Trump and the Moral Obligations of Combating Fascism

It’s now become a widely-affirmed belief that Donald Trump is a fascist of one kind or another. Proponents of this belief debate whether Trump’s brand of fascism rises quite to the level of menace represented by Hitler, but still, people with cultural prestige and large platforms are increasingly comfortable leveling the accusation. As just one example (trust me, I could cull many more if need be) a writer for Saturday Night Live and Broad City, two popular television shows, recently tweeted that the election of Trump will result in the mass extermination of Americans. That’s the kind of rhetoric we are dealing with here.

If it’s true that Trump is a fascist on the order of Hitler — meaning that he is 270 electoral votes away from appropriating the mechanisms of the most powerful state in world history to fulfill his catastrophic vision — then whatever forces might have incubated or enabled him along the way are not just worthy of condemnation, but outright purging. Think of all the forces that this would include. Firstly, Trump gained a national profile most centrally due to his primetime TV slot from 2004 to 2015 on The Apprentice, a television program aired by NBC Universal, one of the most influential (and thoroughly mainstream) media companies in the United States. If NBC Universal was found to be the central abettor of world-destroying fascism, then they are in for a kind of reckoning that must go far beyond internal self-reflection and maybe reputational sanction. (Also, let’s not kid ourselves: if a fascist took the reins of state in America, that would be a world-destroying event.) NBC Universal executives would be in for a level of reprisal comparable to what German industry tycoons who aided the rise of Hitler faced in the aftermath of the Third Reich. So, Nuremberg-level recriminations — expropriation, expurgation, etc.

Also prominent among the forces implicated in fostering the emergence of apocalyptic fascism would be the Republican Party. Everyone at this point recognizes that the Republican Party has incubated a number of pathologies that brought us to this point, including hostility to foreigners, militaristic zeal, know-nothing nationalism, and the like. But the critique in the case of fascism would have to go much deeper. The GOP is one of the two main parties in the United States, of which millions of ordinary Americans are members. If Trump turns out to be a Hitler-esque figure, then anyone associated with the Republican Party would be implicated in his rise and thus deserving of purging on the order of how Nazi Party members were purged. Think of how a purging of this magnitude would have to proceed. Countless state legislators, town council-people, mayors, county executives, sheriffs, and untold others would have to be not only banished from polite society, but — if we are really going to take this “Trump=fascist” view to its logical conclusion — imprisoned or worse. That’s what a genuine “purge” would require.

So in addition to the eradication of NBC Universal and the extirpation of the Republican Party, what other remedial actions would have to be taken should Trump seize the apparatus of the state in service of fascist ends? I’m reminded of a piece that ran recently in the New Yorker detailing some writerly fellow’s first-hand account of attending Trump’s infamous 2005 wedding in Palm Beach, Florida. The fellow recounts all the various reveling celebrities in attendance, such as Katie Couric, Simon Cowell, Shaquille O’Neal, Barbara Walters, and Billy Joel. All of these people would have to face harsh societal condemnation (imprisonment?) for their role in the rise of Trump. Again, if we take the popular “fascistic” view of Trump to its logical conclusion, anyone who had even the most ancillary role in abetting his rise would need to suffer truly grave consequences, on the order of what happened in post-1945 Germany. (Although, in the case of Trump, the danger posed by him would far exceed that posed by Hitler, given the exponentially greater destruction-wreaking potential of the American state in 2016 versus the German state in 1942.) This is ironic because Trump emerged not from the fringes of American society but the mainstream of the mainstream. So the forces that would require ostracization (or worse) are among the most “normal” pillars of American life.

Of course, none of this theoretical purging would be morally necessary if we dispense with the notion that the evil represented by Trump rivals or surpasses the evil represented by Hitler. But that might not work out so well for Democrats, who are increasingly adopting such an argument in their increasingly frenzied campaign against Trump.

Maybe Trump represents a degree of malevolence that roughly equals the malevolence wrought by previous presidents, such as George W. Bush, whose preemptive invasion of Iraq threw a whole region of the world into perpetual turmoil, mass death, and suffering. But accepting that premise would be to accept that Trump is somewhere approximating garden-variety evil, rather than world-historic evil. And that wouldn’t be politically prudent for those trying to elect Hillary Clinton.

If all this sounds hyperbolic, it should, because the “fascism” charge itself is hyperbolic, and carries with it truly dire logical implications — which everyone should be prepared to grapple with if they’re going to level the charge. If they don’t want to grapple with those implications, they are either insincere in their avowed belief that Trump represents true fascism, or they are cowardly. Take your pick. If you really believe Trump to be a fascist — who as of one week ago was leading Hillary Clinton in the polls — you are morally compelled at this very moment to take actions preventing his rise. As some might say: Whatever it takes.