything that runs counter to his ideology. And right-wing and white supremacist media outlets like Brietbart, Infowars, and Fox News have become state-sanctioned media (in opposition to the purpose of a free press as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution) in nearly every way that matters. And the indoctrination shows no signs of slowing down while Donald sits in the Oval Office.

North Korea missile test from March, 2017 (DefenseTalk)

Finally, Donald has been trying to convince Americans, or at least his supporters, that they should be terrified all the time. Scared of Muslims, scared of blacks, scared of LGBTQ people, scared of North Korea. The racist, xenophobic, jingoistic drumbeat hasn’t stopped since Donald took office.

So what does this all mean? Donald and his Administration are continuing to show five of the six characteristics of fascism as I learned it in 1994. The sixth, political violence, has become more likely since Donald took office, but he hasn’t gone all in yet. And we still have the environmental conditions needed for fascism to take hold and prosper.

Before the election I said that Donald was a fascist. Today, more than a year later, my updated analysis indicates he not only still meets this definition, there’s a great deal more evidence in support of his being a fascist than there was in 2016.

Next up in this series – a reanalysis of Donald’s possible fascism according to historian Stanley G. Payne.

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