American Fascist: The Threat of Trump’s Authoritarianism
A Trump nomination, something seeming impossible back in June when most people laughed as he descended down that awkward escalator, now seems inevitable. With Trump’s delegate count over 700 hundred and the GOP establishment struggling to solidify an anti-trump message or candidate, Trump may find his way onto the ballot this November. His xenophobia, nationalism, and boisterous attitude have propelled him to win state after state after state. But his unorthodox rise to power has not only been cause for alarm in the Republican Party, but for Americans all over the political spectrum. Fascism historian Robert Paxton recently likened Trump to Mussolini, the father of fascism, citing his incitement of violence and disregard for legitimate political institutions. Paxton isn’t alone in these claims, historian Max Boot, comedian Louis C.K., and holocaust survivor and step-sister to Anne Frank, Eva Schloss, to name a few, have leveled the fascist claim against Trump. However, some doubt these fascist claims and simply brush them off as people’s extreme dislike for the candidate’s brash attitude.
In truth, the claim of fascism leveled against Donald Trump and his supporters has nothing to do with his favorability rating and everything to do with his polices and his likeness to past fascist movements, most notably those in Europe during the interwar period. As Trump’s movement does now, the fascist movements in Germany, Italy, and Argentina all focused on a single figurehead. As Trump’s supporters elevate him to a higher status, constantly touting his business acumen and believing his false narratives, so too did the Peronist in Argentina, the Nazis in Germany, and the Fascist in Italy.
Along with the focus on a singular figure, the movements are also defined by extreme cases of xenophobia and nationalism. As Trump has advocated banning Muslim immigrants and stereotyped undocumented immigrants as “criminals” and “rapist”, past fascist movements pushed similar rhetoric. The Nazis made no secret of their racism and once in power implemented extensive racial policies throughout Germany and their occupied territories. Other movements, such as those in Italy and Spain, focused on the oppression of political dissidents such as anarchist and communist. The common thread being all of these fascist movements blamed their problems on these “outside groups” and sought their total exclusion from society. On the note of nationalism, Trump’s is not alone is his incitement of nationalistic sentiment. His slogan “Make America Great Again” denotes that the United States is not longer a “great” and is in need of revitalization. Mussolini and Hitler publicized a similar ideology, with Mussolini playing upon national sentiments to rebuild the ancient Roman Empire and with Hitler promising to rebuild Germany to its previous glory and create a Reich that will last for “1000 years”.
Trump disdain of intellectualism was also found in many fascist movements. Politico has rated 76% of Trump’s statements as “mostly false” or “false” as he fabricates false narratives that inspires racism and ignorance. These claims include the belief that Muslims in New Jersey cheered during the September 11th attacks, claiming unemployment is currently 42%, and claiming the number of undocumented immigrants is over 30 million. These lies have contributed to a campaign that focuses more on rhetoric and less on fact. Similar trends were found in both the Nazi movements and that of Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia. The Nazi party peddled ideas such as “loyalty” and “patriotism” over intellectualism while Pol Pot’s regime actively targeted intellectuals. Through this demonization of intelligence, like Trump, these movements were able to gather support among the mostly uneducated and homogenous middle (and in Cambodia’s case lower) class.
Additionally, those skeptical of the fascist threat Trump poses point to the constitution a safeguard from any executive overreach that could accompany a Trump Presidency. However, such a document has failed to stop past presidents from infringing upon the rights of American citizens. In 1798, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which allowed people to be imprisoned for criticizing the government. From 1861-1865, President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus, the only right explicitly mentioned in the constitution, for most of the Civil War. In 1918, Woodrow Wilson signed the Sedition Act, which again allowed the government to again jail people for criticizing the government. From 1941-1945, hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans had their property confiscated and were put in internment camps. One Japanese-American, Fred Korematsu, sued the Federal Government, claiming his internment infringed in his civil liberties, and the court ruled in the government’s favor.
In the 1950's, hundreds were imprisoned under the so-called Smith Act for no offense than being, or suspected of being, a communist. In 2001, the US government passed the Patriot Act, which gave the government near unfettered access to spy on American citizens. This list of actions, taken by the United States government, excludes the enormous list of Civil Rights abuses against Black-Americans, Women, Immigrants, and Latino Americans that included everything from slavery to segregation to modern drug laws and restrictions on voting to barring from certain jobs to current restrictions on abortion clinics.
For those that would attempt to hide behind the constitution in the event of a Trump Presidency would have little protection from any executive or legislative overreach. The rights that are “enshrined” in the constitution are not set in stone; they are up for debate. Court cases such Plessy v Ferguson, Korematsu v United States, or Bradwell v Illinois (a court case that claimed the state had the power to bar married women from practicing law) have proven time and time again that the constitution is a living document who’s interpretation can be used to served nearly any purpose.
Previously mentioned Fascist historian Robert Paxton wrote “The language and symbols of an authentic American fascism would have little to do with the European models. No swastikas in an American fascism, but Stars and Stripes and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the pledge of allegiance.” This is the crux of Donald Trump’s campaign, a mass appeal to extreme nationalism and patriotism in order to mask his fascist undertones. Because fascism doesn’t start with gas chambers and concentration camps; it starts with rallies, pledges, and book burnings. It’s a slow burning flame that quickly erupts into a bonfire and if it is not squashed in its infancy, there is no way to extinguish the flame.
Donald Trump is a fascist; he is racist, xenophobic, and nationalistic fascist. His lies, appeals to patriotism, and incitement of violence are awakening a dangerous part of the American psyche. Under any and all circumstances, he must be stopped.