Donald Trump and His Two Forms of Fascism

There may be more.

Seth Wenig/AP

Editor’s note: These two columns by David Corn first appeared in his newsletter, Our Land. But we wanted to make sure as many readers as possible have a chance to see them. Our Land is written by David twice a week and provides behind-the-scenes stories about politics and media; his unvarnished take on the events of the day; film, book, television, podcast, and music recommendations; interactive audience features; and more. Subscribing costs just $5 a month—but you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Our Land here. Please check it out. And please also check out David’s new book: American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy.

Donald Trump and Snowflake Fascism

Donald Trump recently issued a statement on his struggling TRUTH Social platform: “Why are people so mean?” This came in the middle of a conservative crusade to depict liberals and Democrats as nasty folks. Trump’s remark captured the absurdity of this campaign. The fellow who routinely assails political foes and critics as “losers,” whose misogynistic history of denigrating women is unparalleled in American public life, who rose to the top of the GOP pile by disparaging the physical appearances of his opponents (and, in one case, the wife of an opponent), who railed against Muslims and  “shithole countries,” who called for locking up his political rival, who worships revenge and lives on spite, who denounced journalists as “the enemy of the people,” who relishes conjuring up ugly and dismissive nicknames for his political adversaries, whose entire political project is built upon denigration and vilification—this guy complains about people being mean? And this list does not include his incitement of an insurrectionist riot or his attempt to destroy the foundation of American democracy.

Yes, you can chalk this up to Trump projection: his habit of accusing others of his own pathological sins. But his whine occurred as other right-wingers boo-hoo’ed about President Joe Biden’s recent blast at Trumpism. During a campaign rally in Maryland, Biden noted that Trump has embraced “political violence” and no longer believes in democracy: “What we’re seeing now is either the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy. It’s not just Trump, it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the—I’m going to say something—it’s like semi-fascism.” Of course, the right went berserk over this.

A Republican National Committee spokesperson howled that Biden’s comment was “despicable.” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu exclaimed that it was “horribly inappropriate” and urged Biden to apologize. Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted that “communists have always called their enemies ‘fascists.’” (Biden is a communist?) But what to call a movement that denies election results, falsely claims an election was stolen, and refuses to admonish or excommunicate a leader who encouraged and used violence in his effort to overturn that election? In a flurry of unhinged tweets this week, Trump demanded his restoration to the presidency (a move impossible under the Constitution) and hinted that the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago might spur his supporters to violence. That all sounds a bit fascist-ish.

Trump and his cultists are masters at the I’m-rubber-you’re-glue form of name-calling. Each day, I receive a bunch of fundraising emails from Trump or other Republicans lambasting evil Democrats as radical socialists or communists pursuing devious plots to purposefully destroy America. In a recent request for money, Sen. Marco Rubio, citing the FBI raid, railed that the Biden administration was comparable to “Marxist dictatorships.” (As the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Rubio ought to care about the handling of the intelligence community’s secrets. Yet he pounded the FBI for the raid, claiming in MAGA-like fashion that the bureau was “doing more to erode public trust in our government institutions, the electoral process, and the rule of law in the US than the Russian Federation or any other foreign adversary.”) During the 2020 campaign, Trump asserted that Biden was in league with antifa, Marxists, looters, anarchists, Black Lives Matter, terrorists, and radicals to demolish America’s suburbs, where a law-abiding citizen could easily become the victim of a “very tough hombre.” (Not too subtle, eh?) He portrayed Biden as an ally of “far-left fascism.” For decades, the GOP has depicted Democrats as an anti-American force (commies! radicals! subversives!) actively scheming to wreck the nation. Now they cry foul?

Alt-right (and white supremacy-supporting) Stephen Miller went bananas on Fox. Referring to the FBI search, he huffed, “What you are seeing is the classic technique of tyrants and authoritarians where they use the methods of dictatorships while accusing their opponents of being fascists.” (Miller called the FBI raid an effort to “seize and steal [Trump’s] property and his documents”—an utterly false characterization. The records belong to the US government, not Dear Leader.) Also on Fox, right-wing commentator Mollie Hemingway harrumphed that Biden’s semi-F-word remark “is more hateful than the worst thing Donald Trump has ever said.” Last year Hemingway enthusiastically tweeted out an article from the conservative Federalist that proclaimed Biden’s vaccine program was a “fascist move.” Apparently, F-word for thee, not for me. And amid this kerfuffle, Trump posted a photograph of Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi in which their faces were covered by the words “Your enemy is not in Russia.” In other words, they are your enemy. Not mean, right? Such meme-ing could well lead to violence.

One of the silliest retorts of the right came after Matt Lewis, a level-headed conservative columnist for the Daily Beast, posted a column that zeroed in on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz and asked, “When did the GOP become the party of jerks?” Right-wing writer Bethany Mandel replied, “If I had to pinpoint a moment, when Mitt Romney spent his entire campaign being accused of killing Big Bird, building binders full of women, torturing the family dog, etc etc.” That certainly set off Twitter. She was suggesting that Trump’s party was driven mad-mean because the Ds had been too rough on good ol’ Mitt.

Did Mandel forget that in the years prior to the 2012 campaign, Republicans and conservatives regularly accused Barack Obama of being a secret Muslim socialist who despised the United States and was conspiring to ruin the nation? Did she not watch the Tea Party rallies attended by John Boehner, then the top House Republican, where the crowd cried out, “Nazis! Nazis,” when Democrats were mentioned? Did she never view Glenn Beck on Fox, as he claimed the Obama administration was creating concentration camps and prominent Republicans appeared on his show to validate his conspiratorial lunacy? Nothing said about Romney matched the right-wing vitriol hurled at Obama. (At McCain-Palin rallies in 2008, Republican voters shouted out that Obama should be killed.) And also: Rush Limbaugh. By the way, Romney embraced this guy named Trump, the number-one birther.

On September 1, at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Biden again addressed the issue of MAGA extremism in a formal speech. Noting that not every Republican is a MAGA Republican—which is a charitable position these days—he declared, “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.” He put it simply: “MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people. They refuse to accept the results of a free election. And they’re working right now, as I speak, in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself….They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence.” Factcheck: True. Biden did not use the F-word, but he fully and passionately explained how Trumpism presents a profound danger to the nation.

And this, too, triggered the Trumpers. Mercedes Schlapp, a former Trump White House official, exclaimed, “No Republican can feel safe in Biden’s America.” (Ask the 150 cops who were brutally assaulted by MAGAites at the US Capitol.) In pro-Trump internet forums, Biden was cast as Hitler. Ari Fleischer, the onetime White House press secretary who helped the Bush-Cheney administration lie the United States into the Iraq war, slammed Biden as “the most divisive, over the top, rhetorically vile, bumbling, inarticulate president in history.” Did Fleischer just wake up from a five-year coma? What’s more divisive than inciting political violence and purposefully doing nothing to stop it because it benefits you?

There has long been an asymmetry in American politics. The GOP, going back to McCarthyism, has wielded falsehoods and paranoia to cast its political enemies as malevolent and nefarious threats to the nation—as literal enemies of the state. Democrats have tended to assail Republicans as being on the wrong side. And now we see that Trump and his Republican enablers are snowflake fascists. They hurl false accusations to demonize and dehumanize adversaries, plot against democracy, peddle outrageous lies to their followers, support dangerous and nutty conspiracy theories, and fan the flames of political violence. Then they moan when they are called out. C’mon now. Fascists ought to be made of sterner stuff. Perhaps that’s why Biden called them semis.

Donald Trump and Gaslight Fascism

Last issue, I wrote about the “snowflake fascism” of Republicans and conservatives. As I explained, Donald Trump and his cultists have long demonized liberals and Democrats, often calling them fascists (or subversives and enemies of America), but now they clutch pearls and express outrage when President Joe Biden warns that baselessly challenging and refusing to accept election results and inciting (or downplaying or dismissing) a violent insurrectionist attack that attempted to overthrow democracy should be seen as “semi-fascism.” This is obviously a disinformation tactic adopted by MAGA Republicans, and it is being deployed in tandem with another propaganda tool: gaslight fascism.

