© Josh Sager – March 2016
One of the informal rules of debating on the internet is “Godwin’s Law,” which deals with the hyperbolic invocation of Nazis during unrelated debates—here is a short summary of its two parts:
- As debates go on for longer and get more heated, the odds of a participant making a fallacious reference to Hitler or the Nazis increases.
- The first person to spuriously invoke Hitler or the Nazis in making their argument (e.g. comparing an opposing politician to Hitler) automatically loses the debate.
In most cases, this informal rule actually makes sense—few, if any modern situations can truly be compared to Hitler and the Nazis (ISIS, Boko Haram, and actual neo-Nazis are the only ones which readily come to mind)—but the recent campaigning by Donald Trump threatens to be a terrifying exception to the rule. This is made even more frightening by the fact that Trump is the clear front-runner in the GOP’s 2016 presidential primary.
Throughout his primary campaign, Donald Trump has tapped into a strain of fascistic populism which harkens back to the fascist movements of the 1930s. He built his campaign on a toxic brew of racism, misdirected outrage, and violent rhetoric that closely resembles that of several despots and extremists. While there is a legitimate argument that Trump’s vitriol and extremism is closer to that of Benito Mussolini and George Wallace than Adolph Hitler, this only provides paltry comfort.
To attract aggrieved racists and disaffected lower-middle class and poor voters, Trump has demonized undocumented immigrants and Muslims. He has blamed Mexican immigrants for stagnating wages, the heroin epidemic, and the high cost of social welfare programs, while levying personal attacks at the undocumented as a group (e.g. calling them criminals and rapists, accusing Mexico of sending their dregs over the border, etc.).
Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims has been even more extreme than his rhetoric over the undocumented. He has declared his support for a ban on all Muslim travel into the USA (including American Muslims who go on vacation abroad), the creation of a national registry of Muslims, the use of torture “worse than waterboarding” on suspected Islamic terrorists, and the official policy of murdering the families of Muslim terrorists.
In what has to be the most direct comparisons to Nazi Germany, Trump has also refused to rule out requiring Muslims to carry a type of special ID that includes their religion and has supported closing Mosques that he deems to be radical. He also has accidentally retweeted Nazi and neo-Nazi quotes (he agreed with their sentiment and didn’t pay attention to the source), as well as quotes from Mussolini.
Put simply, these policies are reminiscent of the policies that Hitler and the Nazis pushed at the start of their rise to power. Instead of Muslims and Mexicans, they targeted Jews, Rom, gays, and several other groups, but the central ideas behind these policies are the same. They are all based around displacing anger at an “other” (usually a racial or ethnic minority with little economic power) and using this anger to gain more political power.
In addition to using bigoted, fascistic, rhetoric, Trump has actively promoted political violence, which is another key hallmark of fascism. He famously promised to pay for the legal fees of a supporter who punches hecklers in the face during one of his events (although he reneged on this once a protester took him up on it), and has refused to condemn those who have committed violence in his name.
Violence has become endemic to Trump rallies and events. Protesters—most of whom are racial minorities—have been forcibly removed from dozens of Trump events, sometimes by crowds of angry supporters. These supporters have spit, kicked, punched, and thrown protesters to the ground, oftentimes while shouting racist rhetoric—in several cases, this rhetoric has included overtly Nazi rhetoric, including “seig heil” salutes and shouts of “go to Auschwitz” against protesters. The press has not been immune to this violence and reporters have repeatedly been assaulted at Trump events.
Just today, Trump declared that there would be riots and “bad things would happen” if was denied the presidential nomination after winning the most delegates during the primary. While he said that he wouldn’t personally be leading these riots, the clear subtext is that he will incite his most unstable supporters to do his dirty work for him.
In totality, the rise of Trump to the head of the GOP’s 2016 ticket illustrates a disturbing trend towards fascism in the United States. Trump is using fascist populism and rhetoric, and has promised to enact Nazi-esque policies if elected to office. What has once an amusing political side show (Trump immolating the GOP from within) has become a terrifying window into the right wing’s id—fascism is alive and well, and, if the polls are any indication, it is entirely possible that it may be within throwing distance of the White House come November.