We hear a lot of people tossing around the word “fascist” today, particularly in regard to the new Trump administration. For most people—like this girl—this is probably an unthinking pejorative. Others may be better educated, but less serious. Still others maybe be both knowledgeable and deadly serious. Whatever is behind it, “fascism” sounds like a very serious charge, so I’d like to consider it seriously. Is Trump really a fascist?
Before we can answer such a question, we need to define our terms. If we don’t we could suffer the “If by whisky” fallacy. You know that one right? It’s a fallacy of equivocation, once made famous in a speech by a Mississippi politician during a time when the state still prohibited alcohol:
You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:
If, when you say “whiskey,” you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.
But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.
This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.
You see, depending on what you actually mean by a term, you could end up a staunch supporter or a fierce opponent. So let’s define terms, shall we? What exactly is fascism, after all?
The word “fascism” itself simply, literally, means a bundle of sticks or rods. It has from ancient times been a symbol of strength through unity, just as a bundle of sticks together is far stronger than any single stick alone. The symbol of a bundle of sticks is actually depicted upon the walls of our own Congress, symbolizing that we are stronger united than separated.
That’s fine as a general idea, but when used to denominate a specific political philosophy or form of government, it takes on much more detail, and that’s where things need sorting out.
Turns out, there is no single agreed-upon definition that makes everyone happy. This problem of course can fall across degrees. For some, “fascism” simply conjures up images of Hitler, Jews in concentration camps, WWII, and the like. But none of this is essential to what fascism really is. For others, there may be a demand for certain technical criteria, like state ownership of certain means of production. Again, I think this is not necessary either, although strong state regulation is. So what are the generally agreed-upon points?
Wikipedia has a good rundown of things here. I would generally agree with its summary of key elements, which I term these:
- State Corporatism
- Show of strength
Without writing a treatise here, let’s consider these. Nationalism is what most people mistake for patriotism. If not over the line already, it is usually on the verge of making your nation-state into a golden calf. You cannot criticize the nation itself, its historical heroes, its military, police, or laws (with the exceptions which will appear in point three below) without drawing a series glowers, name calling, shouts, arguments, and possibly even threats from a nationalist.
This species of nationalism usually rallies around a great leader and great slogans. If you can imagine such a fantastic, super, great American leader who promises we will make it all great again, you get the picture. It is focused primarily, if not solely, upon the greatness of itself: it builds walls to keep others out, it deports others, it taxes imports to protect jobs at home. This crosses over into the second point.
Second, fascism is marked by a strongly state-regulated economy with national corporatism. It may not run into full socialism, or it may, but it will have a strong national grip on all areas of corporate life and regulations will run deep roots into all of it.
Such an economy will also be highly protectionist: aiming to promote American jobs, American products, American, etc., etc. It will shy away from a trade war in order to promote this ideal, or at least the appearance of such an ideal.
Also, fascism tends to be highly reactionary, even if to a limited number of things. As such, it will appear to be marked more by things it’s against than what it’s for. It will be anti-liberalism, anti-globalism, anti-multi-culturalism. In fact, its purported nationalism and stated goals to make everything great again may be shaped almost exclusively by what it’s against: get rid of illegals, stop China, get rid of this, or that. Granted, there are always bad things to get rid of, so we shouldn’t get too carried away here.
Finally, fascism is usually marked by great chest-swelling. Line up and march, fly over the jets, display the missiles and guns, show military strength, rattle the sabers, send a strong message. There will be an emphasis on strong, masculine, charismatic leadership, as well as an emphasis on vigorous athletics, masculine strength, even celebrations of combat and violence. Our move in this direction as a culture deserves an article of is own.
In this vein, fascism tends very strongly toward authoritarianism: it wants “strong leadership.” It overrules, leads by command, forces change by law, negotiates only from a position of power, and says things like, “If you don’t love it, leave it.” This is why most truly fascist nations in history have been led by dictators.
I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to say that by these general criteria, Trump is at least very close to a fascist, if not one. He’s not a dead-ringer on every single minute description, but certainly on enough of them. But here’s the catch: he’s hardly alone.
Virtually every American president and much of our government since the Constitution actually fit these descriptors. We have always been a nation at war, and always gloried in it. Our national anthem is literally about warfare. We have always had national corporatism since at least George Washington’s first state of the union address. This certainly includes every president since the great American Fascist, Theodore Roosevelt, who set the mold for it. But there were many lesser fascist lights before him, too.
In short, yes, Trump is a fascist, but by the technical definitions of fascism, America has always been to some degree fascist.
Now, I know saying that will provoke strong reactions from all those who, like me, love America and our history, etc. They will think I am bashing it. But this is really only because of the particular emotive connotations attached to the word “fascist.” If we divest ourselves of the popular nonsense about it, and learn what it actually means, we will be forced to confront ourselves with an inconvenient truth.
Then maybe we could actually do something about it. Maybe we could start judging our laws and national behaviors according to biblical principles. We really could spread freedom, free up the markets, get the government out of healthcare, education, and everything else it’s not supposed to be in. We really could address race relations and “fix” our inner cities. We really could get rid of prisons, reform criminal justice, and implement true biblical justice, and let it roll.
There is so much we could really do if we would be honest with ourselves. We would remove the blindfolds of nationalism and unfold a vision of liberty of which most Americans do not know and cannot even conceive. Making America great is a great thing, but we must be careful about where we get our ideas of what greatness is.