< Go Back

What the Heck is Fascism?

What the Heck is Fascism?

    Trump’s critics like to label him a fascist. I didn’t know what that word meant, so I made the mistake of looking it up.

    It turns out that no one agrees what the word means. So if you use the word, you’re literally acting like an idiot, because the word has no definition except for the one in your mind. It is sort of like talking in tongues and wondering why no one else is nodding in agreement.

    A writer for SLATE, Jamelle Bouie, recently referenced the Umberto Eco 14-element definition of fascism to analyze Trump (and decided it didn’t quite fit.) I will do the same, below.

    Generally speaking, if your word has a fourteen-element definition with a “pick any” quality to it, you don’t have a word. You have a list. So I would say that “fascism” is – first and foremost – not an actual word with meaning (agreed meaning) in the English language. So if you use the word as a label, you are literally talking nonsense.

    But just for fun, let’s see how well the Umberto Eco definition fits Trump. I’ll do the points one-at-a-time.

    1.“The Cult of Tradition”, combining cultural syncretism with a rejection of modernism.”

    Trump Tweets from his helicopter. He builds big, modern things. I have not seen him reject any modernism.

    2. “The Cult of Action for Action’s Sake”, which dictates that action is of value in itself, and should be taken without intellectual reflection. This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science.”

    Trump is a business person. He values only action that has a point. Trump has attacked specific elements of science (climate change) but is generally pro-science. I would imagine that scientist themselves have disagreements with parts of science.

    3. “Disagreement Is Treason” – fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action.”

    I haven’t seen Trump label critics treasonous. He has labelled individuals treasonous, but only because they did actual treason(ish) things – in his opinion – such as stealing secrets. 

    4. “Fear of Difference”, which fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants.”

    Trump says he loves Hispanics and loves African-Americans. His big issue is about border control, which is an issue shared by the entire country. Granted, he has a different approach to it. We can’t know what his secret thoughts are, but based on his words and actions, Trump would deport his own cousins if they were here illegally.

    5. “Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class”, fearing economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups.”

    Trump doesn’t blame the poor for the plight of the middle class. He wants to tax the super rich and help the middle class. He also wants to keep social programs strong for the poor. Every American politician tries to appeal to the frustrated middle class.

    6. “Obsession with a Plot” and the hyping-up of an enemy threat; This often involves an appeal to xenophobia (such as the German elite’s ‘fear’of the 1930s Jewish populace’s businesses and well-doings, see also anti-Semitism) with an identification of their being an internal security threat: He also cites Pat Robertson’s book The New World Order as a prominent example of a plot obsession.”

    The threat of terror is real. And 11 million illegals have a real economic impact. Neither issue seems hyped to observers.

    6. “Pacifism is Trafficking with the Enemy” because “Life is Permanent Warfare” – there must always be an enemy to fight; Both fascist Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini worked first to organize and clean up their respective countries and then build the war machines that they later intended to and did use, despite Germany being under restrictions of the Versailles treaty to NOT build a military force. This principle leads to a fundamental contradiction within fascism: the incompatibility of ultimate triumph with perpetual war.”

    Trump is anti-war (unless necessary). He opposed the second Iraq war.

    7. “Contempt for the Weak” – although a fascist society is elitist, everybody in the society is educated to become a hero; for example: the 1930s Germans, especially Hitler labeled Jews inferior humans thus weak as well as the physically disabled, the mentally retarded and mentally ill as weak—thus these “weak” or unwanteds were eliminated (executed) or “exterminated” (the Jews, or even Germans with disabilities).”

    No sign of anything like that, except when talking about “weak” politicians. Trump is a big supporter of Wounded Warriors. He has contempt for critics, but those come in all types and sizes. His daughter is Jewish by conversion. And so on. You can suspect he has dark private thoughts, but based on how the talks and acts, he appears to love anyone who loves him back.

    8. “Selective Populism” – the People have a common will, which is not delegated but directed by a dictator; This casts doubt upon a democratic institution, because the leader and government “no longer represent the Voice of the People”.

    Too vague to be useful as part of a definition. Don’t all politicians pick their fights?

    9. Newspeak” – fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning.”

    Trump is the opposite. He uses plain language with no jargon. You might think you hear silent racist whistles in his speeches, but that has more to do with context and suspicion than his vocabulary. His words are grade-school simple and jargon-free.

    10. “Non-truths & Lying/Spread of Propaganda

    Is Trump the one politician stretching the truth?

    Bottom line, fascism is the sort of insult you use when you have bad feeling about a person in power. It is an abandonment of reason.

    Just for fun, the next time one of your friends labels Trump or anyone else a fascist, ask them to explain that opinion based on the 14-point elements laid out by Umberto Eco. You will sound like the smart one in the room. Your friend, not so much. 

    You might wonder why Wikipedia has eleven points and I only have ten. This falls under the perceptual category of “Why I can’t find things in the refrigerator.” If you see what I got wrong, please mention it. I could spend the rest of today looking for the missing point and not find it. (That is literally true, not a joke.) I’m sure I forgot a “bad one” that doesn’t support my point.

    Here I pause to tell new readers of this blog that I don’t endorse Trump or anyone else for president. I am not smart enough to know who would do the best job. All the candidates look qualified to me.

More Episodes