By: Bryce Greer
Is Trumpism a new fascism? If you consider the attack on the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2020 to have its own striking similarities to movements made by Hitler and Mussolini, then one may define Trump under the term fascist. Yet, the term fascism is nebulous, and the thin line in using the term “fascist” to describe a mainstream right-wing populist politician is hard to truly define. The atrocity on the 6th, however, has opened good reason to reconsider the use of the term fascism especially in relation to the rise of populist “moments” in the 21st century.
How can we redefine the term “fascist” when scholars are deeply contested on the use? As Victoria de Grazia highlights, we must understand that fascism is both a historical phenomenon and a political label. Concerns around using the term fascist in our contemporary world comes down to the sloppy analogies of the past used to influence the future. But when scholars, like Robert Paxton for example, who were once hesitant in calling Trump a fascist, now change their minds, there are, therefore, analogies to the 20th century fascism that are evident in our current environment. So how we do we address fascism now through analogies of its old 20th century past. Peter Gordon and Samuel Moyns offer similar ideas from different sides of the coin, and it is fact that we must come to use analogies as a way of insight to the past and prevent its repetition in the future. Second, we must also consider the disanalogies, of what makes now different to what has happened in the 20th century form. Clear from both, then, is my suggestion.
Rather than define Trumpism as the same 20th century fascism, we should instead be clear that the environment now, a suffering of a “There is no Alternative” politics in liberal democracy is in fact a movement to illiberal populist movements. And with the growing populism, as well as a problematic environment that continues to fester into a polarized political world, we live now in a similar time when fascism was created to address these problems. Heed, then, that rather falling into the political scapegoating of comparing Trump or Trumpism to the remnant past of 20th century fascism, it should instead be categorized, with both its analogies and disanalogies highlighting fascism to be not one form but rather many, as populism has so been recently defined as.
What we see now is not completely the same as we did with 20th century fascism. To return to Paxton, who highlights the striking similarity of the attack on the U.S. Capital Building to a similar openly fascist protest that occurred in Paris on February 6, 1934, we must understand the comparisons. Furthermore, in the new setting that we live in, we must also understand that there are differences. These differences may equally speak to a second form of fascism that grows with the discontent that current democratic liberalism brings us. Our solution is not by returning to the past through political labels, but rather making connections to the past to find a solution to the shortcomings of our current democratic system.
DEMOS Identifies Four Types of Populism in European Political Parties. https://demosh2020.eu/en/demos-identifies-four-types-of-populism-in-european-political-parties
Peter E. Gordon, “Why Historical Analogy Matters,” NYR Daily (7 January 2020), http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/01/07/why-historical-analogy-matters/
Victoria de Grazia, “What We Don’t Understand about Fascism” Zocalo Public Square https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2020/08/13/understand-fascism-american-historymussolini-hitler-20th-century/ideas/essay/
Samuel Moyn, “The Trouble with Comparisons,” NYR Daily (19 May 2020), https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/
Cas Mudde, “Populism in the Twenty-First Century: an Illiberal Democratic Response to Undemocratic Liberalism” The Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, University of Pennsylvania, https://www.sas.upenn.edu/andrea-mitchell-center/casmudde-populism-twenty-first-century
Robert Paxton, “I’ve Hesitated to Call Donald Trump a Fascist. Until Now | Opinion,” Newsweek (11 January 2021), https://www.newsweek.com/robert-paxton-trump-fascist-1560652