Fascism Doesn’t Need Hitler to Be Terrifying

Some people seem to think that fascism is identical to antisemitism and that basically the only problem with the National Socialist regime was the Holocaust — as though it was otherwise a great system, and Hitler just ruined the reputation of racist authoritarianism by going too far.

Let’s concede that Trump isn’t likely to invade Poland and build gas chambers. Let’s note that America has much stronger institutions than 1930s Spain, Italy, or Germany. Let’s even admit Trump doesn’t have a detailed agenda he’s committed to in advance. He’s not Hitler. No, he’s merely a fascist demagogue, unmoored from any interests, principles, or beliefs that could conceivably provide any internal restraint on his power grabs.

To take only one example, he’s publicly promised to deliberately murder the innocent wives and children of terror suspects. This is utter madness. The military would have to disobey, from top to bottom. On day one, we have an unprecedented constitutional crisis, with military power defying the civilian authority. Congress would have to impeach him for war crimes or risk a virtual coup to remove him.

His more moderate “policies” are almost uniformly insane or illegal — rounding up and deporting ten million people; unilaterally changing various laws and treaties; creating religious tests for foreigners; imposing massive trade tariffs; censoring the Internet; using the presidency to go after political opponents and the press. He’s been cagey about why, but he has an unhealthy interest in (and uncharacteristically specific knowledge of) FDR’s concentration camps and racial quarantines.

Even assuming the normal checks work, the president already has the power under existing law and precedent to cause unfathomable evil.

It’s all just words at this point. Maybe that comforts you. It shouldn’t. The Nazis didn’t run on a platform of extermination (the Penultimate Solution was mass deportation). Nixon didn’t announce on television his intention to bomb Cambodia and Laos or use the federal government to crush his enemies. Senator Obama didn’t say that he’d pursue mass surveillance, perpetual war, secret assassinations, unilateral regime changes, and indefinite detention — and by all accounts he was the voice of restraint in his cabinet.

American presidents with far more respect for the law and human rights than Trump have committed unspeakable crimes. Don’t think he couldn’t or wouldn’t do worse.

His willingness to say these things out loud might suggest that it’ll be easier to stop him. Maybe. But stopping him or holding him accountable could easily provoke a crisis that will permanently damage the structure of government. Who knows how far he’ll go to maintain power? Who knows how deep his support goes? He’s said that he could shoot people dead in the street (as he praised the Chinese government for doing in Tiananmen Square) and still be popular. Let’s not find out.