Thursday, December 10, 2015

Is Trump More Like Mussolini or Hitler?

This seems like a fun little discussion that Josh Marshall got started yesterday. I guess is tells you something that I find this fun. He argues that Trump is much more Mussolini than Hitler.

"Mussolini never really held a candle to Adolf Hitler in terms of barbarity and killing. Indeed, after consolidating power through a mix of constitutional revisions, extra-legal violence and secret police, Mussolini made some effort to rebrand himself as a respectable world statesman in the late 20s and early 30s, ditching the paramilitary uniforms for suits. (Later, for a mix of reasons including the economic challenges of the Great Depression and the rise of Adolf Hitler, he swerved back in the other direction.) But what really makes the Trump comparison in my mind is the mix of personal manner, cynicism and narcissism.

"We've all seen the videos of Adolf Hitler's speeches. To many Germans at the time, his speeches were simply spellbinding and irresistible. Eighty years later, living in a different era and with full knowledge of what was to come, they seem a mix of chilling, bizarre or demonic. But they are undeniably intense, physical and driven by some chilling but powerful and ravenous internal energy. While Mussolini provided many of the models for Nazi regime (color-shirted paramilitaries, various trappings of power and even the title of 'leader') he was an altogether different character."

"Mussolini's speeches have a mix of melodramatic chest-puffing, hands at the waist swagger, hints of humor, hands to the crowd to calm themselves no matter how excited they are. Frankly, they're almost operatic in nature. The mix of violent rhetoric with folksy hypotheticals and humorous jabs unites the two men quite nicely."

"The problem of course is that Trump has trended in an increasingly racist and xenophobic direction as his campaign has gone on. But that was never really Mussolini's thing. The Nazi fetishization of race was basically foreign to fascist ideology. And Italian fascism was not anti-Semitic ... except after 1938. That's when Mussolini moved into full alliance with Nazi Germany, a movement he had once seen as a protege and then as a rival, and remade much of his movement (which had by then been in power for fifteen years) on the Nazi model, importing its own version of Nazi anti-Semitic laws and various new racialist policies. Mussolini's regime was explicitly anti-Semitic from 1938 to its fall in 1943, though there's a fair of amount of historical debate about how actively it pursued those policies. When he nominally ruled a Nazi puppet state in Northern Italy after the collapse of the fascist regime, the Final Solution was given full rein."

"In other words, Mussolini's embrace of racism and anti-Semitism appears to have been cynical and opportunistic. But this works as an analog to Trump since I continue to believe that Trump's embrace of racism, anti-Mexican immigrant bigotry and Islamophobia is largely opportunistic. My only hesitation in calling it cynical is that I think Trump may be the type who, once he finds something convenient to say, then starts to believe it. Once Trump says something it carries the Trump brand. And to Trump everything with the Trump brand is right and amazing. So possibly his mix of arrogance and narcissism, by an alchemical process, make it genuine rather than cynical. I'm out of my depth in analyzing that particular question. But however that may be, let's look to Mussolini as our Trump progenitor of choice."

I do agree that Trump is clearly an opportunist though as Marshall says he's a xenophobe. But he's been that from day one with the talk about Mexican rapists. I think whether you want to call him a 'fascist' or not depends on how narrowly or loosely you want to use the term.

I think you can argue that to use it too narrowly almost makes it obsolete. When using an important term you always have to broaden it a little to have a more broad application. If not then it's not a useful term.

Here though is an argument that he's not a fascist.

I think 'fascist' here is just a marker to register that Trump has crossed a line in American politics more than anything else. You can argue that the term is overblown. What he has called for is an immigration restriction of a certain religion. But this is not the first time we as a nation have had immigration restrictions. I'm not a fan of these but that doesn't mean that these were Nazi or even fascist moments.

A lot of this is framing. Trump's plan sounds worse than Rand Paul's because Trump says a halt on Muslims whereas Rand says a halt from the countries were Muslims emigrate from.

An argument though that Trump is a fascist comes from looking at how Umberto Eco defines fascism.

"One of the most-read takes on fascism comes from Italian philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco in an essay for the New York Review of Books titled “Ur-Fascism.” Eco emphasizes the extent to which fascism is ad hoc and opportunistic. It’s “philosophically out of joint,” he writes, with features that “cannot be organized into a system” since “many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanacticism.”

