I have taught the Holocaust and anti-Semitism for 45 plus years. Today, I am afraid. We seem to be reliving history. We are at a point that both Germany and Italy were in the early 1930s. Hitler and Mussolini both used existing democracies in Germany and Italy to destroy those democracies and institute totalitarian, authoritarian governments based on the principles of Fascism. Democracy is fragile and easily destroyed, if we are not vigilant in supporting it. Donald Trump and his supporters are subverting democracy, just as both Hitler and Mussolini did in Europe in the late 1920s and early 30s. I am not being hyperbolic just fearfully realistic.
There are literally thousands of writers who have written on fascism, from Umberto Eco to Masha Gessen. They have attempted to define and outline the characteristics of fascism. I do not have the space to outline all of the characteristics of fascism, but can say that Trump and his supporters show evidence of expressing most of those characteristics in their flirtation with fascism and autocracy, leading the United States into a constitutional crisis which could result in an abrogation of the election and the Constitution. Using Umberto Eco’s Ur Fascism, published in the New York Review of Books in 1995 as a template let’s look at a few instances of fascistic actions perpetrated by the president and his supporters.
Trump’s “law and order” efforts in confronting peaceful demonstrators in Portland, Seattle, Chicago and elsewhere with armed Homeland Security personnel is an attempt to show that violence is rampant and justify draconian policies for the sake of “law and order.” It is the very presence of these federal police that have caused what was a waning BLM movement to flare up again. This is what Eco calls “Pacifism is Trafficking with the Enemy” because “Life is Permanent Warfare”.
Trump’s conspiracy theories, especially about mail-in ballots, could lead to an abrogation of the election itself thereby permitting Trump to declare the election null and void because of “voter fraud”. Or his most recent conspiracy theory about “shadow people” or about militants on an airplane coming to attack Washington are all his “obsession with a plot” which is a key component of fascism. Conspiracy theories were used by Hitler to declare martial law.
Trump’s rejection of science around COVID 19, climate change, and other issues relying on science, forcing students back to school; the reopening of businesses at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives; have led to his base mimicking this behavior, helping spread the virus by refusing masks. These are all examples of the fascist idea of “rejection of modernism” and “Machismo”.
Trump’s persecution of his perceived enemies while shielding his friends from prison or from prosecution is another assault on the rule of law. Laws are applied one way for Trump’s ally’s, and another way for everyone else. Anyone disagreeing with Trump is labeled by Trump and his followers as traitors; pitting Americans against each other. He uses of fear of immigrants and rioters to garner support from his base this is called “Disagreement Is Treason” and a central focus of fascism.
Another concept of fascism is “Selective Populism”. Trump calls himself a populist but gives tax cuts to only the top 1%.
Trump’s accusation against the press who oppose him or who call out his failures as being “fake news” while empowering media organizations who echo his own words and ideas is a clear abrogation of the 1st Amendment protections for Journalism and Freedom of Speech. Eco calls this “Newspeak”.
“Fascist societies rhetorically cast their enemies as “at the same time too strong and too weak.” Trump’s calling Biden and the Democrats as weak and then saying he can’t do anything because they are too strong. This is another common strategy of fascist societies.
Trump’s complete lack of empathy and his disdain for anyone he perceives as weak and his attempt to avoid ever admitting he was wrong because he does not want to ever appear weak is called “Contempt for the Weak”.
Eco has said you only need one of these characteristics to be a fascist. This means we have a direct constitutional crisis of whether democracy will survive the next few months. Given Trump’s embrace of fascism and autocracy, support for other European fascists (from Orban in Hungary to Putin in Russia), and given Trump’s reluctance to say he will abide by the results of the election should give us all pause whether we are democrat, republican, or independent.