Musings —10.18.2016 12:00 AM—
To some of us, at least, calling someone a fascist is one of the worst things one can say. After that, what is left? How can one top that?
George Orwell, among others, struggled to define the word. He wrote that defining fascism was “important,” and even one of the “unanswered questions of our time.” That seems like overstatement, but perhaps not for the era in which the author of 1984 wrote it.
He went on: “One of the social survey organizations in America recently asked this question of a hundred different people, and got answers ranging from ‘pure democracy’ to ‘pure diabolism.’ In this country if you ask the average thinking person to define fascism, he usually answers by pointing to the German and Italian régimes. But this is very unsatisfactory, because even the major fascist states differ from one another a good deal.”
True enough. Now, as then, most would define fascism be citing examples of it, not by trying to explain it. In the main, however, it is simply the dogma of killers and thugs. Organizational and structural differences aside, fascist states are characterized by one thing above all: their willingness to use violence against the weak to achieve political ends. Their enthusiasm for state-sponsored brutality – against democratic opponents, against dissidents, against minorities.
The epithet has lost much of its power, however. The Soviet Bolsheviks, and later the Soviet state, used “fascist” all the time to describe people and opinions they didn’t like. Much later, in the Reagan era, the word was thrown around like confetti. Some progressives continued to use it as a conversational show-stopper, even against the likes of Barack Obama.
As such, “fascist” became inconsequential. It became “meaningless,” Orwell noted. Judges in libel actions shrugged at the word, calling it a value judgment – mere rhetoric.
Some of us continued to resist deploying it, however, for two reasons. To us, its meaning was quite specific: it is the ideology of murder. When you call someone a fascist, you are saying that they are capable of great violence to achieve some political (and usually politically-conservative) ends.
Most importantly, overuse of that word diminishes the suffering of the actual victims of fascism – the Jews in the Holocaust, for example. The Jewish people have experienced what fascism literally means. To them, fascism is not a mere debating term, one to be tossed around at the faculty club, say, over the salad bar. Their definition has six million very specific examples, suffused in blood.
Which brings us, in a circuitous fashion, to Donald Trump.
There he stood in that second presidential debate, his sweaty features twisted in a sneer, stalking Hillary Clinton around the stage. Looking like he was going to hit her. Looking like he wanted to.
Watching him shadow his opponent in that way, many women knew exactly what he intended to convey.
For those who didn’t get it – mainly men – Trump wasn’t done. He had words, too. Not once, but twice, he said that – as president – he wanted to see Hillary Clinton imprisoned. As president, he said, he would appoint a special prosecutor to go after her.
“You’d be in jail,” he hissed at her, and millions of us became witnesses.
Forget about the constitutional niceties, or what the law says. There was, and is, no doubt that Trump would certainly do what he threatened to do. In its dying days, as his feral campaign has slunk back into the swamp from which it came, all of us have seen how willing Trump has always been to use his power and money to abuse women.
But what he said? What he vowed to do, right to Hillary Clinton’s shocked face?
It is more that unconstitutional. It is more than against the law. It is more than all of that.
In a democracy, threatening to throw a political opponent into a cage – simply because they are an opponent – is fascism. It is what all of them did: Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin. It is the end of democracy, and the start of something terrible.
Donald Trump, in his words and deeds, has not hesitated to reveal who he is. He has not hidden any of it. And what he is, at the end of this too-long parade hatred and contempt, is just this: