Is Trump Fascist?

There has been rather a lot of name-calling during this election cycle. One of the more recent things I’ve witness is a bunch of people calling Trump a fascist.

He’s also been described as Hitler by many, and, it really must be said, Hitler was not a fascist. (he was a socialist)

Mussolini was a fascist, and he was allied with Hitler. Trump apparently quotes Mussolini, but Melania quotes Michelle Obama, so I’m not sure it proves much.

So, for any intelligent discussion on the subject, we must start by defining our terms.

Socialism, fascism, and capitalism are economic systems.

Capitalism, properly, is characterised by what is known as the “free market” – I’m free to sell stuff, you’re free to buy (or not buy) my stuff. If I’m not selling what people want to buy, I am free to retool or remarket (“adjust to market forces”): if I do that, hopefully I can stay afloat. If I keep selling what nobody wants to buy, the consequences for that are my going out of business. If an exchange is not voluntary, then it has moved out of the realm of capitalism and into something else.

In socialism, the government (on behalf of “the people” in general) controls the “means of production” – basically business or industry. Profit, in the cases where it exists, become more tax revenue for the government to use, which is unlikely to benefit (improve, upgrade, modernise) the business or industry that is profited from. Losses are inflicted on society at large (= taxes go up), and it takes extreme losses (= same business or industry under capitalism would be out of business long before) for the government to do anything about it, and the results are generally worse than if the government had never been involved at all. Communism is basically extreme socialism.

Fascism was described as a “third position” (the first two being those already mentioned). Basically, government and business collude. In classical fascism, the government has the upper hand in the arrangement. The situation where government and business collude but business has the upper hand is described as “neo-fascism”.

Another term that has been used for fascism (and probably more so neo-fascism) is “crony capitalism”. It seems to be mostly this that people are complaining about when they say they don’t like capitalism. It’s not capitalism.

Socialism and classical fascism are pretty closely related.

With this as foundation, then, let’s take a brief look at what people mean when they talk about fascism.

I’m guessing it’s something like the authoritarianism, the heavy-handed law enforcement, the dictatorships, the xenophobia – these are not distinct to fascism. They are things that fascist governments have done. We also see that kind of thing from socialist governments, communist governments, republican governments, parliamentary democracies – I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a form of government that hasn’t exhibited these kinds of traits. The commonality is not fascism.

So is Trump a fascist?

I think it would be a fair assessment to say so. I think “neo-fascist” would be more accurate, but basically, yeah.

At the very very least, having his daughter (who has been delegated control of the Trump hotel chain) prominently in that meeting with the Japanese delegation (the Trump chain wanting to open hotels in Japan) seems a pretty big indicator.

Some of the people whose names are floating around for Trump’s Cabinet positions also seem to point in that direction, but….

One of the earliest names that came out, right after the election, was Forrest Lucas, an oil industry executive who was supposed to be Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Interior (overseeing national parks and suchlike, bye-bye ANWR). Wikipedia has now been updated to state that Trump says he’ll nominate Ryan Zinke to the position. Zinke’s a congressman who doesn’t have a stellar reputation with environmentalists – but he’s not Lucas. Zinke was announced on 13th December.

So I really want to be careful about jumping the gun on cabinet positions, and I can’t say I entirely believe that Trump’s going to nominate whoever he says today that he’s going to nominate, so I’m not really sure I want to say for definite about any Cabinet names until they’ve actually got the position.

So yes, let’s go with Trump is a fascist.

Can you smell a big “but…….” coming up?

Of course you can.

Allow me to call your attention to a meme that does the rounds fairly regularly. It’s something along the lines of “Politicians should be required to wear the names of their corporate sponsors like race car drivers do”.

Getting elected takes a bunch of money. Advertisements, campaign leaflets,, mailing, getting to places to campaign, hiring venues, it all adds up. And large cheques come from businesses, the larger the business the larger the potential income. So far, so not surprising. And if someone gives you a large amount of money, you’re not likely to ignore them if they ask for something.

But it doesn’t end with the campaign trail. When your new congressman gets to Congress, about all he can do is vote on floor votes. To do anything else, he has to pay his “party dues”. This is an amount of money the congressman has to pay his party to be allowed in the door to do anything else. He’ll be given an amount he has to raise, a list of people and businesses to get the money from, and the amount he’s expected to get from each place. Basically, you’ve elected a telemarketer. If I remember correctly, to get on a particular committee or to sponsor a bill costs extra.

