Rick Perstein, a foremost historian on the rise of the American right, has a long piece on Donald Trump and fascism, comparing his emergence to the politics of other demagogues and fascists throughout the 20th century. It’s a thoughtful, detailed, assessment of the risks and the process.
When Trump emerged, many folks started to compare him to Berlusconi, but I continued to suggest that Il Duce was a better model. I stand by that assessment. Here’s Perlstein:
Trump has now provided more “specifics” about his immigration plan: a forced population transfer greater than any attempted in history, greater than the French and Spanish expulsions of the Jews in 1308 and 1492; greater than theNabka of approximately 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from British-mandate Palestine; greater than the 1.5 million Stalin consigned to Siberia and the Central Asian republics; greater than Pol Pot’s exile of 2.5 million city-dwellers to the Cambodian countryside, or the scattering of Turkey’s Assyrian Christians, which the scholar Mordechai Zaken says numbers in the millions and required 180 years to complete. Trump has promised to move 12 million Mexicans in under two years––“so fast your head will spin.”
Only then will he start building the wall.
But all Republican politicians say stuff like this, right? They all want a wall, they all want to bury criminals under the jail, they all crave war, even if they’re not quite so explicit about it.
Not quite, actually. Previous Republican leaders were sufficiently frightened by the daemonic anger that energized their constituencies that they avoided surrendering to it completely, even for political advantage. Think of Barry Goldwater, who was so frightened of the racists supporting him that he told Lyndon Johnson he’d drop out of the race if they started making race riots a campaign issue. And Ronald Reagan refusing to back a 1978 ballot initiative to fire gay schoolteachers in California, at a time vigilantes were hunting down gays in the street. Think of George W. Bush guiding Congress toward a comprehensive immigration bill (akin to that proposed by President Obama) until the onslaught of vitriol that talk-radio hosts directed at Republican members of Congress forced him to quit. Think of George W. Bush’s repeated references to Islam as a “religion of peace.”
That’s right, W. was the responsible one. Trump is much more dangerous. Trump is also not doctrinally conservative when it comes to economics, but rather has grasped the power of economic demagoguery.
Describe Donald Trump to a mid-century social scientist and he would respond: of course he is in first place. And I’m fairly certain George W. Bush would fully understand that he could have further expanded his own massive grant of post-9/11 power were he only to scapegoat all Muslims. It is to his great credit that he did not. He seemed to have understood something the current crop of Republican candidates chasing after Trump do not—something about Pandora’s Boxes, toothpaste that cannot be put back into tubes, the demiurge. Bush was, unlike Donald Trump, unwilling to say anything.
Our notional midcentury social scientist, or better historically informed pundits, wouldn’t be so sanguine. They would recognize the phenomenon that sociologist Pierre van den Berghe in 1967 labeled herrenvolk democracy: a political ideology in which members of the dominant ethnic group enjoy privileged provision from the state, as a function of the economic and civic disenfranchisement of the scapegoated group, to better cement dictatorship. This was why elites feared Huey Long’s promise of a guaranteed income––“Every Man A King.” This was how George Wallace governed Alabama. This was apartheid South Africa.
Read the whole thing. I still can’t believe Trump will win the nomination, let alone the election. But a savvier politician, perhaps also a billionaire, will come along who appropriates these pieces and will win. History tells us to be worried about that future.