Last July, I heard Trump speak and his talk displayed all the features of fascist rhetoric. He began with trade protectionism and held up autarky as an ideal. He moved to immigration, leading the crowd to believe that all their economic and security troubles were due to dangerous foreign elements among us. Then came the racial dog whistles: Trump demanded of a Hispanic questioner whether he was sent by the government of Mexico.Perhaps, although every seeker after the presidency in my lifetime has at some time during the campaign used the expression "running the country," and more than a few of the devotees of this or that candidate (particularly the Democrat court intellectuals in higher education) are clearly members of the cult of the Presidency.
There was more. He railed against the establishment that is incompetent and lacking in energy. He bragged about his lack of interest-group ties — which is another way of saying that that only he can become the purest sort of dictator with no quid pro quos to tie him down. (My writings on this topichere, here, and here.)
Trump is clearly not pushing himself as a traditional American president, heading an executive branch and working with Congress and the judicial branch. He imagines himself as running to head a personal state: his will would be the one will for the country. He has no real reform plans beyond putting himself in charge, not only of the government but, as he imagines, the entire country. It’s a difference of substance that is very serious.
Ross Douthat's New York Times column offers a longer, possibly hedged and nuanced explanation that it's too soon to look for the brown shirts and the street brawls.
I would say no, for three reasons. First, Trump may indeed be a little fascistic, but that sinister resemblance is just one part of his reality-television meets WWE-heel-turn campaign style. He isn’t actually building a fascist mass movement (he hasn’t won a primary yet!) or rallying a movement of far-right intellectuals (Ann Coulter notwithstanding). His suggestion that a Black Lives Matter protester at one of his rallies might have deserved to be roughed up was pretty ugly, but still several degrees of ugly away from the actual fascist move, which would require organizing a paramilitary force to take to the streets to brawl with the decadent supporters of our rotten legislative government.So far, Mr Trump has done most of the "brawling with the decadent supporters of our rotten legislative government" on his own, by going on their shows. Which the decadent supporters have been quite happy to encourage, for whatever ratings value or showing their establishment bona fides they get by it.
Second, precisely because Trump doesn’t have many of the core commitments that have tended to inoculate conservatives against fascism, it’s still quite likely that the Republican Party is inoculated against him. His lack of any real religious faith, his un-libertarian style and record, his clear disdain for the ideas that motivate many of the most engaged Republicans — these qualities haven’t prevented him from consolidating a quarter of the Republican electorate, but they should make it awfully difficult for him to get to 40 or 50 percent. And a somewhat fascist-looking candidate who tops out where Trump’s poll numbers are currently hovering is not something to panic over — yet.
Finally, freaking out over Trump-the-fascist is a good way for the political class to ignore the legitimate reasons he’s gotten this far — the deep disaffection with the Republican Party’s economic policies among working-class conservatives, the reasonable skepticism about the bipartisan consensus favoring ever more mass low-skilled immigration, the accurate sense that the American elite has misgoverned the country at home and abroad.
At Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle suggests that the simple cult of the Presidency is all that's at work.
Trump’s economic policy isn’t really a policy; it consists of claiming magical abilities to reclaim the jobs that foreigners have stolen from us, and a ritual genuflection toward lower taxes. All politics contains some element of this, of course.Exactly. That's the packaging of a presidential campaign with all manner of bright shiny things, and rainbows emanating from the hindquarters of a unicorn. But in an overweening Trump presidency, she goes on to note, there is an opportunity for the Congress to use its enumerated powers to push back against that cult.
American institutions are built to withstand a terrible president. Congress would retain control of the power of the purse, and Trump wouldn’t get much done without it. Courts would not allow him to wantonly step on civil liberties, and if he ordered the military to invade Mexico without congressional authorization, or the FBI to arrest his political enemies, they would refuse those orders.Note, however, that the Obama administration was able to get its non-stimulus stimulus bill and the two lies for the price of one Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act through in the first two years, and even then only with massive horse-trading with Democrat majorities in both houses. Mr Trump might be a good deal-maker, and yet professional politicians of both parties also fancy themselves as experts in that art.
It’s good cocktail-party fun to establish the extent to which Donald Trump’s pseudo-ideology may, or may not, resemble the fascist movements of the 20th century. But this is just a superficial likeness, lacking the ingredients for fascist terror.
In Foreign Policy, Siobhan O'Grady also says no.
[Political scholar Robert] Paxton said these provocative statements — no matter how reprehensible bystanders find them to be — represent individualism, an ideology that he said contradicts fascism.And in USA Today, Glenn Reynolds suggests Mr Trump appeals to people whose policy preferences have been for too long ignored, if not denigrated outright, by the political class.
“Fascism was a revolt against individualism, and what we have now is individualism run amok,” he said. “You can find lots of themes that they all share … but you can find those in places other than fascism, too.”
People who are unhappy with the things Trump is saying need to understand that he’s only getting so much traction because he’s filling a void. If the responsible people would talk about these issues, and take action, Trump wouldn’t take up so much space.In that sort of environment, it is also difficult to make the case that perhaps a weak and ineffectual government is a reason to place less reliance on the machinery of government. Perhaps, though, Mr Trump's "make America great again" is a ritual incantation of the presidential cargo cult.
And there’s a lesson for our ruling class there: Calling Trump a fascist is a bit much (fascism, as Tom Wolfe once reported, is forever descending upon the United States, but somehow it always lands on Europe), but movements like fascism and communism get their start because the mechanisms of liberal democracy seem weak and ineffectual and dishonest. If you don’t want Trump — or, perhaps, some post-Trump figure who really is a fascist — to dominate things, you need to stop being weak and ineffectual and dishonest.
Right now, after years of Obama hope-and-change, a majority of Americans (56%) think Islam is incompatible with American values. That’s true even for 43% of Democrats.
In that sort of environment, where people feel unsafe and where the powers-that-be seem to be, well, weak and ineffectual and dishonest, the appeal of someone who doesn’t seem weak and ineffectual grows stronger.