Former Labor Secretary, best-selling author, and renowned economist Robert Reich gave credence to an oft-repeated but frequently dismissed criticism of Republican Presidential front-runner Donald Trump on his website Tuesday, when he called the Manhattan businessman “The American Fascist”. Reich admits he was — like many of us — reluctant to use the word to describe Trump since it’s been used so “carelessly”, but confesses that the Trump campaign has decisively arrived at the point where the comparisons to well-known fascist regimes are undeniable:
Trump has finally reached a point where parallels between his presidential campaign and the fascists of the first half of the 20th century – lurid figures such as Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Oswald Mosley, and Francisco Franco – are too evident to overlook.
We Are The Boy Who Cried Wolf
The term “fascist” should be a loaded, heady term in American politics but unfortunately, both sides of the aisle have diminished it’s potency by using it so liberally that any semblance of a disagreement leads to the inevitable charge of the opponent being “Hitler”, or a “dictator”. Many on the left, myself included unfortunately, compared George W Bush to Adolf Hitler as he ramped up a military invasion fueled primarily by propaganda. On the right side of our spectrum, right-wing websites have practically made comparing President Obama to Hitler a cottage industry for such offenses as having campaign rallies in outdoor arenas or purely mythological nonsense like hiding the details of his birth. Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee even went so far as to say Obama’s Iran nuclear deal will “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”
The overuse of fascist comparisons is so prevalent on the internet that we now have “Godwin’s Law” in the Oxford Dictionary:
The theory that as an online discussion progresses, it becomes inevitable that someone or something will eventually be compared to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis, regardless of the original topic.
We have done a disservice to discourse and history with these comparisons because we now have a legitimate fascist on track for a major party nomination, we are, collectively, the boy who cried wolf.
Trump Parallels Run Deeper Than Imagery
Reich points out the obvious, surface resemblances between Trump and the aforementioned fascist dictators of the twentieth century, but as his brilliant knack for making the complex straightforward shows, the argument goes deeper than retweeting Mussolini quotes or scary, right-arm raising rallies:
As did the early twentieth-century fascists, Trump is focusing his campaign on the angers of white working people who have been losing economic ground for years, and who are easy prey for demagogues seeking to build their own power by scapegoating others.
Trump’s electoral gains have been largest in counties with lower than average incomes, and among those who report their personal finances have worsened.
The specific targeting of angry, downtrodden voters who feel like the system has screwed them over and their idea of “nation” has evaporated to progress is not only the hallmark of the Trump campaign, but it’s the same playbook that gave rise to some of the more brutal regimes a few generations ago. Part and parcel with this game-plan is the demonization of the other according to Reich:
Add fears and uncertainties about terrorists who may be living among us, or may want to sneak through our borders, and this vulnerability and powerlessness is magnified.
Trump’s incendiary verbal attacks on Mexican immigrants and Muslims – even his reluctance to distance himself from David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan – follow the older fascist script.
The Devil Is NOT In The Details
Of the many criticisms of the Trump campaign, the one most widely-held is perhaps the argument that The Donald may propose wonderous things, but has done little — if at all — to explain how he would bring those proposals to fruition. Secretary Reich explains how that’s ripped out of The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Being a Fascist Dictator as well:
That older generation of fascists didn’t bother with policy prescriptions or logical argument, either. They presented themselves as strongmen whose personal power would remedy all ills.
They created around themselves cults of personality in which they took on the trappings of strength, confidence, and invulnerability – all of which served as substitutes for rational argument or thought.
Trump’s entire campaign similarly revolves around his assumed strength and confidence. He tells his followers not to worry; he’ll take care of them. “If you get laid off … I still want your vote,” he told workers in Michigan last week. “I’ll get you a new job; don’t worry about it.”
It’s become routine to mock Trump’s responses to these queries that usually sound like “So good your head will spin” or “I’ll have brilliant people working on it”, but it’s only routine because it’s become his de facto answer.
The GOP Is Nothing More Than A Tool
Reich makes a compelling argument that Donald Trump is an Apt Pupil of fascist history, and his final synopsis may be the most compelling. Like the leaders of the past he’s referenced, Trump is appealing to his followers independently, without the official support or backing of the Republican Party. He has by far the fewest elected or significant endorsements of any major party candidate at this point in the primary season. It’s especially significant considering how his delegate lead has been steadily approaching insurmountability. The establishment of the party has been driving themselves mad attempting to devise a plan to stop him, but their hopes have been reduced to praying he receives 49.999% of the delegates heading into their convention. He hasn’t taken their money and he’s dictated the terms of the debate:
Finally, the fascists created their mass followings directly, without political parties or other intermediaries standing between them and their legions of supporters.
Trump’s tweets and rallies similarly circumvent all filters. The Republican Party is irrelevant to his campaign, and he considers the media an enemy. (Reporters covering his rallies are kept behind a steel barrier.)
Robert Reich’s mind is a national treasure. He’s served his country nobly and his writings on economic theory are taught at the most prestigious universities across the globe. Of all the things of import he’s ever written, however, fewer may be as poignant and ominous as this:
Donald Trump presents such a profound danger to the future of America and the world.
The Italian philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it“. We may not remember the rise of Hitler and Mussolini, but our lives to this day have been impacted by it, and its failures, in one way, shape or form.
The fascist parallels to Trump must end no later than Election Day.