There was much vitriol surrounding the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. One thing that struck me was the frequency with which commentators threw around the words fascism and fascist. For example, The Huffington Post warned that Trump’s Emerging Fascism Threatens the Nation; Salon chastised the country with the headline Congratulations, America– you did it! An actual fascist is now your official president; The Nation predicted that Anti-Fascists Will Fight Trump’s Fascism in the Streets. There is even a website called refusefascism.org that urges Americans to “stay in the streets to stop the fascist Trump/Pence regime.”
With all the voices warning of the rise of fascism in America, it would serve us well to define fascism to ensure we understand each other and can discuss the matter with intelligence and civility. Our friend Sheldon Richman is helpful for this point with his thorough entry in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. Here is an excerpt:
As an economic system, fascism is socialism with a capitalist veneer—Fascism substituted the particularity of nationalism and racialism –”blood and soil”–for the internationalism of both classical liberalism and Marxism—Where socialism sought totalitarian control of a society’s economic processes through direct state operation of the means of production, fascism sought that control indirectly, through domination of nominally private owners—Under fascism, the state, through official cartels, controlled all aspects of manufacturing, commerce, finance, and agriculture. Planning boards set product lines, production levels, prices, wages, working conditions, and the size of firms. Licensing was ubiquitous; no economic activity could be undertaken without government permission. Levels of consumption were dictated by the state, and “excess” incomes had to be surrendered as taxes or “loans.”
Trump is undoubtedly a nationalist and protectionist and proudly declared during his inauguration address that he would put “America First.” Inasmuch as nationalism is a critical ingredient of fascism, it is indeed present. But notably absent from the Trump agenda is cartelization of American business, planning boards, or control of economic activity or consumption. Instead, Trump seeks to reduce government regulation, has imposed a hiring freeze on federal agencies, and advocates cutting taxes–the lifeblood of the state.
While there are many criticisms one can raise about Trump and certain of his policies, fascism is not one of them. Unfortunately, fascism has become a label attached to anything a speaker does not like. The modern use of “fascism” is empty and imprecise. If you want to criticize Trump feel free to do so—but please offer reasoned arguments rather than lazily labeling the man as something that he clearly is not.
For lessons for reimagining American politics to foster liberty and truly representative governance, please see the Independent Institute’s widely acclaimed book: Crossroads for Liberty: Recovering the Anti-Federalist Values of America’s First Constitution, by William J. Watkins, Jr.