I broke the law. While appearing on a local public radio show, I compared Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald J. Trump to Hitler and fascism. Thereby I violated Godwin's Law (an internet adage), which states that thou shall not invoke Hitler or fascism in a civil conversation. I am loath to invoke such loaded terms. But Trump makes it both easy and difficult to see the obvious.
I am not alone. Famed journalist Carl Bernstein called Trump a neo-fascist pointing out, "I think the word neo is crucial because it means new and it's a peculiarly American kind of fascism." While there are important historical divergences between Trump and Hitler, the parallels in their policy choices and their extolling of authoritarianism ought to be concerning enough to venture where political discourse seldom should go. The Economist's Intelligence Unit, which provides risk assessment and business intelligence to corporations around the world, recently ranked Trump presidency as a top 10 risk facing the world. They cited three major concerns - disruption to the world economy, political chaos in the U.S., and heightened security threat to America and American interests around the world.
Trump being fascistic was based on my understanding of the broad strokes of history. Authoritarian leaders inevitably bring chaos all the while promising utopian fixes. While the U.S. is not the dominant world power it once was, mostly due to the inevitable rise of other countries, it still remains a nation with formidable hard and soft power. Perhaps one of the best places to look will be U.N.'s Human Development Index (HDI) that measures, "richness of human life, rather than simply the richness of the economy." In 2015, the U.S. ranked #8. Countries outranking America are those whom Bernie Sanders hold out as models, such as Norway and Switzerland, and whom Trump dismisses as socialists. From 1990 to 2015, America's HDI score improved by 6.5 percent, despite encountering several economic recessions along the way.
The area where U.S. performs worst is something that Trump never talks about - income inequality. After taking taxes into account, U.S. has the second highest level of income inequality, behind only Chile. According to a report from Pew Research, "U.S. tax and spending policy does relatively little, compared with its peers in the developed world, to reduce inequality." Trump's supporter are ostensibly angry because of economic sufferings, but the most important factor behind that suffering is virtually non-existent in Trump's platitude of making America great again. The headline from Fortune magazine says it all, "Donald Trump's Tax Plan Would Make the Rich Richer, Uncle Sam Poorer." Debt will explode as the government takes-in less revenue. The economic populism that is supposedly behind Trump's rise is mostly smokes and mirrors.
So what is fueling his rise? A study by Vox.com showed that people who favor conformity and are wary of outsiders correlate well with Trump supporters. Social scientists call such people authoritarians. Trump supporters may not view him as a dictator but his aggressive tone and polices resonate with their fears and anxieties. Trump's odious views do not necessarily rise to fascism unless coupled with Trump's incitement of violence. When he threatens to punch protestors or alludes to riots if the Republican Party does not coronate him, he is using the playbook of bullies. And when his supporters beat up Mexicans and Muslims, his threat is not protected free speech but akin to yelling fire in a crowded theatre.
If you are not a Mexican, you may not be impacted by Trump's characterization of Mexican immigrants as "rapists". But those who are Mexican or perceived to be Mexican are already facing violent backlash at schools. If you are not Muslim, you may not care about imposing a ban of undefined length on all Muslims entering the U.S. But for those with family, social, and business ties to one-fifth of humanity, such ideas represent a clear and present danger. If you care not about international laws and treaties, you may turn a blind eye to Trump advocating torture and illegal killings of civilians. But those American service women and men, whose safety depends upon reciprocity, are undoubtedly at risk if Trump indeed follows through on his bluster. Recently when asked about his foreign policy advisors, Trump said he talks to himself. In other words, his is a cult of personality not a movement of ideas. If this is not fascistic, tell me what is?
Nationalism, condescension towards human rights, use of scapegoats for a unifying cause, sexism, threats to free journalism, subordinating all other concerns for national security, fetish for police power, are some of the common traits of fascism. Trump check marks on all of them, albeit in a modern American context. Trump has already disrupted social cohesion. Imagine how he may react when he feels the power of having his finger on the nuclear button. It is never too late to oppose fascists and there is no shame in switching sides to stand up to bullies.