In an earlier blog, I acknowledged some early hints of fascism in the Trump administration. But, I wrote, we are not experiencing a fascist regime, not yet anyway. Now, more than 500 days in the Trump presidency, the question deserves another look.
What is fascism, and what defines someone as fascist?
Choose your source. The respected Oxford American Dictionary dismisses the question with this terse definition: “a system of extreme, right-wing government.” Fair enough. Merriam-Webster expands on this, defining fascism as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and stands for centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.” Cambridge Dictionary calls fascism “a political system based on a very powerful leader, state control of social and economic life and extreme pride in country and race with no expression of political disagreement allowed.”
A fascist, according to Vocabulary.com, is “a follower of a political philosophy characterized by authoritarian views and a strong central government — and no tolerance for opposing opinions. Under fascist rule, the emphasis is on the group — the nation — with few individual rights.”
I believe that labels tend to divide us and therefore pose a danger to civil dialogue. I was born white. Am I a racist? I believe in free expression, compassionate care for all people, and peaceful assembly. Does that make me a liberal? Assigning labels to individuals and groups makes me pretty uncomfortable. I prefer to think of us as free-thinking individuals. Why would I willingly consider assigning the fascist label now?
Here’s why: Today we find ourselves increasingly helpless in a challenging time fashioned for us by others. Anxiety supplants comfort or complacency as daily we wonder what he will do next to further threaten our democratic principles and way of life, our personal safety, our freedom to choose. Are we approaching a period of fascist rule? Are we already there? Let’s revisit those definitions. Do we have a dictatorial leader? Does his administration emphasize extreme pride in country and race? Does it exalt nation above the individual? Is it intolerant of opposing views? You decide.
As we apply these measures to our current political leadership, we realize that, unlike movements of the past, we find fascist characteristics more in a single individual than in a group, unless we count our spineless Congress, most of whose members long ago abandoned their principles to sheepishly follow the leader, and what is more important, to enable him.
Fascism. Are we there yet? What are we going to do about it?