But Albright seems most interested in what she thinks of as the preconditions of fascism. Asked about the state of democracy in the world today, she offered a metaphor: “I am worried about the fact that there are conditions out there that provide the petri dish for something terrible to happen, where some of the definitions I gave of fascism would take hold.”
Goldberg pointed out that Albright indirectly references President Trump several times in her book; she mentions, for example, that one of Benito Mussolini’s mottos was “drain the swamp.”
Goldberg asked Albright directly: Is Donald Trump a fascist? “He is not a fascist,” she responded. “I do think he is the least democratic president of modern history.” Trump, it seems, contributes to the petri dish: “His instincts are not democratic,” Albright argued, pointing to his attacks on the press, “how he treats the judiciary,” and his tendency to create “us-versus-them” divisions in his rhetoric. These are “tendencies that make me very nervous,” she said.
Albright’s cautious pessimism seems colored, at least in part, by a life spent engaging with foreign leaders, and watching other nations approach the point of no return. While she seems sure that America isn’t quite there, she seems equally sure that it could be.
The petri dish of fascism, Albright argued, requires several catalysts mixed together: It needs a leader with antidemocratic tendencies, as well as a populace that puts certain kinds of pressures on that leader. Albright calls the force of the populace a “pressure from below”; fascism, she argued, comes “bottom up” through people who feel they’ve been discriminated against or denied job opportunities. “And then,” Albright concluded, “there’s a leader from above who takes advantage of disquiet and makes it worse by exacerbating the divisions in society.” Asked if she sees in America today the same preconditions for fascism that she’s seen in the other countries she’s studied, Albright pointed to a few similarities: the sense of disenfranchisement among the American people, the anger over a lack of jobs and educational opportunity, and the instinct to blame foreigners for problems. “We’re operating on the fear factor,” she said.
Some readers of Albright’s book had hoped she’d take a harder line in identifying the difference between a fascist and an almost-fascist. Asked by Goldberg what her “red line” is—at what point she’d turn to unequivocally calling someone a fascist—Albright gave a few metrics. She said that it depended on how much violence is involved, on the leader’s attempts to undermine democratic institutions, and on a sense the leader has that he or she is above the law. (That last one is a threat she suggested Americans should worry about, if Trump were to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or Special Counsel Robert Mueller.)