What was the “Is Trump a Fascist?” Debate Ultimately About?

by Corey Robin on March 13, 2021

I have a new piece up at The New Yorker. I take stock of the debate over whether Trumpism is an authoritarian/fascist/tyrannical formation.

Throughout the Trump years, I consistently argued that that what I call the strongman thesis (just as a catch-all way of describing the various terms that were used for Trumpism) was not the most helpful way of thinking about what was going on with Trump or on the right. While acknowledging in this piece the data points in favor of that thesis (and also the problems with it), what I am really trying to do here is to step back from that debate and examine what was really driving it.

Long story short: Where liberals and leftists saw power on the right, I saw, and continue to see, paralysis. Not just on the right, in fact, but across the political spectrum. And in an odd way, it was the centuries-long dream of democratic power that helped frame liberals’ and the left’s misunderstanding and misrecognition of that ongoing political paralysis.

As I argue in the piece’s conclusion:

This is the situation we now find ourselves in. One party, representing the popular majority, remains on the outskirts of power, thanks to the Constitution. The other party, representing the minority, cannot wield power when it has it but finds its position protected nonetheless by the very same Constitution.

We are not witnesses to Prometheus unbound. We are seeing the sufferings of Sisyphus, forever rolling his rock—immigration reform, new infrastructure, green jobs—up a hill. It’s no wonder everyone saw an authoritarian at the top of that hill. When no one can act, any performance of power, no matter how empty, can seem real.

Anyway, have a read of the piece at The New Yorker, and after you’re finished, feel free to weigh in here with your criticisms, compliments, queries, and complaints.




Chetan Murthy 03.13.21 at 7:41 pm

“… someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop”

That’s not powerlessness.


Sashas 03.13.21 at 8:49 pm

I’m afraid I can’t read the actual piece (yes, I know there are ways around login-walls), but your conclusion seems very strange. I guess what I’m having trouble with is your definitions here:

This is the situation we now find ourselves in. One party, representing the popular majority, remains on the outskirts of power, thanks to the Constitution. The other party, representing the minority, cannot wield power when it has it but finds its position protected nonetheless by the very same Constitution.

You say that (presumably the Democrats?) remain on the outskirts of power, yet they currently hold 1-party control of the federal government and briefly held 1-party control of the federal government just two presidencies ago. What are the outskirts of power?

When you refer to the Constitution, I assume from context that you’re referring specifically to the Electoral College. Yet while I think the Electoral College definitely has a significant warping effect on the Senate, is it even in the running for Most Important Structural Warper compared to voter suppression efforts and gerrymandering? On the flipside, is it fair to say the Constitution is holding the Democrats back, when the 15th and 19th amendments play such a massive role in preventing Republican minority takeover?

And when the Republicans do take power, you say they cannot wield it. This seems like a very strong statement on what it means to wield power. I rather assume that the launching of war against Iraq, the historic suppression of workers’ rights in my home state of Wisconsin, the unprecedented wealth inequality, and the creation of concentration camps on our borders all constitute the wielding of power. Are you arguing otherwise? Or what am I missing here?

It’s quite possible that I’m missing the point entirely. I haven’t really addressed Trumpism or Fascism at all. Operating just off of the title, it seems like you might be trying to get everyone to stop calling Trump a Fascist, but the conclusion I quoted suggests a broader argument that I don’t understand.


nastywoman 03.13.21 at 9:00 pm

”and after you’re finished, feel free to weigh in here with your criticisms, compliments, queries, and complaints”.

I have a question?

As the world knows – that in the last decade ”Racist Right-Wingers” everywhere in the so called ”Advanced World” had some kind of… of? –
may I call it ”resurrection” – but only in my homeland the U.S. one of these…
these? – okay… I won’t call Trump ”a Fascist” – as nobody else yet – came closer in ”Defining Trump” – or calling him by his real name – as the utmost famous American
Philosophers (J. S.)

And so the question is –
if in conclusion ”trump” is/was –
”a strongman”
or just an –
”amateur fascist”
or –
as his name has become synonymous everywhere in the world for:
”Evil STUPID” –
– why haven’t such simple -(and silly?) explanations for what ”trump” is or was – entered the minds of US Academia –
YET? –
and as the world also knows – that Trumps Presidency was some kind of a (sick) joke.
The type of Racist Right-Wing Joke – Racist Right-Wingers everywhere in the World make – when they start to blame (again) everything on ”the jews” -(or anybody else who doesn’t share their sick humour) – sooo why did ”America” fell for a –
”FF von Clownstick”?
(and to a HUUUGE extent still does?)

Because – with all of these very confusing (Academic) – explanations of something so simple as ”trump” – are the American people are soooo confused – that they have become unable to differentiate between a ”Insane Right-Wing Idiot” and everything ”sane”?


Hidari 03.13.21 at 9:03 pm

Let’s just make this nice and easy: the thing that unites literally all ‘real’ fascists (not the ‘pretend’ kind of the liberal unconscious, or conscious) is the one party state. Which means what it says: only one party is legal. All the others are not. Obviously this is a necessary and not sufficient criteria (Communist states were also one party) but it is absolutely essential.

So two things: did Trump ever state, ever, anywhere, that he would like membership of the Democrats to be made illegal? Did he ever speak up for elections in in there would be only one candidate, and one could either vote for him(sic) or spoil the ballot? Did he ever claim to want Nancy Pelosi, Biden, Harris et al put in concentration camps, tortured, murdered? (be prepared for lots of ‘no but blah blah blah’ type answers to this from The Usual Suspects, incidentally).

And even if he did (and here’s a clue as to the answer to the first question: he didn’t), is it conceivable that he could ever have done so?


Isn’t it interesting, incidentally, that all the chatter about how the US in 2021 is exactly like Weimar in 1932 has now simply evaporated, now Biden is in power?


SteveLaudig 03.13.21 at 9:13 pm

Take your pick of democratic or ethical illegitimacy:
Senate:Wyoming population 563,626 = 2 Senators. California population 39,145,000 = 2 senators; A vote for Senator in Wyoming is 62 times as powerful as one in California. Illegitimacy.
The ten most populous states CA; TX; NY; FL; IL; PA; OH; MI; GA; NC have 53.31% of US population and 20 Senators.
The ten least populous states Me; NH; RI; MT; DE; SD; AK; ND; VT; WY have 2.87% of US population and 20 Senators. The electoral college is a harmless exploding cigar that messes things up now and then. The US Senate is a screw of the majority of the population and representative democracy every moment. Why should an American residing in California pay identical federal taxes as an American in Wyoming when they get what 1/65th as much senator. No equal taxation without equal representation.

Supreme Court:
NY Times limits
Under what theory is it possible to have any respect for many of the current U.S. Supreme Court ‘justices’? Illegitimate 5, legitimate 4.
Where have all the Protestants gone? “Justices” appointed by mass murderer, traitor insurrectionist Trump are illegitimate.
Thomas: Illegitimate. Perjurer. Didn’t recuse from Bush-Gore. Wife a Bush II headhunter.
Breyer: Legitimate.
Roberts: Illegitimate. Appointed by Bush II who was appointed in an illegitimate partisan political decision. Replaced perjurer Bush-Gore justice Rehnquist. Delusional. US Racism ended. See, Shelby County. Bush II Court was illegitimate perjurers Rehnquist and biased Thomas, unethical Scalia, Kennedy resigned for partisan reasons. Son Trump’s money launderer; and, biased unethical O’Connor.
Alito: Illegitimate. Appointed by illegitimate Bush to replace unethical OʻConnor. Delusional. Jim Crow not racism. See, Ramos.
Sotomayor: Legitimate.
Kagan: Legitimate.
Neil Gorsuch: Illegitimate. Replaced unethical Scalia via McConnell treason. Lied about “intent” regarding precedents. Appointed by perjurer, criminal, sexual predator, mass murderer, finally traitor Trump. Appointed to Garland’s seat which oath-breaker, hence traitor, McConnell lawlessly refused a vote on.
Kavanaugh: Illegitimate. Replaced unethical Kennedy. Sexual predator, perjurer in that sense good representative for Trump.
Barrett: Illegitimate. Trump. Perjured self in her answers related to Roe. Catholic fanatic joins fanatic Thomas, married to fanatic, and fanatic Alito.


MisterMr 03.13.21 at 9:14 pm

My disagreement with the piece is not about the carachterisation of Trump, but with the idea that “fascism” depends on a strong right.
In the case of historical italian fascism, for example, fascism came as an answer to years of rather succesful leftish agitation; it also happened in a moment when the italian economy had huge problem.
So I think that fascism is the answer of a right that feels the ground falling under its feet.
For example, the attempted coup of 6 january happened because Trump lost the election, there is no point in having a coup if you win the elections.


nobody 03.13.21 at 9:37 pm

The Republican Party is not unable to wield power when it holds office. Instead, it is unwilling to govern when it has power.

The GOP is entirely able to enact policies favored by its donors, such as tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts to enforcement of tax evasion and financial crimes laws, and other policies that increase wealth inequality. It is also entirely able to enact policies favored by its retail politics supporters, such as policies that disenfranchise Democrats and persecute minorities.

What the Republican party does not have is an interest in governing in the public (both US-centric and global) interest. In half this is due because the GOP donor constituency is insulated, by wealth, from the actual problems that face humanity and sees no reason to do anything. In the other half, this is due because the GOP’s retail politics constituency is a combination of sadists, social Darwinists, and Christian nationalists — who believe that nothing should change because all problems are fake or only hurt people who deserve to be hurt.


