The question is no longer whether Trump and the MAGA movement are fascist, but where they are taking the country.
The Republican Party’s embrace of fascism is now open and notorious, and impossible to ignore. With the exception of a few stragglers and diehards, the party has been captured by Donald Trump and the MAGA movement he has spawned.
And the takeover is accelerating.
In his latest “Save America Rally,” held in Montgomery County, Texas, on Jan. 29, the former president went beyond his usual tirades about the “big lie” of the stolen election and Mike Pence’s cowardice, ranting that he would consider pardoning the Capitol insurrectionists if he is reelected in 2024. “If I run and I win, we will treat those people from Jan. 6 fairly,” he declared. “And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.”
It has been reported that Trump secretly considered pardoning the insurrectionists before leaving office, but hesitated and ultimately took no action. Now, he’s saying the quiet part out loud. His rhetoric is becoming increasingly incendiary.
Implicit in the prospect of pardons is the endorsement of political violence and the promotion of alternative realities, both hallmarks of classic and, now Trumpian, fascism. Lest it be forgotten, four people died on the day of the insurrection. Another 150 officers from the Capitol Police, the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police and other agencies were injured. In the weeks after the attack, an additional five officers died, either from injuries sustained during the riot or because they committed suicide.
The GOP and Trump have another opportunity to impose their will and vision, and deal a death blow to what remains of our diminished democracy
At his Texas rally, Trump also called on his supporters to stage massive demonstrations if he winds up getting indicted or sued as a result of investigations led by the Justice Department, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, New York Attorney General Letitia James, and Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis. Without mentioning James, Bragg or Willis--all of whom are Black--by name, Trump vowed, “If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or corrupt, we are going to have the biggest protests we have ever had.”
Following Trump’s remarks, Willis sent a letter to the FBI, asking for a “risk assessment” of the courthouse and government center where she works, and for security assistance.
The Republican National Committee, on the other hand, responded to Trump’s speech with abject genuflection. On February 4, the RNC voted to censure Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois for serving on the House select committee investigating the insurrection. In its formal censure resolution, the RNC condemned the pair for “joining in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse.” [The RNC later attempted to clarify that the resolution applied only to non-violent protesters.]
There are countless other examples of the GOP’s fascist transformation. To cite just a few, there was the party’s decision to pledge loyalty to Trump rather than adopt a new platform for the 2020 elections. There were the “coupmemos” written by attorneys associated with the Trump campaign. There were the fake Electoral College certifications prepared by party operatives in several swing states. All occurred amid a constant drumbeat of white grievance and nationalism broadcast by Fox News and other right-wing media outlets.
The particulars and the details are important, but the bigger question is, where is Trumpian fascism headed?
The political scientist Robert Paxton, one of the world’s leading authorities on fascism, has identified five stages of fascism:
1. The initial creation of movements;
2. The rooting of the movements in a political system;
3. The acquisition of power;
4. The exercise of power; and
5. Radicalization or entropy, the stage at which movements reach their most extreme heights, or exhaust themselves and fizzle.
We are well beyond the first two phases. We flirted with the third and fourth during Trump’s first term, but our democratic institutions—weak and tattered as they are—were able to resist.
The election of Joe Biden offered only a temporary reprieve. Now, with Biden’s coalition fraying, the GOP and Trump have another opportunity to impose their will and vision, and deal a death blow to what remains of our diminished democracy.