Long ago, when I had a different blog under a different domain, I wrote extensively on many of the topics you find addressed here. I have tried to point out, in a factual and philosophical way, where I believe the proper thinking needs to be on those subjects — philosophy, religion, and others — and where logic would seem to lead us. And I had written about Donald Trump, both as a candidate and as a then-new president, addressing why this man was not fit to hold the Presidency.
I was not about dwelling on this man’s detestable personality, the throes of dunderheads stoking the flames of his presidency, the Republican party’s obstinate reliance on outmoded philosophies, or the methods Trump has used to attain the nation’s highest office. We all know the details of those things, have seen and heard of them every day for years on end, and no recounting here will serve us in this essay.
When I first wrote about the phenomenon of Donald Trump, I focused instead on a rather different take. I hoped I would never have to write about it again when speaking of our nation and its future, but here we are. So I must repeat my words of 2015:
Donald Trump, in simplest terms, is a fascist.
To say someone is a fascist breeches a wide swath of political identification and pejorative opinion. Fascism doesn’t have a sharply defined definition; there are wide and often conflicting sets of historical references and philosophical debates as to what fascism is because fascism is itself imprecisely defined.
The best way to tackle this sticky topic is to present some of the most common traits associated with fascism and see how Donald Trump’s actions and rhetoric line up with those premises. Where are the similarities between Trump’s stances, and what is generally attributed to defining a fascist politician?
Nationalism is the method by which one identifies the country and one’s standing within it. There are many types of nationalism and not all are necessarily bad; for example, I am a “civic nationalist,” meaning that I identify America by its liberalist values, including the promotion of civil rights, personal liberty, and equality under the law.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, espouses an often ethnic and/or religious nationalism. An ethnic nationalist would define America by their own (social, economic and) ethnic classifications. Those traits promote the idea of “real Americans,” asserting that there are Americans who aren’t “real” and are therefore threats to the perceived national identity. This form of nationalism results in an isolationist, jingoist form of patriotism. A religious nationalist, similarly, would insist a particular religion (case in point, evangelical Christianity) is “official,” representing the values the country was founded to promote. That nationalism would identify other, conflicting religions as threats to its perceived national identity (resulting in a similarly warped patriotism).
Judging by Trump’s own broad anti-immigrant policies, we see strong tendencies towards both religious and ethnic nationalism. These policies would deny green cards to anyone who might need public assistance at any time in the future (citing a desire for immigrants who are “financially self-sufficient”), efforts to curtail asylum applicants from obtaining work permits (preventing them from becoming self-sufficient), and having those permits taken away if the immigrant did not enter the country at a regular port of entry (again, like many asylum seekers). Ignoring the fact that asylum-seekers are legal immigrants, these policies attempt to remove all but the well-heeled from attaining legal status in our country, a condition not often met by those arriving from south of the Rio Grande.
It’s important to point out that Trump does not need to hold these concepts personally to promote them as part of his platform; he’s certainly no evangelical, though he has provided ample evidence of holding an ethnic nationalist slant to his views. What matters is that he uses these concepts to bolster support with his far-right base, actively promoting jingoism and intolerance, hopefully ensuring their votes in the next election.
Authoritarianism & Totalitarianism
Donald Trump has stated many times that he is the only one who can fix America’s problems (without actually stating how those fixes will be implemented, or by backing plans that have obviously little merit). He does this by scapegoating entire nationalities, religions, and ethnicities as the evil that must be eradicated. This is clear authoritarianism; a singular leader, appearing as a strong bulwark against the rising tide that threatens the radical nationalistic wave his campaign rides upon, a man who alone holds the key to “making America great again.”
Authoritarian regimes depend on a certain amount of fear to maintain political power. Radical nationalism supplies the foundation for that fear as a xenophobic outlook portraying people outside of his supporters’ constituency as an existential threat. He doesn’t need to define what the threat is, exactly, and allows the scapegoating to take care of the rest. Trump’s supporters can’t get rid of the Mexicans, the Muslims, and whomever else offends the far-right’s sensibilities of what “real Americans” are by themselves; Trump in a position of power might be able to do it for them.
Fascism is the clear antithesis of liberalism, democracy, and freedom of thought. In order for an authoritarian regime to survive, it must have complete control over the population, or at least, its government. Anyone watching the current state of affairs regarding Trump’s impeachment trial cannot deny that the Senate is in the grip of Trump’s authoritarianism; he doesn’t want relevant witnesses, nor does he want actual documentation of his activities present at the “trial,” and at the time of this writing it’s likely he won’t have to face them, regardless of what any sane person’s definition of what a “trial” might demand.
Trump repeatedly attacks journalists who do not report on him or his activities favorably as “fake news,” “enemies of the people,” and so on. He has scapegoated entire religions and ethnicities in his quest to “make America great again.” These stances are anti-liberalist. When concepts such as freedom of the press, of religion and of speech are allowed to flourish, just as in Enlightenment Europe, the status quo of the ruling elite as defined by the dictator come under threat. Trump seeks absolute power, and that requires absolute control of both the message and the environment of the ruling class.
