To be clear, I am not a professional writer, nor am I a professional political theorist, nor am I a professional historian... I am simply a human being who sees serious warning signs in the current political arena and feel that we need to continue to fight before it is too late.
What is fascism? Is it the ideology of Benito Mussolini in 1922 Italy? Is it German National Socialism pushed forward by Adolf Hilter which lead to some of the most horrendous crimes against humanity in the 20th century? Is it the strange philosophy of Savitri Devi in search of a living pagan Aryan culture combined with Hinduism? Is it the current trend of alt-right trolls, dogmatists, and terrorists that have infected our current culture?
The answer is yes. All of these are fascists, and there are many more variations.
The definition of fascism has been debated by many historians, political scientists, philosophers, and other scholars since the term first came to be in 1915 in the essay The Doctrine of Fascism by Benito Mussolini.
“Granted that the 19th century was the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy, this does not mean that the 20th century must also be the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy. Political doctrines pass; nations remain. We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the 'right', a Fascist century. If the 19th century were the century of the individual (liberalism implies individualism) we are free to believe that this is the 'collective' century, and therefore the century of the State.
The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State—a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values—interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people.
...everything in the state, nothing against the State, nothing outside the state.
Fascism is a religious conception in which man is seen in his immanent relationship with a superior law and with an objective Will that transcends the particular individual and raises him to conscious membership of a spiritual society. Whoever has seen in the religious politics of the Fascist regime nothing but mere opportunism has not understood that Fascism besides being a system of government is also, and above all, a system of thought.”
-Benito Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism
Now, for some odd reason, there has been a movement attempting to push the narrative that fascism is actually a left wing ideology. It's just not true, historically or logically. I personally have zero qualms criticizing the Left and gladly point out any hypocrisy when it happens. We don’t need to create false narratives. It is completely dishonest, and just to point out, the people who publicly identify as fascists, call themselves right wing. I digress…
Italian novelist, cultural critic, philosopher, and semiotician Umberto Eco coined the term Ur-fascism in his 1995 essay “Eternal Fascism” giving a list of 14 properties that can be used to identify fascism when it arises.
I highly recommend reading/listening to Eco’s essay and watching this in depth video by Angie Speaks for a better understanding of Ur-fascism.
My purpose of this blog post is to look at these 14 properties and see if and where they can be applied to Donald Trump and his administration. Remember, this is my unprofessional conjecture. I simply consider myself a well researched amateur, but there is a lot of area to improve.
"The Cult of Tradition", characterized by cultural syncretism, even at the risk of internal contradiction. When all truth has already been revealed by Tradition, no new learning can occur, only further interpretation and refinement.
I don’t see any connection with Donald Trump and tradition, though the Mike Pence/evangelical portion of his administration is frighteningly full of syncretism with wild combinations and incoherent combinations of thought, such as being pro-Christ, but anti-welfare.
"The Rejection of modernism", which views the rationalistic development of Western culture since the Enlightenment as a descent into depravity. Eco distinguishes this from a rejection of superficial technological advancement, as many fascist regimes cite their industrial potency as proof of the vitality of their system.
Donald Trump does not seem to be against modernism and would seemingly support any technology that would help support his reign of power.
"The Cult of Action for Action's Sake", which dictates that action is of value in itself, and should be taken without intellectual reflection. This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science.
Yep. This is Donald Trump. With his travel ban on countries that have never sent us a terrorist, push for a border wall on Mexico when immigration is down, and drastic assault on climate science and journalism.
"Disagreement Is Treason" – Fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action, as well as out of fear that such analysis will expose the contradictions embodied in a syncretistic faith.
Yep. Donald Trump will not allow anyone to question his decisions and dissenters are highly propagandized against. I’ve been the Trump/Pence mailing list for research purposes since 2016, and the amount of propaganda sent out on a daily basis about people who have disagreed with the administration is spine-chilling.
"Fear of Difference", which fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants.
Yep. The constant focus on the border wall when immigration is down and the constant focus that those who come to this country undocumented are violent, lazy, stealing votes, and not paying taxes is definitely a tenet in this administration.
"Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class", fearing economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups.
