There are achievements for which one would want to claim credit only reluctantly: the return of the inner turn might be one, the Twitter battles, perhaps, another, but, if forced to, I’ll claim to have been one of the first to use the F. -word on Donald Trump. This was in early 2016, before he was taken seriously as a candidate and long before he was even thought to win, and a full six years before Joe Biden finally fielded him in August, describing Trump and his movement as “semi-fascism”, a formulation reminiscent of George Carlin’s old “semi-boneless ham” joke: either the ham has a bone or it doesn’t. This one does. I wrote:
I claim no gift for foresight – I’m one of those who insisted that Mark Sanchez’s talents just had to be unleashed to start a dynasty for the Jets, and hinted to America about the likelihood of Michael Ignatiev becoming Prime Minister of Canada, but I do claim a modest sum here, precisely because anyone who had read any history could see what Trumpism was. At the time, the media was more inclined to “analyze” appeal and motives (“Why did you take those documents?”) than to outline possible crimes. It is part of the fascist heritage to create such a fire hose explosion of corruption and lies that trying to focus on a single droplet becomes impossible: that explosion has the strange effect of not washing away the truth but of drowning your attention. You just want to get out of their way. Who now remembers that Trump was found to have confessed, in the testimony of his chief of staff, as reported by Susan B. Glasser and Peter Baker, how much, if with what ignorance, he admired Hitler’s diktat to his generals? That news appeared in the pages of this magazine four weeks ago and already seems part of the distant past.
The point to be made, then and now, is that fascism is a specific style and practice of authoritarian politics, which Trump then, and Trumpism now, recreates, one that has specific character traits without having any axiomatic ideology, assuming new aspects in each new nation it affects. Fascism is, by its nature, chaotic, incoherent and chameleon-like, which is why it needs a strong man to organize itself. The confusion and lack of ideological rigor of Trumpism, which some point to as proof of its ultimate impotence, is part of the nature of fascism. As Umberto Eco wrote, in his great essay “Ur-Fascism”, from 1995:
In fact, anyone wanting a guide to the chameleon-like nature of fascism (and its inevitably violent disposition) should refer to that essay, in which Eco writes that fascism have to be chaotic because “it depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. The action being beautiful in itself, must be taken before or without prior reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
The important thing about identifying the Trumpist line as fascist is not that it allows some kind of victory in the insults. It is diagnostic. When we have a spot on the skin, we want to know if it’s just a mole or a melanoma. When the doctor says, from his experience with other patients, that it is a recognizable cancer, we know that we should take it seriously and treat it differently. The objection to Biden’s convocation speech earlier this month, in which, by cataloging “MAGA Republicans” crimes against democracy, significantly he did not repeat the F-word, is that it “polarizes” the country even more: you call them semi-fascists, they call them communist-Marxists, and we are increasingly divided. A little concept intrudes here, called the truth: There is no way that any member of the Biden Administration, or, for that matter, the current Democratic Party, can be accurately described as a communist, or even a Marxist.There is, for the first time in a long time, a wing socialist in the party, although it is of the most impeccably democratic type: Bernie Sanders, its leader, would be in the center-left in England; in the dead center in Scandinavia; and in the center-right in France (where there is a real extreme left). The history of polarization is simply not symmetrical Antifa, to the extent that it exists, detests Biden and other liberal Democrats, and has been denounced for them. To the contrary, as the January 6 caucus has shown, when, during the first presidential debate of 2020, Trump called on the Proud Boys to “stand back and wait,” he was calling on an actual organized paramilitary group, one of several that They backed him, and continue to back him, to the hilt.