Does the ‘fascist’ label fit Trump?


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Probably no word in political vocabulary is more misused than fascist.

It is used all the time as an insult or as a way to tag a political opponent. It may just be used as a form of name-calling to indicate political disagreement with someone seen as authoritarian or dangerous. Lately, it is hard to miss all the articles appearing on the subject of whether Donald Trump is a fascist. He certainly is not calling himself that.

In trying to get a handle on whether Trump is a fascist, I thought of an article written 20 years ago by the Italian novelist and writer Umberto Eco. The article, “Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt,” suggests a list of features of fascism.

Eco’s first feature of fascism is a cult of tradition.

Trump’s baseball cap says, “Make America Great Again.” He hearkens back to a mythological American past. In Trump’s world, there was no genocide against Native Americans or slavery. Trump doesn’t recognize that our past was worse than our present. We have actually made some progress in overcoming original sins.

Eco says irrationalism depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Trump doesn’t do policy, plans or specifics.

Irrationalism is at the core of the Trump phenomenon; facts get in the way.

He says he will build a wall. He will deport 11 million and shut down immigration. He will register Muslims. He will not allow American Muslims who leave the country back in when they want to return. He will waterboard and restore torture. It doesn’t matter that so many of his ideas are utterly unconstitutional. He demonstrates a cluelessness and disregard for constitutional law.

Eco says the fascist exploits and exacerbates the natural fear of difference. Fascism appeals against the intruders.

The Donald is big against The Other. First it was the Mexicans. They were rapists and criminals sneaking across the border. Now it is the Muslims.

Racism is close to the heart of Trumpism. He has become a favorite with America’s pitiful white supremacists. Trump’s rants give white supremacists more room to spew their poison and to act out.

In August, two Boston brothers beat a homeless man with a metal pipe and then urinated on him. The two men told the police, “Donald Trump was right.” They thought the homeless man was an illegal immigrant and they went on to say, “All these illegals must be deported.”

Rhetoric matters, and Trump’s unhinged style has green-lighted violent vigilantes and white supremacists. We can expect more attacks on those perceived to be Muslim. It would appear that for American fascists, Muslims are filling and replacing the role previously designated for Jews.

It probably does not need to be restated where scapegoating led during the German Nazi era. The historical track record of fascism is littered with corpses. Trump has commented favorably on Operation Wetback of the 1950s, and he has been equivocal about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. In spite of almost universal condemnation of the Japanese-American internment, Trump still sees it as a tough call.

Trump plays to the frustrations and insecurities Americans feel about the economy and terrorism. He indulges simple-minded solutions. Bomb them, kill them, deport them.

It is sadly ironic that some white working-class and middle-income people fall for the Donald’s celebrity routine. Trump tries to act like a regular guy, but he is a 1 percenter. Trump said his father helped get him started with a small loan. The loan was for $1 million.

Trump says he is not dependent on campaign contributions from rich people, but what he is not saying is that he acts in the interests of his 1 percent friends. He will never do anything about economic inequality.

What Trump does when he scapegoats Muslims or Mexicans is to point the finger away from Wall Street and big business profiteers who did tank our economy. It is not Muslims or Mexicans who shipped good American jobs overseas, reduced wages and harmed our standard of living.

Whether Trump is considered a fascist or a demagogue, his candidacy poses a special problem for Republicans. Trump is no conservative. He is not about conserving what is valuable in America’s laws and heritage. 

Being Jewish, I would admit to a special concern about fascism. The words “never again” ring in my mind. The maligning of Muslims or Mexicans is unacceptable coming from any political candidate.

Members of the Bar have a particular responsibility to repudiate Trump’s unconstitutional antics. We need to protect our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. During the Nazi era, the German Bar and judiciary did a terrible job of repudiating fascism as it advanced to power. They accommodated fascism and ended up as fascist apologists. American lawyers and judges have a responsibility to do far better.

It would be wrong to expect fascism in America to evolve as a duplication of previous fascist incarnations, whether in Germany or elsewhere. It would likely be unique and, as Eco writes, could come back under the most innocent of disguises. Americans of all stripes need to repudiate fascism in whatever form it takes. 

Jonathan P. Baird of Wilmot is an administrative law judge. His column reflects his own views and not those of his employer, the Social Security Administration.

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