In as much as the desire to break the US constitutional logjam and get something done drove Trump supporters, this is an apparent explanation only for Trump acquiring the low-information swing vote in 2016. ‘Drain the swamp’ is an appealing prospect for obvious reasons; the relentless drumbeat of right wing disinformation from Fox et el, however, made that an effective slogan to help a creature of the swamp seize power. Beyond 2016, however, most of these people woke up to what they elected and Trump’s remaining support base is exclusively sadists, social Darwinists, and Christian nationalists — all of whom saw sanctioned police brutality, and children in cages, and decided they wanted to see more of the same. The remaining Trumpist core has no interest in making the US federal government work as anything other than a tool to persecute their enemies.

Even after Trump, the United States remains precariously ripe for an authoritarian takeover because the constitutional failures that gave Trump the 2016 swing vote has not been repaired. Most Americans recognize that major problems exist in American society and that the ruling elite is uninterested in fixing them (see: taking a cake to a vote to prevent the minimum wage from rising).

However, the small percentage of Americans who decide retail politics outcomes remain deeply ignorant of the reasons for American dysfunction and will, as they did in 2016, support the next billionaire demagogue to fraudulently promise to fix everything. If that demagogue is able to hoodwink the low-information swing vote and secure the support of the sadists, social Darwinists, and Christian nationalists, they will, like Trump in 2016, seize power easily.

The only, faint, hope for American progress lies with an extensive push for constitutional reform in favor of majority rule i.e. in reducing Republican power. With nothing resembling this within the Overton window, a descent into decay and authoritarianism is inevitable.


LFC 03.14.21 at 12:58 am

First, I have not read the New Yorker piece yet, so not going to comment on it.

Second, I don’t really care all that much whether people call Trump a fascist or not.

Third, I’m wondering why I should accept Hidari’s statement that a one-party state is what unites all “real” fascists simply on Hidari’s authority. It may be a necessary criterion for a fascist regime but that’s a bit different from saying it’s a necessary part of the definition of “a fascist”. Obviously Trump never said he wanted to make the Democratic Party illegal. Why not? Because, while Trump may or may not be a fascist, he’s not a complete fool.


nobody 03.14.21 at 1:34 am

@Hidari, #4:

Positing actioned eliminationism as a necessary condition for a movement to be considered fascist means, by implication, that Nasdap was not a fascist party until it seized power in 1933. A definition that makes this distinction serves no obvious value. Nasdap was a fascist movement from the beginning, and the GOP is a fascist movement today even though it has yet to start killing Democrats.

Further, the the Republican party establishment has a very long history of manipulating laws to prevent votes for Democrats from being counted and to strip power from elected Democrats. Outlawing the opposition, or killing them outright, is not the only path to a one-party state. The GOP is deeply determined to create a one-party state by making voting for a Democrat legally irrelevant even though not legally punishable.

Finally, in terms of actual eliminationist rhetoric, anyone who believes eliminationism is not widespread in the GOP rank-and-file has their head in the sand. The January 6th insurrectionists wanted to hang Mike Pence (for the crime of disloyalty) and assassinate Nancy Pelosi (for being a Democrat). The entire Qanon mythos–which now forms the backbone of the GOP retail politics base–is built in the premise that Trump is a savior who will bring about ‘the storm,’ an apocalyptic event where all prominent Democrats will be arrested or summarily executed. Trump and the GOP establishment absolutely stand at the head of a mass of eliminationist followers even though they have never openly told their people to kill anyone.


Daniel 03.14.21 at 2:29 am

47 years late to the observation.

See Peter. Berger’s “Pyramids of Sacrifice: Political Ethics and Social Change” Anchor 1974. Among other points, Berger observes that democracies are most vulnerable when they cannot make decisions in demanding, i.e., crisis or crisis like, contexts. It is in these moments that they can turn to an authoritarian leader.


Zabarz 03.14.21 at 2:44 am

Great piece, Corey, and (to me) quite persuasive, as far as I understand it. Two follow-up questions, admittedly somewhat beyond the purview of the piece, but which seem to arise from it with great urgency:

If, as you claim, Trump’s allies and foes alike – legislative, intellectual, cultural – were operating from a (distorted, vague, but generally accurate) liberal paradigm, does this mean that Conservatism has in some way become Liberalism, in the way it regards the exercise of political will, or that these ideological poles have begun to blend together? What would the Conservative version of power be, besides a commitment to minority rule?

More than once, you group the Left in with the Liberals in their misapprehension of Trump and Trumpism, but surely there are some who weren’t so mistaken? What would be the appropriate Left response to the Trump phenomenon, if we accept that he was relatively weak?

Finally, related to the former question: would would a Marxist say? What does this strange stalemate mean for the state of capitalism, circa today? Are there structural forces that would explain it, or is this better understood mostly as a technical problem of governing structures, somewhat detached from the larger socioeconomic forces within society?


Starry Gordon 03.14.21 at 3:42 am

Daniel 03.14.21 at 2:29 am @ 10 —
I don’t see a necessary contradiction between democracy and having an authoritarian leader. Many people seem to prefer such leaders. Under certain conditions they may form a majority. In due course, then, an authoritarian leader will probably be elected.

However, I don’t know if all authoritarians are properly labeled ‘fascist’. This word is now used very loosely. Mussolini was precise: ‘Everything within the state, nothing outside of the state, nothing against the state.’ Even if we extend the meaning of state to include every social structure upheld by government power, one can’t reasonably apply Mussolini’s definition to the Republicans or the soi-disant ‘conservatives’ of the U.S. They are too fond of getting off their leashes.

Trump’s instincts may be authoritarian or fascistic, but he is far too incompetent to exemplify a coherent political philosophy like fascism. Therefore, the application of the term ‘fascist’ to Trump seems unreasonable, even if it is fun.


JimV 03.14.21 at 3:48 am

“yet they currently hold 1-party control of the federal government”

I probably won’t be the first to nitpick that the federal government includes the Supreme Court, which is not under Democratic control. Also, their control of the Senate requires the coddling of conservative Democrats from red states. (Hence no $15 minimum wage, which 70% of the country wants.) That’s not complete control.

Meanwhile, the Republicans in Georgia have resolved to never let themselves be outvoted again, by any means necessary, from what I hear.

Trump is a psychopathic monster who doesn’t doesn’t adhere to any set of historical principles or organizations except Trumpism. As the saying almost goes, at least those organizations espoused an ethos. The next Republican presidential candidate probably will. It appears the USA constitution is in fact capable of being used as a suicide pact.

Imagine if Franklin Roosevelt had been Trump, where we would be now. That’s where we seem to be heading. (Biden has done surprisingly well so far, but not according to the loud voices of Fox News and conservative talk radio.)

I thought it couldn’t get much worse after Reagan, and then after GW Bush. It did. Fox News wants worse.


nastywoman 03.14.21 at 5:10 am

and so ”the piece at The New Yorker”
”Trump’s legacy is the rejection of his party’s premises by more than half the country. Where Reagan and Bush respectively got a hundred and sixty-eight and forty Democrats to vote for their tax cuts, Trump got none. Asked to name her most significant achievement, Margaret Thatcher replied, “Tony Blair.” Trump’s will be Arizona, Georgia, and A.O.C”.
AND? –
as the NY Times says:
”Two Decades After the ‘End of Welfare,’ Democrats Are Changing Direction –
President Biden’s stimulus plan is a poverty-fighting initiative of potentially historic proportions, with major support for families with children”.
OR –
as Susan Sarandon said:
”Trump more likely to bring ‘revolution’ than Hillary?
as I asked:
Did America really HAVE to erect ”An Insane Idiot” in order to get back to Sanity?


nastywoman 03.14.21 at 5:30 am

”Did America really HAVE to erect ”An Insane Idiot” in order to get back to Sanity”?

and as I’m posting from Germany –
and there is this… this ”horrific? – theory” in Germany –
by some… some ”people” –
that Germany –
like some ”(War) Drunk Monster” –
HAD to erect ”the Worlds utmost Horrific Monster” –
in order to finally become ”a peaceful nation” –

Is this… way of horrific twisted thinking –
that we… (and especially Germans and Americans?) – somehow need the Utmost Horrific Monsters – in order to get back to ”Sanity” – worth the Horroe we had/have to go through?

And wouldn’t it be much more… more? –
am I allowed to say: ”pleasant” – if we wouldn’t have/had to go through these ”monsters” in the first place –
in order to get to ”the better place”?


Gareth Wilson 03.14.21 at 7:32 am

@Chetan Murthy: Buckley’s original quote is “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” It’s meant to describe a powerless underdog.


Hidari 03.14.21 at 9:13 am

One other thing: it’s true that the Republicans have a long history of gerrymandering etc. (so do the Democrats). But this is obviously incidental to their political aims, not fundamental. As the OP points out, the Republicans are having increasing difficulty in getting people to vote for them. Hence, they have to resort to (time worn, and very American) methods of ‘winning’ elections, gerrymandering, using the courts (cf Bush jr’s first election ‘victory’ etc.). But, to repeat, they only do this because they have to. If they could win elections honestly, presumably they would. This is very different from true fascists who have fundamental and ideological commitments to a one party state.


Barry 03.14.21 at 3:16 pm

Hidary – the Right in the USA has frequently had to dogwhistle a one party state, but that’s because they can’t – yet – get away with that.

And we are seeing a massive surge in laws which have the effect of cementing one-party rule.


Tm 03.14.21 at 3:48 pm

„the thing that unites literally all ‘real’ fascists is the one party state.“

That is a really useful definition that completely disregards the ideological essence of fascism and has the added benefit of „uniting“ Fascists with Communists while denying the well-known historic links between conservatives and fascists. Hidari of all people offering this tired old conservative chestnut seems a bit ironic but at this point nothing should surprise us any more.


