Fascism Expert Explains Why Donald Trump is So Popular and Why We Should Worry

Fascism Expert Explains Why Donald Trump is So Popular and Why We Should Worry December 13, 2015

In this post, I interview Brian Fogarty, retired sociologist from St. Catherine University who is an expert in fascist movements. Dr. Fogarty is the author of Fascism, Why Not Here?, which examines how fascism could arise in America. Given the stir Donald Trump has been making lately, Dr. Fogarty offers some excellent insight on what is driving the support of Trump’s campaign.

Donald Trump’s rhetoric has had some people call him a fascist. Do you think that is a fair characteristic of him?

Dr. Brian Fogarty

When you combine populism, nationalism, militarism, racism or xenophobia, and romanticism–the latter being a call for recklessly bold action instead of judicious policy–well, that’s a pretty good definition of fascism.

It seems like Trump’s campaign is galvanizing many American’s existing xenophobic attitudes. His poll numbers continue to soar even after his comments about banning Muslims. Was the American culture already providing a fertile ground for a fascist leader?

Yes, I was about to say in answer to the first Q that you can’t be a fascist all by yourself. It is by definition a movement. And this implies that the movement makes the fascist, not the other way around. If Trump weren’t gaining in the polls he’d either be more moderate or give up.

Interesting. It seems like there are several factors contributing to Trump’s popularity. Could some of Trump’s popularity stem from people still buying into the myth of the American Dream? Trump often refers to himself as a “winner” and that seems to really resonate with people. 

That’s the romanticism I referred to earlier. His antics give his listeners permission to be ignoramuses–“If he can say it, so can I, even if it’s untrue or idiotic!” Hitler’s appeal was similar–return Germany to greatness, imagine the impossible, let yourself dream of a simple solution.

Do you think Trump’s popularity also stems from how dissatisfied many Americans are with their politicians? People are just tired with establishment politics and having a charismatic leader tell us how he’s going to make America “great again” seems to be driving his campaign. Trump appears to be quite dishonest with his statements when people fact check him, but this doesn’t seem to hurt his campaign at all.

Being dissatisfied with politicians is just what Americans do. If they’re so dissatisfied, why do they keep returning over 90% of their representatives to office? I think the larger problem is that they’re dissatisfied with democracy itself. They want a leader that will take the reins of power and end partisan bickering, and just “do what’s right.” Of course, “what’s right” is in the eye of the beholder.

It’s a little more complicated than this, though. We have reason to be dissatisfied with the democratic process, because partisanship has totally overshadowed any real debate on policy. And yes, I mostly blame the Republicans here, who have spent years trying to repeal a health care system that’s almost identical to what they themselves proposed. They have vowed to undo anything the Obama administration suggests–then they call him “divisive.” The Democratic leadership hasn’t helped much, either–Reid and Pelosi play the same game. In the end, the greatest risk factor for fascism is ineffective government. I mean, no wonder people think government doesn’t work–it’s all they hear from both parties!

So is Trump really that much different from the current politicians we have? Some have argued that Trump is merely more explicit with his attitudes and many of the other Republicans agree with him.  Do you think a sizable amount of American politicians already support his views, but are more subtle about it?

That’s the big question: are there enough statesmen in the party to rebuke this guy in a serious way? I know Ted Cruz is closer to Trump than we’d like to believe–and by the way, the Times had a nice piece a week ago about how everybody in Congress hates him. He’s just a real bad person.

Let’s try to end with some potential solutions. Even if Donald Trump doesn’t become president, his popularity illustrates some troubling attitudes of the American people. What is needed to correct a society that seems dangerously close to electing a fascist leader?

We need a “Grand Coalition” of the centers of the two parties to take hold of government and find moderate compromises to make things run well. Let both parties take credit for doing what’s possible about terrorism, make some reasonable compromises on budget cuts, etc. Congratulate each other on how well things are working. The angry right will come around if the middle-right stops screaming about how the country is going to hell.


Featured image by Gage Skidmore via Wikipedia


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