This is when authoritarians deny their own efforts to impose an authoritarian regime. The GOP has been engaged in gaslight fascism since the January 6 riot, refusing to fully acknowledge the assault for what it was: a rampage of domestic terrorists who had been directed by Trump toward the Capitol and who tried to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power. With Biden raising the stakes by calling out MAGA Republicans as a fascistic force, these gaslighting efforts appear to have intensified. Which makes sense: The raid on the Capitol and the GOP’s subsequent refusal to disavow the man who sparked this violence (and who this past week said he would consider “full pardons” for convicted January 6 rioters, should he again be elected to the White House) are key components of Biden’s compelling case for labeling the MAGA GOP a threat to the nation. To counter Biden and to claim that he (not Trump) is the divisive force in American politics—Trump called Biden an “enemy of the state” at a rally in Pennsylvania this weekend—MAGA-ites cannot admit the reality of January 6 and Trump’s various schemes and actions to sabotage the 2020 election.

I encountered this directly after Biden delivered his recent speech at Independence Hall blasting MAGA Republicans, when I got into a Twitter dust-up with Ric Grenell, the combative and nasty (and apparently misogynistic) Trumpster who served as Trump’s acting director of national intelligence for three months in 2020, despite his lack of experience in the intelligence community. Grenell contended that criticism of Trump and the Republicans for January 6 and the 2020 Big Lie was nothing but a Democratic attempt to “crush dissent.” He insisted that Trump had done no wrong on January 6 and only had called for a peaceful protest. He asserted that the fact-based description of Trump’s misdeeds—Trump declaring victory with no basis for that claim, subsequently plotting secretly to overturn the election results, and then doing nothing when his mob attacked the Capitol—was “fake” history.

This was full-scale denialism—so extreme as to be absurd. But this is how fascists and authoritarians debate. There is no real truth; there is only the self-serving truth they can concoct and enforce. George Orwell knew this. In 1984, what is the apotheosis of the Party’s desire to create a false reality? “In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it,” Orwell wrote. “It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it.”

Trump fascists have been trying to do the same with the 2020 election: conjure an alternative reality untethered from confirmed facts and declare it to be the party’s truth. And in a two-plus-two-equals-five way, they transform a democracy-threatening authoritarian force into patriotic defenders of democracy. Grenell was casting the Big Lie brownshirts as heroic dissenters, not fascist thugs. More disturbing was that a pack of Grenell’s tweeps chimed in with assorted lies and distortions about the 2020 election and January 6. They were drowning in the Kool-Aid served by Trump, Grenell, and their co-conspirators.

This was not surprising coming from Grenell. Days after the 2020 election, he claimed that there had been widespread voter fraud in Nevada but refused to provide evidence to back up his assertion. (This allegation was judged a pants-on-fire lie by Politifact.) And now he was presenting a clear example of the MAGA playbook: insist Trump’s attack on democracy was no attack on democracy. With such a denial, it is far easier to blast Biden as a mean-spirited and divisive hater of MAGA. As former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley did, complaining of Biden’s speech, “It’s unthinkable that a president would speak about half of Americans that way.” You can only get away with this line if you ignore the fact that Trump has for years been accusing Democrats of seeking to destroy the United States. As I noted previously, during the 2020 campaign, Trump accused Biden of pushing “far-left fascism.” Did anyone get their knickers bunched over that? (By the way, Biden did not apply his warning to half of Americans. The number might be closer to a tenth of the population.)

The reality of Trump’s conniving to subvert the republic cannot be recognized by leading Republicans. Doing so would create a dilemma for them. They would then have to explicitly declare themselves in favor of or opposed to this Trumpian war on democracy. They realize an outright expression of support for autocracy would not be good for the GOP, yet a declaration of opposition to the Trumpist assault on the Constitution would alienate any Republican from the party’s cult-like base. (See Liz Cheney.) To survive within the GOP, they must deny. They must say black is white. War is peace. Authoritarianism is democracy. That is the only way the party can now exist. The logic of their position demands it.

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