Is Donald Trump a Fascist?
The question of whether Donald Trump can be called a fascist is becoming increasingly common in public discourse. The rebuttal is usually that Trump cannot be a fascist because he is just a clown who does not have a coherent ideology.
The problem with this is: The lack of a coherent ideology is one of the main features of Fascism.
Fascism, unlike National Socialism, did not even try to become a coherent ideology. On the contrary, it was a collection of ideas and methods borrowed from various movements.
In his 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism” (or “Eternal Fascism”) Umberto Eco points out that both Nazism and Stalinism were “true totalitarian regimes”:
If by totalitarianism one means a regime that subordinates every act of the individual to the state and to its ideology, then both Nazism and Stalinism were true totalitarian regimes.
Italian fascism on the other hand…
… was certainly a dictatorship, but it was not totally totalitarian, not because of its mildness but rather because of the philosophical weakness of its ideology. Contrary to common opinion, fascism in Italy had no special philosophy. […] Fascism had no quintessence. Fascism was a fuzzy totalitarianism, a collage of different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions.
This beehive of contradictions is worth analyzing and its defining features can be identified, which is exactly what Umberto Eco did in his essay.
By discussing Umberto Eco’s “14 Features of Fascism” and comparing them to Donald Trump’s primary campaign we can get a more complete picture of Trump’s alleged fascist tendencies. I will quote Eco whenever it seems necessary.
- “Cult of Tradition”
Traditionalism is, of course, much older than fascism. It is the foundation of conservative thought and implies that “doing things the way we’ve always done it” is a good thing.
Traditionalism is syncretistic in that it combines various, often contradictory, traditions by cherry-picking those that serve the interest of the traditionalist.
In current American conservatism one can find a very syncretistic system of belief based on cherry-picked parts of Christianity, the American Constitution, the Founding Fathers, and Capitalism. American Conservatives often speak of those “American traditions” without acknowledging the contradictions. They try not to think too hard about Jesus’ likely stance on capitalism, the death penalty, and gun ownership.
Traditionalism often invents traditions, too. The people who complain about liberals “redefining marriage” refuse to see that marriage as a tradition has been redefined numerous times over the course of its long history.
In so far as Donald Trump is part of the conservative side of the political spectrum the “Cult of Tradition” feature definitely applies to his campaign. “Making America great again” is part of that Cult of Tradition.
Trump Fascism Rating: 2/3 Mussolinis because the rest of the Conservatives are just as bad.
- “Rejection of modernism and rationalism”
…mainly concerned the rejection of the Spirit of 1789 (and of 1776, of course). The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.
Donald Trump’s often ridiculous and blatantly nonsensical reasoning certainly is irrational. His outbursts of Islamophobia and his insane ideas for how to battle illegal immigration fit, too. He rejects modern liberalism and Enlightenment and appeals to people’s emotions and their ideas of a “lost America” that needs to be made great again. “Greatness” itself does not lend itself to a rational evaluation.
Trump Fascism Rating: 2/3 Mussolinis. It mostly fits but he does not reject rationalism in all areas.
- “Cult of Action”
Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.
Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism.
The “Cult of Action” is very present in Trump’s campaign. This is why he comes up with crazy ideas like deporting all Mexican immigrants, building a wall at the border, banning all Muslims from entering the United States… and so on. It is the idea that action makes you look dynamic and strong, no matter how nonsensical the action is. Trump is selling himself as one who “makes things happen” and he ridicules his opponents for being weak because they are part of the traditional political discourse.
Also: Anti-Intellectualism? Check.
Trump Fascism Rating: 3/3 Mussolinis. Spot-on, Donald.
- “Disagreement is treason”
No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.
A common conservative trope. Any liberal who has ever been asked “Why do you hate America/Freedom?” because they disagreed with a conservative can relate.
Trump Fascism Rating: 2/3 Mussolinis. He is doing it but so is the rest of America’s conservatives.
- “Diversity is bad.”
Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur- Fascism is racist by definition.
Xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism are some of the key features of Donald Trump’s campaign. Whether he is calling Mexican immigrants rapists, all Muslims terrorists or exhibiting his thinly-veiled racism… it is obvious that he is appealing to a scared white Middle Class. The exclusion of specific ethnic, religious or social groups is reinforcing an already common “us vs. them”-discourse in American society.
Trump Fascism Rating: 3/3 Mussolinis. Trump likes Whitey.
- “The frustrated middle class”
Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.
This is pretty much exactly what Trump is doing. He is appealing to a frustrated white middle class that has seen its average incomes stagnate for decades. He is also appealing to a white majority that is scared of becoming a minority because “brown people” are immigrating. He is appealing to a Christian majority that is scared of atheists and Muslims.
