Donald Trump supporter rides in his car. (photo: Reuters)
11 February 16
With Trump’s threats to round up Latino immigrants or bar Muslims from entering the United States, Nazi analogies from his critics abound.
e stoked fears of the white working class by appealing to anti-immigrant sentiment. He mixed that with anger toward the political and economic establishment by pointing to NAFTA as a reason jobs were vanishing. His intolerant rhetoric of non-Christian America was considered so dangerous that in response to one speech a liberal commentator joked that it “probably sounded better in the original German.”
Donald Trump? No, that’s Patrick Buchanan.
Buchanan hasn’t been a big feature on the right since the 1990s, and a lot of that has to do with the establishment knowing then how toxic he was. In 1992, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote of his “fascist underpinnings,” insisting that his mix of “nativism, authoritarianism, ethnic and class resentment” and his conversion to “protectionism” put him the classic mold of fascism.
Now, we have another politician bringing on those very ideas, and again it’s rattling the Republican establishment. The conservative journal National Review forcefully condemned Trump’s rise. The moderate one-time Republican ex-mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg vowed to run for president if Trump (among other radicals he doesn’t like) gets the presidential nod.
With Trump’s threats to round up Latino immigrants or bar Muslims from entering the United States, Nazi analogies from his critics abound. In various forums, academics and journalists have warned us not to use the fascism label, as it would be inaccurate from a political theory perspective. Many of these people are smart and perfectly well meaning.
But they’re wrong.
The skepticism comes from a healthy place: Americans, especially on the left, are too quick to label anything they believe is too right-wing to be fascist, in the same way right-wingers throw around the term “socialist” without understanding what that means. Traditionally, in the United States, our most right-wing pundits and politicians don’t actually believe in the very specific tenets of fascism, which calls for an immense amount of state power in economic affairs. Instead, libertarianism, at least in fiscal affairs, is the prominent idea.
And that’s where Trump gets interesting. Economically, he’s quite unlike the other Republican candidates. He doesn’t blast social security or threaten to take away anyone’s Medicare. In fact, the state features strongly in his economic vision. For example, he blasts NAFTA and promises to proactively bring manufacturing jobs back, traditionally the political domain of the labor left, which is why some union members are supporting him.
It’s important to remember this when one considers how much fascism was seen as a reactionary response to the appeal of socialism and communism to the rebellious working class in Europe. Much of Adolf Hitler’s rhetoric had as much to do with anger at prevailing economic order as it did with his hatred of communists. The state, he promised, would provide for the German citizenry, still suffering from the fallout of the first World War. Many of those programs would be too state-centered for our modern-day Republicans.
In short, Hilter’s appeal was a strong state, both in terms of the military and the economy, pinning the blame not on the ruling class but on minority scapegoats. That’s where we see the fascist tendencies in the movement Trump has created. The journalist Chris Hedges told me in an interview in 2006, “Fascist movements are always indigenous and they look for indigenous symbols. Hitler or Mussolini may seem exotic and strange to us, but they didn’t to Germans and Italians. They built on Teutonic myths. In the case of Mussolini, harkening back to the age of Augustus and imperial Rome.”
So too is the same with Trump’s call to “make America great again” and his obsession with “American winning,” as if our old empire came and went, and it’s time to assert ourselves once more. And while Trump may not look characteristically fascist in the way we’re conditioned to think they look, he certainly has attracted a questionable crowd.
The white nationalist website Daily Stormer endorsed him. He has the support of at least one white nationalist PAC. And to make things worse, former Ku Klux Klan chief David Duke said that, if anything, Trump’s politics were too radical. There was footage of a Trump supporter shouting “Sieg Heil” at a rally, and there’s been numerous accounts of non-white and non-Christian people threatened and harassed at his rallies. The more we look at that, the more Trump and his supporters look like the Tea Party and look more like our local version of the far right movements in Europe that rally at once against austerity and immigration.
The answer, then, is to see Trump and his followers for what they are, and know now that after the election, even if he’s not president, he’s created a big enough block of people who are closely associated with a dark ideology. That means it is necessary to build strong anti-austerity left movements like the ones in Greece and Spain. There’s hope for that in the ascendance of Bernie Sanders. But the movement will have to be bigger than him, and carry own after this election year.