If your congressman was already obliged to large donors from the campaign trail, he’s even more so now.

This is true for both Republicans and Democrats.

For more on this, listen to this interview with Patrick Barron from Defining The Machine at The Survival Podcast (introduction to the guest starts at about 9 minutes, and you can easily skip to the 10 minute mark if you want).

The problem does not end there.

You may have heard of the “revolving door” – depressing charts surface every so often – between government agencies and business.

So, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had people working there who have previously worked for pharmaceutical companies and agro-chemical companies, and has had people working there who then go on to work for those same companies. And a smaller number of people who fit both categories.

You find the same with the CDC and drug companies.

the people who tell you things are safe and/or necessary are the people making the products (or have it on their radar that at a later stage in their career they might want to work there).

And then the person who signs off that there’s no conflict of interest in this situation, is the congressman who’s had to raise money from those companies.

Think it’s only the FDA and CDC and the various chemical industries?

Think the Affordable Care Act didn’t have input from the healthcare industry, for example?

If an industry begs for more regulation, perhaps a specific kind of regulation, it’s unlikely to be for the benefit of the environment or the consumer. The company could unilaterally enact the changes and brag about how good they are in their marketing materials. The legislation might pose a burden to the industry, but one they can account for and absorb. What it does do, though, is significantly increase the barrier of entry to anyone looking to start up a business in the industry. I think that car emissions tests, and cars designed to cheat them, fall under this.

This is what is so headdesk-y about people going on about Trump being fascist. It’s not that they’re wrong about Trump being fascist. It’s that the entire government is fascist, and you’re only complaining about one man. It has been for a long time, and you’re only complaining about it now.

After voting, a friend of mine put up a pretty long post about why he voted the way he did (without using names, though it was made very clear he did not vote for Trump). One of the lines was that he voted “Against fascism. (Really? REALLY?)”

I don’t doubt that he intended to vote against fascism. I don’t doubt that he believed he was voting against fascism. I believe he voted against one fascist. I don’t believe he voted for a non-fascist candidate.

So, what can we take away from all this?

Well, I hope you’re angry.

I hope you’re not angry at me for telling you this, I hope you’re angry that no-one’s explained this to you before. I hope you’re angry at the fascism in the government, but I hope you’re angry at more than just the President-elect. Because he is only a very small tip of a very large iceberg.

More than being angry, though, I hope you start noticing more the “foxes guarding the henhouse” kind of phenomenon. I want you to be suspicious when industry praises incoming legislation that will affect it (like the mogwai begging for food in that classic Christmas movie, Gremlins).

Assuming that we’re not going to be able to change things overnight, I hope that you will be careful when you use the word “fascist” or “fascism”, and I hope you find yourself able to gently rein in your friends who throw around the words in such a way that they become meaningless (something that has happened with the less technical, more colloquial use of the term for more than fifty years).

Plan B – Kind Of

TLF: I entitled this post “Plan B”, but there’s many for whom neither Trump nor Hillary were really Plan A. It seems that many were unhappy with the major party choices in this election cycle, and many decided to vote for the lesser of two evils. Some decided that Hillary was the lesser of two evils, and in some ways I’m sure they were right. Some decided that Trump was the lesser of two evils, and in other ways I’m sure they were right, too.

For those who really didn’t like either of them, the more impeachable of the two won the election.

My interviewee James has mentioned a little on his Facebook and on his blog, about the Electoral College and its job, and also impeachment as another way to remove Trump. I threw a bunch of questions his way about the more immediate of the two, the Electoral College. James posted a lot of information in an article he wrote that was published by The Federalist.

So, on with some questions.

TLF: If the Electoral College Republicans unify behind another Republican candidate, what do you see the fallout being? Some predict the violence we currently have, to escalate considerably. Is this a valid concern, if so is it worth the risk?

JH: If we allow ourselves to be cowed by the threat of violence from people who resist our republican system of government — which is built on the independence of the electoral college, whether people realize it or not — then we’ve already surrendered our republic to them, without even bothering to fight.

Just as Hillary supporters have been forced by our electoral college to accept the result that she will not be president despite winning the popular vote, Trump supporters must be prepared to face the possibility that the electoral college will not make him president despite his party winning the electoral vote.  Every call for Democrats to accept the election results applies equally to the Republicans.

