Have You Heard That Trumpism is “Becoming Fascist”?

Photograph Source: Anthony Crider – CC BY 2.0

Have you heard that Lebron James is becoming a basketball player? Did you know that Maury Povich is becoming an ass? That the United States is becoming an imperialist nation? That Joe Biden is getting old? That the Democrats are becoming a capitalist, imperialist, and corporate-backed party? That the Chicago White Sox are becoming a major league baseball team? That Lady Gaga is becoming a diva?

I ask these absurd questions because George W. Bush’s former speechwriter David Frum has recently taken to the pages of The Atlantic to inform readers that “there’s a word for what Trumpism is becoming.” The word starts with an “f.” The word, Frum has discovered, is…drum roll, please…fascism.

You don’t say. Where has the F Rip Van Frum-kel been the last six years? Did he witness Trump’s presidential campaign announcement in the spring of 2015, when the Donald rode down the Trump Tower escalator behind his Nazi trophy frau Melania to claim that America was being overrun by Mexican rapists and that he alone could fix the nation’s dire problems? The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik had the fascism at the heart of Trumpism figured out when he wrote this in May of 2016:

‘There is a simple formula for descriptions of Donald Trump: add together a qualification, a hyphen, and the word “fascist” …his personality and his program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics: an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government…is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end other than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and ‘success.’… The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history.’

Two months before Gopnik’s astute reflection, I published a Counterpunch commentary titled “The Donald Can Happen Here: The Trumpenstein’s Neo-Weimar Creators” – an essay that did not use the F-word but didn’t really have to, given the literary and historical references in its title. Around the same time, my fellow former Truthdig commentator and the former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich published a blog post titled “The American Fascist.” Reich argued that Trump had already reached a point where “parallels between his presidential campaign and…lurid figures such as Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Oswald Mosley, and Francisco Franco – are too evident to overlook.” Reich based this conclusion on Trump’s: determination to direct white American against Mexican immigrants and Muslims; embrace of violence; readiness to violate international laws against torture; designation of the media as “the enemy of the people;” efforts to create a cult taking on “the trappings of strength, confidence, and invulnerability around himself” and reaching his white heartland volk “without political parties or other intermediaries standing between him and his supporters.” Reich noted that Trump had recently quoted Mussolini and began “inviting followers at his rallies to raise their right hands in a manner chillingly similar to the Nazi ‘Heil’ salute…Viewing Donald Trump in light of the fascists of the first half of the twentieth century – who used economic stresses to scapegoat others, created cults of personality, intimidated opponents, incited violence, glorified their nations and disregarded international law, and connected directly with the masses – helps explain what Trump is doing and how he is succeeding,” Reich wrote.

(I could go on with other examples of observers who got it right at the start. Even the deeply conservative neoliberal conciliator and Weimar Democrat Barack “Hollow Resistance” Obama knew the score. In October of 2016, he told Hillary Clinton’s hapless vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine that the Democrats needed to beat Trump to “keep a fascist out of the White House.” It was an accurate description the spineless coward Obama would of course never dare to utter in public.)

Six days after Reich’s reflection, Trump told an adoring “USA, USA!”-chanting crowd in the aptly named Ohio town of Vienna the story of “the Snake” – a nativist and genocidal parable not-so subtly likening brown-skinned immigrants to a poisonous snake that a naively generous (certainly white and libera) woman invites into her home and promises to tend.