Tm 03.14.21 at 4:33 pm

I also really like the argument that when a party actively subverts democracy in order to win elections that they would otherwise lose, that is just pragmatic behavior, not an ideological commitment against democracy. Precious.

I suppose the Burmese Junta is really honestly committed to democracy, they just understandably don’t like to lose elections. Of course it’s just a coincidence that the Burmese Junta used the exact same justification that Trump had used before. And Trump clearly would have loved to do as the Burmese generals, he just lacked the means. By the logic on offer around here, a fascist is only a fascist after he succeeds in capturing absolute power; by corollary, there can be no unsuccessful fascist movements. Several commenters have pointed out the absurdity of such claims. They are truly beyond parody.


Mitchell J Freedman 03.14.21 at 4:52 pm

agree with Corey Robin to the extent he appears to be saying the Senate is the injury beyond the insult of the Electoral College. I disagree with his big example of Republican and institutional pushback against Trump when he compares what happened with Trump’s NDAA veto and previous presidents who vetoed the NDAA. Robin misses the factual differences between previous presidential vetoes and Trump’s. Carter wanted a particular nuclear carrier spending plan removed, and got it removed after his veto. Reagan wanted more power to control negotiations with the Russians, and got it. Clinton wanted to avoid a violation of the ABM Treaty over a proposed missile defense of one of the US protectorates. Bush II’s and Obama’s vetoes were similarly policy based. Trump’s stated reason for his veto was his carping about the symbolic gesture of renaming military bases named after slaveholders and clear racists–and in the context of Mitch McConnell and other Republicans worried about Trump’s desperateness following his re-election loss. Context therefore matters far more in this instance than Robin’s essay assumes.

To read Robin’s article, one would think Trump made very little difference in policy making. However, when we look at what Trump’s administration “accomplished,” despite the paralyzing “checks and balances,” we must start with Trump’s various executive actions–where Congress’ structural paralysis allows for that type of executive focused governance. On immigration, student debt collection, and environmental de-regulation, Trump did a lot of damage to our nation and our planet. And Trump worked effectively with Republicans in Congress to stack the courts, which is a significant structural oriented change.

As for defining Fascism in the context of Trump, we should look at Jason Stanley’s (Yale political philosopher prof who wrote “How Fascism Works” in 2018) definition of fascism. Stanley defines fascism, saying, “One of the hallmarks of Fascism is the ‘politics of hierarchy’—a belief in a biologically determined superiority—whereby Fascists strive to recreate a ‘mythic’ and ‘glorious’ past…(while) excluding those they believe to be inferior because of their ethnicity, religion, and/or race.”

I believe it is factually indisputable that Stanley’s definition applies to how 40% of Americans and 50% of the senate think–and why we should be concerned that the Republicans have a strong chance to win back the White House in 2024 through the Electoral College. Our nation has had what the late sociologist, Bertram Gross, called “Friendly Fascism,” for much of the post 1960s period in US history. In this context, it is useful to quote Mussolini, who gave a working definition of fascism in the early 1930s: “It is in the corporation that the Fascist State finds its ultimate expression…According to the Fascist conception, the corporation is the organ which makes collaboration systematic and harmonic…”. One can say Mussolini’s definition of “corporation” does not quite cover our modern conception of corporations. However, the tendency of corporate executives in the US to side with authoritarians, whether here or in China, is unmistakable–and again not one that provides me with any sense of security.

Finally, Fascism’s ugly side continues to grow in our nation, but less because of what Robin sees as our governmental and corporate leaders being paralyzed. He seems to back into an assumption that Biden and the corporate Democrats want to stop fascism, but are somehow powerless to do so. For anyone believing that, let’s consider Buenaventura Durruti, a Spanish anti-Fascist, who said in 1936: “No government fights fascism to destroy it. When the bourgeoisie sees that power is slipping out of its hands, it brings up fascism to hold onto their privileges.” When we consider Durruti’s advice, we who favor progressive policies should be outraged at how the outgoing Democratic leadership in Nevada behaved when the progressive slate prevailed last weekend. We now know how Democratic power brokers admitted to the two authors of the new book on the Biden campaign, “Lucky,” how they really thought they could decide to let Trump win in 2020 rather than let Bernie win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

I find myself less and less sanguine about the prospects of the American experiment, partly for what Robin sees as constitutional paralysis, but as much if not more the propaganda the majority of our nation’s people have ingested since the start of the Cold War. For that, I find Jodi Dean’s books of the past decade a more reliable guide to what ails us.


Sashas 03.14.21 at 4:55 pm

JimV @13: Good point re the Supreme Court and 1-party control. I generally focus on the legislative and executive branches when discussing who “controls” the federal government. I don’t know if we’ve had the full 3 on one side at any point in recent history.

Your point about the coddling of conservative Democrats, though, is not relevant. Manchin and Sinema are Democrats regardless of how we may feel about them, and Democratic control of the House and Senate is not lessened by their existence, even though they may block legislation that some other Democrats want.

Hidari @17: Your use of “obviously” highlights the weak point of your argument. Gerrymandering is not obviously incidental to Republicans’ political aims. If we hypothesize, for example, that the Republican party is a bunch of Fascist sympathizers, then one of the fundamental tenets we would expect them to promote would be the practical removal of rights from everyone in the Out-Group. Gerrymandering fits very neatly into this project. And yes, they might not bother to gerrymander if they could remove your voting rights and mine some easier way, but given that the current approach has been to try everything they can think of at once, they probably would keep doing it.

Broadly speaking, I’m contesting two points you’ve made: (1) I believe the Republicans DO want a 1-party state, even if they aren’t willing to admit it, and (2) I believe Fascism is characterized by a desire to neutralize and eventually eliminate or subjugate the Out-Group, not simply by an open desire for a 1-party state.


Peter Dorman 03.14.21 at 6:32 pm

There is a tendency in political debate to paste generic labels on political movements: fascist, liberal, neoliberal, socialist, etc. I won’t deny this is helpful sometimes, since generic patterns do appear. But looking back to pre-WWII European models for today’s Republican Party is not helpful.

20th century European fascism was the heir to particular political traditions (especially the fusion of the military officer class and conservative movements) that were absent or less developed in the US. It was also a response to a socialist movement that advocated the expropriation of privately owned capital. And also the rise of ethnonationalism during its utopian phase. (Maybe we are seeing a partial recrudescence of the latter.)

The US has its own homegrown authoritarian traditions, such as the post-civil war southern resistance/terrorism, nativism and anti-labor vigilantism. It makes more sense to position current right wing movements in terms of domestic traditions.

The Republican Party has been a cross-class alliance for many decades now, drawing on the wealth and influence of rich people interested in low taxes and minimal regulation while harvesting votes from anti-liberal religious forces and the residue of the southern resistance. Politically, Trumpism was not a deviation from this.

What was distinctive about Trumpism, and big causes for concern, are two things. First, Trump and his media supporters (it might be the other way around) are openly “post-factual” in the sense of having no scruples about dishonesty, appeals to irrationalism (like QAnon), and gross inconsistency (willing to say one thing today and the exact opposite tomorrow, claiming they’re the same). This is a matter of degree, of course, and all political movements do some of this, but the Republican/Fox matrix has taken a major leap in this direction.

Second, and my biggest current worry, Trump has sought to coordinate with paramilitary thugs, some of whom showed up for him in DC on Jan. 6. His allies in state governments like MI and OR have been even more open in embracing militias. This of course is a classic feature of fascism, but paramilitary violence has its own traditions in the US. I think disarming and demobilizing these militias should be a priority for people who care about democracy.


Cranky Observer 03.14.21 at 7:04 pm

= = = one can’t reasonably apply Mussolini’s definition to the Republicans or the soi-disant ‘conservatives’ of the U.S. They are too fond of getting off their leashes. = = =

Some Republicans are fond of talking about getting off their leashes, certainly. Look at US Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) for example. Very much in favor in freedom and individualism – so much so that he voted in lockstep with Trump for 4 years, including supporting the seditious insurrection of 01/06. The christianist right-wing evangelicals are similar: all in favor of personal freedom, as long as no one contradicts the Supreme Lawgiver with this year’s direct pipeline to the deity.


steven t johnson 03.14.21 at 8:09 pm

To pick out a single strand in the responses (the OP would be an overwhelming task in untangling the omissions, unfounded assumptions and limitations,) gerrymanders?

One aspect of gerrymanders is creating largely Black districts, resulting in Black representation. Doing away with gerrymanders takes away the privilege of a more or less automatic Black representation, especially in the House of Representatives. Perhaps the mass of Black voters would be satisfied with voting for a white who courts their vote and even tries to keep it with constituent service. But I think many would see this as, for example, knifing James Clyburn in the back.

(If calling this a privilege seems outlandish, because it’s a privilege only a handful can fight for, that seems to me a better reason to call it a privilege than some ascribed but ill-defined trait that is chosen and can’t be unchosen, rendering its use as a moral judgment on the privileged person questionable.)


Tm 03.14.21 at 8:39 pm

„One party, representing the popular majority, remains on the outskirts of power, thanks to the Constitution. … We are seeing the sufferings of Sisyphus, forever rolling his rock—immigration reform, new infrastructure, green jobs—up a hill… When no one can act, any performance of power, no matter how empty, can seem real.“

Who benefits when democratic political institutions are paralyzed, when democratic governance appears impotent, unable to act in the face of challenges and crises, when public confidence in their ability to solve problems erodes and government is presented as a TV and social media performance?

How hard is it to understand that precisely this impotence and paralysis is the result not of „the constitution“ but of a conscious strategy of antidemocratic forces with the aim to undermine the legitimacy of democratic government, and how blind do you have to be as a political scientist to overlook the obvious parallels to the late Weimar Republic, when antidemocratic parties (both the extreme Right and the KPD) gleefully mocked the democratic institutions as ineffective while consistently working to undermine them?

