Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Paxton on parallels and non-parallels of Trump w/ fascism

  1. Mar 9, 2016 #1


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I came across this very interesting podcast interview with Robert Paxton on the parallels and non-parallels between Donald Trump and 20s/30s fascism. This is a topic on which we've had some previous discussion here. Paxton was a historian of fascism at Columbia, is now emeritus. The following notes are an outline of what Paxton said.

    portrays US as in decline, needs strong leader
    revival of the nation
    aggressive foreign policy
    attack on enemies inside and out without regard to due process; obsession with enemies such as jews
    faltering liberal order
    US: 2 unnecessary wars, severe econ recession
    unease at black man in white house​
    blaming troubles on internal and external enemies
    depersonalize and attach negative images
    prescribe measures that are brutal and illegal
    fascism doesn't fit on left-right spectrum;
    Germany: 1932: nationalist party and communist party;
    Hitler offered a new way​
    fascism isn't about truth
    is about mystical union with historic destiny of his people
    it's not about substance, it's about style
    Hitler radiated force -- visceral appeal based on style and image; "I'll fix it"​

    Trump is impulsive, aggressive personality; opportunist; not as politically aware as Hitler and Mussolini
    better examples of US fascism: Huey Long, George Lincoln Rockwell, Father Coughlan
    30s fascism had strong state, uniforms, fascist salute
    followers would reject "fascism;" it's the worst epithet we can think of; so stop retweeting Mussolini

    relationship to Republican establishment
    parties traditionally had patronage, could choose candidates; this changed in 1960s with caucuses and primaries
    if Rep establishment find they're wrong, and Trump is a viable candidate, they'll flock to him
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 10, 2016 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I think people are just sick and tired of establishment candidates. That's all we've had in my lifetime and trump offers something different. You can come up with parallels between anyone and Hitler if you look.
  4. Mar 10, 2016 #3
    I think maybe that Trump may be appealing to that sentiment in part, but he understands that's there's nowhere to go with that. That's the great part about American democracy, with the checks and balances of power, there's very little chance of a fascist dictatorship gaining hold. Although, I must admit in all sincerity, there was one point where I thought George W. Bush and his cronies were going to make a play to take over the government circa 2004 because Hillary Clinton and the rest of the woosified congress at the time didn't seem to be able to attenuate his stupid international policy.
  5. Mar 10, 2016 #4
    I think the parallels are OK. Some more non-parallels that ought to be mentioned are Trump's incredible wealth vs the fascists lowly origins, and how vastly more crushed Germany was at the time than we are now. Also: the world has weapons today that didn't exist in the 30s.
  6. Mar 10, 2016 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    We hear this argument quite frequently (it is also used about politicians here in the UK). However, I've never really understood what that means.
    Do people really want a candidate who has no background/experience in the job he/she is trying to get elected to? Not to mention no network of people they can use?

    It seems to me that a complete outsider would -almost be definition- by completely useless as a politician. .
  7. Mar 10, 2016 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I quite agree with this sentiment.

    I had a candidate running for a seat in the US Congress knocked on my door a couple of weeks ago. His big selling point was that he's an "outsider" and not part of the "establishment" (even though he has been a member of our State's House of Representative). I asked him almost exactly this very same question, i.e. "What does that mean?" I asked him if he, by himself, could get any legislative act passed without support from other member of congress. Of course, he said no.

    You HAVE to be part of the establishment, and know the intricate details of how it works, to get things done. An "outsider" will not know that, and will not have the support he or she needs to accomplish whatever pie-in-the-sky ideas that he/she is selling.

    And let's not kid ourselves here. How many times have we heard that line being sold to us? I've gone through numerous election cycles where, every single time, someone claims to not be part of the establishment, etc.. etc. They get elected, and things are still the same!

    To me, political election, at least at the national level, is finding a candidate that will do the LEAST amount of harm.

  8. Mar 10, 2016 #7
  9. Mar 10, 2016 #8

    This is what I find genuinely spooky about the cult of Trump.

    I find it scary that so many people are willing to put so much support behind a guy who's such a cartoon character. Trump is by no means the first would-be politician without some sort of national recognition well prior to aspiration for office. But from a perspective of selling an informed and consistent policy view to his voters Trump really stands out to me as exactly what you'd expect not from a political candidate but an obnoxious drunk on the far end of the bar.

    Imagine your public high-school age kid came home from the first days of class and talked about how his new biology teacher casually lit up a cigarette mid lecture that day. Suppose the guy is quite knowledgeable, well qualified for the job, but say he spent years on a ship or something and it's just an out of hand thing for him to do. Certainly it's an infraction of a somewhat minor but important rule. But said teacher is of the mind that since he had a life prior to education he should somehow be held to a more relaxed standard of conduct that might better reflect his background.

