The whole “Trump is a fascist” thing is a little overblown, I think. He is the sorcerer’s apprentice of fascism, not nearly coherent or profound enough to guide or control what he has unleashed, so I don’t mean to say anything close to “Trump is Hitler.” Rather, I think he has failed to learn the lessons that fascism ought to have taught us. The mistake of theirs that he repeats is that, like fascists and other reactionaries, he has no solutions to the problems of a diversifying society in a complex global age and can only dream of forcing a return to an idealized, fictional past in which he thinks these problems didn’t exist.
The Nazi fear was that German strength and security was being eroded by the presence of diverse ethnic and cultural groups. Hitler had no solutions to the modern problem of incorporating that diversity, and could only aim to eliminate the problems by eliminating the “cause.” Trump has not done anything like propose the Nazi “final solution,” but he has not offered any constructive solutions to the problem of diversity and, like the Nazis, can only think to repress its expressions.
While liberals are sometimes naïve in their belief that the incorporation of diverse social, religious, and cultural forms into any community will be a simple progression toward an unambiguously better future, the reality is that these sorts of changes are disorienting and chaotic, with profound challenges to be overcome, and sometimes represent the loss of real goods (common ground, cultural cohesiveness, etc.).
Trump, on the other hand (and like the Nazis), sees the tumult that attends the inexorable increase in diversity and complexity as the corruption of an imagined primitive state of tribal unity (the tribe here being White Christian America). The world he sees today is not the simplistic fantasy he imagines America once was, and he blames this on what he finds strange and unfamiliar in the world—generally people with darker skin: immigrants, Muslims, etc. He believes that through repressive and unconstitutional policies he can coerce a return to simple unity and reverse the decay he imputes to what is really the inevitable upheaval that attends a changing world.
Were he honest, his slogan would be, “Make America Simple Again.” Were he honest and self-aware, his slogan would be, “Vainly Try to Force America’s Future into a Simplistic Fantasy of the Past.”
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness that, “One of the great problems of democratic civilization is how to integrate the life of its various subordinate, ethnic, religious and economic groups in the community in such a way that the richness and harmony of the whole community will be enhanced and not destroyed by them.” Liberals need to recognize this problem exists. Trump and his ilk need to recognize it must be solved, not removed. All of the violence of Nazism resisted it in vain; nothing short of it can hope to succeed. The only choice is to move forward.
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