Why do people say Trump is a fascist rather than a nationalist?

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23 January
14:19
Photo: Bundesarchiv/wikimedia
9 February
16:25

Because they’re ignorant of the word fascism, simple as that. Fascism is a revolutionary form of nationalism, and Trump is absolutely not a revolutionary. He’s a dynamic conservative who wants to get rid of socialism just like Thatcher did in Britain in the 1980s, who wants to liberate the ruling elites from the shackles of any sort of socialism or redistribution or care for the environment or care for the poor, and wants to keep America American. This isn’t fascism, it’s radical right-wing populism in alliance with Republican conservatism.

The immigration ban is not a fascist policy, either. That’s called racism, and racism doesn’t have to be fascist. You can have male-chauvinist working-class fascists, you can have socialist-party anti-immigration – trade unions have a long history of being anti-immigration because it takes away jobs. The relationship between fascism and racism is complex – Italian fascism under Mussolini was not racist until the very end.

It’s no surprise that the word fascist is being used inaccurately to describe him. I’ve spent 30 years defining it and it is misused constantly. Thatcher was called a fascist, Putin is called a fascist – any authoritarian you don’t agree with can be called a fascist but that’s using it as an expletive rather than as a technical description. The reason people are using the word fascist about Trump is simply that it’s a handy insult.

There are no fascist regimes in the world right now. There are one or two fascist movements – Golden Dawn in Greece is one – and there are lots of individual fascists elsewhere but not enough of them to create a dynamic populist movement. Fascism still exists but there’s no fascist regime in the world, and there only ever were two anyway – the Fascist and Nazi states.

“The reason people are using the word fascist about Trump is simply that it’s a handy insult.”

Comparing Trump to Hitler is equally wrong-headed. There’s absolutely no connection between the two, and all it does is show the urge to make sense of the world by dividing it up simplistically into good and bad, right and wrong, evil and good. Why compare him to Hitler? We have gutter press all over the world who like headlines, and cartoonists and social commentators who are battling for attention. In a world of sound bites and Twitter, a word like “fascist” or “Nazi” or “Hitler” provokes emotion.

If we’re trying to understand what’s going on, however, to call Putin or Assad or ISIS or Trump fascist is absolutely meaningless because it puts into the same box extraordinarily different things. We should forget about labels and concentrate instead on the uniqueness of events and phenomena which are absolutely new and unique and whose long-term outcome we cannot yet predict.

“To call Putin or Assad or ISIS or Trump fascist is absolutely meaningless because it puts into the same box extraordinarily different things.” 

We should just try to describe things as they are. Trump is a maverick politician in America who’s got in on a Republican ticket and has some links with that party but is also loathed by some of its members. He is by definition unclassifiable, and we should just watch him. Similarly Putin is not a fascist, he’s abusing a democratic Russian system in order to acquire presidential power and “make Russia great”. He’s not a fascist, he’s just a highly nationalistic politician.

This is about the way words get devalued. If we want to go around the world labelling things and carrying banners with slogans on then call him a fascist. But if we want to understand the world then we throw away our banners and our slogans and our graffiti, and we try to study and read and listen and develop a complicated understanding of the world.

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