Trump and the Left's Accusations of Facism
Donald Trump’s success in the primaries and his rhetoric have sparked troubled meditations about an awakening of fascist impulses among his supporters. Bret Stephens has drawn an analogy with the Thirties, “the last dark age of Western politics,” and compared Trump to Benito Mussolini. On the left, Dana Milbank, in a column titled “Trump Flirts with Fascism,” wrote about a campaign rally at which Trump was “leading supporters in what looked very much like a fascist salute,” a scene New York Times house-conservative David Brooks linked to the Nuremberg party rallies.
Much of the rhetoric that links Trump to fascism or Nazism is merely the stale ad Hitlerum fallacy used by progressives to demonize the candidate. They did the same thing when they called George W. Bush “Bushitler.” This slur reflects the hoary leftist dogma that conservatives at heart are repressed xenophobes and knuckle-dragging racists lusting for a messianic leader to restore their lost “white privilege” and punish their minority, immigrant, and feminist enemies. As such, the attack on Trump is nothing new or unexpected from a progressive ideology whose totalitarian inclinations have always had much more in common with fascism than conservatism does.
What Auden called the “low dishonest decade” of the Thirties, however, is indeed instructive for our predicament today, but not because of any danger of a fascist party taking root in modern America. Communism was (and in some ways still is) vastly more successful at infiltrating and shaping American political, cultural, and educational institutions than fascism ever was. But the same cultural pathologies that enabled both fascist and Nazi aggression still afflict us today. These pathologies and their malign effects are more important than the reasons for Trump’s popularity–– anger at elites, economic stagnation, and anti-immigrant passions–– that supposedly echo the “waves of fear and anger” of Auden’s Thirties.