Dana Milbank has an article in today's Washington Post titled "Donald Trump, America's Mussolini. Many of us have a problem with such comparisons, but Milbank gives it a good try.
Leaders are nothing without their followers, and that includes Mussolini, who had the blackshirted Arditi, World War I veterans, as his first core following. The Arditi found glory in a war about which that Ernest Hemmingway said, "I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory." Mussolini thought the war glorious. The Arditi were rah-rah poor boys in an intensive status conscious society, and they used their participation in the war to prop up their egos, and they were defensive in their hate toward veterans and others who thought the war a waste.
At one point in Trump's South Carolina rally Monday night, the crowd went into the "USA, USA' chant, saying in effect "go Trump go, hit them hard!" These are not people of a temperament that holds "Let's be careful and do this right." Trump was telling them that he wants to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, and his audience wasn't the kind who would warn him about anti-Muslim that would help Islamic State propaganda.
Mussolini was bombastic, but in some other ways Trump is not Mussolini. Milbank, however, makes some other comparisons:
Trump uses many of the fascist's tools: a contempt for facts, spreading a pervasive sense of fear and overwhelming crisis, portraying his backers as victims, assigning blame to foreign or alien actors and suggesting only his powerful personality can transcend the crisis.
Two weeks ago, Trump said he would consider forcing Muslims in the United States to register in a database, and Milbank reports that the conservative military historian Max Boot responded with the tweet:
Trump is a fascist. And that's not a term I use loosely or often. But he's earned it.
Milbank describes the New York Times finding in Trump the echoes of appeals of some demagogues of the past century: his repetition of "divisive phrases, harsh words and violent imagery." Milbank mentions that a reaction to an anti-Trump column he wrote last week confirmed that Trump is appealing to "the ugliest impulses," that his inbox "filled with anti-Semitic, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-black and, particularly, anti-Muslim invective ("bunch of scum ball Mos-slimes").
In the Media, Trumps followers are being described as generally less educated while guys. Maybe we can add "frustrated" to that. These are followers who try to communicate something, but they aren't good at it. Their invective doesn't win anything and apparently didn't push Milbank an inch toward their position.
Had they been in Italy in the early 1920s they might have supported Mussolini and his fascist movement. But Trump's followers are living in a different place and in a different time. Their impulses are big in the media right now but may not have much of an impact on history.
Mussolini began politics on the far left. When his movement floundered in the early 1920's he considered traveling and living off playing his violin. His last words before executed by a Communist partisan in Italy's far north is reported to have been. "I'm sorry." Trump's followers see Trump as stronger than that – as never apologizing.
Trump will continue to say that he knows and loves Muslims, that some Muslims are great people and that his restrictions are for people who are outside our country, not inside the country. He will describe his ban on Muslims entering the country as applying to those whom we don't know (excluding the King of Jordon or his son now studying in the US) and as a temporary measure. His followers and maybe new followers will see talk of fascism, Hitler and Mussolini as ridiculous.
With more attacks there might be a bandwagon effect. It's likely that a few more terrorists are getting ready to embarrass a Muslim majority with their willingness to martyr themselves by striking back at what they perceive to be Islam's enemy. And when they hit, Trump's followers will be reinforced in their belief in the necessity of doing something that is more effective that what they see being done now.
Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.