Isaac Chotiner: As a historian of fascism, what do you make of Trump’s rise?--Marshal Zeringue
Robert Paxton: Well, it’s astonishing and depressing because he’s totally foreign to any of the skills that are wanted in a president of the United States. What we call him is another matter. There are certainly some echoes of fascism, but there are also very profound differences.
Start with the echoes.
First of all, let me preface it by saying that I’m very, very reluctant to use the word fascism loosely, because it’s almost the most powerful epithet you can use. I guess child molester might be a little more powerful but not much.
Nazi maybe, but that’s just a version of fascism.
It’s the same thing. It’s enormously tempting. Anyway, the echoes you can deal with on two levels. First of all, there are the kinds of themes Trump uses. The use of ethnic stereotypes and exploitation of fear of foreigners is directly out of a fascist’s recipe book. “Making the country great again” sounds exactly like the fascist movements. Concern about national decline, that was one of the most prominent emotional states evoked in fascist discourse, and Trump is using that full-blast, quite illegitimately, because the country isn’t in serious decline, but he’s able to persuade them that it is. That is a fascist stroke. An aggressive foreign policy to arrest the supposed decline. That’s another one. Then, there’s a second level, which is a level of style and technique. He even looks like Mussolini in the way he sticks his lower jaw out, and also the bluster, the skill at sensing the mood of the crowd, the skillful use of media.
I read an absolutely astonishing account of Trump arriving for a political speech, somewhere out West I think, and his audience was gathered in an airplane hangar, and he landed his plane at the field and taxied up to the hangar and got out. That is exactly what they did in 1932 for Hitler’s first election victory. No one had ever seen a candidate arrive by plane before; it was absolutely dazzling, the impression given, the decisiveness of power, of authority, of modernity. I suppose it was accidental, but wow, that is an almost letter-perfect replay of a Hitler election tactic. And the capacity of Trump to enlist working-class voters against the left is exactly what Hitler and Mussolini were able to do. There are...[read on]