History Repeating Itself – Trump and Fascism

Fascism is a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition. (Merriam Webster)

I am a long time history enthusiast and student and have always been intrigued by how people like Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler and, in recent times, Donald Trump became as powerful as they did and developed such a massive following. I have watched many documentaries and read many books on Mussolini and Hitler in an attempt to help me understand the appeal these men had. Whilst doing this the similarities between probably the two most famous fascists in history and Donald Trump have become more and more striking (and perhaps a bit scary).

After the Capitol siege on January 6th 2021, historian and author Ruth Ben-Ghiat took to social media and compared the siege to Mussolini’s march on Rome in late October 1922. This was the insurrection by which Mussolini came to power and which marked the start of fascist rule and the end of the preceding socialist and liberal parliaments. On October 27th 1922 the Fascist movement attempted to cut off all lines of communication to the capital so they could prepare to march on Rome and seize power in a coup. The Fascist movement was no match for the Italian military but despite this when the government became aware of the plans they tried to accommodate the Fascists. This was because Italy had already been torn apart by political factionalism and the government were afraid that there would be a civil war. Mussolini was not happy when he was offered a subordinate role in the new government and so he was promoted to premier. On October 29th 1922 the planned coup became a march of celebration by Mussolini’s blackshirt supporters.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat also drew comparisons between Republicans turning on Donald Trump to the Fascists who voted Mussolini out of power in 1943. This was not to reinstate democracy but to save fascism. In the same way it could be said that members of the GOP have turned against the insurrectionist-in-chief in order to redeem and save the Republican party. Up until the Capitol siege on January 6th Ruth Ben-Ghiat had been more comfortable calling Donald Trump “authoritarian” as opposed to “fascist”. Robert Paxton, a Columbia University historian of fascism, had also been reluctant to call Trump a “fascist” before the January 6th siege. The use of violence against democratic institutions changed Paxton’s views as this crossed the “red line”. On January 11th Paxton wrote an opinion piece for Newsweek entitled ‘I’ve Hesitated to call Donald Trump a Fascist. Until Now‘ in which he tells how in 2016 “a newsreel clip of Trump’s plane taxiing up to a hangar where cheering supporters awaited reminded me eerily of Adolf Hitler’s electoral campaign in July 1932, the first airborne campaign in history, where the arrival of the Fuhrer’s plane electrified the crowd”.

Trump supporters and their blind loyalty to their racist hero remind me of Hitler’s Einzatskommando or Mussolini’s squadristi. This is despite the fact that Trump supporters wearing of a MAGA baseball cap is not the wearing of a full uniform. In August 2017 different neo-nazi and white supremacist groups converged on Charlottesville Virginia supposedly to protest the planned removal of a statue of confederate leader Robert E Lee. This was the “Unite the right” rally. Many of the far right activists were holocaust deniers and blatant antisemites. Baseball caps with the acronym MAGA could be seen wherever the cameras pointed whilst the rally was being filmed. The night before the rally there was a march on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville. Activists could be heard chanting various Nazi slogans including “Sieg heil” and “blood and soil” as well as antisemitic chants such as “Jews will not replace us”. What I found most disturbing was how a neo-Nazi leader called the rally “an absolutely stunning success” despite the fact that 32 year old Heather Heyer was killed when James Fields drove his car into a crowd of anti-Fascism protesters (he has since been imprisoned for her murder). At the time both Republican and Democrat leaders denounced the explicit racism of the activists saying it was a betrayal of American ideals. Trump was not amongst those leaders. Trump, who was playing golf at his golf resort in New Jersey, instead condemned the “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides”, he repeated “many sides” but at no time did he condemn the blatant racism of the white nationalist activists.

Trump has also shown similarities in the way that he has mastered the art of back-and-forth exchanges with his captivated audience just like Mussolini and Hitler had done. He has also shown that just like them he understands the antagonistic feelings that some parts of American society have towards established leaders and organisations. Trump has mastered electronic media, especially social media, in the same way that Hitler mastered radio to reach his loyal supporters and fan base. He has now lost the use of social media due to his being permanently suspended from many platforms because of the fear that he will incite more violence in the same way he had in the weeks and days leading up to the siege on January 6th.

Trumps’s incitement to violence in the days before and during the rally that preceded the invasion of the Capitol on June 6th, has shown that he deserves to be labelled as a “fascist” as well as a sore loser. He openly encouraged civil violence to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory. Robert Paxton compares the siege of the Capitol to an openly fascist demonstration in the streets of Paris on the night of February 6, 1934. This was a milestone on the road to fascism in Europe. Thousands of World War I veterans had become bitter when they heard of rumours of corruption in the French parliament. The veterans tried to invade the parliamentary chamber at the same time that a new questionable government was being voted into power. The veterans had been rallied by right-wing groups who wished to replace the weak parliamentary government with a fascist dictatorship on the same model of Hitler and Mussolini.

If, as feared, America sees more violence on 20th January when Joe Biden is inaugurated as 46th President of USA it will confirm the hold that fascist leader Trump has over his blindly loyal supporters. In my opinion it will signify that this is perhaps not the end of Trump’s desire for ultimate power nor the end of his support despite many Republicans turning against him. Hitler did not win his first attempt at supreme leadership when his attempted coup, the Beer Hall Putsch, on 8-9 November 1923 failed and he was convicted of treason and imprisoned for five years. I, like many others, hope that Trump is charged for his many crimes, especially for his treason and sedition, and serves a long jail sentence but sadly it is not cast in stone.

The following links will take you to other articles which helped me with writing this piece:

‘Jews will not replace us’: Vice film lays bare horror of neo-Nazis in America

How Charlottesville became the symbolic prize of the far right

Is Donald Trump a fascist?

I’ve Hesitated to Call Donald Trump a Fascist. Until Now | Opinion

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