It could get ugly anyway, because people are terrible and democracy is a hot mess. But that threat does not rewrite the Constitution. The electors have a duty to vote for the person they believe best suited to be the next President. If that’s Trump, fine. If not, then they’d best do their duty, and trust the rest of our constitutional order to handle the fallout.

TLF: The Electoral College is supposed to choose a candidate who can unify, both Trump and Hillary have been quite divisive. Is there any alternative figure who has a broad enough appeal that both Democrats and disaffected Republicans could agree to cope with and say “we’d rather have them, thank you” in their communication? (seems like this was a problem with the NeverTrump camp during the R Primaries, no unifying figure).

JH: As for who it would be, in the vanishingly unlikely chance the electoral college does do its job and vote independently: my money would be on Gov. Mike Pence. He’s nobody’s favorite, but he’s one of a small number of Republicans who is fairly popular in all wings of the party right now, and, since he was on Trump’s ticket as vice-president, he enjoys a lot more legitimacy than would, say, Paul Ryan.

TLF: I’ve heard Pence described as Trump’s “assassination insurance”, I’ve heard people talking like they like Pence less than Trump, if that can be believed.

JH: The Pence hatred, I think, really exposes that, for much of the Left, the thing that makes Donald Trump unqualified is not really his lying, his sexual abuse, his lack of respect for the rule of law, or his indulgence of racists. For surprisingly many leftists, that’s just a front: Trump’s true sin is that he might turn out to be a somewhat conservative president, and THAT is what makes him so “traumatic”. Unless you fear even mild social conservatism more than you fear lying, assaulting, demagoguery, Pence is clearly a better president, with much higher general approval ratings, and so saying Pence is worse exposes one’s true priorities. Which means all the upheaval and shock and rage would have happened if any Republican won, not just Trump.

That is an ominous sign for our country.

TLF: It seems like uncharted territory – is writing to an Elector likely to be well-received by them, or annoy them (are the general population’s votes supposed to do that job)?

JH: I can’t see that writing the electors would do any harm. They are public officials now, like it or not, and it’s not like some of them are sitting there saying, “I’m going to vote my conscience unless a constituent writes me to demand that I do.” I’m sure some will be annoyed, but those aren’t persuadable electors to begin with.

TLF: I’ve seen a petition linked a few times on my Facebook to try and get the Electors to vote for Hillary, which seems somewhat unlikely to succeed. Are there any credible efforts worth getting behind?

JH: There are no realistic efforts to get behind; the ball is entirely in their court now… which is sort of the point. Letters might help, and I don’t discourage them, but there probably aren’t enough persuadable electors to take Trump below 270.

That said, the least realistic option of all is asking the Republican electors to switch their votes to Clinton. I am not certain I can express the level of antipathy felt by Republicans for the Clintons, particularly among longtime activists who are veterans of the 1990s battles with President Bill. And most GOP electors are longtime political activists. I am confident that at least 270 GOP electors would sooner vote for Satan, Prince of Darkness, than vote for Hillary Clinton.

270 GOP electors would sooner vote to cut their own legs off with a rusty spoon than vote for Clinton.

They really dislike the Clintons.

TLF: (The conversation took  a little pause here as I tried to think how to round out the post. Letting you know, as the flow of conversation is a little interrupted here.)

Over the past week or so, we’ve seen many calls for the Republican electors to vote Hillary, even some electors receiving death threats if they vote for Trump (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5HiEyPFBa8 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbJBB-kTMvA are the ones I’ve seen).

As you noted, the switch to Hillary isn’t going to happen (nor should it, the “religious beliefs should change” thing was horrifying – had a “your culture will adapt to service us” kind of ring to it).

We’ve also seen the article about the “Hamilton electors“, two Democratic electors who at least seem to get it that the Republican electors are not going to switch to Mrs Clinton, but maybe a compromise is possible.

Any thoughts on these?

JH: I am, of course, pleased that the true purpose of the electoral college has been given some attention in the past few weeks — perhaps the first time that purpose has been acknowledged by a large subset of the political elite in fifty years, maybe a hundred.

