Trump Abandons Populism, Embraces Fascism in First Presidential Debate
Since he became a force in American politics during the last presidential cycle, Donald Trump has repeatedly been branded a populist. The term hit an all time Google search high in January of 2017 as he took office. But in tonight’s debate, Trump embodied not a single characteristic commonly ascribed to populist leaders, preferring instead to finally appeal to the fascist rule of extreme minority.
In her book, “What Is Populism,” Jan-Werner Muller lays out the clearest possible definition of populism based on the qualities it has most commonly exhibited while seeking power and while holding it. She notes that the populist leader always claims to be enacting the will of the people, while depicting dissidents as illegitimate opposition to that will. Yet tonight, for all his bluster on stage about the “radical left,” Trump never made the positive claim that he represents a “real” America.
The debate, to Trump, seemed a question not of who would better represent the American public, but of whether he would be given what he views as a rightful second term for his own sake.
He may have claimed that he’s “done more than any other president” for Black Americans and created manufacturing jobs, along with many other lies he’s been pushing for quite some time, but he did not meaningfully rebut Joe Biden’s appeals to “the people at home,” directed right down the barrel of the camera lens, preferring to look on with a scornful grimace.
What he did do is appeal to small, far-right militias to enforce his will with violence, call on his supporters to harass Democrat voters on election day, and refuse once more to accept the results of an election that is not in his favor.
To Trump, the people do not need to be appealed to. They are weak, and he is strong. It is his right to rule them. And in crossing that line on national television, Trump has left behind his populist larval stage, emerging now into a hideous, fascist mosquito sucking the last lifeblood of democracy.