The early descriptions of Trump and Trumpism as fascist were richly borne out by the Trump years. Some highlights: advocating the electrification of the southern U.S. border; the sadistic family separation policy; repeated dehumanizing references to political enemies, immigrants, and nonwhites as “animals,” “scum,” “infestations” and the like; vicious racist-sexist attacks on progressive female Congresswomen; pardons granted to the fascist Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the sadistic Navy SEALS war criminal Eddie Gallagher; the chillingly authoritarian and racist response to the George Floyd Rebellion; repeated encouragement and incitement of far-right violence; the pandemicist and Social Darwinian fanning of COVID-19; the bright orange-faced no-mask Mussolini stunt on the White House balcony (while infected with the deadly pandemic he did so much to spread); a constant authoritarian war on congressional and judicial oversight; cultivation of a demented personality cult; the holding of 155 white-nationalist Dear Leader hate rallies as president; recurrent purges of the insufficiently loyal; the demonization of majority nonwhite cities; a relentless war on truth including the promotion of “alternative facts” and the making of more than 20,000 false and misleading statements (an astonishing record); insistence that his followers get their information solely from him; the claim that all reporting that failed to flatter and honor Trump was “Fake News;” the sending of hardened border paramilitaries to repress civil rights and social justice protesters in American cities; the embrace and dissemination of neo-Nazi QAnon conspiracy theories; the sick presidential love shown for the gun criminal, teenybopper fascist, and murderer Kyle Rittenhouse; the constant stirring of violent white male grievance and paranoid white victimization narratives; the call for the neo-Nazi Proud Boys (whose muscle-bound t-shirts proclaimed “Six Million Wasn’t Enough” and “Pinochet Did Nothing Wrong”) to “stand by” for him during a presidential “debate” (in which Trump couldn’t stop loudly berating his opponent); the attempted subversion and attempted “legal” and even physical nullification of the 2020 presidential election, coupled with the Big Hitlerian Lie that the contest was “stolen.” We might also mention, umm… Charlottesville, when Trump defended neo-Nazis and other white supremacists as “very fine people.” [1]

“When people show you who they are,” the famed novelist Maya Angelou once wrote, “believe them the first time.” The left organization Refuse Fascism was formed in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s 2016 election. Frum couldn’t get it until the one thousandth time, after the beast had left the White House, vowing to return (which could happen given the spinelessness of the national Democrats and the determination of the Republicans to roll back what’s left of democracy in the states).

So, when did Trumpism become fascism, according to sleepy-head David Frum? Why is it only now, “time to start using the F-word again” in Frum’s view? What did it for Frum is Trump’s (thoroughly predictable and in fact predicted) response to being removed from power, followed by Trump’s Amerikaner supporters’ acceptance of their Fearless Leader’s textbook Orwellian and Hitlerian claims that the election was stolen and that the January 6th Capital Riot was a legitimate protest. Frum is particularly shaken by the former president’s recent claim on Fatherland (FOX) News that the fatal shooting of the putschist Ashli Babbitt – described by Trump as “an innocent, wonderful, incredible woman” – was unjust and carried out by “the head of security for a certain high official – a Democrat.” Frum apparently knows enough classic fascist history to grasp the parallel here with the Nazis’ manufacturing of the martyrdom of Horst Wessel, a fascist thug allegedly killed by Communists in 1930[2]. As the following passage from his Atlantic essay shows, Frum thinks Trumpism crossed into fascist territory only after Trump’s presidency:

“Two traits have historically marked off European-style fascism from more homegrown American traditions of illiberalism: contempt for legality and the cult of violence. Presidential-era Trumpism operated through at least the forms of law. Presidential-era Trumpism glorified military power, not mob attacks on government institutions. Post-presidentially, those past inhibitions are fast dissolving. The conversion of Ashli Babbitt into a martyr, a sort of American Horst Wessel, expresses the transformation. Through 2020, Trump had endorsed deadly force against lawbreakers: ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts,’ he tweeted on May 29, 2020. Babbitt broke the law too, but not to steal a TV. She was killed as she tried to disrupt the constitutional order, to prevent the formalization of the results of a democratic election” (emphasis added).

Frum is right to be taken aback by Trump’s line on Ashli Babbitt and January 6. Ms. Babbitt was a lunatic fascist determined to physically assault if not murder Congresspersons and staffers. Her killing by a police officer was both evenhanded and necessary as elected officials ran from a frothing white-nationalist instigated by Trump in a transparently authoritarian effort to block the certification of Joe Biden’s victory and to provoke a crisis leading to the declaration of martial law.

