In the 90s, when I was in high school, I called everyone a fascist. My teachers were fascist, along with my parents, and really anyone who told me what to do. My friends used the word a lot too, but to be real, none of us really understand what it meant. And right now, in 2020, with Trump in the White House, and ANTIFA being regularly discussed, it feels a lot like the word “fascism” has come back into vogue. It might be a good time to sit down and define what it actually means, particularly when applying it to our current president, Donald Trump.
As it turns out, fascism is a pretty difficult thing to pin down in terms of definitions, but during a recent interview with NPR, Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale University and author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them defines it this way: “A cult of the leader who promises national restoration in the face of humiliation brought on by supposed communists, Marxists and minorities and immigrants who are supposedly posing a threat to the character and the history of a nation.”
Now I know, anyone reading that definition is thinking that you could use the same definition to define Trumpism. Regardless of the scandals, or the tell-all books from family and former associates, Trump’s base is ready and willing to put blinders on. During his interview with NPR, Stanley gave this very telling description of country X as a way to show how far the U.S. has begun to move towards fascism: “Well if someone described to you, ‘Here’s country X. The leader of country X claims that he is going to remain in power for many years beyond what is legal. He sends federal forces in to quell largely peaceful protests for racial justice in his country. His attorney general seems dedicated to him over the rule of law. The major political party that controls the courts and most of the government has, as their entire platform, devotion to him.’ What would you think about that country? Where would you think the direction of that country was headed?”
I’m with you — we’ve got a lot to unpack there. Trump has made statements about staying in office longer than the legal limit of two terms. His federal forces have been sent in to bring down peaceful protests, and Bill Barr might as well be Trump’s personal attorney, particularly when you consider his hand in cases involving Trump’s friends and the most recent intervention in the E. Jean Carroll case. But the real kicker here with this analogy of “country X” is the question at the end: “Where would you think the direction of that country was headed?”
Ultimately, Stanley feels that the U.S. is losing its democratic status, and Trump is using plays from the fascism handbook, but we have not gone full-on, kit-and-caboodle fascist. At least not yet.
To get another opinion, Roger Griffin, author of The Nature of Fascism, has a very telling quote that applies quite well to what is happening in America right now under the leadership of Donald Trump: “You can be a total xenophobic racist male chauvinist bastard and still not be a fascist.” During an interview with VOX, Griffin said one of the key elements of fascism that is missing from our current leadership is the overthrow of democracy and a rebirth of a new government. Rebirth requires the dramatic abandonment of the existing political order. “There has to be a longing for a new order, a new nation, not just a reformed old nation. As long as Trump does not advocate the abolition of America’s democratic institutions, and their replacement by some sort of post-liberal new order, he’s not technically a fascist.”
Yes, Trump has been disgustingly manipulating the American democratic system to meet his own ends. But — at least right now as I write this sentence — he doesn’t seem to want to overthrow the existing democratic system and give birth to a new one, and he doesn’t appear to want to scrap the Constitution. Those are key factors to fascism.
Trump may not be 100% fascist, but it does sound like he’s somewhere in the 50% or even 60% fascist range, and that really should give us all a huge and sobering pause. As you have already gathered, there is clearly a lot riding on the November election, so get out and vote. Make your voice known. Because frankly, as a good American, I have a 0% fascism tolerance policy. I would hope that you do, too.