    Sounds crazy, right? Freedom of speech and all aside, I would imagine a supporter of this view would have a hard time gaining ground with public opinion, for multiple reasons.

    But this is exactly the flavor of Trump's conduct in this presidential run. I think he saw the potential in being viewed an outsider as the strongest thing going and just went with it. But really it becomes an appeal to baseness, the lowest common denominator, at the end of the day the substance of the campaign ends up being a run for votes, for the sake of votes, with a total disregard to decorum, like the novelty of a class clown running for popular vote on a whim and fart jokes. It's a tactic not overlooked by fascist and other parties alike in history.

    If one finds much in the way of Trump's message outside of what I pretty much equate to national policy fart jokes, well, we might find each other in strong disagreement. I still think that comparitively Trump has one of the less coherent platforms of any of the others in the running... from where you draw confidence in what he's really gonna stand up for once the election's over? One aspect of a previous political background is typically a previous constituancy of public voters.

    I see a growing likelyhood we might see the outcome of this "outsider" approach to politics on an almost unprecidented scale in the US soon. I'm not optomistic.
  10. Mar 10, 2016 #9


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    This kind of reminds me of another outsider elected 40 years ago. He was an egotist (of much higher ethics, and certainly much higher intelligence) somewhat like Trump (I'm going to do it MY way, with God's help, the last part is unlike Donald) and without any DC insider connections. Jimmy Carter was THAT completely useless politician. He Wouldn't compromise or broker any deals with congress because of his ethics. He wouldn't make any BAD deals (so NOTHING GOT DONE). While he shares NO common philosophical views with THE Donald, I can certainly see a similar outcome! Jimmy Carter was hated by the banking industry and we the American people got the double digit inflation and interest rates for his staunch stand against the Washington insiders!!! That felt great, NOT!!!
    The only positive of Jimmy over THE Donald, he wouldn't jump into a war at the tiniest of provocation. Sadly, THE Donald, may do THAT!!!
  11. Mar 10, 2016 #10


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Sounds like we need a revolution if nothing can get done unless you play inside baseball with corrupt politicians!
  12. Mar 10, 2016 #11


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Revolution into WHAT? Note that Iran and Russia had "revolutions". I'll argue that those didn't happen for the better! Is this what you want?

    You like playing sound bites. You throw out all of these claims and scenarios, but you appear to not think what will happen beyond first base (since we are doing baseball analogy here). What you have said so far sound VERY naive and superficial.

  13. Mar 10, 2016 #12
    Trump is an autocrat, not a fascist. If you think we have checks and balances look at the unitary executive. IMO the first job of any new president is to repeal the EOs of the president before him. What the CIC can't accomplish through Congress, they usurp power to accomplish them unilaterally. That is not the the founders designed the system.
  14. Mar 10, 2016 #13
    I beg to differ. The high interest rates and inflation under Carter were the result of Johnson's guns and butter economic policies. In a wartime economy certain sacrifices must be made domestically. Allocation of resources to the war effort, reduces resources at home. Johnson's policy was we could have both. Economies don't turn on a dime, they need several years for policy changes to manifest themselves in the marketplace. His policies resulted in high inflation and 18% interest rates. Just my opinion.
  15. Mar 10, 2016 #14
    Jimmy Carter was not an "outsider." He
    which is about as mainstream a route to the white house as you can take.

    Trump, by contrast, is trying to make the jump from a career completely outside politics straight to the top. He announced first, then gathered support. Everything instantly and all at once, for the occasion of this years election. No one, to my knowledge, has ever successfully done that before.

    Which brings me back on topic: It's certainly quite unlike what the fascists did, building their parties first, then later entering elections, starting from the bottom and working up. (Well, there was that one coup attempt, but it was modest in scale, and "The final benefit that accrued to Hitler was the insight that the path to power was through legitimate means rather than revolution or force." -wiki).

    How important is the distinction given Hitler and Mussolini were essentially autocrats?
  16. Mar 10, 2016 #15


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Our political system is supposed to provide a system of checks and balances that prevents the president from being an autocrat. Trump's *style* is very much that of the Mussolini-style strongman, but it remains to be seen what would happen if he got into office. A not-so-disastrous scenario would be one in which Congress stood up to him and prevented him from carrying through on the overtly racist and repressive parts of his program, such as his proposals to make Muslims register with the government and carry special ID cards.

