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Trumpism Is Not Quite Fascism
November 20, 2020
by William P. Meyers

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Hitler Would Not Have Left Office So Easily

Today, with the completion of the recount of the vote in the state of Georgia, it looks like Donald Trump is highly unlikely to be able to remain President of the United States. Even his illegal paths to retaining power appear to be cut off. In a way that proves my long-standing thesis that while Trump and his followers had some fascist characteristics, he was not a Fascist in the sense of the big-three 20th Century fascists, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, and Francisco (General) Franco. That makes this a good time to do a traditional compare-and-contrast essay.

Most people in the United States have a minimal knowledge of history. For most Hitler was a bad guy whose butt the U.S. kicked in World War II. Mussolini is a joke. And General Franco is all but forgotten. In popular talk fascist means someone in government telling you to do something you don't want to do. Thus conservatives say being forced to wear a mask during a pandemic is fascist. Liberals tend to identify racism and in particular anti-Semitism and the Holocaust as fascist.

Ask almost any American about the religion of the fascists and they will say they were atheist. A few might say the Nazis worshipped Nordic gods. In fact the fascist leaders already named, and almost all of their followers, were Roman Catholic. While a majority of rank-and-file German Nazis were Lutheran, Hitler merged the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches, so they would have all been Catholic if he had won the war.

I do agree that while Benito and Adolf both believed in God, they were somewhat modern, and did not take many details of Catholic practice or theology seriously. Catholicism helped them control the masses, a roll it had played in monarchies going all the way back to its establishment as the favored church of government during the later Roman Empire. I think Trump believes in God, but he is in the Power of Positive Thinking school of religion.

Trump got about 50% of the Roman Catholic vote in the 2020 U.S. election, about the same as for other religious groups. That is a surprise considering that Joe Biden will be only the second Roman Catholic affiliated President of the United States. There is certainly a religious component to Trumpism which goes beyond evangelical Protestants and into other Protestants with conservative views. Trump, like many Republicans before him, simply found claiming to be anti-abortion to be sufficient to pick up most of that crowd. He does not talk much about Jesus at his rallies, he is too busy talking about himself. Which was also true of Adolf, Benito, and Francisco.

It is important to understand that the Fascism of Europe in the 20th Century was popular not because it was anti-Semitic (Mussolini never attacked Jews until Hitler demanded it) or merely nationalistic. Fascism developed because of class antagonisms in modern industrial society. Leftists, and often their liberal allies, want to define fascism as a capitalist plot to install authoritarian regimes so democracy could not prevail. But if you go back to the roots of German, Italian, and Spanish fascism, no capitalists are to be found. Hitler's party really did think it was socialist, just German National Socialist rather than marching in line behind international socialists ruled by Moscow. Fascism was about uniting a nation, rather than having it torn apart by class struggle. In the end capitalists prevailed to some extent, but only after the fascist leaders had gotten a cut of the capital. The Nazis in particular created a bunch of social programs almost indistinguishable from the American New Deal. Hitler was at his peak of popularity between 1934 and 1938 because he mobilized the nation during the Great Depression, providing jobs and many benefits for working class and middle class citizens.

Trumpism plays on the same fears and dreams. Those fears and dreams will not go away just because Trump is not President, or even if he dies. Many working class people in the United States have seen their cities and towns hallowed out by changes in the industrial system, including the move to an information and service based economy. Men have lost their traditional dominance over women, and plenty of white people still miss their traditional dominance over people of color. As late as the 1990s most working class citizens in America saw what the Democratic Party had done for them, but now they take those old programs like unemployment insurance and Social Security for granted. The rhetoric has changed, to Democratic talk about women, LGB ..., and people of color. A person casually listing would think the Democratic Party does not want straight white people in it, particularly males.

There is a difference between conservatism and fascism. It is not just Trump who has been driving the shift from traditional Republican values to a desire for power and money at any cost to our Republican form of government or people's well being. It is economic forces and social forces. It is a defensive form of nationalism being substituted for national pride in being a leader for good in the world.

But ultimately fascism, traditional and in the form of Trumpism, is about power. Mussolini, Hitler and Franco were all able to establish dictatorships, each of them ending only at death. They were new model Monarchs, blessed by God and Pope alike. That Trump has not been able to achieve that shows the resilience of American society and culture. We may have our ghost towns, but we see renewal in many of the old industrial cities. We may have our aggrieved white straight males, but in many ways most men in the U.S. have accepted the equality of women and minorities. We may have Republicans (and Democrats) who love power too much, but we also still have a nation of citizens who would sometimes rather give someone new a try at handling government. We may have greedy capitalists, but we also have many capitalists who are pretty reasonable about what is fair and good for everyone in our society. We have a good size Left if that is defined by those supported Bernie or Elizabeth Warren for President, and only a few hundred who think that breaking windows or a Leninist Vanguard party is the best route to social change.

We already have a great country. It has its flaws; every country will. The best way forward is to work on the flaws. Donald Trump was one of its flaws. However much damage he did to America, his antics at least allowed those with eyes to see what needs to be prioritized on our national To Do list.

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