Watching the rise of Donald Trump as a force in American politics has been an extremely disturbing experience. Trump — exalted as the "glorious leader" by internet neo-Nazis — continues to lead in the Republican polls, pushing a proudly xenophobic agenda hostile to ethnic and social minorities including Muslims — who he wants to ban from travelling to the United States — as well as disabled people, Latinos, journalists, women, and African-Americans.
Trump's rise refutes the American exceptionalist idea that the United States is immune to fascism and national socialism and concentration camps. It can happen here — indeed, for Japanese Americans, and Native Americans, and African-Americans brutal repression already happened before — and with every poll that Trump leads, it moves closer to happening here again. As Jeffrey A. Tucker wrote in Newsweek in July "Since World War II, the ideology he represents has usually lived in dark corners, and we don’t even have a name for it anymore. The right name, the correct name, the historically accurate name, is fascism. I don’t use that word as an insult only. It is accurate."
Trump's ideology is right out of the fascist playbook. Like Hitler, Trump spews bile about the state of the nation. Trump wants us to believe that the country is in a terrible, terrible mess: "This country is a hellhole. We are going down fast," Trump told a crowd in September. "We can’t do anything right. We’re a laughing-stock all over the world. The American dream is dead."
Like Hitler, Trump has built his campaign as a cult of personality around himself. Like Hitler, Trump promises a populist program to make the nation great once more. Like Hitler, Trump proposes mass deportations for members of the ethnic groups he agitates against. Like Hitler, he blames these minorities for the nation's problems. Like Hitler, he proposes registering these ethnic groups in databases. Like Hitler, he proposes banning these groups from entering the country. When asked how his agitations against Muslims differed from Hitler's agitations against Jews, Trump replied: "you tell me." Yes, Trump is not outright calling for the detention of Muslims in concentration camps, or their killing. But we should remember that Hitler never openly ordered genocide against Jews, either.
On the economy, Trump's policy proposals are also cloaked in the language of authoritarian ethnonationalism, breaking with Republican tradition of opposing welfarism (at least for white people). As Paul Krugman of The New York Times argues "Once upon a time [the area of politics that Trump is filling] was filled by southern Democrats, who preserved Jim Crow while supporting the New Deal. But they’ve all moved over to the GOP now, and in the process become anti-social-insurance. But there are plenty of voters who want Social Security and Medicare for people who look like them, but not those other people. And at some level Trump is catering to that unserved population."
Trump's rise should frighten us all. Even those to whom he superficially is trying to appeal. To paraphrase Martin Niemöller, those who do not speak up when fascists agitate against minorities risk having no-one come to their aid when the fascists get around to coming for them, as they almost invariably do. If we remain silent as Trump comes for the blacks, Muslims, Latinos, disabled people, women, journalists, and Asian-Americans, there may be nobody left to help you when Trump comes for you.
National socialism is a menace. Last century, it cost millions of lives and caused a worldwide war. When Trump calls for registering of American Muslims, for the deportation of millions, for a ban on Muslim immigration, I can only think of the experience of German Jews in the 1930s. It can happen here. It really can.
Not to mention that Trump's rhetoric is playing right into the hands of another group of fascistic ethnonationalists — the Islamic State. The Islamic State wishes to "eliminate the grey zone" of coexistence between the West and Islam. Their publicly stated goal is to turn Muslims toward the cause of violent jihad toward the West by making their lives in the West and in coexistence with the West impossible. This is in order to usher in a final apocalyptic war between the West and Islam. That is precisely what Trump's sprawling Islamophobia is pushing toward, too. Kicking Muslims out of the West, preventing their travel, assuming them to be objects of suspicion, and treating every Muslim as a potential terrorist makes peaceful and respectful coexistence increasingly difficult, and alienation increasingly likely. That is precisely what groups like Islamic State want to see occur.
Fortunately, Trump is likely to find himself outmanoeuvred. Running as a curmudgeonly critic of political correctness is one thing, but running as an actual national socialist is beyond the pale. Trump will come under increasingly intense onslaught not just from Democrats but also Republicans. And luckily, as The Week's Ryan Cooper argues, the economy is nothing like as bad as it was when Hitler came to power in Germany, or Mussolini in Italy. Fascists' rises to power tend to result from severe economic upheaval, and the American economy is still too hot for the electorate to believe Trump's frankly ludicrous claims that America "is a hellhole" or that it is "going down fast".
But we have to take Trump and the movement he is leading seriously. Otherwise we risk letting another dreadful fascist regime come to power.
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