No, not that f-word. I’m talking about “fascist.” It’s a word that some unimpeachably conservative Republicans have lately used in connection with Donald Trump. Here is neo-conservative theorist Max Boot:
Trump is a fascist. And that’s not a term I use loosely or often. But he’s earned it.
Similar if somewhat more qualified applications of the f-word to Trump have been voiced by John Noonan, Jeb Bush’s national security adviser; former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore; and Iowa conservative talk-show host Steve Dease. Trump’s recent openness to the idea of creating a national Muslim registry seems to have precipitated these reactions.
Is Trump a fascist? There is a long history of radical leftists over-freely castigating their opponents as fascists, so I’m loath to use the term lightly. Of course Trump isn’t a fascist in a literal sense, but who is? In today’s world, there is little left of the ideology that Benito Mussolini and his followers developed in the 1920s and 30s and that attracted a variety of admirers and imitators on the European right, including, most consequentially, in Germany. But there is much about Trump’s persona and appeal that suggests more than a whiff of classic fascist impulses.
Fascism always celebrated the cult of the Leader. I don’t recall any other US presidential aspirant who has so openly promoted a cult of personality; Trump’s campaign amounts to a call for a collective embrace of its leader’s narcissism. Trump, the strong man, the very, very smart man, will fix everything. You don’t need to know his specific plans; you just need to know that he is Trump. Trump’s bullying style, his shameless delight in belittling his adversaries and his obsession with strength and toughness and domination all suggest a typically fascistic absorption with Power. Fascism has usually depended for its appeal on popular resentment of outsiders, whether the leaders and citizens of foreign countries or minority groups within. More than anything else, Trump’s appeal is based on rage against “others”—Muslims have now joined Mexican immigrants as his prime targets.
In short, Trump’s candidacy has a unique ugliness about it that should disturb anyone familiar with 20th Century history. To call him a fascist would be hyperbole, but “fascistic” might just fit.