The manner in which this discussion has happened, however, is very unfortunate. Rather than encouraging each elector to carry out their duty to vote for the person that elector considers best qualified to serve as president — to vote their conscience — the overwhelming majority of commentators involved in the discussion are calling for the electors to vote for Hillary Clinton.

This undermines the entire conversation, for three reasons:

(1) It is bizarrely impractical and intensely polarizing. The notion of deliberately electing Clinton is personally repugnant to the Republican electors, who control a large majority of the electoral college. It will never happen. The odds of the electoral college doing what I want and voting their consciences to throw the election to the House is a one-in-a-million long shot. The odds they’ll elect Clinton, though, is more like a one-in-fifty-trillion shot. And the thousands of emails being sent to the electors demanding they vote for Clinton are drowning out the dozens of emails being sent to the electors asking that they seriously consider voting for a realistic candidate, like Pence or Romney.  When the electors do get our letters, they are already completely poisoned against the whole idea, because the deluge of (often extremely nasty) “vote for Clinton instead” letters have soured them.  But this is just a political concern, and so it is the least serious objection to the Left’s approach to this question.

(2) It is self-defeating. The core argument for the conscientious elector position is that the electors should vote for a candidate who is qualified to be president, and Donald Trump is not qualified to be president, because he is a lying, fraudulent, amoral, deeply bigoted, probably criminal, corrupt demagogue. But Mrs. Clinton is a lying, fraudulent, deeply bigoted, amoral, probably criminal, corrupt demagogue; she is a tad more polished about the lying, and she’s bigoted against different groups of people*, but there’s no chance she’s qualified for office. If you disagree with me — many left-wing commentators did — that’s fine, but remember that you have to convince 37 of 306 Republican electors to vote against Trump, and every one of them believes what I just said. Telling them to vote Trump down because he’s unqualified and then vote up Clinton instead is like telling Simon Cowell to reject Pitbull because he can’t sing and then vote up Rebecca Black instead.

(3) It completely misses the point. Most arguments for why Clinton should get the electoral vote instead of a far more palatable candidate like, say, Pence (one of the very few nationally-known politicians in America with a positive approval rating right now) revolve around the fact that Clinton won the popular vote.  But the whole point of the electoral college is to circumvent the will of the (small-d) democratic mob by ignoring the popular vote. The only reason we are having this conversation at all is because the Founding Fathers were so scared of popular-vote winners at the national level that they built an elaborate and unique system that was designed, originally, to discourage popular votes from happening at all, and to render those votes minimally relevant if they did. The idea that you would write to the constitutionally-mandated electors and instruct them to ignore the popular will of the voters in their states, not out of a sense of duty to the Constitution, but out of a meek subservience to the popular vote nationwide that completely subverts the Constitution… it completely blows my mind. It’s an argument that could only be made by people who do not actually value (or even understand) the electoral college and the Constitution, but are only using them to attain short-term political goals.

Which is why I joined the right wing in the first place.

Credit where it’s due: the so-called Hamilton Electors you mention are Democratic electors who are not pursuing a Clinton victory, but have resigned themselves to a well-qualified third option that would actually be acceptable — even attractive — to Republican electors. I fear they are largely being drowned out by their fellow pro-Clinton Democrats.  But this is an approach that could actually succeed, under ideal circumstances, and there’s still time, so… maybe they’ll pull something together.

This will definitely be the most attention anyone’s paid to the December 19th electoral college vote in living memory. So many people don’t even realize that the electoral college vote happens on an actual day with actual human beings.  If that’s all we get out of this calamitous election —  a broader awareness of how the college works and why it exists — maybe that’s a foundation we can build on in the future to roll back the tide of democracy.

*(FOOTNOTE: Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” and Trump’s “Mexico isn’t sending their best” comments were both taken a bit out of context, but showcase their respective bigotries pretty well nonetheless. The Left tends not to see Clinton’s bigotries because, generally speaking, the Left shares them. Same problem on the Right, of course.)

TLF: Well, we’ll see what happens on the 19th. I’ll see about throwing James some more questions following that result, so more than likely we’ll be talking about impeachment. I still need to finish up a couple of stories that got alluded to in an earlier post in the conversation (which got less immediate as the election and its aftermath got more immediate), and I have a mostly-written post on “Is Trump Fascist?” which I’m going to try and sneak in soon, I hope you’ll enjoy it, or at least find it interesting and informative.

‘Til next time!