Note: I’ll be out of town between the 4th and the 15th, in a wilderness repast, with little to absolutely zero connection to the internet or my phone. Posts during this time, written in advance, will be bigger-picture, or more idiosyncratic, rather than directly pegged to the news. If events happen that supersede or negate anything I say, think of these as a more innocent time capsule. Try not to let the country burn down while I’m gone.
Writing in the New Yorker last month, Adam Gopnik laid to rest the academic debates as to whether or not Donald Trump embodied or promoted fascism.
As I have written before, to call him a fascist of some variety is simply to use a historical label that fits. The arguments about whether he meets every point in some static fascism matrix show a misunderstanding of what that ideology involves. It is the essence of fascism to have no single fixed form—an attenuated form of nationalism in its basic nature, it naturally takes on the colors and practices of each nation it infects. In Italy, it is bombastic and neoclassical in form; in Spain, Catholic and religious; in Germany, violent and romantic. It took forms still crazier and more feverishly sinister, if one can imagine, in Romania, whereas under Oswald Mosley, in England, its manner was predictably paternalistic and aristocratic. It is no surprise that the American face of fascism would take on the forms of celebrity television and the casino greeter’s come-on, since that is as much our symbolic scene as nostalgic re-creations of Roman splendors once were Italy’s.
What all forms of fascism have in common is the glorification of the nation, and the exaggeration of its humiliations, with violence promised to its enemies, at home and abroad; the worship of power wherever it appears and whoever holds it; contempt for the rule of law and for reason; unashamed employment of repeated lies as a rhetorical strategy; and a promise of vengeance for those who feel themselves disempowered by history. It promises to turn back time and take no prisoners.
This is, to me, inarguable. After all, we don’t generally have the same quibbles about communism. It took a different form in the Soviet Union than it did in China than it did in Vietnam than it did in Cuba or Angola. Time and place– which is to say contemporary culture, and the weight of history, and a million other factors– give it shape and form, but everyone agrees roughly what it is (and yes, I am sure that in some academic or leftist circles, there are huge debates about what is authentically communist, and I’d love to read them, but the point stands).
The reluctance to call it what it is springs, I think, from the hideous evils of 20th-century European fascism, and the knowledge that Trump isn’t that bad. It’s also a reluctance to make the Godwin argument. But neither of those are really relevant. If we agree that there is no one definition of fascism, and that it is more a collection of characteristics than a rule book, and that Hitler does not have a monopoly on it, then we should be able to agree that it can, in fact, spring up from anywhere. Even America, even in the 21st-century, and even from someone as singularly inept as Donald Trump. In fact, that’s sort of the point.