March 30, 2016

Donald Trump and His Supporters are Not Fascists

Benito Mussolini, Cesare Maria de Vecchi and Michele Bianchi in 1922No sane person would attempt to take on each and every ridiculous narrative he or she encountered on social media. To do so would not only be a full-time job, but it would probably be more than any one person could handle without considerable assistance. Since most of us do not have access to a team of assistants, we must prioritize our time and efforts in some way, selecting the narratives we find particularly troubling.

One of the most popular narratives taking shape on the political left is that the leading Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, is a fascist. A considerably more absurd version of this narrative, also running rampant on social media, is that Trump is Hitler (or at least Mussolini). I sincerely hope I don't need to explain to reasonable people that Trump is not Hitler; however, I believe that the question of whether Trump is a fascist at least merits some discussion. So let's get to it.

First, I do not believe that Trump is a fascist. As Max Ehrenfreund noted in his article for The Washington Post, there are elements in Trump's public rhetoric that are reminiscent of some of history's fascist leaders. This does not seem particularly controversial, and I suspect most of us would agree with this assessment; however, this is hardly sufficient to make Trump a fascist. Ehrenfreund goes on to explain:
But the key aspects of fascism are at odds with Trump's persona and his message. For all his bluster, a President Trump wouldn't pursue the authoritarian, collectivist agenda that characterized Germany's Nazi Party and Italy's Benito Mussolini, at least not according to what he's said so far about his political views. Calling Trump a fascist risks misleading voters about his agenda, which is not that much different from that of his rivals for the GOP presidential nod.
He also provides us with four important differences between Trump's message as that of the fascists with whom he is being compared.

But if Trump isn't a fascist, then what is he? Writing in The Atlantic, Gianni Riotta nails it when he describes Trump as "a blustering political opportunist courting votes in a democratic system." Sure, he's a narcissist and a would-be demagogue; however, as Riotta reminds us, he is not calling for a violent revolution aimed at destroying democracy. In his article for Al Jazeera America, Jan-Werner Mueller makes a similar point and notes that Trump is ultimately a far-right populist who rejects democratic pluralism.

I think those who oppose Trump can decide that he is ill-suited to be president, that a Trump presidency would be disastrous for the U.S., and that some of what Trump has said reminds them of fascism in some ways. And I think all of this can be done without having to claim that Trump is a fascist or that he's Hitler. Concluding that Trump is neither a fascist nor Hitler does not mean that we must support him.

Second, I believe that describing Trump and/or his supporters as fascists or Nazis creates more problems than it solves. How so? Here's what Riotta had to say on this subject:
Using the label not only belittles past tragedies and obscures future dangers, but also indicts his supporters, who have real grievances that mainstream politicians ignore at their peril. America should tackle the demons Trump unleashes in 2016, not tar him by association with ideas and tactics he doesn’t even know about.
Agreed. Claiming that Trump is a fascist not only dilutes the label and its history, but it sends us on down a counterproductive path where we continue to ignore the factors contributing to the anger, resentment, and alienation experienced by many of his supporters.

I also think that Riotta is correct to suggest that labeling Trump's supporters as fascists not only misses the point but risks increasing their alienation.
A sense of proportion is crucial to avoid alienating voters further. Trump’s fans are too few to march on Washington, but way too many to ignore or mock. They want jobs, schools, safe communities. If you keep your eyes on their needs, and not on Trump’s distorted hall of mirrors, you will not see “fascists” but instead people forgotten by both Democrats and Republicans.
This point was echoed in an article by Tim Stanley in The Telegraph where he wrote:
Moreover, many people are supporting him precisely because they are tired of being called “fascist” simply because they support controls on immigration. He’s riding a backlash against political correctness – and the violence in Chicago is only likely to increase sympathy for him.
In essence, the more we continue to demonize Trump's supporters, the more adamant they are likely to be in their support for him. If we really wish to oppose Trump and prevent his election, belittling his supporters probably isn't the most effective way to go about it. Perhaps we should be listening to them instead.

If you are interested in reading more on the question of whether Trump and/or his supporters are fascists, here are a handful of articles I found worthwhile:
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