Dave Moscrop: For now, we can say that Donald Trump is enough of a fascist to raise serious concerns warranting a significant and coordinated response from inside and outside of U.S.
Since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, the United States and the world have had to confront questions that have nipped at America for decades, though rarely so aggressively. Could the country go authoritarian? Could it go fascist? The COVID-19 pandemic has seized our attention, but rather than distracting from these questions, it has thrown them further into the spotlight.
In early 2017, I argued that Trump had invited authoritarianism to America. That argument holds up. Indeed, it’s more clear now compared to three years ago that the 45th president of the United States is an authoritarian. But what of American fascism?
Yale philosopher Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, which is out later this month in paperback, says fascism is “a method of politics. It’s a rhetoric, a way of running for power. Of course, that’s connected to fascist ideology,” he writes. “Because fascist ideology centres on power. But I really see fascism as a technique to gain power.”
Stanley centres fascism on power rather than belief and more specifically, techniques for winning power and keeping it. Those techniques are varied, but they include, as Stanley suggests, creating a narrative of victimhood and loss, undermining truth, peddling in extreme nationalism, and reaching back to a “glorious past.” Stanley argues Trump “practices fascist politics,” though this doesn’t imply the American government or state is fascist.
In a 2016 piece for the Washington Post, Georgetown University professor John McNeill wrote that there is “a pretty solid agreement” on what fascism is and that Trump can be measured on the “fascist metre”—from “zero to four ‘Benitos’.”
“In the fascist derby, Trump is a loser,” McNeill eventually concludes, because he falls “far short of the genuinely murderous violence endorsed and unleashed by authentic fascists. He is semi-fascist: more fascist than any successful American politician yet…but…an amateurish imitation of the real thing.”
That was years ago. Has the pandemic changed anything?
In April, protesters took to the streets and state legislatures to protest state lockdowns. In Michigan, these actions were carried out under the banner of “operation gridlock.” Many of the groups identified as pro-Trump. On Apr. 30, armed protestors tried to get onto the floor of the Michigan state legislature, while others took to the gallery above. Does anyone doubt that at this point Trump commands—intentionally or otherwise—gangs of protestors and militias? In another era, we might have called them Brown Shirts.
The Trump administration bungled its pandemic response and has been trying to focus attention on the Chinese regime—far from blameless itself, with its incompetence, oppression and duplicity—ever since. Trump’s government is now pushing a conspiracy theory that the virus came from a Chinese lab, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leading the charge. (It’s not clear whether Pompeo meant that the virus was engineered.) This is a theory circulated by right-wing commentators, the sort who underwrite Trump’s authoritarian, nationalist narratives. Trump’s impulse to create and identify an enemy—more than a rival—and to try to rally the country against it, is theatrical, dangerous and typical of a fascist.
While the Trump administration has fought with China before, accusing it of plunging the world into a pandemic that has infected millions and killed nearly 250,000 people so far, including almost 70,000 in the United States alone, is extraordinary.