Is Donald Trump a fascist? A historian friend of mine thinks Trump is a fascist only if you define fascist as simply “a political opponent.” He said this in answer to his wife’s insistence that Trump is a fascist. It does seem preposterous to claim that Donald Trump has thought seriously enough about political philosophy to embrace fascism as a coherent ideology. When has he advocated the primacy of the State over the individual?
But in popular parlance, the term fascist has come to refer to anyone who has extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views. By that definition, my historian friend’s wife is right. If authoritarianism and intolerance are the hallmarks of fascism, Trump is certainly a fascist. Some right-wingers in the Republican Party argue that he really isn’t a true conservative. After all he has praised Planned Parenthood and suggested that we can’t let people die on the street for lack of healthcare. Well, maybe we can let Muslims die on the street.
To argue that “fascist” really can’t or shouldn’t be used this way is similar to arguing that the expression “beg the question” can’t be used to mean “raise the question.” In fact, nine times out of ten, that is exactly how it is used.
So “fascist” is a term of opprobrium used mostly by those on the political left for opponents on the political right who seem to be extreme. Nobody would call Lindsay Graham a fascist. It’s interesting that the term “communist” has not had a similar evolution. I haven’t heard Bernie Sanders called a communist. That’s probably because for American conservatives, “socialist” is a strong enough insult, even though Sanders calls himself a socialist.
Someone, I think it was Ambrose Bierce, defined a socialist as “someone who has nothing and is eager to share it with others.” That is pretty much the way older Americans think of a socialist. Younger Americans, especially the so-called Millennials, think of a socialist as someone, probably a Dane or a Swede, who doesn’t have to worry about paying off a massive student loan.