Donald Trump: Textbook Fascist
I got the framework for this post from a Wikipedia link when I sought more information on fascism. It contained a link to February 29, 2016 Literary Hub article by Lorraine Berry that frighteningly links the fourteen points below to then candidate Trump. After reading these fourteen points and reflecting on Mr. Trump’s actions and appointments to date, I felt a chill come over me…. and came to the realization that calling Mr. Trump a “fascist” is not a slur: it is an accurate description based on the properties Mr. Eco listed in his 1995 article for The New York Review of Books.
My comments and reactions to the 14 points are in bold red. See if you agree that “fascist” is an accurate description of our President elect.
In his 1995 essay “Eternal Fascism”, Umberto Eco lists fourteen general properties of fascist ideology. He argues that it is not possible to organise these into a coherent system, but that “it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it”. He uses the term “Ur-fascism” as a generic description of different historical forms of fascism. The fourteen properties are as follows:
- “The Cult of Tradition”, characterized by cultural syncretism, even at the risk of internal contradiction. When all truth has already been revealed by Tradition, no new learning can occur, only further interpretation and refinement. Mr. Trump’s catch-phrase, “Make America Great Again” evokes a Traditional America where a single breadwinning male returned home each night to a home he owned and a family he loved.
- “The Rejection of modernism“, which views the rationalistic development of Western culture since the Enlightenment as a descent into depravity. Eco distinguishes this from a rejection of superficial technological advancement, as many fascist regimes cite their industrial potency as proof of the vitality of their system. The connection between Mr. Trump’s promise to restore manufacturing to America and “industrial potency” is clear and obvious.
- “The Cult of Action for Action’s Sake”, which dictates that action is of value in itself, and should be taken without intellectual reflection. This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science. Mr. Trump’s phrase “bomb the sh** out of them”, delivered to cheers, comes to mind here.
- “Disagreement Is Treason” – Fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action, as well as out of fear that such analysis will expose the contradictions embodied in a syncretistic faith. Mr. Trump’s decision to seek the names of scientists who believe in climate change is one example… but as an education blogger the whole notion of allowing tax dollars to support religiously affiliated schools that teach creationism is also proof that Mr. Trump devalues “intellectual discourse and critical reasoning”.
- “Fear of Difference”, which fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants. Alas…no comment is necessary here.
- “Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class”, fearing economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups. Countless pundits have cited this as the primary reason for Mr. Trump’s appeal. What many of them missed was that there was and is a distinction between Mr. Trump’s appeal and Mr. Sanders’. Donald Trump played up the economic pressure brought by “…the demands and aspirations of lower social groups” while Bernie Sanders played up the way the system was rigged in favor of the oligarchs.
- “Obsession with a Plot” and the hyping-up of an enemy threat. This often combines an appeal to xenophobia with a fear of disloyalty and sabotage from marginalized groups living within the society (such as the German elite’s ‘fear’ of the 1930s Jewish populace’s businesses and well-doings; see also anti-Semitism). Eco also cites Pat Robertson‘s book The New World Order as a prominent example of a plot obsession. The appointment of Breitbart editor Steven Bannon is exhibit one, Mr. Trump’s birther claims, his insinuations about Ms. Clinton’s alleged murders, the list could go on and on…
- Fascist societies rhetorically cast their enemies as “at the same time too strong and too weak.” On the one hand, fascists play up the power of certain disfavored elites to encourage in their followers a sense of grievance and humiliation. On the other hand, fascist leaders point to the decadence of those elites as proof of their ultimate feebleness in the face of an overwhelming popular will. Any number of Mr. Trump’s stump speeches about the “politically correct” policing and “over-regulation” combined with the claims that Mr. Obama was “weak” in handling Syria… readers can fill in their own examples here….
- “Pacifism is Trafficking with the Enemy” because “Life is Permanent Warfare” – there must always be an enemy to fight. Both fascist Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini worked first to organize and clean up their respective countries and then build the war machines that they later intended to and did use, despite Germany being under restrictions of the Versailles treaty to NOT build a military force. This principle leads to a fundamental contradiction within fascism: the incompatibility of ultimate triumph with perpetual war. We need to fight ISIS, we need to fight “Radical Islamic Terror”, we need to fight against anyone who tries to oppose American values…
- “Contempt for the Weak”, which is uncomfortably married to a chauvinistic popular elitism, in which every member of society is superior to outsiders by virtue of belonging to the in-group. Eco sees in these attitudes the root of a deep tension in the fundamentally hierarchical structure of fascist polities, as they encourage leaders to despise their underlings, up to the ultimate Leader who holds the whole country in contempt for having allowed him to overtake it by force. Mr. Trump repeatedly called out his opponents’ weaknesses on the campaign trail and is now using Twitter to call out the “failing NY Times”, the “weak union leader” at Carrier, the “horrible SNL” routines… In doing so he is empowering those who share his views— his supporters— giving them an “in-group” sense of superiority over “the establishment” and reinforcing the notion that he alone can solve these problems if only people would unquestioningly and unconditionally follow him. At the same time I have the sense that he does “…hold the whole country in contempt for having allowed him to overtake it by force”…
- “Everybody is Educated to Become a Hero”, which leads to the embrace of a cult of death. As Eco observes, “[t]he Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.” I return to the “bomb the sh** out of them” as Exhibit One… and his desire to solve all social issues through sheer force and gunplay is further evidence of his willingness to resolve all conflicts through force.
- “Machismo”, which sublimates the difficult work of permanent war and heroism into the sexual sphere. Fascists thus hold “both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.” As above… alas, no comment is needed.
- “Selective Populism” – The People, conceived monolithically, have a Common Will, distinct from and superior to the viewpoint of any individual. As no mass of people can ever be truly unanimous, the Leader holds himself out as the interpreter of the popular will (though truly he dictates it). Fascists use this concept to delegitimize democratic institutions they accuse of “no longer represent[ing] the Voice of the People.” The privatization of public education is an especially egregious example of the delegitimization of a democratic institution… the elected school board…. But having garnered 25% of the electorate’s vote Mr. Trump is about to “interpret the popular will” in ways that will, I believe, contradict what the popular will really is…
- “Newspeak” – Fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning. ” If everything Mr. Trump wants to do is “Terrific” and everything else is “Horrible” we have impoverished our vocabulary to a point where critical reasoning cannot exist… and that seemed to be the way Mr. Trump presented his ideas in debates and continues to present them now.