Hi, everybody! Today we’re going to talk about a certain presidential candidate, and that means we’re going to have to use the f-word. The candidate is Donald Trump, and the word, of course, is “fuckface”.
Ha ha! Just kidding! The word is “fascism”, and the candidate is “all of them”.
Ever since Donald Trump, a spunk-stained carpet in an unsold office block, announced recently that he would implement draconian measures against people of the Muslim faith upon becoming President of America, pundits from every point on the political spectrum have been trotting out the fasces and insisting that Trump, or more likely his caddy, will soon be hauling it it into the White House. Trump, whose previous targets of choice have included hot dog vendors, insufficiently anorexic beauty queens, and the concept of good taste, has expressed enthusiasm for the idea of keeping a national database of Muslim-Americans and has endorsed an outright ban on Muslims entering the United States, either as residents or visitor; this has led to widespread accusations of fascist sympathies on his part, and has even made the reactionary right rise in a panic and pretend they don’t approve of this sort of thing.
Is Donald Trump really a fascist? The question is, in its very formulation, pretty misguided. Trump treats political ideologies the way a toddler treats everything; he’ll pick it up, stick it in his mouth, and leave it there until it disintegrates. Trump isn’t the stupidest person to ever run for President of the United States, but he’s probably the most cynical, and his recent noising off about the need to put Muslims on ice is merely him at his most pandering. As long as it keeps getting cheers from the punters, he’ll keep doing it, with absolutely no concern where it places him on the continuums of political belief, programmatic coherency, or human decency. Trump is the G.O.B. Bluth of the American electorate. He got big cheers for making fun of a handicapped reporter, so look for him to keep doing that, too, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to him having a Hitlerian desire to enact a homegrown version of Aktion T4.
In other words, Donald Trump’s sole interest is in Donald Trump, and if he actually has any ideas about the Presidency — which is by no means certain — it is only that the President should be Donald Trump. Accusing him of fascist sympathies gives him far more credit for thoughtfulness than he has ever possessed. The hell of it is, Donald Trump not wanting to be a fascist doesn’t mean that he isn’t one, or won’t become one. Certainly he is an authoritarian; every inch of his being strives to be the big man behind a desk who gets to bark out orders and have them obeyed without cavil. The very incoherence of his campaign — the way that he, like most wealthy businessmen who run for office, seems to assume that once he gets elected, he will just be able to say things and have those things happen — is all the evidence we need of that. And his strong showing at the polls may be deceptive, given that he is expertly playing to the dumbest, angriest, and loudest of voters, might not seem to be sustainable, but history is full of such crafty people who won office on the smallest majorities, or no majority at all, by doing just that kind of exploitation of the noisy and stupid.
Luckily for us, America isn’t Weimar Germany, and while our voters and representatives might be as dysfunctional and divided as theirs, our democracy is not as new and weak, our systems are not as fragile, and our people are not quite as desperate. Trump’s numbers are already dwindling, and the Democrats, at this point, would have to shit the bed so messily to lose to the G.O.P. that it would be almost unthinkable for him to win the nomination, let alone the election. That’s assuming, which, as we’ve noted, is not a firm assumption, that he actually wants to be President; he may hold democracy in contempt, but there’s no evidence that he wants to dispense with it altogether. He would surely enjoy dressing up a paramilitary army in colorful suits with a big T on their hats and having them march down Fifth Avenue with rocket launchers, but he would really hate sitting in meetings all day and hearing people tell him why this or that thing is not feasible. And collecting such a meager salary for it, to boot! Hitler at least made a bunch more money when he became Germany’s führer; Trump has already sold millions of copes of his cruddy books, and he didn’t even have to pass a law making it mandatory. He’d even be on TV less as president than he is now.
So the question isn’t really whether Donald Trump will rise to the position of an American Duce. (If we’re in the market for a comparison, he’s a lot more likely to become our version of Silvio Berlusconi.) While he has some facile resemblance to fascist bigwigs of the past — he mixes liberalism and reaction into an incoherent self-serving blend, and he talks a good game about the sapping of our national will and the need for a handy scapegoat for our precipitous decline — he’s neither inclined nor equipped to replace our existing institutions, and while he’s proving to be pretty good at directing his rally crowds to silence protestors, when the rubber meets the skull, he probably doesn’t have much of a taste for violence.
The question is, how much tolerance for his bad ideas will we have when he inevitably drops out of the race and they’re left to fall out of the faces of other, less obviously grotesque politicians? If Bernie Sanders was really a communist instead of a genteel democratic semi-socialist, we might find ourselves in a situation where the political structure was really in danger of splitting. But America today isn’t as dynamic as Europe in the ’20s, or, well, Europe today, for that matter. The likeliest outcome is that we elect Hillary Clinton, who will pursue, more or less, the same destructive foreign policies as her former employer and likely predecessor; the second-likeliest is that we elect a Republican who will do the same thing plus an invasion of Iran for kicks, and who understands the political process enough to do more than Trump, who doesn’t actually care, ever could. So congratulations, America: you will avoid fascism for yet another election cycle, and, in so doing, will allow your democracy to become further poisoned and dysfunctional. Inaction will prevail where force fails. Ain’t freedom grand?