Donald Trump and American Fascism?

The Donald: Easy to make fun of ... too easy
The Donald: Easy to make fun of … too easy (AP/Seth Wenig)

W.J. Astore

A reader wrote to me this morning about Donald Trump and American fascism.  Is Trump, with his anti-immigrant posturing and his generally bombastic demeanor, tapping into a “fascist spring” in America?

The question seems unduly alarming as well as absurd.  But let’s pause for a moment.  I recently saw on TV the results of a poll in which Americans were asked, “Which presidential candidate would best revive the American economy?”  The clear winner: Donald Trump. Yes, maybe it’s just name recognition or an association of Trump’s name with money-making, but the result was nevertheless disturbing.

Here’s the thing: It’s easy to view Trump as a joke.  His bad hair.  His vulgar manner.  His obvious bombast.

But guess who else was dismissed as a joke?  Adolf Hitler.

Before he got his grip on power, many in Germany thought that Hitler was a joke: bad haircut, ill-fitting clothes, vulgar accent. Hitler was known as the “Bohemian Corporal,” a euphemism which in colloquial American English translates to “Hillbilly Grunt.”  As a result, “good” Germans just couldn’t take Hitler that seriously.  They underestimated him — and when they tried to move against him, it was far too late.

Of course, I’m not saying that Trump is some kind of Hitler.  What I am saying is that popular demagogues are easy to make fun of — easy, that is, until they gain power.

Sinclair Lewis had it right: It Can Happen Here.  All it takes is a megalomaniacal and messianic leader, a crisis to make the people desperate (such as the Great Depression that facilitated Hitler’s rise), various elites who cynically and opportunistically throw their support behind the “great leader,” and enough of the rest of us who choose, out of fear or indifference or ignorance, to do nothing.

Update (8/23/15): The Donald is still gaining in the polls, notes the New York Times, despite (or rather because of) the outrageous things he says:

In poll after poll of Republicans, Mr. Trump leads among women, despite having used terms like “fat pigs” and “disgusting animals” to denigrate some of them. He leads among evangelical Christians, despite saying he had never had a reason to ask God for forgiveness. He leads among moderates and college-educated voters, despite a populist and anti-immigrant message thought to resonate most with conservatives and less-affluent voters. He leads among the most frequent, likely voters, even though his appeal is greatest among those with little history of voting.

One thing is certain: Trump draws support from people who are simply tired of traditional candidates like Jeb Bush.  But does Trump stand for anything other than himself?  He’s notably vague on the issues, perhaps learning from the Obama Campaign in 2008 that it’s far better to sell vague slogans like “hope” and “change” to the American people.  Trump’s slogan is “Make America Great Again!” — and that may be all that many Americans want to hear.

19 thoughts on “Donald Trump and American Fascism?

  1. Jiminy whiskers! Donald Trump a fascist? Not just another Republican buffoon running for “Commander in Chief? And Hillary Clinton is a paragon of democratic virtue?
    No. I believe it is a large segment of the American electorate who have accepted the bonds of corporate fascism and these pols are just pandering to that desire for bondage that lies in the hearts of too many educated and less educated Americans.
    When Americans accepted “security” over constitutional law after 9/11, at the urging of that self proclaimed leader of the free world, George Bush Jr. they showed their willingness to accept the corporate authoritarian state, known as Fascism, over our democracy.
    So now, whether it’s a Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, or Hillary Clinton we will have a fascistic ruler who is financed by oligarchs and protected by trade deals ( TPP) that put mega corporations in position to overturn any legislation that threatens corporate profits.
    Seig Heil !


    1. Trump’s scapegoating of Mexican immigrants is scary, traven, as is the positive reception he’s gained in some corners of America.

      Too many people are prone to dismiss populist demagogues as “jokes.” And in relatively stable times, perhaps we can afford to. But all you have to do is scare people profoundly and they start looking for radical solutions from a “leader” who promises “action” while blaming a foreign element for all of your problems.

      It’s a formula that’s worked too many times in history — not just in Germany in the 1930s.


  2. Prof. Astore. The “scare” started in 2001 with the 9/11 attacks that gave the regressive forces ( neo conservatives and neo liberals and their oligarchical backers) the excuse to set up “Homeland* Security” as the shibboleth of fear. Then came the training course for the citizens to pump up the fear with ‘red’ alerts and for the Obama administration to continue to fear mongering about “terror”.
    The American public is now well trained to accept any assaults on democracy from our ‘leaders’ in the name of “security”.

    * a real fascist terminology


    1. Honestly, traven, I hate writing articles like this, because they seem alarmist. Oh, come one, I can hear people say. Americans aren’t crazy like the Italians in the 1920s or the Germans in the 1930s and so on. We have a democracy! We’ll never follow a man like Mussolini or Hitler.

