Postscript to “Is Donald Trump a Fascist?”

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tags: election 2016, fascism, Trump



Jeffrey Herf is Distinguished University Professor in the department of history at the University of Maryland in College Park and a regular contributor to The American Interest. In May Cambridge University Press published his most recent book, "Undeclared Wars with Israel: East Germany and the West German Far Left, 1967-1989."

On March 7, I asked the question “Is Donald Trump a Fascist?” in these pages. Reading it again now, I find my worst fears have been confirmed. ...

In early May, Robert Kagan in the Washington Post wrote that the Trump candidacy was the way fascism could come to the United States. Kagan pointed out that if Trump were to win the election, he would have the formidable powers of the presidency with which to threaten opponents and arrive in office with a head swelled by having defeated the wishes of the Washington political establishment. The Republican Convention of July 2016 was as close to a fascist spectacle as anything in history of modern American politics. The extent to which Trump delegates took enormous pleasure in hatred and in flouting the rule of law was most in evidence when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie turned the delegates into a mob bellowing “lock her up” as he played the part of prosecutor of Hillary Clinton. The call and response of Christie’s speech was, like Trump, a moment of liberation from civility and decency, when the mob could take pleasure in venting all of its hatred and resentments at Clinton. Trump’s acceptance speech offered no substance, repeated the adolescent insult about “crooked Hillary,” and then revealed what had been obvious all along, namely that he believed that “I alone” will be able to restore law and order and make America great again. The delegates in the hall loved it. On July 22, the editors of the Washington Post summarized the case against Trump in an editorial entitled “Donald Trump Is a Unique Threat to American Democracy.” They were not exaggerating.

When historians write about the great dictators of right and left, fascist, Nazis, and Communists, when we write about totalitarian politics, we face the sobering reality that the more Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Mao lied, the more vicious and cruel they were, the more they blamed their country’s problems on vulnerable yet easily identifiable scapegoats, the more popular they became, the more adoration they received from millions seeking a savior and simple answers to complex problems. When we write about the destruction of the existing democracies by the fascists and the Nazis in Italy and Germany, we point not only to Mussolini and Hitler because they would have amounted to nothing had it not been for the political establishments that failed to stop them.

So it needs to be said that with too few exceptions the Republican Party’s leadership has failed its responsibility to American democracy by failing to repudiate Trump’s candidacy. The leaders of the Republican Party appear to know nothing—or have they forgotten?—about how the dictators in Europe destroyed democracy. Have they not read the excellent historical scholarship about the Italian and German political establishments, which made it possible for the dictators to gain power? Have they never read about how the supposedly sophisticated elites of German industry and conservative politics in 1932 and 1933 underestimated Hitler? The Republican establishment should use its August vacation to read Henry Turner Jr., Ian Kershaw, Karl Bracher, and Richard Evans on the German elites and Hitler’s rise to power, or my work on the appeals of Hitler’s conspiracy theories. ...




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