Trump wasn’t able to cling to power but he least office with nearly half the population doubting the legitimacy of the elected president, large parts of the population distrustful of both the news media and the democratic institutions, a large minority expressing support for violent insurrection against the elected government. What will the likely outcome be if Biden fails? Very possibly a fascist more competent and successful than Trump. Fortunately, it seems Biden and many Democrats understand the stakes and are acting accordingly.


nastywoman 03.14.21 at 9:24 pm

and about:
”Where liberals and leftists saw power on the right, I saw, and continue to see, paralysis. Not just on the right, in fact, but across the political spectrum”.

But for a while Trump gave so much power to the of Whole Words (Racist) ”Right” – that even German Neo Nazis felt empowered – to ”hunt everybody who doesn’t look like a real German” – and just yesterday an ”Asian” friend of US -(from Irvine CA) told us -that he very obviously – purposely – nearly got run over by one of the ”I have no filter anymore” Harley Riders – who yelled at him ”to go back to China”.

And –
okay? – that obviously wasn’t and expression of ”political power –
BUT it wasn’t ”paralysis” either –
and it –
perhaps? –
could teach ”the folks” – who like so much ”politically” to deconstruct ”trump” –
(the Worlds Words for ”Evil STUPID” –
that the easiest way to identify a true ”Fascist” nowadays – is NOT asking them if they believe in the one Party Rule.
It’s asking them if they (still) believe that ”the jews” still rule the world – and if they come up with a proud:
YES! –
(as Trump had taught them – that there is nothing wrong with answering: YES!)

IT’S ”a Fascist”!


Lee Arnold 03.14.21 at 9:57 pm

I regard fascism as an upwelling of an emotion that perhaps is latent in every population. The leader and party are secondary phenomena, although of couse they can do great damage. What triggers it is a catastrophic failure of the market system as Karl Polanyi wrote. It is characterized by a longing for vicinal isolation and casting out of the Other (nationalism, racism), and an absolute disregard for logic and facts. Facts do not matter. Trump is just an opportunist who inserted himself into a GOP that is colliding with reality. His Administration was standard Republicanism with few more shortsighted alterations in trade & foreign policy. But even now somewhere around 50% of Republicans believe the election was stolen because Trump is willing to take advantage of “facts don’t matter”. A sine qua non of fascism.


Hidari 03.14.21 at 10:01 pm

Fun game: read through every post (except, ahem, mine) and just ask yourself: is there any one comment, even one claim made here that A.N. Other of the DNC would disagree with?

Related point: if it were widely believed that the Republicans were actually Nazis, fascists, that they actually wanted to end democracy, who would benefit? In whose interests would it be in for this idea to become widespread?

Cui Bono?


some lurker 03.14.21 at 10:13 pm

@16…I always interpret that quote literally, as in wanting to halt the flow of history, of human progress. This was when the stars and bars flag was introduced, when the Pledge and coinage were altered to add references to a god.

The GOP (or GQP as seems to be more apropos now) has never been powerless…perhaps in the Wilderness years of the 1960s but not in the memory of many of us.

Seems like we need to remember Wilhoit’s Proposition.


Sashas 03.15.21 at 1:50 am

steven t johnson @25: I think we’re getting a bit off topic. Feel free to respond in the open thread if you prefer. Last I checked, a lot of gerrymandering has had the effect of diluting Black votes. This has involved, as you note, the creation of majority-Black districts. Your hyperbole aside, it’s quite possible to maintain majority-Black districts without maintaining partisan gerrymandering. My preferred solution is mixed-member proportional representation, which eliminates all gerrymandering and allows for local representatives of majority-minority districts at the same time.

Hidari @29: Who is “A.N. Other of the DNC”? Always good to ask who benefits. Since you are directly accusing me (and most posters in this thread) of either propaganda or being duped, maybe we should try to find some points of agreement. How do you feel about the definition of Fascism pointed to by Mitchell J Freedman @21 ? I suggest starting there because your previous definition was not one I can accept, and if we want to talk about whether they are Fascists or not and whether it’s productive to discuss, we should probably agree on how to define Fascism.


John Quiggin 03.15.21 at 2:30 am

Trump, supported by most of the Republican Party, just attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election by claiming that Republican state legislatures (chosen by gerrymandered electorates) could replace the electors chosen by voters with one of their own choosing. When that failed in the courts due to lack of preparation, he organized a riot/inusrrection to intimidate Congress into doing his biddin.g

As I understand it, Republicans in several states are now moving to make this proposal law. That seems close enough to a demand for a one-party state.


nastywoman 03.15.21 at 4:32 am

”When that failed in the courts due to lack of preparation, he organized a riot/inusrrection to intimidate Congress into doing his biddin.g”

BUT – he only did that BE-cause Obama made fun of him –



John Quiggin 03.15.21 at 4:59 am

My own view is that Trump has crystallised a change that was already under way in the Republican Party. The result is a party that may reasonably be described as fascist https://crookedtimber.org/2020/07/20/the-republican-phase-transition/


nastywoman 03.15.21 at 5:00 am

”BUT – he only did that BE-cause Obama made fun of him” –

and I hope that everybody here -(even Hidari) understood that this reasoning is just ”a Schimmel” –
(as ”them Germans” like to say) –
A ”Schimmel” for the very basic ”thunking” a German Neo-Nazi likes to do –

And sometimes I had wished that some of my American friends who welcomed Trump for his ”anti-mainstream thunking” could have ”thunked” as… as…
”unsophisticated” –
as the basic German Fascist? –
as if they would have done it –
they would have understood –
understand – that this idea that ”Trump’s legacy – is/was – ”Arizona, Georgia, and A.O.C” – far – faaaar too sophisticated – as there was an election yesterday in Baden- Württemberg – and here ”the people” voted again a ”Green” government in power and the Right-Wingers – thanks god – are finally down to just about ten precent –
and that should have been Americas reaction to all it’s problems an not ”trump”.
(the worlds words for: ”Utmost Evil STUPID”)


nastywoman 03.15.21 at 9:30 am

and @28

”I regard fascism as an upwelling of an emotion that perhaps is latent in every population. The leader and party are secondary phenomena, although of couse they can do great damage”.

Couldn’t we agree that fascism as an upwelling of an emotion empowering the lowest instinct – that perhaps is latent in every population and it needs some kind of ”role model” to tell the people that it’s okay or cool to be a ”trump”.

Like the Harley Driver who just tried to run over our Asian friend.

AND there is NO EXCUSE for it by ANY ”catastrophic failure of the market system as Karl Polanyi wrote”. BE-cause at any ANY ”catastrophic failure of the market system” you can come up with a ”American Rescue Plan Act” – instead of Tax relieves for the Rich.


Hidari 03.15.21 at 9:34 am

Lots of highly creative interpretations of the phrase ‘one party state’, mostly along the lines of “a ‘one party state’ is a state in which one party is in power all the time.” Which leads to the exciting and daring hypothesis that contemporary Japan is a 1 party ‘Nazi’ state and that there is literally no difference, from the point of view of, so to speak, its political ontology, between the Japan of 2021 and the Germany of 1937.

In the real world, the Democrats currently have control of the Senate, Congress, and the Presidency, and have huge swathes of the public media under their de facto control (the idea that ‘news’ papers like the New York Times are in any sense, any more, objective or independent is simply risible). The US media eco system has moved from the more traditional American model to a more British model (lucky you, Americans) in which there are no ‘objective’ media outlets any more. Instead specific media outlets are always clearly linked to political parties, and not just that, but political wings in that party. So the New York Times ‘represents’ the Bidenesque wing of the Democrats and since it is in their political and commercial interests to portray the Republicans as Nazis that’s what they print. Ipso facto, it is in the political and commercial interests of the relevant right wing parties to portray the Democrats as being Nazis (or possibly Communists or both) and so that’s what they show too. And the American intellectual class go along with this because: ‘The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. ‘

Or to put it more pithily, as the album has it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectuals_Are_the_Shoeshine_Boys_of_the_Ruling_Elite

Currently the American system is split between imperialists who want a more racially tinged oligarchy with ‘austerity’ and imperialists who want a more colour blind oligarchy, with a ‘Keynesian twist’, so to speak, and the American intellectual elite bifurcates in the same way (with most of them tending towards the ironically named ‘Democrats’ as the Democrats have made a stronger attempt to woo upper middle class white guys who work in academic, tech and the media, which are the professions of choice for intellectuals serving the American Empire. In other words, intellectuals tend Democrat because it is in their political and financial interests to do so. Nor, in a capitalist society, could it be any different.

Finally, while it’s true that the Republicans are quite as bad as they are portrayed here, the idea that the ‘Democrats’ are in any meaningful way more democratic or more committed to popular participation in the democratic process: spare me.


nastywoman 03.15.21 at 10:20 am

and this silly (American?) idea –
that ‘news’ papers like the New York Times –
who are trying very, very hard to report that ”Belgium isn’t a beautiful city” –
(as Trump insisted) –
are in ”any sense, any more”, NOT ”objective or independent” is –
indeed simply risible –
Hidari –

AS I can promise you – that Belgium isn’t a beautiful city.
As isn’t nearly everything else – what ”trump” ever said or did.
to finally having reported IT has absolutely NOTHING to do with ”partisanship” or ”politics” –
It’s in a matter ”of anthropological research” – just ”the basic geography” – of the American Landscape – if you understand the Parabel?


nastywoman 03.15.21 at 10:39 am

and about:

”Finally, while it’s true that the Republicans are quite as bad as they are portrayed here, Finally, while it’s true that the Republicans are quite as bad as they are portrayed here, the idea that the ‘Democrats’ are in any meaningful way more democratic or more committed to popular participation in the democratic process: spare me

as I’m waiting for my check from the American Rescue Plan Act –
we ALL entirely have to thank US Democrats for -(and NOT one single Right-Wing Republicans)
(the idea that Americas ‘Hidaris’ are in any meaningful way more democratic or more committed to popular participation in the democratic process than Americas ”Bidens”)


nastywoman 03.15.21 at 10:44 am

So –
in conclusion
perhaps? –
”What was the “Is Trump a Fascist?” Debate Ultimately About”?

