We need to face up to two scary facts right now: Donald Trump shows many of the characteristics of a fascist, and our very democracy is at stake.
I just read a book called “How Democracies Die” by two Harvard professors. They say there are four key indicators of authoritarian behavior, and Trump meets them all.
1) “Rejection of (or weak commitment to) the democratic rules of the game.” (Examples: Trump’s bogus claims of millions of illegal immigrant voters. His assailing of judges. His attacks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller.)
2) “Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents” (Examples: “Crooked Hillary” and “Pocahontas” references.)
3) “Toleration or encouragement of violence” (Trump to his crowd when protesters yell: “Knock the hell out of them. I promise you I will pay the legal fees.” See also his comments on Charlottesville.)
4) “Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media.” (His assault on the civil liberties of immigrants, and his “the media is the enemy of the people” claims.)
Trump is also a pathological narcissist and a playground bully who loves strongmen. Fascists revel in bullying, and their supporters admire them for it. Orwell called such admirers “bully worshipers.”
There are a few other crucial trademarks of the fascist that Trump embodies:
1) Incessant lying. As of August 1, Trump had uttered 4,229 lies or misrepresentations, according to the Washington Post’s tally. Here is Orwell again: “The really frightening thing about totalitarianism is not that it commits ‘atrocities’ but that it attacks the concept of objective truth.”
2) Racism. That Trump is a racist cannot be denied. After all, he wouldn’t rent his apartments to black people. He led the “birther movement” against President Obama. He launched his campaign with racist appeals against Muslims and Mexicans. And his coddling of white supremacists and neo-Nazis a year ago in Charlottesville removed any doubt.
3) Ultra-nationalism. Trump makes no bones about being an ultra-nationalist. That’s what all the “America First” talk is about. And look at “Make America Great Again.” That’s an appeal to people’s sense of bereaved and betrayed patriotism. Hitler, Mussolini, Pinochet and Franco all used such an appeal.
4) A mass base. Trump’s popularity can’t seem to drop much below 40 percent ever, no matter what he does. He has this zealous, over-heated base at his rallies, and the white supremacists and neo-Nazis have his back.
America is not a fascist state yet. But it could get there in a hurry. Here are three ways that might happen.
The first is the “nightmare scenario” of veteran political observer Norm Ornstein: Trump fires Mueller and pardons everyone; there are huge protests in the streets; white supremacists attack some of those protesters; violence escalates; Trump declares martial law.
The second way is if the United States is attacked again, even at one-tenth the size of 9/11. After all, General Tommy Franks, who led the invasion of Iraq, said that if we’re ever attacked again by terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, we might have to suspend the Constitution. And Condoleezza Rice’s deputy at the National Security Council, General Wayne Downing, said essentially the same thing, explicitly mentioning “martial law.” So when the generals talk in public about martial law, you can bet their subordinates have drawn up plans for it.
The third way is that Trump refuses to give up power if he’s impeached. As Stalin said when he was told that the Pope wanted him to stop persecuting Catholics, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” Trump is commander in chief of the most powerful military in the world. How many divisions does Congress have? How many divisions does the Supreme Court have?
These are the grave risks our democracy faces at this very moment. We must vigilantly and nonviolently defend it.