Yep. My home state of Ohio loves Trump right now, even when he says and does things that would have caused a ruckus under any other president, especially a liberal. I’ll give credit where credit is due. Trump actually went to the rust belt and listened to the economic concerns of the middle class there. He was lying, and it should have been obvious, but alas, he did ACTUALLY GO THERE AND LISTEN.
"Obsession with a Plot" and the hyping-up of an enemy threat. This often combines an appeal to xenophobia with a fear of disloyalty and sabotage from marginalized groups living within the society. Eco also cites Pat Robertson's book The New World Order as a prominent example of a plot obsession.
Yep. Look at the constant propaganda being put out by the president directly via his Twitter account about the Democrats, the Mueller investigation, and even conservatives that didn’t/won’t tow-the-line.
Fascist societies rhetorically cast their enemies as "at the same time too strong and too weak." On the one hand, fascists play up the power of certain disfavored elites to encourage in their followers a sense of grievance and humiliation. On the other hand, fascist leaders point to the decadence of those elites as proof of their ultimate feebleness in the face of an overwhelming popular will.
Yep. Donald Trump constantly calls the Democrats (and liberals in general) radical leftists who can’t control themselves emotionally whilst also masterminding plots against him and his administration. This is all a tactic. He’s not paranoid. He’s playing paranoid to trick people.
"Pacifism is Trafficking with the Enemy" because "Life is Permanent Warfare" – there must always be an enemy to fight. Both fascist Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini worked first to organize and clean up their respective countries and then build the war machines that they later intended to and did use, despite Germany being under restrictions of the Versailles treaty to NOT build a military force. This principle leads to a fundamental contradiction within fascism: the incompatibility of ultimate triumph with perpetual war.
This is a no. I don’t see Trump as any different than any of the last presidents. They’ve all be warmongers and I’m ashamed of all of them for this very reason.
"Contempt for the Weak", which is uncomfortably married to a chauvinistic popular elitism, in which every member of society is superior to outsiders by virtue of belonging to the in-group. Eco sees in these attitudes the root of a deep tension in the fundamentally hierarchical structure of fascist polities, as they encourage leaders to despise their underlings, up to the ultimate Leader who holds the whole country in contempt for having allowed him to overtake it by force.
Yep. This is Donald Trump’s entire position. He’s here to ‘drain the swamp’. Of course, he’s not doing anything of the sort, and is, in fact, filling the swamp with more swamp. Look at his cabinet and every appointee he has brought into high government positions.
"Everybody is Educated to Become a Hero", which leads to the embrace of a cult of death. As Eco observes, "the Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death."
I don’t see Trump as anything exceptional in this area. This is a no.
"Machismo", which sublimates the difficult work of permanent war and heroism into the sexual sphere. Fascists thus hold "both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality."
Yep. Donald Trump has a long, toxic history with women, whether it be speaking down to a female news anchor all the way to admitting on camera to sexually assaulting women.
"Selective Populism" – The People, conceived monolithically, have a Common Will, distinct from and superior to the viewpoint of any individual. As no mass of people can ever be truly unanimous, the Leader holds himself out as the interpreter of the popular will (though truly he dictates it). Fascists use this concept to delegitimize democratic institutions they accuse of "no longer representing the Voice of the People."
Yep. Donald Trump claims to speak for the working class whilst actually making huge tax cuts for the rich, raising our outward economy while simultaneously hurting the working class. This is Donald Trump’s rhetoric. And just so you know… he’s lying.
"Newspeak" – Fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning.
I don’t see this one. No on Newspeak.
In conclusion, is Donald Trump a fascist in the same way that Benito Mussolini, Jorge González von Marées, Ioannis Metaxas, or Francisco Franco were? No. I don’t think so.
However, do he and his administration fit into any of the 14 properties of Ur-fascism (Eternal Fascism). I would say coming in at 67.86%, that’s a frightening yes. Remember, Eco didn’t create this as a checklist, he said "it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it".
This is a warning of the dangers of the Trump administration.
PS I predict that he is going to win in 2020, and I also predict that he is going to figure out how to stay in office longer than that. I hope I’m wrong on both.