The confusion of the American people – who lost ALL ability to differentiate between the utmost basic differences between Racist Right-Wing Science Deniers and their Opposition?!


Lee Arnold 03.15.21 at 11:09 am

John Quiggin #34: “The result is a party that may reasonably be described as fascist”

It looks to me like the Republicans are maintaining their Goldwater status as an authoritarian/social conservative party, while having internal deliberations over how to keep their fascist slice of voters coming out to the polls to win in the swing districts, in the face of Trump’s fundraising behemoth still promoting the Big Election Lie & the Patriotic Capitol Riot, an historic mess which has repelled swing voters, repelled some registered Republicans who are changing party identification to “independent”, and repelled god knows how many law-&-order blacks and latinos whom Trump gained in 2016 and 2020 but who cannot be happy about a bunch of white morons wrecking the place.


LFC 03.15.21 at 2:47 pm

Hidari @37

While the U.S. media “landscape” has changed in a whole variety of ways from what it was in, say, 1980 or 1990, it is false to say that particular media outlets are all “clearly linked to political parties.” No one who pays even a small amount of attention to the U.S. media could think this. I can’t even bring myself to finish reading your comments, so utterly divorced are some of your statements from anything that even comes close to resembling a facsimile of reality. For one thing, you have to distinguish between editorial pages and news “holes” or non-editorial reporting, which you don’t do; while the lines get blurry, there’s still a difference. For another thing, there’s a difference between leaning in one direction or another politically and being “clearly linked” to a political party.


Mike Furlan 03.15.21 at 6:00 pm

@Sashas #2:

“I’m afraid I can’t read the actual piece…”

If you don’t want to subscribe to The New Yorker, try your local library.

It is free.

I can download an electronic copy from the library site.

Corey Robin’s article is worth the trouble.

And if you do have trouble, there is probably a nice person at the library who will help you on the phone, in text or email, or in person if you stop by.

My on topic comment is that I was happy to see 1830s England rather than 1930s Germany as the historical analogue. We might have a chance of a happy outcome.


F. Foundling 03.15.21 at 9:06 pm

From my perspective, there are a lot of good observations in the essay, mostly pertaining to the problems with the strongman view; I also agree with most of Hidari’s objections – and 03.15.21 at 9:34 was an especially healthy dose of truth. Robin persists in viewing the Democratic Party as the ‘chosen one’ of History, the natural but all-too hesitant and inefficient bearer of overdue democratic progress, rather than as one of the two fairly efficient and enthusiastic servants of oligarchy and empire. And while the latter view is objectively more accurate, in fairness, the former one does have its rationale: for all their noxiousness, I think it’s true that the Dems can be pushed to effect some left-wing policies on some issues.

It’s a tense and complicated dance that much of the US left is engaged in with the Dems – alternately signalling faith and hope in them and threatening clear-eyed disillusionment, haggling and pressuring them to become what it wants them to be (‘their best self’) by pretending to believe that they, in some sense, already are that. It’s manipulation through strategic self-manipulation. Both ‘steps’ in the dance are crucially necessary, at least at the level of rhetoric, for it to work. From an outside anti-imperialist perspective, looking at this game is a bit like looking at the Wars of the Roses as a serf, at the struggles between Athenian aristocrats and democrats as a slave, or, perhaps, closer to home, between Jacksonites and Whigs as a black person. But I can see how it serves a useful long-term good purpose in its context, as long as it doesn’t go too far in the direction of full-on, internalised partisan belief in the goodness of the Democratic mainstream, so that instead of pushing them in your direction, you end up being pushed by them in theirs – and this is, inevitably, all too prone to happen.

Personally, I prefer to both remain aware of the truth and speak it openly to the greatest possible extent and I believe that this serves a useful purpose, too, but I have to admit that I don’t know how you can be consistent in this respect and still be published in an influential outlet like the New Yorker, rather than becoming a fringe outcast. Writing anonymous comments is easier in this respect.

Who knows – perhaps it is only for this reason that I can bring myself to voice an even more heretical position: I am disappointed that Robin so easily bowed to the mainstream Democratic orthodoxy that the Capitol riot was some kind of serious attempt at a ‘violent assault on democracy’ by Trump. He never called on the protesters to storm the building, indeed he explicitly admonished them not to. The rioters never had any remotely realistic or thought-through plan and neither did he. The violent aspect of their actions was ridiculously overblown – it was mostly performance and role-playing. There is no proof that they caused even the single death that was ascribed to them, and as soon as a single one on their side was killed, they gave up instead of becoming enraged and escalating the violence. These people identify with the police themselves, they have neither the desire nor the courage to fight it seriously. Until the upper echelons of the US security apparatus want a coup, it won’t happen, and they have no reason to want it, because they are permanently in power in the US; it would also need the support of much of the oligarchy, which has no reason for that either, because it, too, is permanently in power in the US.

I see no reason to think that Trump ever wanted the protesters to do anything more than add some appearance of ‘public pressure’ to help him cheat and lawyer his way to victory (assuming that he was even serious about that). His very attempt to deny reality and cheat in such an egregious way was no doubt a serious matter and he shouldn’t be anywhere near holding a public office again. However fake US ‘democracy’ is, it seems to me that more blatant disregard for the law can only make it worse (although I can imagine ways in which I might be wrong about this). But as for a coup – please. There is some depth to the bitter joke that has long been popular among opponents of US empire in the global periphery – a coup can never happen in the US, because it’s the only country where there is no US embassy.


Tom 03.16.21 at 1:27 am

Corey does not like the status quo and thinks that the US system itself is not democratic and that we need a major institutional redesign. Corey also thinks that:

1) because of the system’s undemocratic features, Trump has not really been able to wield his power even when he had it .

and that

2) because of the system’s undemocratic features, the Democrats are not really be able to wield their power even when they have it .

For somebody who is left-leaning, 2) is an argument against the status quo. But isn’t 1) an argument at least somewhat in favor of it? You can’t only look at the empty half of the glass.

As a side, I dispute both 1) and 2). As to 1), Trump has managed to pack the courts (something that for some reason Corey never mentions), paralyze the WTO and jettison any credibility the US had in the international arena. He has also been able to be completely and openly racist and still manage to get, in 2021, 74 million votes (I am told that this is ok because we now have AOC; yes, but we now also have Marjorie Greene).

As to 2), Obamacare – kindly brought to you by that neoliberal enemy of the people that we are told Obama is – is still there. But that’s an an aside. Corey believes in 1) and 2) and so mine is an objection internal to his argument.


nastywoman 03.16.21 at 6:46 am

”But as for a coup – please. There is some depth to the bitter joke that has long been popular among opponents of US empire in the global periphery – a coup can never happen in the US, because it’s the only country where there is no US embassy”.

what about the joke that ”the coup” was Trumps e(r)lection?


John Quiggin 03.16.21 at 9:16 am

Hidari circa 1925 “The idea that Hitler is a threat to democracy is just propaganda designed to conceal the fact that there is no real difference between the Social Democrats and the NSDAP. His supposed putsch was a pathetic joke, massively exaggerated by the establishment press, with only a handful of people killed. Now that he has spent a few months in jail, he has surely seen the error of his ways.”

I’m sure you could find dozens of articles along pretty much these lines in the KDP press, many by people who later found out exactly how wrong they were.


Hidari 03.16.21 at 12:14 pm

@48 ‘Hidari circa 1925′.

It’s worthwhile parsing what this sentence means. What this means is that the author of this sentence is claiming that it is a reasonable prediction to claim that in 2029 (i.e. in 8 years time) the 83 year old Donald Trump will (or at least, is likely to be) dictator of the United States in some non-trivial way (i.e. and e.g. only the Republican Party will be legal, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris etc. will be dead or in concentration camps or in exile, the US will have invaded Canada or Mexico, the internet will be abolished or all websites are under direct government control etc etc etc) despite the fact that all of this is literally impossible under the US constitution as it currently stands (Hitler’s putsch was legal under the Weimar constitution, which permitted the total removal of all civil liberties under a state of emergency).

OK fine. Want to put money on it? £1000 say? This to be decided upon by a neutral arbiter?

(my counter claim is that the Democrats, having won this election, are the most likely to win the next election, as 2 term Presidencies are the norm in the US electoral system and Trump is unlikely to stand as the Republican candidate).

I mean it’s important to have something at stake because right now, because for the last 4 years you have been able to find ‘dozens of articles’ claiming that Trump was an aspiring dictator, many by people who ‘found out exactly how wrong they were’ but refused to accept this by claiming essentially ‘ah by the fact that I was wrong just goes to show that I was right’. By which I mean people claiming that Trump was a dictator even after he had left office after a democratic election.

It’s also not a trivial point to point out that Trump doesn’t exercise much and has a terrible diet and lifestyle. I mean he might actually be dead in 9 years time. There have also been rumours that he might have dementia and might not be allowed to stand even if he wants to. Nor is it easy to see how he can win an election without access to social media. And of course, he might not even want to stand. But these factors don’t matter in the Green Lantern version of politics, in which someone (e.g. Trump) simply wills something to happen, and then it happens. Interestingly, Democrats can see the flaw in this logic when it suits them.

