Probably not a fascist


I have to admit, it does sound snappier in the original German

Donald Trump is probably not a fascist. Feel better?  Don’t. He might be worse

I spent most of the drive home today thinking I was going to write an appeal to repeal Godwin’s Law. You may or not be familiar with Godwin’s Law by name. In its original form it reads

As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

When the Internet was getting going it was a really fun place. For one thing there were a lot of really funny and smart people who mused about the social implications of this new thing being created. Godwin’s Law is among the best examples of that. Do a little reading on the history of the thing and you’ll find it was a gentle reminder to folks that the Holocaust was a truly horrific thing and it’s not the sort of thing that compares to most things you might be upset about.  It was far, far, worse than anything you’re likely to be talking about.

Over time there became this belief that Godwin’s Law precluded usefully mentioning Hitler or Nazis in any online discussion at all. That’s what I was going to argue needed to be repealed in the Age of Trump. Turns out I didn’t need to bother because it’s not something Mike Godwin ever believed and certainly doesn’t now with respect to Trump:

First, let me get this Donald Trump issue out of the way: If you’re thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history, go ahead and refer to Hitler or Nazis when you talk about Trump. Or any other politician.

The thing that scares me the most about Trump is his scapegoating of Muslims and, more generally, anyone who isn’t white. His boast that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any votes is an admission that he understands his followers. They know he’s not going to shoot them because they’re white and from ’round here. He’d only shoot someone who isn’t. He praises folks who deal with protests in his rallies with force.  I talked about nucleation points last week. I used the group at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge as an example of a nucleation point that didn’t form. I fear the Trump candidacy is one that is going to. His policies are vague to the point of incoherence, but most people stop listening as soon as they hear their own prejudices and fears repeated back to them with the promise that the strong man will solve the problem. Leave the details to him. Just go out there and be great.

Journalist David Neiwert makes a compelling argument that it’s not accurate to call Trump a fascist. It’s a topic Neiwert has studied and reported on for more than two decades as he’s followed the various incarnations of hate groups in the Pacific Northwest.  He discusses several descriptive models of fascism and shows how easy it is to make comparisons with Trump. He concludes that Trump doesn’t cross the line to fascism, though, partly because his appeals to the use of force against people who oppose him is tepid when compared to the historical examples of the Brown and Blackshirts of Fascist Germany and Italy. The other is his incoherence.

That, in a tiny nutshell, is an example of the problem with Trump’s fascism: He is not really an ideologue, acting out of a rigid adherence to a consistent worldview, as all fascists are. Trump’s only real ideology is the Worship of the Donald, and he will do and say anything that appeals to the lowest common denominator of the American body politic in order to attract their support – the nation’s id, the near-feral segment that breathes and lives on fear and paranoia and hatred.

Rather than a fascist, Neiwert concludes that Trump is a right-wing populist demagogue. That should provide no comfort to anyone because fascism is merely one kind of right-wing populism. One with focus. Maybe it’s on Ritalin or something.

Joking aside, Can Mudde, an associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia1 wrote a nuanced op-ed in the Washington Post back in August that probably puts Trump in his proper historical perspective.

…to understand the Trump phenomenon in all its complexity we need to look at both U.S. history and contemporary Europe. Trumpismo can be seen as a functional equivalent of the European populist radical right, but it is a very American equivalent. Trump himself doesn’t hold a populist radical right ideology, but his political campaign clearly caters to populist radical right attitudes, and his supporter base is almost identical to the core electorate of populist radical right parties in (Western) Europe. However, Trump also stands in a long tradition of American nativism, going back to the Know Nothings of the mid 19th century, of American anti-establishment politicians, and of conservatives who claim to be the right “CEO” to make America great again. But, in contrast to the rich history of U.S. populism, Trump is an anti-establishment elitist. He is better than everyone, i.e. both the elite and the people!

Pardon me if that doesn’t make me feel better.

We’re going to know a lot more about how things are going with the election by the end of March. As the excess-baggage-candidates drop from the slate of Republican hopefuls, Rubio or Cruz will either catch Trump or they won’t. I’m not going to venture a guess. There is no part of my brain that accepts the idea that any of those guys ought to be allowed out in public, much less made President of the United States. I have no insight into the psychology of anyone who can consider the question without projectile vomiting.

No matter what happens, though, Trump’s true believers aren’t going away. Even if one of the other folks wind up getting the Republican nomination, or Trump gets it and then loses the general election, these people who’ve supported Trump are not going to go away. And what scares me about that is that that these folks may decide to follow the next charismatic leader who says he’s not going to make the “mistake” Trump made.

If that happens it’s going to get ugly real quick.

1How ’bout them Dawgs!