When people hear the word fascist, they think of Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler after his dark thoughts became reality, after his ideas were turned into action, after his Final Solution was enacted. But what about Hitler when he was just a failed painter, prowling beer halls, desperate for attention? Do we think of that Hitler as a fascist? In order to answer the question is Donald Trump a fascist, we have to remember that Hitler, in the beginning, was just one man, with diabolical thoughts swirling around in his head, yes, but still, just one man.
In 1995, author Umberto Eco wrote “UR-FASCISM” for The New York Book Review. In the article, Eco shares his experience as a child, watching his beloved Italy turn into a fascist regime under Mussolini. Eco won an award at age 10 with a speech on dying for the glory of a fascist:
In 1942, at the age of ten, I received the First Provincial Award of Ludi Juveniles (a voluntary, compulsory competition for young Italian Fascists – that is, for every young Italian). I elaborated with rhetorical skill on the subject “Should we die for the glory of Mussolini and the immortal destiny of Italy?” My answer was positive. I was a smart boy. I spent two of my early years among the SS, Fascists, Republicans, and partisans shooting at one another, and I learned how to dodge bullets. It was good exercise.
Later on the piece, Eco lists features he believes are at the core of fascism. Reading through these features, you see Donald Trump. In fact, you see many of the Republicans running for president. Given that Trump is the front runner, and journalists are now positing that he could not only be the nominee, but win the White House, it is imperative that we look at his rhetoric and beliefs. Robert Reich wrote a Facebook essay in which he states Ted Cruz is “more dangerous” than Trump because Cruz is more idealistic. But it is Trump’s malleability that is cause for concern. The Donald Trump who, in 1999, sat down on Meet the Press and spoke about supporting same-sex marriage, gays in the military, and being pro-choice is gone. It’s barely 17 years later, and that Trump has been replaced by a man who fits many of Umberto Eco’s criteria for fascism.
The first feature Umberto Eco mentions is the “cult of tradition:”
This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice”; such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a silver of wisdom, and whenever they seem to say different or incompatible things it is only because all are alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth. As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message. One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements. The most influential theoretical source of the theories of the new Italian right, Julius Evola, merged the Holy Grail with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, alchemy with the Holy Roman and Germanic Empire. The very fact that the Italian right, in order to show its open-mindedness, recently broadened its syllabus to include works by De Maistre, Guenon, and Gramsci, is a blatant proof of syncretism.
Contradictions. Being “pro-life” and pro-war. Believing in science when it applies to pharmaceutical companies, but not when it applies to climate change, or evolution. No advancement of learning. Trump has not once addressed the student loan crisis in America. While he attended the best schools in the country, others are not afforded that “luxury.” In fact, most conservative politicians hold disdain for higher education, except their own.
Eco also writes that distrust for intellectuals is a key component of fascism:
Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement (“When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” “universities are a nest of reds.” The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.
The conservative party has embraced anti-intellectualism. In 2012, Rick Santorum called President Obama a “snob” for wanting everyone in America to have the opportunity to attend college. Santorum said:
There are good decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. Oh, I understand why he wants you to go college, he wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.
And Donald Trump appeals to voters who are anti-intellectual. He’s a bully, he insults anyone who disagrees with him, he used horribly misogynistic language to attack Megyn Kelly after a Republican debate, and his fans beg for more. The more boorish Trump becomes, the higher his poll numbers.
Moving down Umberto Eco’s points:
No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.
“If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” There is no grey area in fascism; you must march, lockstep, with the powers that be. Right now, Trump only swears and calls people names. But what will he do if he becomes president? And surrounds himself with far-right-wing advisers?
Nationalism is next on Eco’s list, and it sounds very familiar:
To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the U.S., a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.
In Trump’s world, Muslims are the enemy. All Muslims, not just Daesh, not just the Taliban, all Muslims. Muslims must be banned from the United States, mosques must be watched or closed, he is open to creating a registry or database for Muslims. Continuing with this theme, Eco writes:
Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus UrFascism is racist by definition.
The fear of of difference or the other. Fear is the basis of most of Trump’s rhetoric. We need to be afraid of Mexican “rapists,” we need to be afraid of Muslims, we need to be afraid of vaccines, we need to be afraid of everyone who isn’t “us.” And us is white, conservative, gun-toting, flag waving, anti-intellectual bullies. Xenophobia is embraced by most conservatives, and it is touted as a positive by Donald Trump.
I encourage everyone to read Umberto Eco’s article. His experiences in Italy during Mussolini’s reign are eyeopening, and his definitions of fascism, extraordinary. Especially when you realize the leading GOP presidential candidate embodies almost every, single one.
How far are we willing to let Donald Trump go? Are we prepared for a fascist president, a president who thrives on hate and divisiveness, whose followers embrace violence against “the other?” It’s painfully clear that Trump is, in fact, a burgeoning fascist. As of now, he has no power, just bluster. But what happens if he manages to win the White House?
Are we willing to let that happen?