The fact that the American liberal class have apparently taken leave of Planet Earth, and have created a counter-reality that is more to their taste, in which they have been living for the last 4 years, is, objectively, more of a threat to American ‘democracy’, such as it is, than 99% of what Trump did, and the latter day zaibatsu of the Silicon Valley oligarchies are more of a threat to freedom of speech, movement, and the rest, than the Republican Party, as I think the next 20/30 years will show.

When American ‘democracy’ finally ends, if it does, the DNC will not be the good guys fighting against the dictatorship to the bitter end, I guarantee you that. Au contraire.

(I am totally aware that this post may well get me banned, incidentally but “Hier stehe, ich kann nicht anders”).


Z 03.16.21 at 12:37 pm

John, the reference of “only a handful of people killed” in the context of a comparison between the SDP and the NSDAP around 1925 is really in poor taste. I don’t know if there were any articles like that in the KDP press at the time, but if they were, the fact that dozens of members of the KDP had been killed by the Freikorps under SDP orders merely five year prior would surely factor.


nastywoman 03.17.21 at 7:18 am

AND was the Racist Right-Wing Motorcycle Rider – who really ran over our Asian friend – the other day in Orange County on his way… to Atlanta?

And do we ALL have to change our way of thinking about:
What was the “Is Trump a Fascist?” Debate Ultimately About??!

AS actually –
plain and simple –
in the 21 century it’s ALL about to tell the people on the Internet that the HAVE to HATE everybody and everything ”fureign”?


nastywoman 03.17.21 at 7:21 am


AND was the Racist Right-Wing Motorcycle Rider – who
ran over our Asian friend – the other day in Orange County on his way… to Atlanta?

And how many hate crimes against ”Asians” where counted in my homeland last year?


John Quiggin 03.17.21 at 9:04 am

Z, I was referring specifically to the Beer Hall Putsch.

Hidari, I’m not suggesting an exact repetition, or claiming inevitability. I’m saying that there is a significant probability that the 2024 election will see the existing quasi-democratic Electoral College system overturned (at least putatively) by Republican state legislatures appointing their own electors in states where the majority of voters support the Democrats. As far as I can tell, there is nothing in the Constitution that clearly prevents this, so it will be up to the Supreme Court. As you say, the Democrats are more likely to prevail, but not because the Republicans are committed to accepting the will of the people.

As to Trump being an aspiring dictator, that’s obviously true. Admittedly an unsuccessful aspirant, but there are many such. Your reference to his “leaving office” is quite disingenuous, if it’s meant to suggest that he did so voluntarily. You could, if you wanted, observe that Hitler left office in 1945. He even named and acknowledged his successor. By contrast, Trump still refers to himself as the “45th President” and refuses to acknowledge his defeat.


Lee Arnold 03.17.21 at 11:20 am

John Quiggin #53: “As far as I can tell, there is nothing in the Constitution that clearly prevents this, so it will be up to the Supreme Court.”

If there is nothing in the Constitution that clearly prevents this, then the Supreme Court would probably let it go.

Imagine that Trump had succeeded in getting Congress to overturn this election. That would be the final word on the matter. (What would be happening in the US streets right now?)

Now imagine Trump succeeds in controlling both houses of Congress after 2022 (the GOP only needs to gain one seat in the Senate and six in the House), and then he runs again in 2024.

Corey Robin’s question is, “What was the ‘Is Trump a Fascist?’ Debate Ultimately About?”

Perhaps it is about a definitional misunderstanding. Is fascism is a top-down or bottom-up phenomenon?

Most scholars & pundits seem to have the top-down, Hitler & Mussolini model in mind. But there was a worldwide surge of fascism in the 1930’s in many countries, many with different institutional priors. There’s been a worldwide resurgence of the far right again, now. The top-down model doesn’t entirely explain it.

I think fascism is primarily a spontaneous emotion with extremely dangerous social concomitants, and there is still a lot of it out there in the population. It arises in response to institutional deadlocks that will not deal with a widespread failure of the market system. (Our two historical cases are financial crashes.) The requirement that there be a dictator, a single-party state, seems to be secondary. An opportunistic shill will do just fine.


Lee Arnold 03.17.21 at 11:32 am

Well, “shill” is the wrong word, because that is an accomplice to another. Perhaps “bounder”.


nastywoman 03.17.21 at 11:58 am

@49 –

”@48 ‘Hidari circa 1925′.

It’s worthwhile parsing what this sentence means.
”What this means is that the author of this sentence is claiming that it is a reasonable prediction to claim that in 2029 (i.e. in 8 years time) the 83 year old Donald Trump will (or at least, is likely to be) dictator of the United States in some non-trivial way (i.e. and e.g. only the Republican Party will be legal…


And I had read the Parabel just as an example how idiotically wrong anybody could be who tries to downplay Trumps Putschversuch?


nastywoman 03.17.21 at 12:03 pm

and about:
”It’s worthwhile parsing what this sentence means”.

Yes –
as I finally understand how ”literal” the ”Hidaris” of this World will take it –
if you tell them – that ”trump” means ”GOD” –
(and NOT ”DOG”)


nastywoman 03.17.21 at 1:30 pm

and about:

“Hier stehe, ich kann nicht anders”.

Let’s hope that Hidari knows – that Luther never said that?

”A simple: “Gott helfe mir. Amen” (god help me) – ends Luthers Speech in Front of the Emperor.

And so:
“Wenn du nicht mehr weiter weißt, gründe einen Arbeitskreis” gilt auch schon vor 500 Jahren. Die “Causa Lutherii” wird in einen Ausschuss verwiesen, Luther vorgeladen – erwartungsgemäß ergebnislos. Damit ist klar, dass der Wittenberger Mönch vom Kaiser unter Reichsacht gestellt wird und von jedermann straflos getötet werden kann. Friedrich der Weise lässt ihn vorsichtshalber auf die Wartburg entführen. Während Luther spurlos verschwunden ist, erreicht seine Reichstagsrede Wittenberg. Gedruckt wird sie mit der kleinen Änderung:
”Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir, Amen”.

And whoever was responsible for this… lie –
ihm ist ein großer Wurf gelungen.
As the never spoken German words – now even get quoted by ”trumpdefenders” in my homeland America?

And is that because ”Trump” actually was not only (fascistic) STUPID –
BUR also always ”THE Ugly German” –
Durch und durch…


steven t johnson 03.17.21 at 9:41 pm

Z@49 I believe was referring to the savagery with which the SPD put down the continued general strike (and perceived dual power) in the Ruhr. The SPD unleashed the Freikorps yet again and killed hundreds of KPD and other militants (mainly USPD.) By contrast, once Kapp/Luttwitz had been suppressed, the right wing perpetrators were very leniently treated. Von Seeckt, who stood the Reichswehr idle, was I think promoted upward as “punishment.” The implication in John Quiggin@47 that it was the KPD that was targeting the SPD and making light of the putschists (instead of pushing further,) was thus seen as questionable, like solidarizing with the butchers against the victims.

F. Foundling@44 wrote “Until the upper echelons of the US security apparatus want a coup, it won’t happen, and they have no reason to want it, because they are permanently in power in the US; it would also need the support of much of the oligarchy, which has no reason for that either, because it, too, is permanently in power in the US.”

This is Deep State crackpottery, fundamentally a right-wing ideology indulged to replace any rational I.e. left-wing understanding of power in class society. Trump had arranged for an acting secretary of the army and an acting secretary of defense to prime the military to stall.

Recent precedent shows the plan to cheat and lawyer a second term was for the insurrection to seize some members of Congress, interrupt the formalities, then bring the military in to restore order…and part of the order would have been overturning/replaying key elections to change the Electoral College votes. As in the effort to bring the military out in force during the summer, such corrections were expected to be much more feasible with an intimidating, organizing force. Foundling and Hidari falsify the coup attempt by refusing to look at what happened with the military.

As for the notion the oligarchy is always in charge, the whole career of Trump is based on the increasing distaste of the oligarchy has for the accoutrements of bourgeois democracy. The greatest support for Trump is not even the enraged petty bourgeois losing their property values in flyover country, but the rich who have invested in cultivating the right kind of audience for decades using vehicles like Fox and talk radio (which are mainstream media, by the way.) The oligarchy has not even managed to do away yet with Social Security. The default is of course to lambaste the vile souls of the people for Trumpery.

Hidari invents something called the “liberal class,” with occult powers to shape social reality. This does not permit an answer. This really is a case where fantasy has barred any discussion, I think.

As to why paralysis still somehow leads to historical trend to the right, with an ever narrowing set of players in politics and an even narrower set of policies to choose from?
I think Corey Robin needs to answer this question to support his thesis. Insofar as I understand it, as it is rather subtle, of uncertain import, undecided consequences, imprecisely aimed, what have you. The Republican majorities in state capitals for one thing are omitted entirely.

Fascism is closely tied to defeat in war, which is why Poujadism in France after the Franco-Prussian war anticipated so much. Defeat in WWI was countered by fascism as the political form of restoration. Trumpery is engendered by the need to Make America Great Again. You would think a committed anti-imperialist would find MAGA a red flag in the other sense of the phrase, but, curiously, no.


J-D 03.18.21 at 7:18 am

I won’t predict how the Supreme Court would rule, but it’s important to understand the difference between the following two scenarios.

The Constitutional text provides that: ‘Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors …’

In one scenario, a State legislature enacts legislation directing that Presidential electors be chosen by the State legislature.

In another scenario, a State chooses Presidential electors by popular vote under existing legislation and then, after that choice has been made, the State legislature overrides that choice and substitutes different people as the Presidential electors (or says that it is doing so).

