At a recent Democratic fundraiser in advance of the upcoming midterm elections, President Joe Biden blasted the so-called “Make America Great Again” philosophy arguing that it is “like semi-fascism.” There is plenty of evidence to prove his point.
This extreme segment of the Republican Party is attempting to impose severe restrictions on what can and cannot be taught in public schools by permitting only topics, curricular materials, and subjects aligning with its political philosophies. It has imposed constraints on certain individuals and groups’ voting rights, access to the ballot box, and has gone after volunteer and salaried non-partisan election officials.
The overarching Republican Party has waged a longstanding and recently victorious assault on individual reproductive rights and freedoms. It is working vigorously to repeal marriage equality, and to make it a criminal offense for parents who permit family members in obtaining gender-affirming procedures.
The Party continues to demonize black and brown potential immigrants by citing the “Great Replacement Theory,” a racist trope that dates back to Reconstruction in the United States. Replacement ideology holds that a hidden hand (often imagined as Jewish) is encouraging the invasion of nonwhite immigrants and the rise of nonwhite citizens to take power from white Christian people of European stock.
And MAGA believers continually attack and attempt to subvert and discredit the mainstream (referred to as “the lamestream”) press when reporting the facts about this movement. In short, the MAGA Republicans have initiated a frontal assault on some of the major democratic institutions of the United States of America.
But, is this movement really “semi-fascist” as Biden asserts?
What Is Fascism?
“The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is deeply alarmed at the hateful rhetoric at a conference of white nationalists held on November 19  at the Ronald Reagan Building just blocks from the Museum…The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words. The Museum calls on all American citizens, our religious and civic leaders, and the leadership of all branches of the government to confront racist thinking and divisive hateful speech…”
These words from a press release from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC refers to a white nationalist conference headlined by neo-Nazi, Richard Spencer, who greeted attendees with a tribute to then President-elect Donald J. Trump shouting “Hail Trump! Hail victory!” from the stage before all in attendance gestured in a traditional Nazi straight-arm salute.
Once identifying himself as a Democrat, Donald Trump and what has become known as “Trumpism” has transformed, at the very least, into the mouthpiece of the far-right wing of the Republican Party.
In political terms, a “strongman” is one who leads by force within an overarching authoritarian, totalitarian, dictatorial regime. Sometimes the formal head of state, sometimes another political or military leader, the strongman exerts influence and control over the government more than traditional laws or constitutional mandates sanction.
Strongmen situate themselves within positions along the political spectrum, usually toward the extremes on the right and the left. They find themselves in the company of, for example, Juan Perón of Argentina, Pol Pot of Cambodia, Fidel Castro of Cuba, Francois Duvalier of Haiti, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Manuel Noriega of Panama, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Idi Amin Dada of Uganda.
On the right-wing side of the dictatorial strongman’s political spectrum, we find the philosophy and practice of “fascism.” While also deployed as an epithet by some, fascism developed as a form of radical authoritarian nationalism in early-20th century Europe in response to liberalism and Marxism on the left.
Political scientist, Lawrence Britt, enumerates 14 characteristics of fascism:
- Powerful and continuing nationalism,
- Disdain for the recognition of human rights,
- Identification of enemies/scapegoats [of the country’s problems] as a unifying cause,
- Rampant sexism,
- Supremacy of the military,
- Controlled mass media,
- Obsession with national security,
- Religion and government are intertwined,
- Corporate power is protected,
- Labor power is suppressed,
- Disdain for intellectuals and the arts,
- Obsession with crime and punishment,
- Rampant cronyism and corruption, and
- Fraudulent elections
While many governmental leaders and candidates for public office may push for a number of these tactics while still remaining outside the definition of “fascist,” the cumulative effect increases depending on the severity of and the degree to which they initiate these measures.
What Is Trump’s Brand of Fascism?
Donald Trump, what he has stated and purported previously falls directly within the parameters of fascism. Using Britt’s taxonomy, I filled in Trump’s positions:
- Appeals to “nationalism,” presented in the guise of “popularism,” feeding on people’s fears and prejudices, which have already resulted in the segregation of people and nations from one another, and threats and dangers of violence;
- Rolled back many of the rights and protections minoritized peoples have tirelessly fought for over the past decades: reproductive rights, voting rights, citizenship rights, anti-torture guarantees, rights of unreasonable search and seizure, rights of assembly, disability rights, freedom of religion, possibly marriage equality. Recall, as well, his father Fred Trump and his refusal some years ago to rent their properties to black people, over which they were sued and eventually signed a consent decree;
- Scapegoating of already disenfranchised identity categories as the internal and external enemies of the United States: Muslims and anyone from Muslim-majority countries, Mexicans and all Latinx people, urban “thugs,” the press, Somalis, President Barack Obama, the ACLU, liberals, at times Jews, etc.;
- Toxic misogynistic utterances and allegations of sexual harassment by numerous women reaching historic proportions;
- Promises to enlarge and improve our “failing” military and fire generals whom Trump “knows more than about ISIS”;
- Threats to employ libel laws to sue the “crooked and lying” media (Lügenpresse, “lying press” popularized by the German Nazis to silence opposition);
- Continual cries against “Islamic jihadist terrorists” as the number one threat to our nation thereby exposing U.S. Muslims to increased calls for travel bans from majority-Muslim countries, and a call for a “national registry” and surveillance to track their movements;
- Attendance at several Christian prayer vigils and appearances at conservative right Christians conferences and universities like Liberty University, with calls “Make America Great Again” giving the subliminal dog-whistle message of making America whiter and Protestant;
- Promises of a deregulated corporate business sector with massive tax cuts, environmental deregulation, and other financial and material incentives. “I will formulate a rule which says that for every one new regulation [on businesses], two old regulations must be eliminated.”;
- Implied reduction in the rights of workers to organize and negotiate collective bargaining agreements, privatization or elimination of “entitlements,” advocacy for the abolition of a national minimum wage (while relenting somewhat to a $10. minimum during his time in the Oval Office);
- Resentment and attacks on the political, media, and intellectual “elites” to the point of instigating scorn and harassment at the “elite media” covering Trump’s rallies and demanding an apology from the cast of the Broadway show, “Hamilton: An American Musical” for voicing concerns over a Trump presidency with VP-elect Mike Pence in attendance;
- Near obsessive calls for “law and order” involving draconian (and possibly unconstitutional) measures of torture and surveillance;
- Increasing deployment of his adult children and son-in-law as close trusted political operatives, who even met with visiting diplomats and have been sent to foreign capitals to negotiate political and business deals, plus continuously unresolved conflict-of-interest issues between his position as President and his worldwide business interests;
- Assisted by the larger Republican Party and the Supreme Court, gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights law, which has resulted in voter suppression campaigns effectively reducing the number of polling stations in primarily minoritized racial communities, and limiting days and times for pre-election-day voting. In addition, another fascist ruler, Vladimir Putin, weighed in on Trump’s side to sway the presidential election in their (Putin & Trump’s) favor.
Now that Trump is currently out of power, the MAGA movement, though, is running at full force, for one does not have to have Trump to maintain and expand Trumpism.
The only remaining question is whether the MAGA movement reflects “semi-fascism” or full-on fascism.
Referring back to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s historical reminder, though, “The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words.”