Even before Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, people were throwing about the term fascist to describe his approach to politics. And the accusations have only grown in number as his presidency has unfolded.
On Sunday, former George W. Bush administration official Alan J. Steinberg lent his voice to those decrying the president’s use of fascist tactics and strategies as his rhetoric and political moves have escalated in the final weeks before the midterm elections.
“As we approach the midterm elections,” Steinberg wrote in the Star-Ledger. “The Nuremberg-like atmosphere of Donald Trump rallies plus his flagrant abuses of power terrify his critics. They raise the question: Is Donald Trump a fascist?”
There are two refutable matters of fact about Trump, according to Steinberg: first, he is not a conservative but actually diametrically opposed to the core beliefs held by Ronald Reagan; and second, politically, Trump is a “practitioner of both fascistic strategy and tactics.”
Ronald Reagan was a follower of Edmund Burke, who deemed the preservation and respect for institutions as essential for the preservation of orderly democratic government. Trump, the anti-Ronald Reagan is on a mission to destroy our leading institutions, including the independence of the FBI and the Justice Department and the very existence of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Reagan was a follower of Adam Smith, who believed in free markets and free trade. Donald Trump is a foe of free trade, an advocate of tariffs and a leader of trade wars.
Reagan was a strong advocate of freedom of the press and civil liberty in the marketplace of ideas, as advocated by John Locke and John Stuart Mill. Trump does everything possible to hinder freedom of the press, chiefly by encouraging and condoning violent attacks against journalists and labeling them as an "enemy of the people.
Steinberg points to two books that serve as excellent resources in determining Trump’s relationship with fascism: "Totalitarian Government & Autocracy," written by Carl J. Friedrich, and "How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them", by Yale professor Jason Stanley.
Friedrich and Brzezinski list six basic features of totalitarian regimes, of which fascism is the most prominent type in an era where Marxism has largely receded: an ideology, a single party led by one man, a terroristic police, a communications monopoly, a weapons monopoly, and a centrally directed economy. Trump certainly aspires to be an authoritarian leader. And he is attempting to get monopoly control of communications by his intimidation of journalists.
American institutions have thus far resisted Trump's attempts to gain authoritarian power. Yet in his attempt to do so, Trump is implementing the major political strategic and tactical practices of fascism. And as Jason Stanley has stated, the political practices of fascism, rather than any philosophy, constitute its ideology.
One of the primary indicators of fascist strategy is the use of “us vs. them”, which Trump has come to employ at every turn.
With Trump, the "us" is white America, and the "them" is every nonwhite group, most notably African-Americans and Hispanic groupings.
Trump has a lifetime record of blatant bigotry against African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Examples abound: His leadership in the "birther" movement, his campaign for the death penalty against the Central Park Five even after their innocence was proven, his discrimination against African-Americans in the rental of his housing units in Brooklyn in the 1970s, his attempts to bar a distinguished American jurist, Gonzalo Curiel from presiding over the Trump University fraud case on the basis of his Mexican ancestry.
Trump is also a master at utilizing the tactics of fascist politics, as set forth by Jason Stanley, in support of his fascistic strategic goal. These tactics include creation of a mythical American past, a virulent anti-intellectualism which aims to dissuade American society from a healthy self-examination, and the seductive tool of demagogic propaganda, which is the essence of the Trump tweets.
Steinberg is voting for Democrats this election season. Why? Because Republicans have failed to do their jobs.
The only check on Trump's relentless drive for autocratic power is our system of checks and balances and separation of powers. This is why I have left the Republican Party and urge the election of a Democratic House of Representatives and Senate.