    Unfortunately, recent history doesn't give me much confidence that Congress would do that. After 9/11, we saw serious damage done to our civil liberties, including torture, indefinite detention in prison camps without trial, and the use of drones to kill US citizens without trial. This damage happened under both W and Obama, and it was enthusiastically supported by both major parties. It has now become the new normal. You hear a lot of criticism of Trump right now from his own party, but there are plenty of bootlickers like Chris Christie who are trying to position themselves for political advantage, and a much larger number of Republican politicians who are keeping quiet and waiting to see how things turn out. I'm afraid that Paxton is correct in the interview when he says that if Trump wins, his party will flock to support him. Then we're in real trouble.

    We learn about these big historical moments (French Revolution, 1492) in history books, and it's hard for us to imagine how they feel to people who are living through them. When the bogus OPERA results on superluminal neutrinos came out, I found myself wondering if this was how it felt to live through a scientific revolution -- a time when nothing seems to make sense. Turned out not to be true. Now I'm having the same feeling about democracy and liberty in the US, but it's not an exciting feeling, it's a horrifying one. I'd imagined that there had brrn an ongoing process of the decay of civil liberties, which began after 9/11, and thought of it as some some new, temporary equilibrium, after which we would hopefully recover. The Trump phenomenon seems to show that it wasn't a new equilibrium, that we're still in a state of motion toward authoritarianism.
  17. Mar 10, 2016 #16
    Trump isn't serious. He doesn't want to be elected. $$$.
  18. Mar 11, 2016 #17


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Trump is an intuitive political genius because he's sensed and is effectively riding a wave of inchoate, inward-looking nationalism and populism. Unless he's derailed, he will win because all the other candidates are associated with corporate globalism and establishment elitism.

    There are many definitions of fascism by scholars. But Mussolini said this: "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." Neither do I think Trump is a revolutionary. The militarily outward-looking neocons derive from the permanent revolution envisioned by Leon Trotsky. Most of the other candidates have neocons on staff. Trump does not.
  19. Mar 13, 2016 #18
  20. Mar 15, 2016 #19


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

  21. Mar 15, 2016 #20
    Trump. His entire life is about money. He can make more outside of office than in it. He'll make a ton of money from his fame.

    Being President, the target of mass ridicule and hatred, is not easy money.

    Besides, he has no chance. His nomination would be a catastrophe for the Rs. They want the Hispanic vote bad. Cruz, Rubio, Bush, all speak fluent Spanish and have intimate close Latino ties. The Rs will unite against Trump, who would annihilate their chances with the Latino vote for decades to come.
  22. Mar 15, 2016 #21


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    No, it is nearly certain Trump will be the republican nominee. If the republican's cheat "The Donald" out of the nomination, his own rabid supporters would push for him to be a third party candidate (and that would be a definite win for Hillary). So, the republicans are stuck with him "for better or for worse". After "The Donald" wins the republican ticket, he will aim straight for the middle of the road ie be a lot less controversial and probably plead that he has discovered new ideas ie he will back handedly retract from many of his earlier controversial comments. Normally that would be cannon fodder for the opponents (ie a lying sack of s4i7,..flip-flopper), but Trump isn't a professional politician who has had years to develop any political stance. In fact he has used and abused many of the current immigration systems that he proposes to end (or at least curtail). I suspect he will SEE the light, acknowledge that he has imported two of his three wives from overseas, blah, blah, blah. He will try to shed his extremist image as soon as he has the republican nomination in the bag. Of course with his back stabbing republicans talking about a brokered convention, he may have to play this hand too long and lose the big game.
    I am not sure Trump ever thought he would do so well, but the stars have aligned and power > $$$ so the argument that he wouldn't want the presidency due to him having to take a pay cut isn't a serious argument (he is definitely in love with both). I believe he may actually have a real chance against Hillary. Both are poor choices for president, but I suspect Hillary will come across as the more moderate of the two (that is what it takes to win the BIG game), as well a better resume for the job.
  23. Mar 15, 2016 #22
    "Trump. His entire life is about money."

    No, his entire life is about self aggrandizement and the pleasure of bullying those he doesn't like. Wealth is power and Trump is just another primate troop alpha a**h*** autocrat. But a very dangerous one given the level of fear and anger in much of white America over its declining influence and privilege. Fascism usually justified itself through mysticism or Spenglerian theory. Trump uses some ideas in common with Spenglerianism but so stripped of depth and intellect that only the emotional implications remain. So I would not classify Trump as a fascist, rather he is a boorish evil autocrat that appeals to some of humanities basest inclinations.

    My 2 Cents.
  24. Mar 15, 2016 #23
    Yeah, pretty much.

    "Trump. His entire life is about money winning."
  25. Mar 15, 2016 #24
    It is the ancient practice of demagoguery. It was common if Roman times. I expect it dates to the dawn of Man.

  26. Mar 15, 2016 #25
    In his nation the distinction escapes me.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted