Six months ago when Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the office of President of the United States, I had a simple reaction: No. We all knew that no good would come of this.
Three months later after he didn’t seem to have a problem with a supporter’s desire to “get rid of” Muslim Americans, I had a sinking feeling.
Someone convince me not to write a totally serious Trump-might-be-Hitler post. Because I’m opening the tab right now.
— Matthew DesOrmeaux (@cynicusprime) September 18, 2015
But I held my tongue (at least in long-form). Now that everyone else has caught up, I have an even worse suspicion. No, Donald Trump isn’t a fascist. Rather, he’s not just a fascist. He’s a nihilist.
In most previous cases, fascism rose to power ideologically. A strong man with big (terrible) ideas whipped the people into a frenzy behind him and was elected or took power by force with his own heinous vision for the future. A casual look at Trump’s campaign slithering from one outrageous xenophobic proposal to the next has led some to smack him with the fascist label.
But I think most people are missing an important aspect of Trumpism. He doesn’t actually believe anything he says. In fact, he may not have any beliefs at all.
Trump has never had political allegiance either. He’s donated to both Republicans and Democrats in the past, including Hillary Clinton. He explains this as part of his business career, and literally brags about currying favor with campaign graft.
He isn’t an ideological actor with a core set of principles. If you listen to his debate performances or his stump speeches, which I strongly advise against, his proposals aren’t rooted in ideas or a unifying worldview.
Donald Trump is in a sense both a political mirror and a blank slate. He hears terrible ideas and sees that the small but politically useful portion of the population who supports them isn’t embraced by other candidates or parties. So he repeats those ideas and brings the disenfranchised wingnuts into his fold.
Criticizing these often racist or xenophobic ideas does no good, of course. The criticism often comes from the same establishment sources that shunned those voters for having those ideas in the first place.
Since Trump himself has no moral code of his own, he isn’t offended by even the most vile suggestion. He will occasionally “walk back” a universally reviled proposal that comes up in one of his rallies, but if you look carefully he only ever says that it wasn’t his idea in the first place, not that he would never consider it.
And that’s the point. None of these are his ideas. He is a blank slate on which the formerly maligned reactionary fringe scribbles their manifesto. And that makes him even more dangerous than your run of the mill fascist. While he proposes lots of (often contradictory) things, no one knows exactly what he’d do if given actual executive power.
No, I don’t think Donald Trump will win the Republican nomination or the general election. Primary voters don’t generally decide on candidates until the month before they cast their ballots, so polls at this point are little more than name recognition contests. But that time is drawing nearer every day, so it must be said. Let’s maybe not elect a nihilist proto-fascist to be the leader of the free world, mmkay?