While following the US presidential election, it’s easy to notice the parallels between Donald Trump’s election campaign and those of other right wing authoritarian leaders. Trump as a candidate has demonstrated a complete overhaul of the right wing Republican Party and has shaken the GOP into disarray. In this article, I will focus on Trump’s actions as a leader, and specifically a trend in both the US and in Europe towards a rebirth of authoritarianism, populism, and fascism.
You can read my previous work on Trump and his supporters here: Trump Article
Trump has a massive following in the United States. (Jan 15-18 2016 Polls)1 His support has created an interesting political environment where the Republican Party has been hijacked by an unusual character. This political outburst and social degeneracy appears as an anomaly, as a freakish contortion of the Republican Party, and as a passing fad. That is, until you compare this rise in American authoritarianism with other Western countries. What you find is a disturbing trend in the West of fascist, racist, ultra-conservative, hate-spewing, typically anti-Muslim, and concerningly aggressive leaders rising up to power and in many countries even gaining seats in office.
In Greece, the Golden Dawn Party, which is openly neo-fascist and neo-Nazi, in September won 7% of the national vote.2 Their platform is openly racist, anti-immigration, and ultra-nationalist. The Golden Dawn Party was in the fringe up until the Greek economic crisis hit and shot them into popularity. It was not until the economic crisis that this Party was taken seriously. Now this far-right party has gained considerable voter support and has entered mainstream Greek politics with concerning success.
In France there is a similar trend with an ultra-conservative leadership rising. The National Front Party3 has gained impressive and shocking traction in the polls with some recent results showing upwards of 33% national support.4 This Party which prides itself on harsher criminal sentencing, re-introducing the death penalty, and strict anti-immigration, has developed a populist platform, gaining even more public favor following the recent Paris terrorist attacks.5 Marine Le Pen is the outspoken fear-mongering leader of this climbing Party and a fierce conservative. Sylvain Crepon, sociologist specialist on the French far-right argues that the people voting for the National Front are the “small shopkeepers who are going under because of the economic crisis and competition from the out-of-town hypermarkets; it is low-paid workers from the private sector; the unemployed. The FN scores well among people living in poverty, who have a real fear about how to make ends meet.”6 The National Front is a disturbing trend in French politics guided by economic worries and anti-Islamic sentiment.
In the UK there has been a noticeable increase in the success of ultra-nationalist groups such as Britain First.7 The group has surpassed over 1 million ‘likes’ on Facebook and is growing considerably. Focusing on British nationalism and Christian conservatism, Britain First has also been channeling significant energy into racist, violent, and authoritarian ideals. This group is sexist, anti-labor, and anti-immigrant. An example of a Britain First initiative is harassing Muslims and entering Mosques across England intimidating and spreading hate to often entirely innocent people.8 Similarly, the British National Party shares ideals with Britain First and has also made a notable impression in British political sphere.9
Many of these groups share similar characteristics between them. They all are nationalist and conservative, they all preach a rebuilding or a restructuring of their nation, and most are anti-immigration or anti-Muslim. Furthermore, they are all centered around authoritarian principles and the reversal of modern liberal progressive victories and civil liberties.
The most dangerous of these leaders is arguably Trump. Some suggest that using the language of fascism or authoritarianism to describe Trump is sensationalist. I would argue that this hesitation should be swept away and that Trump’s campaign should be viewed under a more critical and serious lens.
Trump as a leader has developed a concerning record of disregarding people’s rights, people’s liberties, and the process of a modern democratic government throughout his election trail. Similarities exist between Trump and other blatantly fascist groups such as Britain First. Trump is anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, and so is Britain First. Trump recently declared he must protect Christianity because it is “under siege”10 and so has Britain First claiming that Christianity is under a “ferocious assault”.11 Both use the language of making Britain and America ‘great again’, and both intend on accomplishing this by racist, exclusionary, and autocratic means.
Trump has not only taken on similarities from admittedly fascist and racist groups, but has even exceeded these groups and brought back frightening elements from history. At rallies, Trump increasingly operates under a process of exclusion, silencing dissenters, threatening the press, and using language with chilling implications. While it is true that at many rallies protesters are at times removed, it is the language and context of Trump’s campaign that illuminates the stark and dangerous contrast between Trump and other US candidates. At a recent campaign speech in Burlington Vermont, Trump continued this trend. Trump declared to the crowd after throwing out a group of young protesters, “We will get more and more angry as we go along, and I will yell get them the hell out of here!” He continued, “… by that time the security will be so tough and so nasty, you know what’s gonna happen when that happens? You are not going to have any more problems.”12
What he said next is the reason that we should be concerned.
