A Message Like His Will Always Appeal to Some People

Depending on how we define “fascism”, Trump probably isn’t a fascist. He’s more of a fascist-in-training.

But he sure is an authoritarian. He boasts that he will do this, that and the other thing as President, as if his word will be law. That is the authoritarian ideal: the Great Leader who can make things happen without worrying about the niceties of constitutional government.

Authoritarianism, obviously, is anti-democratic. Once they’ve got the power, Great Leaders aren’t bound by elections. They do not go quietly. They talk loudly and carry big sticks.

If you want to read a short article on the danger Trump poses, I recommend “This Is How Fascism Comes to America”. The author is Robert Kagan, an historian and foreign policy specialist who was a Republican until a few months ago. A few words from Mr. Kagan:

What [Trump] offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger….

This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.

If you want to read a long article about Trump’s message and what his success says about millions of Americans, I recommend “Welcome to the Age of Trump” by Jonathan Freedland, a British journalist. Some selections:

He’s clearly not fettered by the restraints that hold back [other] politicians. On this logic, Trump is the fearless truth-teller. Which may seem an odd accolade to give a man who has been caught out as a serial liar and perhaps the most provenly dishonest candidate to seek, let alone win, the nomination of a major US party. But that is to forget that Trump’s core supporters believe it is the establishment – the media and political elites – that have lied to them for at least two decades. So when those same elites brand Trump a liar, his supporters either don’t believe it, or else they don’t care….

One reason why Trump seems sinister rather than simply clownish is the hint that he is hostile not just to the current two-party system in the US, but to the very norms that underpin liberal democracy…This is more than a rejection of the current Democrat-Republican gridlock. This is a contempt for the very notion of constitutional democracy. And if Trump is pushing it, it may be because he knows there is a ready audience for just such a message.

The World Values Survey of 2011 included a stunning figure. It found that 34% of Americans approved of “having a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress or elections”, the figure rising to 42% among those with no education beyond high school. It’s worth reading that again, to let it sink in. It means that one in three US voters would prefer a dictator to democracy. Those Americans are not repudiating this or that government, but abandoning the very idea of democracy itself.

Among the evidence Mr. Freedland cites is a video from Vox that examines Trump’s popularity from a political science perspective. It’s called “The Rise of American Authoritarianism, Explained in Six Minutes” and is worth watching. It helps explain why someone like Trump will always appeal to certain voters. In fact, their authoritarian psychology may be the most defining characteristic of the people who actually believe Trump should win, not their racism, fear of Muslims, worries about immigration or their economic complaints.

That’s why we need to do everything we can to defeat Trump by the largest possible margin in November. If the election is close at all, it will encourage more fascists-in-training to seek high office, one of whom might be a much better salesman than Trump.