"With that said, it is true that there are fascist movements, and it’s also true that when you strip their cultural clothing—the German paganism in Nazism, for example—there are common properties. Not every fascist movement shows all of them, but—Eco writes—“it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it." Eco identifies 14, but for this column, I want to focus on seven."

"They are: A cult of “action for action’s sake,” where “thinking is a form of emasculation”; an intolerance of “analytical criticism,” where disagreement is condemned; a profound “fear of difference,” where leaders appeal against “intruders”; appeals to individual and social frustration and specifically a “frustrated middle class” suffering from “feelings of political humiliation and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups”; a nationalist identity set against internal and external enemies (an “obsession with a plot”); a feeling of humiliation by the “ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies”; a “popular elitism” where “every citizen belongs to the best people of the world” and underscored by contempt for the weak; and a celebration of aggressive (and often violent) masculinity."

"That isn't a bad description of Trump. Certainly he resists all of the Beltway's fastidious 'analytical criticism' and is much more opportunistic than ideological."

"Which makes Trump not at all like a conservative Republican who is very ideological."

When you look at the history of fascism it''s kind of interesting. Mussolini actually went on for quite a long time-things only went downhill for him when he out of necessity started aligning more with Hitler.

Then you have the case of Francisco Franco who after coming to power during the Spanish Civil War was in stable powers for almost 40 years till his death. After that, the country transitioned back to a democracy.

So fascism can have staying power. As to Trump he isn't even the threat of a Marine La Pen and her National Front party. She has a whole coalition of constituencies behind her, Trump at this point at least is kind of a lone wolf-though maybe this election will lead to a Trump party of some kind-with or without his own participation.

P.S. I've said I think Trump's rise has been a good thing. You think of the Marxist idea of 'Subjective innocence but objective guilt' which means you may think you're doing good while doing evil,

This applies I've argued to a guy like Jeb Bush. On a subjective level, he, like his brother and father before him, really would like to see a more humane immigration policy than much of his party.

But by refusing to ever be disloyal to his party he's part of the problem. Objectively his Presidency would be a major step back for immigration reform-just like his brother's was.

Ditto, the Wall Street Journal who has even in the past called for open borders but refuses to ever criticize the GOP directly or just on this one issue take the side of the Democrats.

So both the WSJ and Bush are subjectively for immigration reform but objectively against it as part of the GOP machine.

On the other hand you could argue that while Trump may well sincerely be a xenophobe-he's been talking about the Mexicans and the Asians screwing us on trade since the 80s-but yet his candidacy may well objectively be what makes immigration reform in the future possible-for starters by being the force that destroys a unified GOP in the future.

So maybe you can not only do evil while intend to do good but you can do good while intending to do evil?


  1. O/T: Mike, Trump postponed his trip to Israel? Why? Will my dream come true? Will he start talking smack about Jews now? He's married to one, right? So that makes it less likely I guess... but if there's a guy who can make anti-Semitism palatable again with the GOP voters, I can't think of a better candidate than Donald Trump. Go Trump go! Go Trump go!

    Who's next on the list after that? Asians? Haha...

    Like I said, I want to see him keep going until the GOP constituency is entirely composed of the ignorant and crazy half of older white fundamentalist Christian voters in the Old Confederacy. By the time I pull the lever for him, I want to see him decked out in Klan robes.

    1. Here's Jennifer on the cancelled Trump trip:

      Yet again she hammers at the idea that Trump supporters are poor uneducated whites, who probably won't vote, and may not even be Republicans. Also, I like in the update how she says that Trump may be alienating the world (and that's fine with her as far as it goes: perhaps some of them needed alienating), but when he alienates Israel... well that's our only ally that matters, so clearly he's gone too far. I can't believe how explicit she is about that!

  2. To answer your question, IMO it's Mussolini. I'm glad to see Franco considered too though... that's another possibility. How about Dollfuss? Nah, probably not Dollfuss (who'd be Hitler?). I think Mussolini is the guy.

    I could see Cruz as a Szálasi or Quisling though.