A specter is haunting American political discourse – the specter of Trumpism. As a result numerous interpretations of his bizarre success have proliferated, analysts seemingly at a loss for explanation. Much as Dylan’s Mr. Jones in “Ballad of a Thin Man” we find that “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is.” The light-hearted jokes of summer about Donald Trump’s ridiculous orange bouffant and his shrill Queen’s accent have given way to a more ominous autumn, one where the presidential candidate doesn’t disavow the suggestion that if elected he would require Muslims to be registered in national databases and for mosques to be closed down, and where his supporters beat Black Lives Matter protesters to Trump’s approval. Now the candidate is calling for the barring of all Muslims from immigrating to the United States. One fears that an increasing winter of discontent is what will necessarily follow.
Pundits have searched for a word to describe all of this. With his macho posturing, the xenophobia and extreme nationalism, the sense of aggrieved ethnic entitlement, the bellicose militarism and the growing cult of personality many have settled on the word “fascism.” It seems surreal that we’re now discussing the repeatedly bankrupt real estate mogul and reality show carnival barker this way, but that is where we find ourselves. Godwin’s Law has seemingly broken down, and that word has disturbingly returned to our understanding of mainstream American politics.
Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast called Trump a “neo-fascist,” Chauncey Devega at Salon describes Trump’s rallies as being a “white fascist brigade” and Jamelle Bouie at Slate has written that “[fascism] is the political label that best describes what the GOP front runner has become.” But surprisingly, this rhetoric isn’t limited to liberal sites; in what is an unprecedented phenomenon even Republicans are beginning to label Trump as a fascist. No less than Jeb Bush adviser John Noonan tweeted “Forced federal registration of U.S. citizens, based on religious identity, is fascism. Period. Nothing else to call it.”
It’s admirable that some on the right are willing to call out fascism when they see it, but it reminds one a bit of Casablanca when Captain Renault was shocked to find that gambling was going on in the casino. After a generation of ad hominem talk-radio delusion, FOX news agitprop, the Sarah Palin debacle and the Tea Party, is it any wonder that all it took was a candidate with a sort-of-charisma to unite all of those noxious elements into a proto-fascist movement? Let there be no doubt that there is something happening here, on November 21st Mercutio Southall, a Black Lives Matter protester, was beaten by racial slur screaming Trump supporters at an Alabama rally while the candidate could be heard yelling “Get ‘em the hell out of here!” Less than a day latter while being interviewed on FOX news Trump doubled down, and said “Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.” One day after those comments and three terrorists who organized themselves online shot five Black Lives Matter activists in Minneapolis.