08 December 2015

Trump and the F-word

Donald Trump is a lot of possibly bad things, but despite widespread sloppy usage the word "fascist" is not a synonym for "bad" or even "mean." Inevitably, a right-wing populist like Trump will get called a fascist, but in our time even people who are neither right-wing nor populist, not to mention not fascist, are bound to be called "fascist" by people who disagree with their agendas. If "fascism" means anything in America politics today, it means "someone who wants to use the power of government for purposes I don't approve of." Trump is getting hit with a new round of f-bombs because of his proposal to forbid Muslims from entering the U.S. Whatever the plan's pros or cons, what exactly is fascist about it? The proposal is discriminatory, but Congress has passed discriminatory immigration legislation in the past. There was a time when most Asians weren't considered eligible for citizenship. On that understanding, in the early 20th century laws were passed forbidding nationalities that weren't eligible for citizenship from even settling in the country. These laws are considered black marks on our national record, but at the time they weren't considered fascist. That's because it happened in the early 1920s, when fascism in Italy was just getting started and hadn't acquired much of a rep yet. The only thing novel about Trump's proposal, to my knowledge, is the idea of discriminating by religion, and I'm not sure that would be as unconstitutional, since we're talking about the rights of foreigners, as some have been quick to assume. Call those past laws xenophobic or racist (though immigration from Africa was allowed) if you like, but despite the identification of fascism with the subgroup of Nazism (and, yes, Trump is getting called the N-word, too) neither xenophobia nor racism is an essential component of fascism, which remains a theory of the relationship of individuals and classes to the nation and its government in which Donald Trump is most likely completely uninterested.

I must seem like a nag on this issue, but it's a pet peeve of mine and it seems like I've written a post once a year or so on how stupid it is to call some irrelevant thing or person fascist. But if political discourse is to be meaningful political terms have to have firm, clear meanings. Fascism is not merely a style of government (thuggery, demagoguery, etc.) as many apparently assume, but a conscious alternative to socialism, liberalism and earlier forms of conservatism. To the extent that its formulators like Benito Mussolini were even pseudo-intellectuals, it's practically an insult to fascism to use the word for the seemingly anti-intellectual Trump. The only arguable point of convergence of these phenomena is a sort of cult of the charismatic leader that has formed around Trump, though real fascists probably wouldn't boast of their ability to make deals with everybody. But charismatic leaders inspired cult followings long before fascism was even imagined, just as demagogues have long exploited both rational and irrational fears to get power through history. Those who oppose Trump have plenty of plain American political words they can use on him. But everybody thinks they know what fascism is, just as they think they know what Trump is all about, and all the f-bombs thrown about, and not just at Trump, only leave the political field as clear as mud.

1 comment:

hobbyfan said...

Dumb Donald is not a fascist. He's just a jingoistic, opportunistic jackass who says stupid things to inflame tensions on hot-button issues.

Come to think of it, I don't think Dumb Donald or any of his yes-men would have clue one on what "fascist" means.