Fascism American Style: Il Duce, Il Donald

 As Alexander Hamilton watched the French Revolution unfold, he feared in America what he saw play out in France — that the unleashing of popular passions would lead not to greater democracy but to the arrival of a tyrant, riding to power on the shoulders of the people.

imagesHis public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. [He has a] tough-guy, get-mad-and-get-even approach.

                                                                       –Robert Kagan, The Washington Post

I don’t like alarmists. They disrupt hard won serenity, and if one has been lucky enough to find a bit here and there, disruption is unwelcome.  I try to pick my alarms carefully.

I get alarmed about climate change, a roiling disaster creeping through decades that may well be unstoppable.

I get alarmed about the number of children under five — under five — who discovered stray fire arms under bedroom pillows or in mother’s purse and have shot themselves, their mothers, or their siblings. There’s been a surge in these in the last six months.

trump-final-form-siteAnd I’m alarmed about The Donald, the would-be American Il Duce. He’s a roiling disaster erupting in a way that may well be unstoppable.


Decades ago, in my grad-school days, left-wingers would call any politician “fascist” who was centrist or right wing. The term soon got old.

“Fascist” and “Fascism” have gained some respectability recently. Apparently it’s time to dust off the monikers.

The Washington Post recently published a piece that pulls no punches, and puts “fascism” back into play. Robert Kagan, a fellow at the Brookings Institute, brings into focus what’s wrong with Trump and Trumpism. The danger goes deeper than his views or opinions, disturbing as they surely are.



We’re tempted to treat him as a standard politician, and counter his warped positions — on Obama, Trade, Immigration, The Supreme Court, Putin, Women, John McCain, Hilary Clinton, and so on — with counter arguments, objections, or refutations. But his rants and tweets change by the hour. There are no “positions.”

What he says on issues varies by the hour and he’d rather go for the person than present anything coherent. As he says, he’s a counter-puncher, and the emphasis is on punch.

He shoots from the hip with uncensored abandon, and is uninterested in facts or principles. His most recent sewerage is that Bill Clinton is a rapist. He keeps his name in the news, and the news won’t shut him down.

Is it an effective campaign strategy to collect Trump’s more disgusting remarks, wise cracks, and “policy” asides, and expose their shallowness or pure nastiness? What else can one do?

The disaster he forebodes is more than a public nuisance, and it’s not about policy or platforms. Kagan reminds us that Trump doesn’t have political judgments, liberal or conservative. He has gargantuan egotism and bilious spleen. He’s a bully and intimidator. Substance is absent. What we get is his capricious will-of-the-moment.

From the White House, if he gets there, his machismo and venom will ride roughshod over civil rights, the Supreme Court, any remaining sanity in our military and international commitments, and any semblance of free speech or free press. The CIA and FBI will be his personal tools. Any and all of these are clear and present limits on presidential power, and he’ll have none of that.



This is something to be alarmed about. It’s well to hear more from Robert Kagan.  Here he is in the Post:

Successful fascism is not about policies but about the strongman, the leader (Il Duce, Der Fuhrer). Whatever the problem, he could fix it. Whatever the threat, internal or external, he could vanquish it, and it was unnecessary for him to explain how. If someone criticizes or opposes the leader, Il Duce or The Donald, it doesn’t matter how popular or admired that [critic] has been. He might be a famous war hero, but if the leader derides and ridicules his heroism, the followers laugh and jeer.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Once in power, Trump will owe the [Republican] party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only thto him. . . .  And is a man like Trump, with infinitely greater power in his hands, likely to become more humble, more judicious, more generous, less vengeful than he is today, than he has been his whole life? Does vast power un-corrupt?

This is how the world ends, not with a bang but a sneer.

This is how fascism comes to America . . . with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.



When it comes to my Zeteo posts, politics tends to take a backseat to matters of literature, aesthetic sensibility — philosophical ruminations at the crossroads of literature, religion, and depth psychology. Why have I jumped into a melee where so many others — Robert Kagan, a case in point — are so articulate? The answer is that I’ve felt a visceral need to go on record: if not now, when?

Just today Trump’s followers unleashed a twitter barrage of violent antisemitism against an editor at the New York Times, suggesting, among other things, that Jewish journalists be rounded up and pushed out of a helicopter over Tel Aviv.

Another time I’d follow up the suggestion of a friend: work out the paradigm of predator and prey. Only a predator becomes a billionaire, has unquenchable thirst for more, likes to play with his prey when his hunger lulls, and attracts an entourage of would-be predators, a mob, who ape his contempt for his quarry, and hope for the spoils.

—Ed Mooney, Zeteo Contributor

See Excursions with Thoreau: Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Bloomsbury, 2015, and Lost Intimacy in American Thought: Recovering Personal Philosophy From Thoreau to Cavell, Continuum, 2009

Credits and notes:  “This is how fascism comes to America,” Robert Kagan, The Washington Post, May 18. Kagan is a Fellow at a Washington D.C. think tank, The Brookings Institute. I had assumed the Institute was more a resource for Democrats than for Republicans, but it turns out that “Congressional records from 1993 to 2002 [show] that Brookings was referenced by conservative politicians almost as frequently as liberal politicians.” See Wikipedia on the Institute. See also, http://antisemitism.org.il/article/106084/trump-backers-unleash-antisemitic-tweets-new-york-times-editor.


  1. William Eaton

    To a Zeteo contributor-philospher, I cannot help noting that, unlike Trump and many another US and European political leader, Mussolini was a reader of philosophy! The introduction to and documents collected in “Mediterranean Fascism 1919–1945” (Charles F. Delzell ed.; Macmillian, 1970) cite Machiavelli, Hegel, Nietzsche, Pareto, Sorel, Barrès, Péguy, Lagardelle, “and even William James” as thinkers who influenced the development of Mussolini’s thinking and of Italian fascism’s.


  2. Here is Adam Gopnick on fascisim, from the July 21 New Yorker. Gopnick doesn’t shy from seeing Trump as fascist: “What all forms of fascism have in common is the glorification of the nation, and the exaggeration of its humiliations, with violence promised to its enemies, at home and abroad; the worship of power wherever it appears and whoever holds it; contempt for the rule of law and for reason; unashamed employment of repeated lies as a rhetorical strategy; and a promise of vengeance for those who feel themselves disempowered by history.”


    • Ed Mooney

      Two thoughts: First, fascism grows; it has an historical arc: its infancy is not its full-blown development. Donald Trump is not a full-blown fascist because he does not have enough power to implement the actions he promotes. He has the potential, we might say, to be a full blown fascist if given the reigns of power. I suppose we could say he’s a “would-be” or “budding” fascist.

      Second, Trump advocates and encourages fascistic violence: an elected representative (and ardent Trump supporter) from New Hampshire says Clinton should be lined up before a firing squad and shot — a realistic threat of violence that Trump did not repudiate; Trump says he wanted to punch “that little guy” — ex Mayor Blumberg — at the DNC, and watch his head spin when Blumberg announced he would support Clinton — a realistic threat of violence; Trump does not repudiate but encourages violence from against those in at rallies in opposition to him — a realistic threat of violence; he wants to round up and expel citizens and immigrants from abroad; Trump suggests gun owners might have to lead in resisting a President Hilary Clinton — a remark that many have interpreted to be a veiled threat of assassination. etc. etc.


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