I want to talk to you about the F word. No no — not that F word.
I’m talking about fascism.
Is Donald Trump really a “fascist,” as some would claim?
Is “authoritarian” adequate?
To fight these ideas, we need to be aware of what they are and how they fit together.
Let’s examine the five elements that define fascism and what makes it distinct from, and more dangerous than, authoritarianism.
1. The rejection of democracy in favor of a strongman
Authoritarians believe strong leaders are needed to maintain stability. So they empower strongmen, dictators, or absolute monarchs to maintain social order through the use of force.
But fascists view strong leaders as the means of discovering what society needs. They regard the leader as the embodiment of society, the voice of the people.
2. Stoking rage against cultural elites
Authoritarian movements cannot succeed without at least some buy-in from establishment elites.
While fascist movements often seek to co-opt the establishment, they largely depend on fueling resentment and anger against presumed cultural elites for supposedly displacing regular people. Fascists rile up their followers to seek revenge on the elites.
They create mass political parties and demand participation. They encourage violence.
3. Nationalism based on “superior” race and historic bloodlines.
Authoritarians see nationalism as a means of asserting the power of the state.
For fascists the state embodies what is considered a “superior” group — based on race, religion, and historic bloodlines. To fascists, the state is a means of asserting that superiority.
Fascists worry about disloyalty and replacement by groups that don’t share the same race or bloodlines. Fascists encourage their followers to scapegoat, expel, and sometimes even kill such “others.”
Fascists believe schools and universities must teach values that glorify the dominant race, religion, and bloodline. Schools should not teach inconvenient truths about the failures of the dominant race.
4. Extolling brute strength and heroic warriors.
The goal of authoritarianism is to gain and maintain state power at any cost. For authoritarians, “strength” comes in the form of large standing armies that can enforce their rule. They seek power to wield power.
Fascists seek state power to achieve their ostensible goal: achieving their vision of society.
Fascism accomplishes this goal by rewarding those who win economically and physically, and denigrating or exterminating those who lose. Fascism depends on organized bullying — a form of social Darwinism.
For the fascist, war and violence are means of strengthening society by culling the weak and glorifying heroic warriors.
5. Disdain of women and LGBTQ+ people
Authoritarianism imposes hierarchies. It’s about order.
Fascism’s idea of order is organized around a particular hierarchy of male dominance. The fascist “heroic warrior” is male. Women are relegated to subservient roles.
In fascism, anything that challenges the traditional heroic male roles of protector, provider, and controller of the family is considered a threat to the social order.
Fascism seeks to eliminate homosexuals, nonbinary, transgender, and queer people because they’re thought to challenge or weaken the heroic male warrior.
These five elements of fascism fit together and reinforce each other.
Rejection of democracy in favor of a strongman depends on galvanizing popular rage.
Popular rage draws on a nationalism based on a supposed superior race or ethnicity.
That superior race or ethnicity is justified by a social Darwinist idea of strength and violence, as exemplified by heroic warriors.
Strength, violence, and the heroic warrior are centered on male power.
These five elements find exact expression in Donald Trump. His uniquely American version of fascism is rooted largely in White Christian Nationalism. It is the direction that most of the Republican Party is now heading in.
It’s not enough to call Trump and those promoting his ideas authoritarians when what they are really advocating is something far worse: Fascism.
Read it on Robert Reich’s blog.