Which Authoritarian Was That? Identifying Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump raises his arms during a campaign rally in Boca Raton, Fla., Sunday, March 13,
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump raises his arms during a campaign rally in Boca Raton, Fla., Sunday, March 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

You must have noticed the Hitler comparisons, right? Amid the recent "Nazi" controversy (over whether those right hands raised in a pledge to vote for Donald Trump at his "movement" rallies are actually copycat Sieg Heils), a bevy of pundits, commentators, and other figures, including the Mexican president and Anne Frank's stepsister, have been comparing The Donald to Adolf Hitler. But have you noticed that others are pointing to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, Argentinian caudillo Juan Perón, right-wing Italian newspaper magnate, billionaire, and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, present head of the far-right National Front Party of France Marine Le Pen or her father, the founder of that party and Holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen (who endorsed Trump recently), and even left-wing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez? And that's not to speak of President Richard ("Tricky Dick") Nixon, segregationist Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace, senator and Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, Louisiana governor and populist Huey Long, and former car manufacturer, presidential possibility, and notorious anti-Semite Henry Ford, which is just to begin a list of history's potential Trump impersonators, not end it. (And don't even get me started on mentions of "fascism" and "authoritarianism" in the media these days!)

If nothing else, such a strange and varied list of comparisons tells us one thing: that Trump has taken the American political system and white working class voters in particular into territory uncharted in recent memory. Hence all those fingers pointing to whatever extreme figures come to mind. Of course, since at least the Clinton years, the Democratic Party has been slowly melting down, leaving a political structure lacking much of a base as the power of the unions has evaporated, big city political machines have largely been relegated to old Thomas Nast cartoons, and "neo" has been added to those liberal politicians who have started making their off-hours money by preaching the good times gospel to the big banks rather than regulating them. Of course, that meltdown is mostly ancient history these days, as Bernie Sanders takes many of the party's voters on a trip elsewhere. On the other hand, the Grand Old Party is melting down right now, before our eyes, and it couldn't be a more dramatic spectacle. There was, for instance, that recent assault on Trump as a failed businessman, con artist, and fraud by 2012 losing presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the casino capitalist who had a knack for pillaging companies and jobs. A recent poll now tells us that his verbal assaults and tweets on Trump actually helped increase both The Donald's voters and their commitment (as last Tuesday's primaries seemed to indicate).

So perhaps it's time to start writing those GOP obituaries. After all, we're talking about the party that, from Nixon's southern strategy to that infamous George H.W. Bush ad linking Willie Horton to Michael Dukakis, used racially coded appeals to attract voters. In the meantime, its leadership mainlined into a new billionaire class and a Supreme Court-approved world of funding in which everything political seemed to be up for sale for sums beyond imagining. So how can the Romneys, Ryans, and others not feel the bitter sting of a runaway billionaire who has used open racial taunts and appeals to steal their party while rejecting their money?

On such a darkened and racially charged stage, some speculation is certainly in order. What else is there to do, after all, when the future seems more unknown than usual? So TomDispatch has called on Bob Dreyfuss, author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, who knows a thing or two about extremists and authoritarians of various sorts, to give some thought to where Trumpism, with or without The Donald, might actually go, and he does so spectacularly in "It Can't Happen Here... Can It?"