He joked about how at first the security guards were politely escorting out protestors, then later became more aggressive, and now the security is getting nasty, “… pretty soon the security will be so nasty we won’t have any more protesting.”13 This is how fascism starts. This is how a society begins to degrade into authoritarian rule. I am not suggesting that Trump will become a mass murderer or a second Stalin; but I am is absolutely stressing that as a public we need to be cautious and vigilant.
Trump’s campaign, and the general trend in multiple Western states, is eerie in its similarity to the rise of fascism in Europe a century ago. We have Trump recommending that Muslims have a registration system similar to how Hitler registered Jews in Nazi Germany.14 Later commenting that in America, “… we’re going to have to do things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”15 We have groups spawning which are knee-jerk in their platforms and are against the principles that generations have fought and died for. They make a mockery out of equality and liberty. They preach hatred, they preach racist-conservative nationalism, they muffle protestors, they deny freedom to the press, and they stomp on the very sanctity of freedom that our countries have come to represent.
Trump is not the first world leader to suggest this type of platform and by many accounts he is not even the worst in Western countries, but Trump is important, and due to his popularity in America, he is potentially the most dangerous. Trump’s campaign is hauntingly similar both to modern far-right groups in Europe, and also to totalitarian leaders in Europe’s past. Trump is winning in the Republican polls, Trump has a following, Trump is being taken seriously, and Trump is a modern authoritarian leader. These are facts that we need to digest and reflect on.
It’s important to ask why these groups are popping up now in the first place. Their similar platforms sheds light into their shared concerns and fears. Many of these groups surged during the economic crisis and many are influenced by their fear of Islamic militants. Accordingly, their conservatism demonstrates a resistance to progressive trends within society. These groups have legitimate interests in keeping themselves and their imagined communities safe and healthy. They want what they believe is best for their in-group, and for this we can appreciate their passions. They see violence in the world, they see economic crisis, and they observe social and ideological trends that alienate and discomfort them. They are relieved by the strength and conviction of these authoritarian and autocratic leaders. These leaders promise to make their countries safe and strong again.
The problem, is how they plan on doing this.
They curb the principles of a modern democratic and free society and replace them with hate, with fear, and with insecurity. They twist the world around them and trample on those whom they have excluded from their vision of the future. It is important to confront these groups, to pressure these groups, and to deny these groups their victories. While they have the right to demonstrate in our free countries, they will not have the luxury of doing this without resistance.
It is not the strong who become fascists. The fascists are the ones so afraid and so insecure that they require repressive control and violence to shape reality around them. The fascists are scared and weak. We have the privilege of learning from past historical mistakes and therefore we must recognize the threats and respond with strength.
The comedy is over. What is left is opportunity.
The opportunity to deny these dangerous leaders and the opportunity to resist fear; choosing instead to invest our efforts into cooperation, into community, and into civilization.
By Daniel Govedar (Jan 2016)
1. “2016 Republican Primary – Monmouth University” Politico. http://www.politico.com/polls/president/2016-election/national/2016-republican-primary-003109
2. Smith, Helena. “Neo-fascist Greek Party takes third place in vote of fury.” The Guardian. ttp://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/21/neo-fascist-greek-party-election-golden-dawn-third-place
3. National Front. http://www.frontnational.com/
4. Todd, Tony. “France – Polls give France’s far right national party boost ahead of regional vote.” France 24. http://www.france24.com/en/20150302-poll-france-far-right-le-pen/
5. Willsher, Kim. “Front National has chance to take center stage after Paris attacks.” The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/14/paris-terror-attacks-fn-far-right-le-pen-front-national
6. Schofield, Hugh. “What next for Marine la Pen’s National Front.” BBC. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17824436
7. Britain First. http://www.britainfirst.org/
8. “Channel 4 News on Britain First.” Channel 4 News. YouTube. https://youtu.be/lsb8RcNsUtU
9. British National Party. http://www.bnp.org.uk/
10. Carney, Jordain. “Trump: Christianity Under Siege.” The Hill. http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/266234-trump-christianity-under-siege
11. “Mission Statement.” Britain First. http://www.britainfirst.org/mission-statement/
12. “Mob Scene at Trump Rally.” TYT Politics YouTube. https://youtu.be/lJ8iS6mG6xo
14. Yuhas, Alan. “Trump won’t rule out special ID for Muslim Americans noting their religion.” The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/19/donald-trump-muslim-americans-special-identification-tracking-mosques