Is Donald Trump a fascist? Several commentators in America, my adoptive country, on both the left and right, have essentially compared “The Donald” to Mussolini, the fascist strongman who destroyed my old country Italy for a time, leaving behind half a million dead and the lingering poison of civil war.
“The brand of fascism was invented and exported by Italians,” Vittorio Foa, a Resistance hero and the father of Italy’s Republican Constitution, used to quip. He was right and, having grown up in the birthplace of fascism and lived through its aftereffects, I am dead sure: Trump is not a fascist. Using the label not only belittles past tragedies and obscures future dangers, but also indicts his supporters, who have real grievances that mainstream politicians ignore at their peril. America should tackle the demons Trump unleashes in 2016, not tar him by association with ideas and tactics he doesn’t even know about.
Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric, his demagoguery, and his populist appeals to citizens’ economic anxieties certainly borrow from the fascist playbook. Italy’s fascists capitalized on similar themes in a different era of global uncertainty; in their case, it was the unemployment, veterans’ resentments, unions’ strikes, and political violence that beset the country following World War I. But Trump is, fundamentally, a blustering political opportunist courting votes in a democratic system; he has not called for the violent overthrow of the system itself. And whereas it can be impossible to discern any logic or strategy in Trump’s campaign, the fascists who marched on Rome in 1922 were relentlessly, violently focused on a clear goal: to kill democracy and install a dictatorship.