by Daniel Pipes
Of his many outrageous campaign statements, perhaps Donald J. Trump’s most important ones concern his would-be role as president of the United States.
When told that uniformed personnel would disobey his unlawful order as president to torture prisoners and kill civilians, Trump menacingly replied “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse, believe me.” Responding to criticism by the speaker of the House, Trump spoke like a Mafia don: “Paul Ryan, I don’t know him well, but I’m sure I’m going to get along great with him. And if I don’t? He’s gonna have to pay a big price.” Complaining that the United States’ international standing has declined, Trump promised to make foreigners “respect our country” and “respect our leader” by creating an “aura of personality.” Concerning the media, which he despises, Trump said, “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”
He encourages participants at his rallies physically to assault critics and has offered to cover their legal fees. He has twice re-tweeted an American Nazi figure. Only under pressure did he reluctantly disavow support from David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. [He kept a copy of Hitler’s collected early speeches, My New Order, by his bed. He called on followers to swear allegiance to him, evoking Hitlergruß-like salutes.]
In these and other ways, the Republican presidential candidate breaches the normal boundaries of American politics. He wants the military, the congress, foreign governments, the press, and ordinary citizens to submit to his will. His demands, and not some musty 18th-century documents, are what count. Trump presents himself as billionaire, master dealmaker, and nationalist who can get things done, never mind the losers and the fine print.
Conservatives have picked up on these tendencies. Rich Lowry of the National Review notes, “Donald Trump exists in a plane where there isn’t a Congress or a Constitution. There are no trade-offs or limits. There is only his will and his team of experts.” Michael Gerson of the Washington Post concurs: “His answer to nearly every problem is himself — his negotiating skill, his strength of purpose, his unique grasp of the national will.” Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe fears his becoming “a ruthless strongman in the White House, unencumbered by constitutional norms and democratic civilities.”
Liberals agree. Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame called Trump “a new kind of fascist in our culture” and someone with an “authoritarian demagogic point of view.” Hillary Clinton portrays Trump pursuing “a demagogic path” that relies on xenophobia, paranoia, prejudice, and nationalism “to really stir people up.”
If this kind of politics has no precedent at the highest precincts of American politics, it does elsewhere and it has a name: neo-fascism.
The term fascism dates to 1915 when it was adopted by Benito Mussolini to describe a novel movement that combined elements of the right (nationalism) and of the left (an economically all-powerful state). The fascist outlook, according to Merriam-Webster, “exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
Neo-fascism is the term for post-1945 figures who appropriate elements of the fascist agenda; it is a political movement “characterized by policies designed to incorporate the basic principles of fascism … into existing political systems.” That nicely describes Trump.
Videos of Mussolini demonstrate how the Italian dictator’s style anticipated that of the Republican frontrunner; even without knowing Italian, one sees their similarity in character and tone, even in their facial expressions. The distinguished historian Andrew Roberts finds in Mussolini “Trump’s secret template.”
The United States, the world’s oldest democratic republic, faces an internal danger unlike any in the past 1½ centuries, one with the potential to degrade domestic life and reduce the country’s standing in the world. Nothing is as important as resisting and defeating Donald J. Trump and the neo-fascist virus he wishes to bring to the White House.
Republicans of Pennsylvania have an important job ahead of us in the primary election on April 26: to do our part in denying Trump the delegates he needs to become our nominee for president.
Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes), a life-long Republican and 30-year resident of Philadelphia, has worked for three U.S. presidents. © 2016 All rights reserved by Daniel Pipes.