The protests that canceled Donald Trump’s rally in Chicago last week were reminiscent of the street battles between leftists and brownshirt fascists during the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s — except that, obviously, they were much more tame.
But in a case of either historic dishonesty or ignorance, the anti-Trump protesters were cast as the brownshirts, according to right wing blogs and publications.
Their headlines read like something out of an alternate reality, in which Communism had won the Cold War and masses of dark-skinned, mindless “thugs” were out persecuting renegade capitalists who dared attempt to liberate the unhappy American masses.
Sounds like exactly the type of right-wing talk radio fodder that created Donald Trump in the first place.
“Liberal Fascism in Chicago Last Friday” announced The American Thinker. “Progressive Brownshirts” was scrawled across noted right winger David Horowitz’s FrontPage Mag, whose website tagline menacingly tells its readers “Every liberal is a totalitarian screaming to get out.” Power Line‘s headline for the Chicago protests was “Leftist Mob Forces Cancellation Of Trump Rally.”
The right calling a racially diverse group of protesters fighting against Trump’s rhetoric a bunch of “brownshirts” is little more than an exercise in name calling.
“On Friday, March 11, an event occurred in Chicago that reminded me of violent clashes between Nazis and Communists during the waning years of the Weimar Republic in Germany,” wrote Richard Winchester in The American Thinker. He was clearly in Berlin 80 years ago when Nazi brownshirts and Communist street brawlers clashed over the future of their country. Pat Buchanan, the last openly racist major presidential candidate — until, you know, now — simply wrote, “Brownshirt tactics worked.”
Trump supporters’ airing of grievances is only the latest in a concerted effort from the right to distance itself from fascism. TV audiences watched this bizarre reinterpretation of history take place earlier this month when persistent Trump apologist Jeffrey Lord claimed the KKK was a leftist terrorist organization due to its alliance with the Democratic Party, completely disregarding the Republicans’ “Southern Strategy” which turned the South red during the Civil Rights Era. Just like “progressive brownshirts,” Lord’s claims are deliberately rooted in misinterpretations of history.
Let’s start with the definition of fascism given by the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
During an interview with Slate in February, historian Robert Paxton, who was reluctant to describe Trump as a fascist, still agreed many of the ideas he espoused were rooted in the ideology.
The use of ethnic stereotypes and exploitation of fear of foreigners is directly out of a fascist’s recipe book. ‘Making the country great again’ sounds exactly like the fascist movements. Concern about national decline, that was one of the most prominent emotional states evoked in fascist discourse, and Trump is using that full-blast, quite illegitimately, because the country isn’t in serious decline, but he’s able to persuade them that it is. That is a fascist stroke. An aggressive foreign policy to arrest the supposed decline. That’s another one. Then, there’s a second level, which is a level of style and technique. He even looks like Mussolini in the way he sticks his lower jaw out, and also the bluster, the skill at sensing the mood of the crowd, the skillful use of media.
The term “brownshirts” exists because the Nazis bulk bought brown uniforms meant for Germany’s soldiers in its African colonies. It came to connote fascism in the postwar period because of its clear connection with fanatical right-wingers who engaged in street brawls, political intimidation, and government takeover.
Brownshirts, these protestors are not. If you’re looking for a political intimidation, advocacy of violence, and rhetoric that demands the government be overthrown, go to the parking lot of a Donald Trump event. Better yet, check out recent pro-Trump militia activities who say they are “willing to forcefully protect people if need be” at his rallies.
Trump’s rhetoric, and the eagerness with which it is received, is lined with fascist political ideology, even if its not explicitly labelled as such. Be it his emphasis on being “strong,” his military-first response to any geopolitical issue, his scapegoating of minorities, or his insistence on returning to an exalted past, Trump has made it very clear where he fits on the political spectrum, and the sort of America he would create were he to become president. Fascism may be a dirty word, even to a man who has ignored all pretenses of “political correctness,” but the central points underlying Trumpism are very much that.