Yale philosopher explains why Trump's 'performative fascism' is 'worrisome enough'

Yale philosopher explains why Trump's 'performative fascism' is 'worrisome enough'
President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence walk with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Tuesday, March 10, 2020, upon their arrival to the U.S. Capitol for a Senate Republican policy lunch. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

Jason Stanley, author of the 2018 book, “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them,” has done a fine job explaining what fascism is and isn’t and outlining its specific traits. During an interview with Business Insider, the author discussed President Donald Trump’s use of federal law enforcement against protesters in Portland, Oregon and his promise to do the same thing in other U.S. cities — and according to Stanley, the president is “performing fascism.”


“I’m not saying that Trump is a fascist,” Stanley told Business Insider. “Trump is certainly performing fascism — it’s performative fascism that we’re seeing. It’s the tropes of fascism, and I think that’s worrisome enough.”

During the interview, Stanley noted some of the characteristics of fascism — which include an “ultra-nationalism” and an “us/them” mentality. “Ultra-nationalism,” Stanley stressed, is crucial to fascism.

“There’s a famous story…. perhaps apocryphal, where a Spanish fascist was asked to speak at an international fascism conference in the early ‘30s,” Stanley explained. “And he said, ‘I’m not a fascist, I’m Spanish.’ Fascism, because it’s based on nationalism, is always going to take the most sort of crude and tense form of the nation’s traditional tropes.”

In the U.S., according to Stanley, fascism “would be wrapped in a Confederate flag. It would be wrapped in the vestiges of American ultra-nationalism, which is white nationalism.” And an emphasis on nationalism, Stanley stressed, is one of Trump’s characteristics.

According to Stanley the “us/them” mentality is asserting itself with Trump’s willingness to use his “militia” to “explicitly target Democratic cities” such as Portland and “create a sense that there’s lawlessness in Democratic-led cities and therefore, you need a strong leader to protect you.” But Stanley emphasized that a discussion of fascism shouldn’t focus on Trump specifically.

Stanley told Business Insider, “No, it’s not all about Trump…. What Trump is doing is: he’s pushing already existing fascist forces further. Does that mean that he himself is a fascist? It’s not really helpful to talk that way; it’s an emphasis on the wrong locus. What we need to do is remove the fascist forces. We need to address our prison system, address our over-policing problem, address our inequality, cut down the insider dealing between corporate elites and the government.”

The author went on to say, “My worry is less with Trump and more with the Republican Party that enables all kinds of behavior. My concern is with members of the Republican Party that care more about the Republican Party than they care about a multi-party democracy.”

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