Is Donald Trump a Fascist?

Roundup
tags: election 2016, Trump, Fascist



Jeffrey Herf, distinguished university professor, University of Maryland, College Park. His publications on German history include "The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust." He has published extensively on the history of Nazi Germany. His book "Undeclared Wars with Israel: East Germany and the West German Far Left, 1967–1989" is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

... Trump wants to make “America great again,” but he has never expressed a totalitarian aspiration to create a new and presumably better American. Still, his demeanor and his taunts are those of the “strong man” who will fix problems. Trump’s insults preclude any serious effort at building consensus. His vision of politics is that of the one-man rule he has enjoyed in his “great, terrific business.” Trump’s confidence about the ease with which our problems can be solved reflects an authoritarian impulse.

As to the panoply of liberal freedoms, the right-wing dictators of the 20th century learned to use the means of mass communications, especially the radio, to good effect. Trump emerged as a public figure on television, has received massive publicity on cable and network news, and uses Facebook and Twitter to communicate—almost for free, too. Though Trump has threatened to diminish freedom of the press through the use of libel suits against leading newspapers, he is not yet running on a platform of substituting dictatorship for democracy, or of rescinding the First Amendment.

Mussolini and Hitler vastly expanded the role of the state in the economy and in all spheres of life. They celebrated state power, which initially confused large parts of the Italian and German business elites. A few industrialists turned to the fascists as a presumed bulwark against the vastly exaggerated danger of a Communist revolution. Most initially were skeptical of Mussolini, who began his career as a radical socialist, and of Hitler, who led a party with the word “Socialist” in its name. They did not understand that the fascists intended to use the state to remake society itself, specifically to make a “revolution from the right” that would, so they claimed, replace economic fragmentation and the alienating dimensions of bourgeois society with new national unity established by the primacy of politics of a more powerful state.

Trump remains vague regarding the role of the government but tends to repeat conservative mantras about the sins of big government. He has given no indication that he even understands, let alone plans to use, the state to remake American society or to stimulate some kind of cultural revolution. So his movement lacks any explicit goal, except to elect Trump in order to expiate an accumulated mountain of anger against a tenured political class that, in its view, has only its own elitist interests in mind. Trump points to no “third force” beyond capitalism and communism. There is not the slightest hint of the anti-bourgeois impulse of the fascists and the Nazis. He promises capitalism on steroids, wealth for all. In this sense, Trump’s authoritarianism is quintessentially American. Far from denouncing business, money, and materialism in the name of a new post-materialist national community, his tasteless narcissism knows no bounds.

Trump exudes not an ounce of the anti-bourgeois cultural radicalism of the right-wing extremism of Europe’s mid-20th century. In contrast to the structures of the multinational corporation, Trump owns a family business that is not accountable to anyone but himself. He boasts that his wealth creates the economic foundation for his ability to defy political correctness and say whatever he wants about anything. His reminders to his followers that he is funding his own campaign underscores his distinctive message about the connection between money, power, and the freedom to say whatever he pleases.

Trump’s petty, narcissistic form of authoritarianism emerges from different experiences than those of Hitler and Mussolini. Their radicalism had much to do with the fact that they were both veterans of World War I. Hitler, in particular, expressed bitterness and disappointment about defeat and, in his view, an unjust peace. The two dictators and their leading associates sought to remake Italy and Germany in the image of a mythologized masculine community of the World War I trenches. They spoke to and for disillusioned veterans who yearned to militarize civilian politics. In place of defeat and unjust peace, they promised a glorious future of national grandeur that demanded geographical expansion, through war if necessary. Trump’s authoritarianism, by contrast, is utterly civilian in origins. It is not a transfer the culture of the military (of which he has no personal experience) to the realm of civilian politics. Rather, he translates his own extensive experience of complete control over an almost archaic institution, the family-owned large business, into the political realm. ...




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