Is Trump a fascist?
I don’t think so, here’s why.
In answering this question, we’re better off taking the advice of Corey Lewandowski, the President’s one-time campaign manager, who directed his staff to ‘Let Trump Be Trump’.
Our histories are filled with parallels and echoes of Trump-ism. He is not the first reactionary politician to promise to put ‘America First’ or ‘Make America Great Again’. He is not first to threaten our democratic institutions. He is not first to scapegoat immigrants, people of color, Native Americans, or women.
And this moment is not the same as the Weimar Republic, 1930’s Spain or Stalinist Russia. So, what is going on?
Since 2006, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has prepared an annual worldwide survey of nations called the Democracy Index. I know this sounds wonky, but hear me out. I promise the connections will make sense. This survey compares 5 measures of democracy and for the first time, in 2016, it downgraded the United States from a Full democracy to a Flawed democracy.
And, according the EIU, Donald Trump didn’t lower the bar. We set the bar low enough that he could get over.
“Trust in political institutions is an essential component of well-functioning democracies. Yet surveys by Pew, Gallup and other polling agencies have confirmed that public confidence in government has slumped to historic lows in the US. This has had a corrosive effect on the quality of democracy in the US, as reflected in the decline in the US score in the Democracy Index. The US president, Donald Trump, is not to blame for this decline in trust, which predated his election, but he was the beneficiary of it.”
Make no mistake, President Trump engages in a daily assault on our political institutions. The point is, he’s kicking a democracy that’s already down.
A better point of reference than 20th century fascism, is turn-of-our-century weakening of our democracy. After the end of the Cold War, over 60 countries across the world moved toward some version of liberal democracy. With a vast sample set, political scientists developed a term, ‘democratic consolidation’, to describe what’s needed to sustain democracies as a form of national government. They explored what combination of institutions, culture, political actors, legal frameworks worked together where, for who, and for how long.
In 2016, Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk, theorized a new concept, ‘democratic deconsolidation’. In short, how stable democracies fall apart.
To meet state standards, Minnesota’s 5th graders are expected to “understand how governmental power is limited through federalism and a system of checks and balances.” (And, yes, this should score us a few points in EIU Democracy Index.) But beyond federal-state-local and executive-legislative-judicial, America’s democratic republic is kept alive by the press, political parties, the civil service, unions, nonprofits, independent businesses, public interest lawyering, and good old-fashioned, conversations between representatives and their constituents.
President Trump is taking on each of these. In whatever order occurs to him. Or Steve Bannon. Or as they appear on CNN.
If you want to know what’s coming next, you need to know only who is vulnerable or who is visibly opposing the administration.
20th century European fascists used the state as an instrument of coercion. President Trump is too. But those at the turn-of-the-century, like Putin, Orbán, Chavez, and Erdoğan, who have deconsolidated democracies have also used the state in a novel way: as an instrument of evasion – meaning as an instrument to deflect what’s really happening.
The tools of coercion in the U.S. are still used directly on those with the least political and economic power, including immigrants, religious minorities, people of color, women, and Native Americans, and on those who hold the administration to account (i.e. reporters, demonstrators, union presidents, Rep. John Lewis, etc.).
The tools of evasion are more insidious and are used to benefit the already powerful. They are investigations shelved, taxes unpaid, standards weakened, white collar crimes ignored, and responsibilities unmet.
This is a recess week for the 115th U.S. Congress. Members of Congress usually use these weeks to get back in the state and do things representatives do: meet constituents, travel, raise money, and hopefully get some time off.
This week, however, constituents in Congressional Districts 2 and 3 are missing out. Their representatives, Rep. Erik Paulsen and Rep. Jason Lewis, refused to meet with constituents who, in response, decided to host town halls without them. These meetings, a room full of constituents and an empty chair on stage, are an apt metaphor for direction Trump is taking us: toward a country where the powerful use our government to evade its people.
If you want to know where you CAN meet with your Members of Congress (or their empty chairs) this week click here. We’re posting public events as we hear about them. If we are missing one, please share it with us.
Let’s continue making these connections. Let’s pick our democracy back up.