March 10, 2016.
Many people looking at the images from Trump’s rally in Florida Saturday have thought it looked like what a headline writer at Huffington Post said it looked like, a scene from Nazi Germany.
Looked to me like a roomful of goofy white people acting like goofy white people.
Nazi Germany looked like something very specific. Nazi Germany.
That’s not a tautology. Nazi Germany was a triumph of design as well as of the will. The look---the uniforms, the arm bands, the flags, the swastikas and eagles, the goosestepping, the architecture, the hundreds and thousands of right arms shooting up in unison---was a carefully considered construct. The imagery and iconography had a totemistic purpose, to make people feel like Nazis, to think and act like Nazis. To make them Nazis. Trump voters wear those silly red ballcaps like campaign buttons. Germans put on the red armbands to share in the power. The Nazi salute was a ritual. The people at the Trump rally weren’t saluting. They were raising their right hands because that’s what Americans do when we swear an oath in public. It's just a gesture.
I’m not saying Trump isn’t a crypto-fascist. (I can’t say if he is or isn’t, because who knows what’s going on under that weave?) I’m not saying that none of his voters are fascist. Adjective there, fascist, not a noun, fascists. I don’t know if it’s their temperament or a belief system. I don’t know any of them. From what I’ve read, some of them sound like fascists. Most of them sound like run of the mill racists. None of them, though, sound or look like Nazis. And the point I’m making is that when you call someone a Nazi, they’d better look like a Nazi.
Tell people Trump’s Hitler and they’ll look for the mustache. Tell them his voters are his brownshirts and they’ll look for the brown shirts. And the jodhpurs and the riding boots.
And the armbands.
When they don’t see any of those, they’ll rightly want to know Was zum Teufel you’re talking about.
Which is generally not an opening for a reasonable political discussion.
Trump is an infection. And you have to diagnose an infection correctly before you can stop it from spreading.
Calling Trump and his followers fascists doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t describe them. It doesn’t explain them. It’s just name-calling.
There are plenty of better words for what Trump is beside fascist. Words that do describe him and explain him and explain what he’s up to and what he’s doing to the body politic. Liar. Fraud. Con man. Bully. Boor. Bore. Racist. Know-nothing. Tyrant. Despot. Tin-pot dictator. Ego-maniac. Jerk.
Like I said, I don’t know if Trump himself is a fascist. But I don’t think he is. I think he’s a would-be dictator and dictators come in all political flavors. Temperamentally, he’s a tyrant and like so many tyrants he’s all over the place in his thinking because he’s driven by vanity, appetite, and whim. You can’t be a good fascist if you’re not disciplined. But you can tyrannize with a vengeance.
Beyond that, Trump doesn’t remind me of a Hitler because, beside not being, as far as I can tell, a militarist and not calling for a merging of industry, church, and state, he’s too much in the American grain. Americans didn’t need fascists to invent racism and xenophobia for us or to teach us how to make aggrievement, anger, and resentment the foundation of our politics. Trump is in a line with the Know-Nothings, Huey Long, and George Wallace and that’s bad enough.