‘Trump the fascist’.‘Trump-Pence fascist regime’.‘This fascist administration’. These are just a selection of tweets that can be found on the #fascist page on Twitter, an exhibition of how the politically illiterate have seized on the chance to condemn the new President of the United States, Donald Trump, with the worst insult they can think of. It may even seem like a good strategy. How can anyone recover from being called a fascist? By associating someone with one of the most heinous ideologies to ever occupy Europe, surely one has won the argument?
Fascism as a concept occupies a curious place in history for us. Given the gap of seventy years since its defeat and with few people with memories of that time still alive, it has become detached enough from reality to be thrown around as a playground political insult. However, the fact that fascism and its role in the Second World War is the one of only two topics that Channel 4 and the BBC make documentaries about (the other topic being the Tudors) as well as the way that the consequences of fascism still dominate the modern world mean that it is still a powerful concept to be thrown at someone. Its connotations are immense, conjuring up images of Nazism, Adolf Hitler and the foul ethno-nationalist ideas of the Holocaust.
But is Donald Trump worth of the term?
But is Donald Trump worthy of the term? Although the quotes above are from moronic whingers on Twitter, there is worrying trend among certain parts of the media to, with hyperbolic intention, accuse Trump of this crime. But to do so magnifies the scope of his ideas and makes him seem a more sinister operator than he really is. By calling Trump a fascist, his enemies make him a far more threatening opponent than he really is, whilst also scaremongering others that they may be living in a repeat of ‘Germany in the 1930s’ and making them confuse genuine political events and political change with a more ominous and menacing armageddon.
Fascism originated in Italy during and after the First World War before being adopted by a number of far-right groups across Europe and by Adolf Hitler. Although the differences between Italian fascism and Nazism are immense and this is a generalised sketch at best, fascism as it manifested in Italy and Germany are the most enduring and wholesome examples of fascism when it has developed fully and the two forms do share some common themes. The first is a very violent form of ethno-nationalism. In Italian fascism this took a more cultural tone with Mussolini’s focus mainly being upon the legacy of the Roman Empire and Italy as the inheritor of that legacy whilst Nazism centering on the genetics of different ethnic groups and the superiority of certain ethnic groups, particularly of the Aryan race. The second and third common themes are the idea of settling additional land through the conquest of “living space” (lebensraum or spazio vitale) and the concept of statism or totalitarianism by which every individual is part of a homogenous nation state and every part of that nation state is mobilised for the needs of the fascist government in terms of economics, culture and the military affairs. Finally, in terms of process rather than policy, fascism tends to favour the use of a paramilitary and of revolutionary uprising to subvert the democratic process and seize control.
The policies of Donald Trump’s which seems to precipitate the comparison of him to fascism are the ‘shutdown of Muslims entering the United States’ and the ‘great, great, wall on (their) Southern border’. Are these fascist policies? They may be, but there is not a shred of evidence that Trump is calling for either of these things because of a belief in the superiority of the ‘American race’ over Muslims or Mexicans. In fact it sounds shocking to even say that out loud. America, more than any other country, is a country of immigrants from all races and so the idea that Mexicans or Muslims are being rejected along the lines of ethnic inferiority or even of the existence of an ‘American race’ is laughable. His professed excuses for this policy (for security purposes and for economic reasons) are almost certainly racist and xenophobic and he has consistently shown an inherent hatred for both Muslims and Mexicans because of an automatic association between these two groups and certain crimes in the United States. But they are not fascist in any sense.
Aside from this, the entire comparison begins to look ridiculous. Trump does not believe in every individual being subsumed by the state; he has consistently called for smaller government and given his narcissistic personality it can be assumed that he respects the role of the individual within the nation state greatly. Neither has he used a paramilitary to subjugate the United States but instead has been elected President by the American people (technically the Electoral College still counts as a democracy). Finally, Trump has never called for the expansion of the US to create “living space” for its citizens. On the contrary, his isolationist tone on foreign affairs has been greatly analysed whilst he has never once threatened the invasion of anywhere for territorial gain. Trump is arrogant, conservative, racist, xenophobic, ignorant, demagogic and irritatingly American. Trump is not a fascist. Such an accusation is both lazy and disingenuous and makes the accuser come across as unwilling to engage on the real issues of the Trump Presidency.