Trump on the Brink, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

First, a fascinating blast from the past, in 1988, when Trump flirted with a presidential run on The Oprah Winfrey Show:

Molly has a great dispatch today from Clinton, Iowa:

Trump’s lead is a sad reflection of the state of the U.S. The tragedy here is that most of the Trump base is supporting him out of economic despair, when in reality, it is quite obvious he is a charlatan. He has avoided any serious policy proposals because his base doesn’t care for them. Meanwhile, he has resorted to race pandering, to considerable success in the polls. Sadly this reflects the views of the Republican Party base.

Some have called him a fascist. I think that there are some alarming similarities. The use of minorities as scapegoats, the appeals to nationalism, and hateful rhetoric. I would say that if Trump is elected, democracy is in danger and that yes, he is fascist.

For one, he is a narcissistic person, and when the inevitable failures happen, he may try to strong arm his way. That does not bode well for democracy.

On that fascist comparison, Gianni Riotta recently wrote a piece for us from the perspective of someone who lived through actual fascism, in Italy:

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. [...H]aving 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.

What about a neo-fascist? That’s what Andrew Sullivan, my old Dish compatriot and former Atlantic senior editor, called Trump a few days ago, in a rare burst of public punditry since his blog retirement a year ago:

It’s perfectly possible [Trump] wins the nomination. I couldn’t vote for him in a million years. He’s a neo-fascist. He’s the American version of Putin. He could ignite a global religious war. He knows next to nothing about politics or policy. His candidacy should be treated as a farce.

More thoughts from Andrew here. Will anyone within the Republican establishment ever say something similar? One reader is hopeful; he wrote the following in response to Molly’s piece this weekend on the initial GOP frontrunner, who now appears DOA:

Jeb Bush is going to lose in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. With those three losses, there is no path for Bush to win the Republican nomination. None.

But Bush does have the opportunity to have an enormous impact on the Republican Primary process. That opportunity comes via his concession and withdrawal speech. Bush needs to openly, forcefully, and with no reservations condemn the extremists dominating the Republican Party. He needs to name names. He needs to condemn the racism, the bigotry, the xenophobia, the sexism, the homophobia, and the insanity that has infected the Republican Party like a deadly virus. He needs to slaughter and gut Trump and Cruz with no mercy.

Basically, he needs to take down and destroy the Republican Party. He has nothing to lose.