The arguments that would be advanced in a Supreme Court challenge to the State legislature’s actions would be different in these two scenarios. In the first scenario, the challenge would face the difficulty that the action taken by the State legislature simply replicates actions taken by several State legislatures in the early days of the USA, without ever being challenged. In the second scenario, but not in the first, the challenge would be able to make use of the argument that the State legislature was not directing a manner of appointment but rather overriding (or attempting to override) an appointment already made in the manner it had itself directed.


Gorgonzola Petrovna 03.18.21 at 7:59 am

steven t johnson’s Jan 6 story is good, but another blue-anon, named in all caps, was much better. “Opsec”, was it? Yes: “there were a number of folks photographed who maintained decent operational security (opsec, as it’s called). This isn’t by accident: it takes training“.

I’m waiting for more shocking revelations, like, hopefully, participation of Russian spetsnaz. Where is that excellent blue-anon? Are you disappearing him? Please don’t.


Stephen 03.18.21 at 9:16 am

steven t johnson@58

“Fascism is closely tied to defeat in war, which is why Poujadism in France after the Franco-Prussian war anticipated so much.” In the version of history that I have been told, Poujadism flourished in the 1950s, which was indeed after the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71), but not a response to it: and I am not clear in what sense Poujadism was fascist (other than that stj doesn’t like it), or anticipated anything very much.

“Defeat in WWI was countered by fascism”. Again, in the usual version of history Fascism began in Italy, which was on the winning side in WWI.

Perhaps stj might care to rephrase his comments.


Lee Arnold 03.18.21 at 11:12 am

“The fascist solution of the impasse reached by liberal capitalism can be described as a reform of market economy achieved at the price of the extirpation of all democratic institutions… The economic system which was in peril of disruption would thus be revitalized, while the people themselves were subjected to a reeducation designed to denaturalize the individual and make him unable to function as the responsible unit of the body politic. …the tenets of a political religion that denied the idea of the brotherhood of man in all its forms…

“The appearance of such a movement in the industrial countries of the globe, and even in a number of only slightly industrialized ones, should never have been ascribed to local causes, national mentalities, or historical backgrounds as was so consistently done by contemporaries. Fascism had as little to do with the Great War as with the Versailles Treaty, with Junker militarism as with the Italian temperament. The movement appeared in defeated countries like Bulgaria and in victorious ones like Jugoslavia, in countries of Northern temperament like Finland and Norway and of Southern temperament like Italy and Spain, in countries of Aryan race like England, Ireland, or Belgium and non-Aryan race like Japan, Hungary, or Palestine, in countries of Catholic traditions like Portugal and in Protestant ones like Holland, in soldierly communities like Prussia and civilian ones like Austria, in old cultures like France and new ones like the United States and the Latin-American countries. In fact, there was no type of background—of religious, cultural, or national tradition—that made a country immune to fascism, once the conditions for its emergence were given…

“A country approaching the fascist phase showed symptoms among which the existence of a fascist movement proper was not necessarily one. At least as important signs were the spread of irrationalistic philosophies, racialist aesthetics, anticapitalistic demagogy, heterodox currency views, criticism of the party system, widespread disparagement of the ‘regime,’ or whatever was the name given to the existing democratic setup…

“In no case was an actual revolution against constituted authority launched; fascist tactics were invariably those of a sham rebellion arranged with the tacit approval of the authorities who pretended to have been overwhelmed by force…”

The Great Transformation pp. 237-8.


Frank Wilhoit 03.18.21 at 11:45 am

Trumpism (I use the word for convenience; there are no Great Men) is a revolt against accountability, full stop.

To an infant, any performance of power seems arbitrary.

steven t johnson @ 58: Pierre Poujade was born in 1920. Have you mixed him up with General Boulanger?


nastywoman 03.18.21 at 3:29 pm

While the US Democrats are acting now – in trying to fight against the ”Fremdenfeindlichkeit” – it’s time to help them and change the order in #
the definition

As in the 20th century it might have been –
”Faschismus vertritt rechtsextreme, rassistische und fremdenfeindliche Gedanken”.
while in the 21 Century it has become –
”Faschisten vertreten fremdenfeindliche, rassistische und rechtsextreme Gedanken” –
with the ”Fremdenfeindlichkeit” as the main expression of Fascism.

”Spearheaded by the worst President the US has ever seen – Donald Trump.
And as stupid and powerless ”authoritarian/fascist/tyrannical” he ever might have Benn –
his power to produce the utmost HATE against ALL ”the others” – might finally put him in the history book as ”Americas most powerful Fascist”?

”a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy with

When no one can act, any performance of power, no matter how empty, can seem real.


nastywoman 03.18.21 at 4:00 pm

”Trumpism (I use the word for convenience; there are no Great Men) is a revolt against accountability, full stop”

Trumpism (I use the word for convenience; there are no Great Men) WAS a revolt against SANITY, full stop!
(but thanks god – ”trump” is – goooone…)


steven t johnson 03.18.21 at 4:16 pm

Frank Wilhoit@63 is correct, I was thinking of Boulanger, and the anti-Dreyfusards too. The anti-Dreyfusard crusade was I think a new phenomenon, not a mysterious recurrence of old medieval ideas, suddenly popular for no cause. The need for heroic measures in politics for revanche, including brushing away corrupt politicians (and they are all corrupt in fascism) and their corrupt games (because parliamentary democracy is always a corrupt game in fascism,) is rarely so attractive in a country that feels like it is winning. Or that is is still “Great” as in MAGA.

Stephen@58 is incorrect in thinking Italy won the war. The severe military defeats were not compensated by the minor territorial adjustments. Italy wanted things like Libya, Ethiopia and Albania but it was fascism that got those. The reality of defeat on the battlefield is why the government was so weak in facing the left surge in the forgotten Red Summer, why fascism was useful in domestic class conquest to begin with. The government’s credit was shot on the battlefield. Stephen also caught my error on “Poujadism,” though, so at least this once Stephen got something right!

Lee Arnold cites Polanyi. Unless I am hopelessly out of date, Polanyi’s expansive definition of fascism is precisely the kind of thing condemned as woolly thinking by Robin, etc. The trend is pretty strongly to limit fascism proper to Italy, because they actually started the name it can’t be denied, and to Nazi Germany. I think Stanley Payne for one took the tack of declaring “fascism” to be so problematic that it was a dubiously useful concept. This is doubly so now, when narrow definitions of fascism are so useful in denying Ukraine is fascist or that interwar Japan was fascist, or that Finland was fascist-influenced. I think Polanyi was correct in using a broader definition of fascism.

But I have to say that after explicitly denying things like national temperament were fascism or causes thereof, to define fascism in terms of things like esthetics or irrationalism is too anticipatory of things like Umberto Eco’s checklist. Polanyi himself talked of strange money theories, but how finance is separable from Versailles is a complete mystery to me.

Additionally, to be truly useful, the different susceptibilities to fascism should be taken into account. Barrington Moore is unfashionable, but not wrong. The more thorough going the bourgeois revolutions that remade a society, the less susceptible. France is the test case, I think. But France was defeated in 1870 and 1940, so no, I think defeat in war is relevant.

Further, thinking of fascism as structural, a mode of political rule to mobilize a nation for conquest, suppressing class conflict (including intrabourgeois rivalries, at least to some degree) the role in conquest, not just revanche, is apparent. Here the test case is interwar Japan, I think.

Overlooked in the case of many others, is that formation of a new bourgeois state is, mechanically so to speak, the same thing as conquest. Finland is denied to be a fascist-influenced (if not fascist) state now, for reasons contemporary. But the exigencies of counter-revolutionary struggle to establish a new state should be pretty obvious.

One of the notable features of fascism, the tendency to exterminate populations, was of course not unique to fascism as it congealed into a separate movement in the late nineteenth century. But the commitment to extermination and/or enslavement is why I think some elements of fascism came from the New World, especially the bigly victorious US. (Arendt’s emphasis on de Gobineau I think has been a bad influence.) But possibly the first genocide approaching the fascist technique, the Armenian genocide, is closely linked to the formation of a Turkish bourgeois democracy. Suppressing class struggle in the nation seems to go much easier if somebody else can be excluded.


John Quiggin 03.19.21 at 1:45 am

J-D, I’m anticipating a Heads I Win, Tails You Lose strategy tailored to ensure that after-the fact challenges which failed last time around will work this time. Something like “we will hold a democratic election, but in the event of fraud, proved to the satisfaction of the state legislature, the fraudulently chosen electors may be replaced by patriotic Americans chosen by that legislature”.


John Quiggin 03.19.21 at 1:56 am

Arguments about definitions are sometimes useful, sometimes not, but here goes one. Fascist movements are (I claim) necessarily
* Anti-democratic & authoritarian
* Rightwing
* Organized around mass political parties

Are there important examples of movements that satisfy these conditions but can’t properly be called Fascist?


J-D 03.19.21 at 2:29 am

J-D, I’m anticipating a Heads I Win, Tails You Lose strategy tailored to ensure that after-the fact challenges which failed last time around will work this time. Something like “we will hold a democratic election, but in the event of fraud, proved to the satisfaction of the state legislature, the fraudulently chosen electors may be replaced by patriotic Americans chosen by that legislature”.

At the risk of repeating myself, I’m not predicting that a constitutional challenge to such a manoeuvre would be successful in the Supreme Court. However, there are, again, two scenarios worth distinguishing.

In one scenario, the State legislature amends State electoral law in advance of the election to add provisions specifically enabling the legislature itself to replace Presidential electors in the event of fraud in the choice (election) of those electors.

In another scenario, the State legislature makes no such amendment of State electoral law, but after the fact announces that election fraud justifies it in replacing Presidential electors.

