The behavior and rhetoric of Donald Trump and his most ardent partisans since he was defeated for re-election have brought into sharp focus a fact that has lurked in the background since the day he became a candidate in the 2016 presidential election: Trumpism is a specifically American iteration of generic fascism.
Before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, I am not suggesting Trumpism is akin to Nazism or even to Italian Fascism with a capital F. But it does check most, although not all, of the boxes outlined in Robert O. Paxton’s authoritative The Anatomy of Fascism, a work untainted by Trump Derangement Syndrome, having been published long before Trump traded in Howard Stern for Sean Hannity.
Trumpism is palingenetic, meaning its core myth is of a rebirth, of the redemption of an idealized nation of Real Americans from the decadence and corruption, cultural and political, of effete liberal elites and malevolent socialists. The Make America Great Again mantra perfectly captures the palingenetic nature of Trumpism, as does draining the swamp and other tropes of purification and renewal. Palingenetic myth is a central pillar of generic fascism.
Trumpism is a classic fascist cult of personality, complete with fervid rallies for the gobsmacked faithful, public bootlicking by obsequious lackeys and hagiographic creations of a Trump legend from the tawdry dross of his actual life. Largely devoid of substantive content and, as a result, unsuited to actual governing, Trumpism is sustained by political theater, whether in the form of flag-waving boat parades or manufactured crises like border invasions.
Trumpism is anti-democratic. Voter suppression is a strategic imperative for it, because, as Trump and Republican U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul have all recently said, a lot of folks voting is not good. “If Republicans don’t challenge and change the U.S. election system, there will never be another Republican president elected again,” is the way Graham put it.
Add to this the belief that any election Trump does not win is, ipso facto, rigged, as he maintained would be the case if he lost in 2016 and as he has insisted is the case since he lost in 2020. This belief explains his ongoing attempts to overturn the election results by increasingly desperate means that look very much like sedition, not to mention the calls from his most extreme followers for a declaration of martial law and new elections administered by the military in swing states Trump lost, calls to which Trump has listened and which he has weighed. These are the actions of an autocrat intent on an autogolpe, not of a man committed to democratic values.
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Trumpism is anti-pluralist. A constant in the Trump’s demagogic repertoire is xenophobia, with Mexicans and Muslims supplanting Jews and gypsies as the traditional fascist Other, although the perfidious Chinese have now been added to the mix. And Trump is, of course, a Grand Master of dog whistling. As Paxton foresaw, “An authentically popular American fascism would be pious, anti-Black, and, since Sept. 11, 2001, anti-Islamic as well.”
Trumpism is ultranationalist. America First is actually a retread of an isolationist, pro-Nazi slogan from the 1930s. American exceptionalism has morphed into pugnacious America Alone chauvinism under Trump, with white nationalism as its darker manifestation.
But does Trumpism have a fascist paramilitary force, and are intimidation and violence employed as a political strategy? These are works in progress, but the work is progressing in plain sight. The proliferation and increasing activity of right wing militias signal the emergence of the former, and as for the latter, social media is rife with Trump die hards talking of civil war, Republican state legislators in North Carolina, Virginia and Michigan have endorsed violence to save the country from a socialist takeover, and the Arizona Republican Party asked who is prepared to die for Trump, just to list a few of the more notable portents of violence.
I could continue in this vein, but doing so would be redundant, and space limitations forbid it. The bottom line is that Trumpism looks like, swims like, and quacks like a fascist duck.
But so what? Does it matter? The what is that words do matter. Calling things what they are is the foundation of truth, and truth is necessary for democracy to function. The truth is fascists are passing as patriots, and they must be challenged. No one who poses a danger to the Republic, as every fascist does, should be allowed to wrap themselves in its flag with unremarked impunity.
Mac Stipanovich was chief of staff to former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez and a longtime Republican strategist who is currently registered No Party Affiliation.