He is spreading and reinforcing a narrative that sees White America as being “under siege” by liberals and non-whites.
Trump Fascism Rating: 3/3 Mussolinis. Spot-on fascist thought, Donald.
To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged.
Donald Trump tries to “unite America against her enemies”. Liberals, Muslims, Mexicans… seeing them as the enemy provides Trump’s America with a common identity. When he promises to “make America great again” he is promising to defeat those enemies. Just like the fascists of old, Donald Trump needs an enemy figure.
Eco points out that…
…the easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside.
For Trump, Muslims serve the same purpose. They are both inside and outside the US so Trump and his followers cannot trust them.
Trump Fascism Rating: 3/3 Mussolinis. He’s got this one down perfectly.
- “The enemy is strong… and weak.”
The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies. However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.
Now this is a tough one. Trump’s enemies certainly are not richer than he is because he is the Jesus of Capitalism.
On the other hand, the idea that the enemy is, at the same time, too strong and too weak is one that is very common in current American conservatism. Conservatives are always afraid of foreigners, feminists, liberals and Muslims and the threat they perceive can only be construed as credible if those groups are strong.
At the same time Conservatives ridicule liberals and intellectuals as weak. President Obama is the best example for this contradiction. Conservatives often see him as a dangerous socialist dictator, yet they also ridicule him for “apologizing to everybody all the time.”
It is irrational, and it definitely is a feature of fascism.
Trump Fascism Rating: 2/3 Mussolinis.
- “Life is a struggle and permanent war.”
Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare. This, however, brings about an Armageddon complex.
America is so used to being at war that new possible targets are always part of political discourse. Iran is currently the main example and the Republican candidates are trying to one-up each other in their stances towards the country. After two exhausting and pointless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the American public seems to be a little tired of it, though.
Trump’s stances on Iran, North Korea and ISIS are pretty harsh but his warmongering is not crazy by American or Republican standards.
Trump Fascism Rating: 1/3 Mussolinis. He keeps talking about “hitting enemies” but so does the rest of the bunch.
- “Mass Elitism”
Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world.
This ties in with American exceptionalism. Even Americans who are not as rich as Donald Trump are still part of an elite in that they are part of the “Greatest Nation on Earth”. It creates a sense of mass elitism. Trump’s one-person movement is lacking the typical Fascist party structure so it’s not as all-encompassing as it could be.
Trump Fascism Rating: 1/3 Mussolinis. He needs his own party. Will he create one?
- “Hero Worship”
In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.
The first part certainly is true. Trump is painting himself as a hero of capitalism and he is not being modest about it. The second part is less true. In Trump we do not see the idealization of the heroic death. Whether or not he is more likely to send other people to death than all the other candidates is hard to judge.
Trump Fascism Rating: 1/3 Mussolinis.
- “Heroism turns into sexism”
This is a good one.
Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur- Fascist hero tends to play with weapons – doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.
Do I really even need to comment on that? This certainly applies. Trump’s treatment of women is legendary and he is against same-sex marriage, too. This point also applies to much of the conservative movement as a whole.
War, controlling women and their sex lives, weapons… welcome to conservative America.
Trump Fascism Rating: 2/3 Mussolinis because American conservatism is pretty messed up in general.
- “The support of the masses trumps parliament” (pun intended)
Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People.
The Cult of Personality around Trump turns him into the people’s “interpreter”. When he rages against Muslims or Mexicans he says things many people think but nobody dared to say. The masses applaud him.
Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.
Trump keeps telling people that he is not part of the political establishment. He is clearly distancing himself from Washington. He is also telling people that “normal politicians” never say what they think because they are dependent on their donors or on votes whereas he claims to be independent and not afraid to “tell the truth”. When politicians are not telling the truth that is seriously casting doubts on their legitimacy as representatives of the people in a political discourse.
Trump Fascism Rating: 2/3 Mussolinis. He has got the “anti-establishment” nonsense down and he is trying to create a populist movement based on his crazy ideas instead of being part of a normal political discourse.
Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in 1984, as the official language of Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.
This is simple Trump Rhetoric 101. His vocabulary is limited and simplistic, as is his reasoning. Any kind of complex thought and reasoning is banished from the Trump Discourse. The language used often has violent undertones.
This simplistic and confused reasoning is the reason why “Trump Quote Generators” are a thing. It is easy to reproduce.
Trump Fascism Rating: 3/3. This is the foundation of his rhetoric.
So there we go. Trump earned a respectable 30 Mussolinis.
In the interest of not making this post even longer I am going to stop and and give you one last quote by Umberto Eco:
Mussolini did not have any philosophy: he had only rhetoric.
The same is true for Donald Trump. And, just like Mussolini, that does not make him any less dangerous. He has already affected American public discourse in very worrying way.
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