Many thousands of words have already been written and many more will be written by the liberal intelligentsia claiming that the 45th President of the United States is a fascist.
Among the first to make the charge after Trump’s triumph was the hyper-trendy Simon Schama, British TV historian and professor at Columbia University, who tweeted at dawn the day after the election: “This calamity for democracy will of course hearten fascists all over the world.” He then told Radio 4’s Today program that “democracy often brings fascists to power; it did in Germany in the 1930s.”
Later, he explained on BBC1’s Newsnight: “It is clear to me how we pussyfoot around the malodorous, toxic element of race, which has played an incredibly important part of this. Anti-Semitism has long been part of populism.”
The trouble is, Mr. Trump is not a fascist, let alone a Nazi. Calling him Donald Duck would be more accurate than calling him Donald Duce. As for Jews, if anything, he wants to defend them–from Muslims. It is also absurd to say that anti-Semitism is part of populism in general.
The main reason Mr. Trump is not a fascist is the most embarrassing of all, for liberals that is: He is not left-wing. When leftists call hate figures “fascists,” the leftists nearly always have more in common with fascism than their hate figures do. If this were not so damaging–like branding a woman a witch in 16th Century–it would be hilarious.
To take a conveniently forgotten example, the 1939 alliance between fascism (Germany) and communism (Russia) against capitalism (Britain and France) was far more natural than the subsequent alliance between capitalism (America and Britain) and communism (Russia) against fascism (Germany). But democracy was not the only enemy the fascist and communist dictatorships had in common.
Few people even seem to know this, but Benito Mussolini, who invented Fascism in 1919 after the First World War, was a revolutionary socialist (what communists used to be called). He was therefore an internationalist who believed in world revolution and the abolition of nations. But the First World War forced him and many other socialists to recognize a fundamental fact about human nature: People are more loyal to their country than to their class.
The key event was the decision in 1914 by the French socialists to support France against Germany in the war and then by the German socialists to support Germany against France. This convinced Mussolini, who was editor of his party’s daily newspaper Avanti!, that the only path to socialist revolution was through national, not international, Socialism. The Italian Socialist Party, which unlike its French and German counterparts supported neutrality, did not agree with Mussolini, and expelled him.
Mussolini then launched his own pro-war socialist newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia, which was part-financed by the French Socialist Party. Once the war was over, he founded Fascism as an alternative left-wing revolutionary movement.
Fascism replaced the class war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie with a class war between producers (of whatever class) and parasites (of whatever class). It did not aim to abolish private ownership of the means of production as communism did, but to establish the corporate state–the so-called Third Way between communism and capitalism–with each sector of the economy organized in corporations run by the state.
Someone like Marine Le Pen in France who likes the big state and lots of welfare (for the French) does have fascism in her DNA. But just what Trump has in common with any of this is beyond me.
After all, it was Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill, and his soul mate, Tony Blair, who most recently dusted the very same phrase–The Third Way–to describe their vision of public-private partnerships as the way to economic salvation. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, the Donald would scorn any Third Way economic solution approved by Bill, let alone the corporate state a la Benito. He sells himself as anti-state. He spits out the word “Washington” as if it is the Devil. Hillary is the one who is pro-state.
Fascism placed the state on a pedestal and inaugurated government by dictatorship rather than democracy. But, surely, not even The Guardian believes Trump aims to install a dictatorship. Indeed, right now, it is the liberal intelligentsia (Prof. Schama is by no means alone) who seem much more susceptible than Trump to the siren call of dictatorship when they question democracy itself if it gives power to people like him.
Fascism aimed for total control of citizens, especially of their minds. The closest America (and the rest of us) gets to this today is of course political correctness, which Hilary supports and the Donald despises.
Fascism was nationalistic which usually, though not necessarily, goes hand in hand with aggressive expansionism abroad. But Mr. Trump is much less nationalistic than Mrs. Clinton. He is the isolationist; she the interventionist.
Critics argue that Mr. Trump is a nationalist, at least at home. What they mean is that he’s a “racist,” and that means that he’s a fascist. I shall get lynched for pointing this out but another thing people seem not to know about Italian fascism is that it was no more nor less racist than any other political creed in the 1920s and 1930s.
The big exception was its German offspring, National Socialism. The Nazis were definitely and always anti-Semitic. Italian fascism was not. Mussolini’s main mistress until the early 1930s, Margherita Sarfatti, for example, was Jewish and the majority of Italy’s 50,000 Jews were fascists. Italian fascism became anti-Semitic–and on religious not racial grounds–only after Mussolini’s fatal alliance with Hitler in the late 1930s.
The German historian and journalist Emil Ludwig wrote a fascinating book about Mussolini in 1932, Talks With Mussolini, based on a series of lengthy interviews with Il Duce. Ludwig noted that “undoubtedly, no contemporary Englishman or Russian had so much sympathetic understanding of the Jews, as Mussolini with me in 1932.”
Ludwig, whose original surname was Cohn, was Jewish, and he wrote those words in the introduction to a new edition of his book in 1946 when World War II was over and the horrors of the Holocaust had been revealed.
There was nothing intrinsically anti-Semitic about Italian Fascism, incredible as this may seem given the way the word “Fascism” is used today. Mussolini had also told Ludwig in 1932:
Of course there are no pure races left; not even the Jews have kept their blood unmingled. Successful crossings have often promoted the energy and the beauty of a nation. Race! It is a feeling, not a reality; ninety-five percent, at least, is a feeling. Nothing will ever make me believe that biologically pure races can be shown to exist today. Amusingly enough, not one of those who have proclaimed the ‘nobility’ of the Teutonic race was himself a Teuton . . . . Anti-Semitism does not exist in Italy. Italians of Jewish birth have shown themselves good citizens, and they fought bravely in the [First World] war.”
Mr. Trump parts company with the Duce in other ways. Mr. Trump has said unkind things about Mexicans and Muslims–not Jews–and here he parts company with the Duce for a different reason: Mussolini would have been keen on Mexicans on the grounds that as a Latin, he was a Latin and Mexicans were Latinos. And he did not mind Muslims much per se, especially when they opposed British and French colonial power. As for Hitler, he was keener still on Muslims because so many supported his war on “international Jewry,” although he would have had doubt about Mexicans (as he did of Italians!).
George Orwell, a socialist who hated communism, drew an important distinction in a 1945 essay between patriotism and nationalism. A patriot is someone who wants to defends his country, culture, and way of life, wrote Orwell, whereas a nationalist is someone who wants to impose his country, culture, and way of life. Patriotism is defensive, nationalism offensive. Trump is a patriot, I reckon, not a nationalist. And this neatly sums up the difference between populism and fascism. Take it from me: The Donald is no Duce. Hillary on the other hand . . .