Once again, the arguments that would be advanced in a Supreme Court challenge to the State legislature’s actions would be different in these two scenarios. In the first scenario, the challenge would face the difficulty of an argument on behalf of the State legislature that it exercised the power vested in it by the Constitution to direct a manner of appointment. In the second scenario, making the case for the State legislature would not be similarly easy. I’m sure they could find lawyers to make a case for them, and I can’t say the Supreme Court would reject that case, but the difference between the two scenarios is still significant. In the first scenario the legislature could argue ‘We are the judges of what is fraud, and here is the law which says so’; in the second scenario, the legislature could still argue that it was the judge of what is fraud, but it could not point to a law which confirmed that.


nastywoman 03.19.21 at 4:05 am

”Suppressing class struggle in the nation seems to go much easier if somebody else can be excluded”.

In other words:
…”and Asian women have been disproportionately affected by the skyrocketing number of hate crimes reported against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

A report on hate incidents released Tuesday by the reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate found that among the 3,800 incidents that were reported over the course of roughly a year during the pandemic, 68% of those were reported by women.

Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, recently told NBC Asian America that it’s not just racism but sexism ― namely, the belief that Asian women are subservient and weak ― that’s played a part in many of these incidents.

“There is an intersectional dynamic going on that others may perceive both Asians and women and Asian women as easier targets,” he said.

The hypersexualization of Asian women plays a huge part in the violence we face.
Christine Liwag Dixon
As the coronavirus worsened, Asian American women have heard taunts of “Chinese coronavirus bitch” or “Where is your corona mask, you Asian bitch?” while running errands or walking down the street. The racist rhetoric surrounding the coronavirus ― fueled by President Donald Trump’s xenophobic tweets and his use of phrases like “China virus” ― coincided with a surge in harassment”.

And if Mr. Johnson wants to call this a ”class struggle” – let’s… agree…?


nastywoman 03.19.21 at 4:13 am

AND this:

”A House Judiciary Committee hearing veered wildly off topic as soon as it began Thursday, when Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) began ranting about the Chinese Communist Party, immigration at the southern U.S. border, and “old sayings” in Texas about lynching.

The panel assembled to confront the drastic spike in discrimination and violence against Asian Americans in the past year. Rather than speak to the troubling trend, Rep. Roy instead complained about the Chinese Communist Party and COVID-19 before pivoting to attacking the panel itself for “policing free speech.”

Lawmakers convened the hearing in the wake of a string of Atlanta-area shootings earlier this week, wherein a 21-year-old white man killed eight people, six of them Asian women.

Roy labeled the shootings a “tragedy” and noted that “all Americans deserve protection and to live in a free and secure society.” Then he lost the thread entirely.

“My concern about this hearing is that it seems to want to venture into the policing of rhetoric in a free society, free speech, and away from the rule of law and taking out bad guys,” he said.

Describing the “rule of law” he idolizes, Roy then glorified lynchings, saying, “There’s old sayings in Texas about find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree.”

And if Mr. Johnson wants to call that ”a class struggle” – let’s call it ”the type of class struggle educated Jews in Germany had to suffer – when the horrific close-minded STUPID killed them by the millions…?


nastywoman 03.19.21 at 4:25 am

And I was wrong with:

”As in the 20th century it might have been –
”Faschismus vertritt rechtsextreme, rassistische und fremdenfeindliche Gedanken”.
while in the 21 Century it has become –
”Faschisten vertreten fremdenfeindliche, rassistische und rechtsextreme Gedanken” –
with the ”Fremdenfeindlichkeit” as the main expression of Fascism”.

As already in the 20th century the worlds worst monster had proved that with ”fremdenfeindlichem, rassistischen Gedanken” – one get’s ”the masses” on the side of Fascism – and ”Right-Wing Politics” are just some kind of… of? –



MisterMr 03.19.21 at 4:13 pm

Italy won WW1, however Italy entered WW1 on the promise of territorial expansion in the balkans.

At the end of the war USA refused to give those territories to Italy (these territories had a large ethnically italian population, but it was a minority relative to the larger ethnically slavic population).
Furthermore, the two regions of Nice and Savoy, that were part of the original block from which Italy was unified, had a referendum and choose to pass to France instead.
These two things pissed off big time italian nationalists, who believed that WW1 was just another step in italian unification (with a broad definition of “Italy”).

This was in fact one of the main points in initial “fasci di combattimento” propaganda.


Stephen 03.19.21 at 6:09 pm

JQ@68″Are there important examples of movements that satisfy these conditions but can’t properly be called Fascist?”
Well, that depends, movements change so. Consider Sinn Fein/IRA:

Anti-democratic and authoritarian: yes, of course.

Organised around mass political parties: once upon a time, organised around minority parties. Later, not so.

Rightwing: yes, but opportunistically so. Back in the day, organising bombings and shootings in Ireland & Britain in support of traditionally rightwing causes (blood and soil nationalism, subjugate or expel the despised non-national population). Even further back, support for Nazi Germany than which it is hard to get more rightwing: Dublin is still, to its shame, the only European capital with a public statue to a Nazi collaborator. When requesting arms and money from the former Soviet Union, ostentatiously pro-socialism; when doing the same in Boston, no such thing. Nowadays, appeals to discontented underclass in RoI: maybe that makes them left-wing and therefore OK?


Frank Wilhoit 03.19.21 at 6:24 pm

steven t johnson@66, Boulanger had no ideology beyond DAAAMN, I look fly on a horse! His historical importance, in retrospect, was in opening the door to lightweights. (But first we had to get past Northcliffe, etc….)

The anti-Dreyfusards were part of the late-C19 dressing-up of antisemitism with pseudophilosophy. Peter Pulzer is the main source for this with his Rise of Political Antisemitism in Germany and Austria (Wiley, 1964), but, as his title expresses, he did not consider the parallel (and largely derivative) developments in France. So the historical importance of all this was the emergence of the right-wing publishing industry, churning out millions of pages of propaganda masquerading as philosophy and/or polisci. That parenthesis is now closing because no one can any longer [be troubled to] read. The new medium is the likes of Twitter, where there is only space to call for blood.


Tm 03.19.21 at 6:40 pm

Some of the logical and conceptual errors common in this debate (some have already been pointed out by other commenters):

1) The insistence that 21st century fascism must look exactly like its 20th century counterpart, that a contemporary political movement can only be recognized as fascist if it follows exactly the playbook of Hitler and/or Mussolini. (The silliness of this argument is at display in Hidari at 48). ​It never occurs to anybody to apply similar standards to socialism, liberalism, or conservatism. We recognize for example that socialism is a broad category of political ideas/movements that covers considerable diversity and that has evolved over time. Why should this not be true of fascism?

2) Related to 1) the misconception that pointing out historic parallels and using them as arguments in a contemporary political debate must imply an exact identity.

3) Also related to 1) the idea that fascism has an on-off switch, that there must be a total break between fascist and non-fascist politics, as if there weren’t a broad overlap between traditional right-wing politics and fascism. Robin claims that recognizing Trump’s radicalism somehow lets the Republican party off the hook and fails to “understand conservatism more generally, which has always been a far-right and illiberal and anti-liberal form of politics” (https://jewishcurrents.org/almost-the-complete-opposite-of-fascism/). But that was equally true in the Weimar era! Of course Trump hasn’t invented American racism, but as Robin very well knows, the Nazis too didn’t invent antisemitism – all Weimar era right-wing parties shared the Nazis’ antisemitism, illiberalism and contempt for democracy. It was very well possible around 1930 to argue that the Nazis weren’t all that different from the other right-wing parties, and many indeed did make that argument. There is no contradiction between recognizing that Trumpism is in many ways a continuation of standard Republican politics, and also recognizing that Trump has radicalized US right-wing politics to an unprecedented extent.

4) The delusion of hindsight: This is also related to 3). Our view of fascism is of course shaped by our knowledge of the Holocaust and WWII, knowledge that contemporaries in the 1920s and early 30s didn’t have and couldn’t anticipate. It is near impossible for us with the benefit of hindsight to comprehend how badly even many critical contemporaries underestimated and misjudged Hitler. For example, the exiled German Communists interpreted the Röhmputsch (1934) as a sign of weakness and fantasized about the imminent collapse of the Nazi regime. Delusions like that were common. And they could have been right! History might have turned out differently. There certainly was no straight line from the failed Hitler Putsch 1923 – which made Hitler look weak and stupid – to his capturing near absolute power over Europe, to him ending his life, loathed by much of the world, in a bunker in the bombed-out capital of a defeated country, after merely 12 years in power.

5) Conflating authoritarianism with effective leadership: When Robin argues that Trump hasn’t been effective in either implementing his political agenda or changing public opinion, that speaks to Trump’s ineffectivenes as a leader, and crucially to the effectiveness of the resistance against Trump. It does not in any way refute the view that Trump is an authoritarian or even fascist at heart. What is particularly mystifying and I would say self-defeating about this argument is that it completely disregards the possibility that a fascist threat might be overcome through antifascist resistance!

Had people on the left listened to Robin’s insistence that Trump was never a threat, there probably would have been far less resistance. Anyway it’s far too early for final judgment on Trump’s legacy. We have to act in the thicket of the political struggle, not with the benefit of hindsight. Nevertheless given the events of Trump’s final months in office, Robin’s view has been resoundingly refuted and those of us who warned of a grave threat to democracy (a threat that hasn’t gone away!) were proved right.

No pasaran!


Stephen 03.19.21 at 8:38 pm


Anticipating, perhaps unfairly, a response from steven t johnson

“Ah but, you see, from 1939 to mid 1941 the glorious USSR was actually treaty-bound to help Nazi Germany, and so any Irish Republican support for the Nazis was really left-wing.”

Over to you, comrade. I do hope I may have done you an injustice. Not, I think, the sort of thought that has ever occurred to you.

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