      No. But you might just follow an American version of the same, if you believe your country is in peril, and if he tells you want you want to hear.


  3. Doubtless this post is going to launch a fresh debate over how we should define “fascist.” But I think we may fairly say that ‘The Donald’ (and yes, I’m making him the butt of a joke by referring to him that way…though he himself coined the nickname!) is taking a “fascistic” approach with his rhetoric (if his spewings even merit that term!), with the unmistakable xenophobic/racist element. Father Coughlin (before my time), with his radio broadcasts, became a nationally known figure of this type about 80 years ago. I understand a very recent poll showed Americans putting more faith in Trump to “heal the economy” than any other presidential wannabe of the present (still growing!) crop. Another mark of their ignorance, since this “financial genius” wheeled and dealed himself to the brink of corporate bankruptcy at least once in the not so distant past. In a nation where the Confederate flag can be seen from coast to coast, not just in the “Deep South,” of course the anti-immigrant bombast will attract support. Let me tell you something about Hitler: he was no genius, to be sure. He was the front-man for an industrial/banking/military complex. They provided the brains. The initial “shock and awe” successes of the German military in WW II were rolled back, at an incredible cost of suffering and destruction to be sure. What was Hitler, then? He was an extremely effective ACTOR. That’s right, an actor. I direct your attention to the centerpiece of “Triumph of the Will,” the big speech (I guess it was at the Nuremberg rally). He speaks of the suffering inflicted on the people of Germany by the reparations demands of the victorious allies. Watch how he uses his hands, his arms. He contorts his face with emotion. Crude techniques? No. Very, very EFFECTIVE. Look at Reagan! An intellectual midget, considered by his peers just a second-rate actor. Yet somehow, with the help of the Karl Rove element of political strategists, hired-gun PR people (geniuses? Perhaps!) and hefty financial backing, he persuaded the electorate twice that he was “right” for the country. Public Enemy Number One? A tie, perhaps, between “welfare queens” and organized labor! Even though the latter hardly exists any more, you can bet that candidate Scott Walker will make the war against labor a centerpiece of his campaign, following on his success at this game in Wisconsin. (Indeed, in one of G.W. Bush’s campaigns, unionized public school teachers were the demons of the day! Teachers! What does it say about a society that this can even be tolerated, let alone applauded?) ‘The Donald,’ of course, is no friend of labor, organized or no. And he’s certainly not an actor of Hitler caliber. Will he be a flash in the pan, fading as the buzz about his anti-Mexican ranting dies down? We can’t count on it, since he apparently (who knows what his real net “worth” amounts to?) has the funds to stay in the game. President, Commander-in-Chief, Trump? We can’t rule it out!!


  4. If citizens aren’t already “alarmed” by wealth transfer, assaults on the Bill of Rights and privacy, police militarization, & by the pathetic dog-and-pony show we call “elections,” then I guess we needn’t concern ourselves about being “alarmist” when it comes to batshitters like Trump. We can’t ring bells that seemingly don’t exist for many.

    A Trump presidency is conceivable, though quite unlikely. The Establishment “candidates” are two sides of the same rotten coin–Bush & Clinton. And Bush & Clinton we will get. The “discourse,” be that as it may, will be stilted, stultified, and rife with misinformation. The mainstream media “coverage” will include no adult supervision. Sorry, nothing new here.


  5. Fascism — another, somewhat ‘contrary’, view @

    Trump? As Al Bernstein said “A fool and his money get a lot of publicity.” but “Politics will eventually be (or has been) replaced by imagery. The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be.” Remember that, in government, an ounce of image is worth a pound of performance.


  6. Reblogged this on Bracing Views and commented:

    The Donald has done it again, winning decisively in South Carolina. Back in July, I wrote this article on Trump and how he was tapping a “fascist spring” in American politics. Since then, he’s vilified Muslims as well as Mexicans, called for torture, made fun of women, mocked a reporter with a physical disability, and on and on. At the same time, he keeps promising to make America big and bad again — a promise he doubtless intends to keep.

    I’ve heard people say that Trump will change if he becomes president. Even Trump claims he’d be a different man in the Oval Office. Don’t believe it. Trump is what he is: a demagogue and a chauvinist who enjoys scapegoating the vulnerable. Presidential he is not; dangerous he is.


  7. The interesting part is the role of the media in the rise of Trump. Obviously, the pervasiveness of the media, mainstream and social, have the ability to spread ideas, good or bad, more rapidly and to a greater degree than Germany in the ’30s. And yet… Or maybe because…


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