Is Trump a Fascist?
Since Trump was elected it's become fashionable to unreservedly claim that America is on the path to fascism. In the last year, particularly, this even seems to be a mainstream consensus on reddit, though that's hard to gauge.
As a rule, people who actually try to make the argument that we're becoming fascist fail to impress me, and end up reminding me of Scott's post about crying wolf. Mainly it seems to me that business as usual has stayed the same or moved left, but the commentariat has moved so much further left that business as usual looks further to the right than it used to.
But claims of rising American fascism are *so* pervasive, and *so* apparently unevidenced that I feel like I must be going crazy. So I'd like to ask, in all good faith, if anyone can provide a solid argument that fascism is, or is becoming, a problem in the US.
I'm looking to be convinced here -- my gut says that there must be more to this than I've seen; that the correct position is probably more complex than 'no, it's the children who are wrong.'
I think there are a few senses in which Trump is more fascistic than the usual American politician. I don't think he's close to being fascist or that he's causing America to become more fascist in a significant way, though (other than being part of a general increasing societal instability). The biggest reason he's not fascist is that he has not developed a new aesthetic and political ideology that draws from both old and new, left and right, like Hitler or Mussolini. Trump's aesthetic is a culmination of popular American materialist culture -- expensive yet tacky, ill fitting, reality television. The fascist aesthetic harnesses the tools of modernity to push an anti-materialist aesthetic, speaking to a popular audience but not meeting them on their aesthetic level. Fascist aesthetics can look genuinely cool, I don't know if anyone finds Trump's aesthetic cool.
Political lackeys like Steve Bannon have tried to create more of a radical new ideology for him and Bannon has even referenced fascist thinkers like Evola. But considering Trump and gang kicked Bannon out when he started to generate bad press for them I don't think they were particularly attached to him or his ideological plans.
That said, I will illustrate some ways in which Trump might be seen as more fascistic than usual by quoting some of the 14 features from Umberto Eco's popular definition that I think he's closest to. I'll explain or qualify as needed. I don't know if this definition of fascism is fully correct but it is one often used in the sorts of articles calling him fascist so at the very least it will let us probe their justifications.
- The Cult of Action for Action's Sake", which dictates that action is of value in itself, and should be taken without intellectual reflection. This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science.
'Build the wall', 'lock her up', etc are examples of the the action oriented rhetoric surrounding his movement. Compare to other Republicans with their boring tax policies. Quantitative numbers to support this 'action oriented' stance might be that he signed
24 executive orders in his first 100 days, the most executive orders of any president since World War II.
"Fear of Difference", which fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants.
"Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class", fearing economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups.
Obsession with a Plot" and the hyping-up of an enemy threat. This often combines an appeal to xenophobia with a fear of disloyalty and sabotage from marginalized groups living within the society (such as the German elite's 'fear' of the 1930s Jewish populace's businesses and well-doings; see also anti-Semitism).
Whether or not you believe this one probably has to do with if you believe that the Democrats and the deep state are, in fact, plotting against him illegitimately.
- "Selective Populism" – The People, conceived monolithically, have a Common Will, distinct from and superior to the viewpoint of any individual. As no mass of people can ever be truly unanimous, the Leader holds himself out as the interpreter of the popular will (though truly he dictates it). Fascists use this concept to delegitimize democratic institutions they accuse of "no longer represent[ing] the Voice of the People."
Trump has certainly tried to delegitimize certain government institutions (consider his rhetoric about the deep state, draining the swamp, etc). He's definitely populist to some extent.
- "Machismo", which sublimates the difficult work of permanent war and heroism into the sexual sphere. Fascists thus hold "both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality."
This only partially applies because Trump has been one of the more anti-war presidents. Despite that or perhaps in compensation, it's undeniable that his attitude and presentation has some of the most machismo we've seen in a modern president. The 'locker room' comments, a lot of his bombastic tweets, etc.
- "Newspeak" – Fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning.
It seems intuitively correct that he's had a more simple vocabulary than other recent presidents and apparently a statistical analysis showed that he speaks at a lower grade level than the last 15 presidents.
Just to be clear again, I don't think all this proves he is a fascist, even if he met all the points I mentioned one hundred percent. It might be enough to show that he is more fascist than his immediate predecessors though. Indeed, two important points in the definition I didn't mention that are very important to being a fascist are 'cult of tradition' and 'rejection of modernism'. In a certain sense Trump rejects modernist rationality, he sure lies a lot over minor things. But I don't think you can say he rejects modernism in the philosophical and ideological sense the fascists did. I'm more inconclusive on this one, 'modernism' is kind of a big concept. It's obvious he has no 'cult of tradition', though, if anything he is one of the Republican candidates that has focused the least on explicit systematic traditions like Christianity, the constitution, etc.