Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Is Donald Trump an Embryonic Fascist?

It may be true that despite his national poll numbers, Donald Trump doesn't have a realistic chance at winning the GOP nomination. But even if that's the case, focusing on that purported fact buries the lede. Because we have to ask, if the 5-months-and-counting front-runner isn't going to win, who is? And the answer that is beginning to emerge - as Ben Carson watches the floor disappear beneath his feet, and more and more people realize that Marco Rubio is running for president because he needs the money - is Ted Cruz.

And that would be unthinkable without Trump pushing this primary as far to the right as it is possible, under current historical, economic, and socio-cultural conditions, for it to go. So anyone (and I'm looking at you, Nate Silver), who thinks that the real story here is that so many people are taking Trump seriously when he really doesn't have a prayer: No, the story is the extent to which he is changing this race; the story is that he is handing it to a candidate who is only nominally a member of the establishment, who would be far too radical to be taken seriously, let alone to be where the smart money is going, if not for the profound effect Trump is having on the shape of the race, and on American politics and political discourse in general right now. With Trump, we are honest-to-God talking about a leading candidate for the American presidency, regarding whom the question "Is he a fascist?" is an intricate and academic one - unless of course you write for Wonkblog, in which case you've never met a question that can't be answered with a five-point list or a single graph, because you are in fact so simple-minded it beggars belief. And the argument that Trump isn't a facist, but is rather a right-wing nativist populist - which is expounded in the above-linked text with admirable sophistication, though it is probably unreasonable to expect that level of sophistication in governing the ordinary use of the term 'fascist' - isn't even wholly convincing, resting as it does on (a) the fact that Trump does not - yet - command a private paramilitary force (or does he?); and (b) armchair psychological speculation regarding what the man does and does not believe as a matter of principle.

But in any case, in this, his most recent and most facism-adjacent policy proposal to date, the mildest response by far, not even approaching a condemnation, has come from Cruz - a man who is universally reviled in Washington, even by the other members of his own party. So if (when?), he secures the nomination, I sure as hell better not see any stories to the effect that "We told you so, the establishment wins again." Ted Cruz is not, by any but the thinnest and most useless of definitions, a member of any "establishment"; and a victory for him would confirm, within the margin of error, the claim that Trump has had an indelible impact on this race. Spend some time really thinking about what that says about the American electorate - or at least, the half being pandered to in this increasingly nightmarish clown show.

And then, of course, there is the in-fact-not-at-all-insignificant chance, against which this summer's nay-sayers have already begun to hedge, that Trump will win the nomination, because, as we apparently failed to learn from the greatest economic crisis in 75 years, predictions based on purportedly sophisticated statistical reasoning, which tacitly assumes that the future will be fundamentally similar to the recent past, can, after all, lead us horribly astray.

There is one good argument against calling Trump and his campaign fascist: that, despite wanton disregard for the Constitution with respect to policy proposals, they are not explicitly anti-democratic. It is worth remembering that from 1920 to 1932, the NSDAP (the Nazis) participated in several democratic parliamentary elections. And the 25 point party program speech which Hitler gave in 1920 did not advocate abolishing democracy or one-party rule - though it did implicitly advocate repealing the Weimar Constitution through its call for the Reichstag to have unlimited law-making authority, and called for all government offices to be restricted to native born "Aryan" Germans. So, by this argument, Hitler and the Nazis were not fascists until 1932/33. They were, in essence, right-wing nativist populists who took the further step of calling for an apartheid regime. Now, maybe that's right and maybe it's useful to define fascism in that way, so that by the definition they became fascists when they seized absolute power (after winning an election). But in that case, it is of no practical interest in itself that Trump and his campaign are not currently fascist.

If Trump, once elected, would become explicitly anti-democratic, then he and his campaign are on the road to fascism, they just haven't reached the destination yet, because they are not yet in position to seize power (not having yet won an election). If that is even remotely possible, there is no reason to police the use of the term 'fascist' in this context, as some seem to want to do. Whether it is remotely possible or not depends on what Trump privately believes; and so this argument may just collapse into the second one mentioned above.

For anyone who thinks that this isn't even remotely possible, either for reasons having to do with Trump or for reasons having to do with America, consider this.

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