It’s become quite fashionable to call Trump, and by extension all who support him, “fascist.” That is, of course, when people aren’t going full-Godwin (I had one such conversation yesterday, where someone was conflating Trump with Hitler, and utterly obstinate as to the terrible dilution of the latter’s atrocities and the Third Reich’s real evil). The “fascist” label is itself quite severe when one takes the time to understand its meaning, but most people don’t. Instead, they use it almost interchangeably with “racist,” the “almost” being the element of authoritarian thuggery that “fascist” carries.

All this speaks of a lack of proper historical education, about nazism, about fascism, and about the statist/totalitarian regimes and societies of the past century in general. Fact is, “fascism” has a much more specific meaning than the “nativist thuggery” that most of its bandiers seem to mean. An Internet search produces:

a political philosophy, movement, or regime that 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.

Certainly, there are elements of Trumpism that suggest some of this to a degree, i.e. a nationalistic/nativist flavor. But, nationalism is not synonymous with fascism, because the former is viewpoint while the latter is coercion. This is the problem with calling Trump and his ilk fascists, because the administration’s first year has, in practice, shown little coercion.

Most statist forms of government include as a core component the control of a nation’s economy. Whereas socialism involves state ownership of the means of production, fascism chooses instead to exhibit tight control of privately owned businesses, and tends to favor having a few large companies rather than many companies. I’ve written about this “economic fascism” here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Take note that all those posts were written during the previous administration, and indeed, one of the hallmarks of this administration is a substantial and systematic movement away from government control of the private sector. Deregulation and tax cuts are not the way of fascists. Protectionism does remain high on the President’s mind, and that’s a prime example of “Bad-Trump” that may, if broadly implemented, counterweigh the gains made by “Good-Trump” deregulation and tax relief, but if we are to judge Trump’s fascistic tendencies by his first-year record on matters economic, we’d have very little of substance to support the labeling.

Yes, Trump has made noises regarding the non-economic forms of fascism, in particular with sinister hints about news and other organizations that are critical of his administration, and that’s a problem. His ideas on immigration are also wont to give one an impression of fascistic tendencies, and while his supporters take great pains to distinguish between legal and illegal immigration, it remains that both Trump and his supporters want the legal forms curtailed as well, with a special eye on familial “chain” immigration and on immigrants from cultures and societies that don’t embrace Western ideas and values. That’s the nationalism that prompts some to dub Trump a fascist.

But, it’s not wrong to look at Trump comparatively, rather than outside historical context, and that’s where the “fascist” narrative loses traction.

Consider, for example, the previous administration’s record on dissent and on government thuggery. A full-blown scandal at the IRS, where conservative organizations were placed under special scrutiny and had their applications for tax status delayed or denied, continues to be denied or dismissed by the people screaming about as-yet nonexistent suppressions of today’s deeply-hostile-to-Trump liberal press, a liberal press that has abandoned journalistic ethics in favor of overt opposition punditry, and continues to do so with a free hand. Consider Edward Snowden’s revelations of NSA spying on Americans, activity that happened under Obama’s watch, and an activity that brought denials rather than corrections (and consider the disparate treatment of Snowden vs Chelsea Manning). Consider Obama’s liberal use of drone strikes (including some against American citizens), the secret FISA court, and his explicit orders to Justice not to prosecute those who used the “enhanced interrogation techniques” he denounced on the campaign trail.

Consider, as well, the Obama administration’s actual record on immigration. Despite the rhetoric and public perception, Obama oversaw massive deportations, at rates that exceeded what the Trump administration had done thus far. It’s also quite arguable that Obama’s executive action regarding DACA and the Dreamers, an action that was quite unconstitutional, was far more dictatorial than Trump’s reversal, even though the intent can be construed as less nationalistic (although even then, consider that Dreamers have spent most of their lives in America, and thus aren’t what we first think of when we contemplate the word “immigrants”).

Consider Obama’s signature achievement: the Affordable Care Act. Passed entirely on party-line votes, and more importantly written entirely by his party, it represented a massive expansion of government control over one-seventh of the economy. Pile onto that the deluge of economic regulations, the amok EPA that declared authority over every last puddle in the nation, the combination of incentives and deterrents intended to reshape domestic energy policy and to put the screws to any big energy corporation that didn’t play along, and similar examples of tightening government control over the private economy. See: Severe economic regimentation.

Consider, as well, the social justice and “woke” movement that brooks no dissent and that tolerates no opinions that deviate an inch from an ever-evolving orthodoxy. Consider how government force was considered not only acceptable, but necessary, in enforcing the mandates of this movement. Fines for not using correct pronouns. Laws regarding public bathrooms. Penalties for voicing a belief-based refusal to decorate a wedding cake. See: Severe social regimentation.

The Nazis (yes, Nazi stands for “National Socialist,” and while there is endless debate as to whether they were socialists or fascists, I retort – what’s the difference? The Soviet Socialists actually killed more people than the Nazis, so the argument is about flavors of evil, not any sort of political opposites) had their brownshirts, and the Italian Fascists had their blackshirts. America has borne witness to the rise of the alt-Right, a smattering of neo-Nazis, and a broader nativist movement that ranges widely in its fervor. In parallel, we’ve seen the rise of Antifa and of movements like Black Lives Matter. There’s criticism to heap upon all of them, and some certainly deserve more than others (I won’t play more equivalence). But, these modern brown- and blackshirts don’t remotely carry the power that Social Justice did under the Obama administration, where one step outside the boundaries could result in a person’s entire future being savagely destroyed, and actual laws, regulations and policies were written to enforce its diktats. Who should an average person fear more?

Lets agree that, in general tone, the nationalist/nativist/populist rhetoric of the Trump administration provides some basis for worrying about fascistic elements therein. It would be tendentious not to, especially with regard to immigration policy. But, if we judge this administration’s fascist leanings against that of Obama’s, the record is quite clear that the elements of fascism are in far greater prevalence in the latter.

So, will the Lefties who loudly, proudly, and unreservedly proclaim Trump a fascist also proclaim Obama a fascist? Will those who unreservedly backed all that Obama did, including the massive expansion of government control of the private economy, the use of state apparatus to stifle dissent, the spying on the American public, the autocratic prosecution of foreign wars, the deportation of millions, and the application of government coercion to enforce a particular social agenda?

I’m sure they will.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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