Imagine a spoiled child turned loose in FAO Schwartz, grasping your credit card in his sweaty hand. The image is not so far-fetched today as Donald J. Trump continues to perform his clumsy imitation of a president. But is he a fascist? We hear this harsh accusation with increasing frequency as shocked Americans try to come to grips with this man’s statements and actions.
To more clearly understand fascism, I turn to Robert O. Paxton, professor emeritus of social science at Columbia University. Dr. Paxton, a highly respected authority on the subject, defines fascism as “a form of political practice distinctive to the 20th century that arouses popular enthusiasm by sophisticated propaganda techniques for an anti-liberal, anti-socialist, violently exclusionary, expansionist nationalist agenda.”
Fascism requires allegiance to a nation or national superiority. Its guiding purpose is to make the nation more powerful and more successful. It distrusts standard government institutions and believes them to be incapable of solving the nation’s problems.
Some of this sounds familiar, doesn’t it? But President Trump’s approach to leadership and his actions, no matter how foolish, divisive and dangerous, don’t make him a fascist. Not quite. Not yet.
Undeniably, this child-man is in over his head. He is our president, but clearly he doesn’t know how to be one, and we watch anxiously as he wanders the toy store, clutching our national credit card, eager to squander our basic principles, sacred values and good name with the stroke of his pen. And so he does.
The unmistakable scent of dictatorial — and certainly childlike — behavior hovers in the air: distrust in and denigration of legitimate news media, lies upon lies, exaggerations, petulance, bullying, retaliation, whining, all of these and more. But fascism? Not quite. Not yet.