Although he is still a clown, nobody laughs at Donald Trump anymore — which may be the real purpose of his candidacy, at least as far as he is concerned. The casino mogul is pleased to instill fear among Republican elites, as he dominates their presidential nominating contest — and forces them to face a hard question about the man who is exciting such belligerent enthusiasm among Republican voters:
Is Trump a real live fire-breathing fascist?
From Newsweek to Salon to the Daily Caller, commentators of various colorations have found ample reason to apply that often-discredited label to him. While these observers hesitate to lump Trump in with totalitarian dictatorships and historic crimes against humanity, they are clearly worried by his strongman appeal, his populist rhetoric, and his rejection of GOP free-market orthodoxy. Matt Lewis complains that Trump is reviving Nietzschean notions that inspired fascist ideology; Jeffrey Tucker warns that Trump is hostile to individual freedom and sees himself as the embodiment of the state, like fascist leaders before him.
Such worried conservatives aren’t wrong, but they seem unwilling or unable to grasp the clearest evidence that Trump is channeling toxic currents from the past—namely, his appeals to racial bigotry, his xenophobic and truculent attitude toward other nations, and his extremist “solution” to the problem of illegal immigration. Others have observed that the Republicans have only themselves to blame for encouraging the crude prejudices that Trump now calls forth in his “un-P.C.” way, as Maureen Dowd so cutely phrased it.
Yet whether Trump may be accurately defined as a “fascist” or not, his political ascent increasingly resembles a Saturday Night Live version of the rise of Hitler or Mussolini. Both dictators were mocked as buffoons in their day, but when they suddenly came to power the joke was no longer quite so funny.
Meanwhile, obvious clues to the noxious nature of Trumpism keep cropping up across the political landscape like poison mushrooms. In Boston’s “Southie” neighborhood, once headquarters of the openly racist anti-busing movement known as ROAR (Restore Our Alienated Rights), two white males severely beat an older Hispanic man, breaking his nose and urinating on him. When arrested, one of the thugs told police, “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.”
Rather than deplore this atrocity by criminal bigots, Trump’s initial impulse was to praise the zeal of his supporters. “It would be a shame,” he said when first told of the beating, then added: “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.” (Actually, the men who carried out the Boston beating were two career felons — with the kind of criminal record that Trump wrongly suggests is typical of immigrants.)
At a big rally in Mobile, Alabama, Trump called to the stage Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions (R-AL), the only prominent politician he has singled out for praise. Sessions is a dubious figure whose federal judicial nomination was once rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee over his record of racially inflammatory behavior and remarks — which included calling a white civil rights lawyer “a disgrace to his race” and opposing the Voting Rights Act. Today, of course, Sessions is a valued advisor to Trump and donned a “Make America Great Again” cap as the billionaire embraced him. More importantly, he is the chief Senate opponent of legal immigration to the United States.
Opposition to legal as well as illegal immigration is a foundation of the white nationalist movement in the United States (and was also a cornerstone of the program of the National Socialist German Workers Party). So perhaps nobody should have been too surprised when a loud voice in the Mobile audience greeted Sessions’ arrival by screaming “White Power!”
Again, the reaction of the Trump campaign was more telling than the incident itself. Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, a former employee of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity front group, responded that he wasn’t aware of the “white power” shouter. “I don’t know about the individual you’re talking about in Alabama,” he insisted. “I know there were 30-plus thousand people in that stadium. They were very receptive to the message of ‘making America great again’ because they want to be proud to be Americans again.”
Asked about the Boston beating, Lewandowski acknowledged that violence is “unacceptable,” continuing: “However, we should not be ashamed to be Americans. We should be proud of our country, proud of our heritage, and continue to be the greatest country in the world.”
Like his boss, Lewandowski isn’t subtle – and the dogwhistle in his answers about “heritage” and being “proud” could be heard loud and clear. Certainly the country’s white supremacist underworld is hearing that message and rallying behind Trump, despite concerns about his long-standing connections with Jewish New Yorkers.
The troubling tone in Trump’s language can be detected when he talks about foreign affairs and national security too. As David Cay Johnston recently reported, the draft-dodging billionaire constantly emphasizes his unilateral and nationalist approach to other countries, from Mexico to China to the Middle East. He boasts that he is the “most militaristic” candidate, and has blatantly advocated attacking other countries to “take” their oil. Imperial warmongering against foreign nations is a classic hallmark of fascism – indeed, it was military aggression by Nazi Germany that led to World War II.
Finally there is Trump’s “solution” to illegal immigration, echoed by cowardly Republican candidates who quake in his shadow. He promises to deport all of the estimated 11-12 million immigrants who crossed the southern border without papers, a plan that would be ruinously expensive, impossible to complete, and grossly inhumane in its attempted execution. The only analogous projects on that scale were atrocities carried out by the Turks against the Armenians and, later, by the Nazis and their fascist allies against the European Jews.
Imagine a country that seeks to round up millions of brown-skinned people by force, transforming itself into a police state, while mobs of vigilantes in militias scourge the frightened families out of hiding. It is not hard to predict scenes of bloodshed and horror.
No, Donald, that isn’t the way to “make America great again.” For most of us – the majority of citizens who have no use for Trump and Trumpism — that isn’t America at all.
Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally held in Ladd-Peebles stadium in Mobile, Alabama, August 21, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Brantley