But was Rip Van Frum-kel paying attention when Trump as president repeatedly called on his “tough guy” supporters to be ready to wage “Civil War” if Democrats tried to (legally) remove him from office, when Trump told Border Patrol agents he’d pardon them for illegally shooting asylum-seekers, when Trump criminally murdered Qasem Soleimani, or when Trump applauded armed white supremacist militia men who invaded the Michigan State Capitol with assault weapons to terrorize legislators and “protest” common sense coronavirus protections in April of 2020? How about when Trump as president repeatedly refused to promise that he would peacefully honor an election outcome that didn’t go his way, claiming that the only way he could lose would be if the 2020 election were “rigged”? Hello? (Notice that Frum can’t see fascism in a president calling for the murder and maiming of poor Black people stealing life necessities from a grocery store.)

How absurd. But here’s something maybe even crazier. A reptilian neocon like David Frum can finally wake up and smell the fascist hops in the Donald Trump Putsch Beer (limited edition Ashli Babbitt Brew) while numerous mostly older white, male, and affluent “lefties” won’t acknowledge even now that Trump and Trumpism have been and remain fascist. This persistent, spineless, and intellectually inadequate left denialism (see this by Noam Chomsky’s leading interviewer for a recent and depressing example)[3] continues as the Republican Party shows beyond adult doubt that it has become the Amerikaner Party of Trump (APOT), under the command of a deranged white nationalist arch-narcissist who tried to nullify a presidential election and who is advancing Nazi narratives on the election and the failed coup he sloppily attempted. It persists as he and his party float a new Horst Wessel for the 21st Century and use the Goebbels-worthy Stolen Election story to attack minority voting, free speech, and public assembly rights in white nationalist “red” states under APOT control. Leading “left” deniers continue with the slanderous and stupid charge that to see Trumpism as fascism is to join a false and supposedly widespread liberal narrative meant to provide Lesser Evilist cover for the corporate-imperial Democrats, who are said to be the “real fascists” since some of them want (imagine!) to keep genocidal, white nationalist hate speech off the Internet.

Beware of “leftists” obsessed with Trump’s banning from Twitter and Facebook. These clowns have their undies in a bunch over the Hate Speaker-in-Chief’s access to Twitter but didn’t give a flying F about the orange freak’s access to the nuclear codes and executive branch environmental and immigration polices between 2017 and 21. They are victims and agents of a red-brown pathology I will try but may well fail to adequately explain in coming weeks.


1. For a short summary of Trump’s presidential fascism through September of 2020 see Chapter One, “Is it the Fascist Apocalypse Yet?” pp. 9-43, in Paul Street, Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and the Politics of Appeasement (CounterPunch Books, October 2020). A more comprehensive catalogue of the Trump blitzkrieg of fascistic madness will be found in Chapter Three, titled “A Fascist in the White House, 2017-2021,” in my next book This Happened Here: Neoliberals, Amerikaners, and the Trumping of America, out later this year.

2. Joseph Goebbels seized on Wessel’s death as a great propaganda tool for the rising Nazi Party. Wessel became a leading Nazi symbol of the victimization of the noble white German volk by the evil Judeo-Bolshevik infestation. By early 1933, Germans were expected to combine constant “Heil Hitler” salutes and salutations with periodic and proper singing of “the Horst Wessel Song,” which became a national symbol by law in May of 1933. The verses included the following:

“Raise the flag! The ranks tightly closed!

Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries

March in spirit within our ranks.

Clear the streets for the brown battalions,

Clear the streets for the storm division man!”

I thought Aaron Danielson (killed by the anti-fascist Michael Reinhol, who was defending a comrade against Danielson and other fascist streetfighter and who was in turn rapidly murdered by police on Herr Trump’s orders last summer) might become the Amerikaner Party of Trump’s (APOT, the new name of the Republican Party) Horst Wessel 2.0 last year. If Ashli Babbitt doesn’t quite catch on, the teen fascist Kyle Rittenhouse (of whom Trump is a great fan) could get the role if he is properly convicted for murdering two Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin last August. Rittenhouse’s trial, with his defense led by an opulently Amerikaner-funded legal team, is scheduled for November.

+3. For an in-depth analysis of the critical denialist mistakes and cowardice exhibited by a remarkably large group of liberal and left pundits, academics, and trolls during the Trump years, see the fourth chapter of my fort6hcoming volume This Happened Here, titled “The Anatomy of Fascism Denial.”

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).