Lest you think the liberals are the only ones getting the shaft under a Trump presidency, moderate conservatives are also getting screwed out of power. As I’ve made clear, conservatism is the enemy of liberalism, but fascism is also its enemy; fascism is opposed to the current status quo in favor of a new one based on populism and propaganda, seeking to tear down conservative foundations for its own aims.
Donald Trump encourages the elimination of a truly conservative power base by focusing on the “threats” perceived by far-right extremists (note the “Tea Party” and the subsequent “Freedom Caucus”), effectively weakening the party from within. The Republicans have failed to rally against Trump and his presidency because, by its very nature, conservatism seeks to protect its structure, not change it.
Let me state this in other terms: the conservative party has no philosophy at its disposal for fighting its own status quo. Trump became the Republican nominee and is now the literal head of the conservative party because the Republicans refused to switch course and oppose him. It couldn’t allow itself to become more liberal in its doctrine. The Republican’s conservative philosophy may well be what ultimately destroys the party as we know it.
Cult of Personality
A particular trait of fascist politics is that it’s reflective of the person seeking the position of power. Indeed, Donald Trump is one of the most divisive, yet attractive, personality cult leaders of modern times.
A cult of personality arises through the use of media and propaganda, portraying that person as having an unquestionable visage of strength worthy of the political office he seeks to attain or retain. In fact, it is the public perception of the leader or candidate that defines the personality cult itself. Mussolini and Hitler, the most famous examples, were vastly different in governing styles, leadership qualities, and public image, but it’s readily agreed that both attained fascist leadership because of their populism.
Trump has used his rallies, Twitter and news coverage to portray himself as a virile, successful, “strong” individual with paramount leadership qualities, culminating in an air of false superiority and fortitude even in the face of outright lies and fabricated occurrences. His charisma is not only based on the portrayal of himself as a “new man,” a figure set apart from his contemporaries in unsubstantiated ways, but in true populist fashion, the gullibility of his followers to accept the message without question.
The Triple Threat
Trump has achieved cult personality status on three fronts: He continually drives fear-based rhetoric, saying that our military was in shambles, and other politicians are either in league with our enemies or are outsiders who aren’t part of his nationalistic fabric (read: birtherism). He cultivates an unattractive association between the “liberal media” and his political opponents while presenting himself as above other Republicans who are “low energy” or “weak.” Through the use of this false messaging, Donald Trump creates a visual of himself as the dominant, grit-filled President who won’t let petty rules (i.e., the Constitution) stand in the way of his vision to “make America great again.” All of this culminates in the image of an America in desperate straits that only he can fix. Reason, rationale or even the outline of a plan are unnecessary; all that’s needed is the fear that the country will be lost if he isn’t kept in a position of power, as he is the only one strong enough to save it.
The Populist President
Trump’s charisma is cultivated to the lowest common denominator, aimed at blue-collar workers with a high-school education or less (“I love the poorly educated!”), his voting base is unable to correctly parse the rhetoric and, sadly, they often do not care. Donald Trump has become their savior, their idol, their ubermensch, a man who reflects the inability of the commoner to sift through the nonsense all modern politicians spew, and he falsely promises to “save” them from it.
Donald Trump has been playing this card for a long time, all the way back to his “birther” attacks on President Obama. Slowly he has built a coalition of the stupid, the gullible, the racist and the uneducated. While Donald may himself not be the brightest guy on the planet, he knows this: his supporters are rubes who will believe whatever he offers them. He knows how to swindle, how to cheat, and how to play the game so he looks like a winner even when he isn’t. Donald Trump is the heart of a personality cult who plays on the fears of the undereducated and unknowledgeable in order to better his personal ambition and power. He has ripped people off for decades, taking advantage of everyone who believes his promises to improve their lot in life, and now plays the shell game of politics to retain the Presidency and gain a second term.
Once he’s been re-elected, the game is over. He won’t have to appeal to anyone after that. His “base” can go suck eggs. No longer needing the guise of another election, cheated at or otherwise, he will be free to do what fascists have always done – solidify his power, strive for authoritarian rule, and do whatever benefits Donald Trump alone.
At the time of this writing, it seems certain that the Republican-led Senate will acquit Donald Trump of wrongdoing, without witnesses or documentary evidence being presented at his Senate trial. Many Republicans admit what the President did was wrong, and even illegal, yet they also assert that he should not be removed from office and that the next election should dictate whether he deserves a second term.
We will be voting in an election Donald Trump has already demonstrated, by rule of law and the standards set by our Constitution, that he does not deserve. An election where it can be safely assumed he will again break the law in his attempt to retain power.
This essay was originally written in 2015 when Trump was just a candidate vying for the highest office. It has been reworked and rewritten to reflect the present day, but its major points remain unchanged. Now, as then, Donald Trump demonstrates that he is a fascist, and if left unchecked, will become what all fascists become — a dictator.
The only solution remaining to prevent a fascist government is a contrary result in a likely-to-be-rigged election this autumn. That statement should alarm every citizen who believes in the Constitution as the highest law of the land. We must vote in strength and unity this November, across the board, in numbers that even cheating will not abate, to remove this man from public office.