For months now, the Democrat-Progressive fever swamps have been using the word “fascist” in connection with Donald Trump and those who voted for him. It took Michael Kinsley to elevate this shoddy claim onto pages of the Washington Post: Trump, he asserts, is a fascist.
Sadly, Kinsley reveals, as so many before him have, that academic degrees are no substitute for intelligence, knowledge, critical analysis, and basic logic. The term “fascist” is a very distinct one and Kinsley can apply it to Trump only by redefining it entirely. His is a deconstructionist effort that leeches all meaning from the word.
Because Kinsley’s essay is currently behind a paywall, let me summarize briefly what his argument is before I demonstrate what a shoddy piece of disinformation it is.
Kinsley opens in a defensive posture, absolving himself of proving Godwin’s Law, which holds that internet discussions always end with Hitler analogies. Instead, Kinsley boasts, “I mean ‘fascist’ in the more clinical sense.”
What is this clinical sense? If you plow through an endless cascade of words, Kinsley accuses Trump of being a crony capitalist, not to enrich himself and his friends, but to claim boasting rights about his skills conferring material benefits on the American people. Kinsley calls this “corporate statism,” which he says is the same as “fascism,” although he considers himself too classy to call Trump a fascist (except when he calls Trump a fascist).
As is the case with so many Leftist arguments grounded in history, Kinsley could not be more wrong. “Corporate statism” is certainly a feature of Hitler’s fascism, but it’s also been a feature of Obama’s administration. Standing alone, corporate statism, while corrupt and unfair, is not fascism. It’s just garden-variety corruption. Actual “fascism” is not just about the state’s relationship to corporations; it’s also about the state’s relationship to the luckless individuals under its control.
The reality is that, no matter the myriad names given to the world’s political systems, there are only two types of governments: Those that vest more power in the state (statist systems) and those that vest less power in the state (individualist or liberty-oriented systems). Every government in the world, no matter the name given, its place in time, or its geographic location, falls along that continuum. Here’s a very basic illustration of that unvarying fact:
Lots of world leaders and regimes have occupied the continuum’s far left, statist side. Western Europe and Obama’s America occupy the area left of center while the area just to the right of center is America shortly before Obama dragged it over the red line.
Off to the far right is the Founders’ vision of a constitutionally limited government, one subordinated to individual citizens’ unalienable rights — that’s the one that is every conservative’s dream. It’s a nation that stops short of anarchy but that allows individuals maximum liberty. Conservatives want a smaller government that, by virtue of its limited size, has limited control over each individual’s ability to make his own choices, to live his life as he sees fit, and to see the government as his servant, rather than bowing to the government as his master.
Given that conservatives Republicans, including the majority of Trump supporters, are on the liberty side of the spectrum, far from the world’s most brutal tyrants, what gave rise to the glaringly false syllogism that “Republicans are right-wing fascists and Hitler was a right-win fascist, so all Republicans are Hitler”? You can blame it on a nasty little historic and linguistic trick American communists pulled, which was to make “fascism” synonymous with the political “right.” Once having done that, they could claim that American conservatives, being “right wing,” are therefore fascist. This is pure disinformation.
The correct analysis properly begins with jettisoning the terms “right wing” and “left wing.” Their antecedents are irrelevant to American politics and, in any event, statists have polluted them irreparably. The terms arose in France, in 1789, when Louis XVI’s supporters in the National Assembly sat on the president’s right and the revolutionaries to his left. We are not in France in 1789. Moreover, that archaic division ignores the fact that the left and the right in France were totalitarian in nature. Both wanted complete control; they just had different visions about the nature of that control.
“Fascism,” another historic term, is one that American statists embraced until Hitler tainted it. It first gained political traction in Italy in the 1920s. Mussolini defined it to mean “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” In other words, fascism is purely on the statist side of the continuum.
Savvy readers will have noticed that fascism sounds remarkably like communism: It’s all about concentrating all power in the state, leaving the individual entirely subordinate to the state. The primary difference between the two ideologies is that in communism the government nationalizes private property, whereas in fascism the government does not nationalize it but nevertheless completely controls — as is the case, for example, with Obamacare, which saw the government establish the rules for the private insurance market and mandate that Americans buy the product.
What Kinsley missed entirely is that the decision to nationalize private property or to control it while it’s in private hands is not the most important issue when looking at the two systems. The central point is that, under both systems, the government owns and controls the individual citizens.
For ordinary citizens, the difference between communism and fascism can be seen as the difference between wearing ugly stainless steel handcuffs and stainless steel handcuffs garnished with pretty pink fur. Citizens are still wearing the state’s handcuffs, but in the fascist state (at least before the state gets the bit in its teeth) things look nicer.
Communists and fascists hated each other in the 1920s through 1940s not because they were diametrically opposed ideologies, but because they were similar ideologies fighting for the same slice of totalitarian pie. When they weren’t fighting each other for power, they supported each other, as was the case with Hitler and Stalin . . . right until Hitler decided he wanted Stalin’s territory, too. In Spain, there was a bloody civil war because communism and fascism were jealous rivals seeking total control.
Without exception, two bad things happen in totalitarian governments: (1) the government ceases to see it citizens as individuals and views them only as widgets who exist to aggrandize the state; and (2) the people who control statist governments fall prey to grandiose delusions and paranoia. Hitler and Stalin went after their own people. Hitler got the negative headlines only because he explosively sought control over Europe, without anticipating Churchill’s refusal to surrender or America’s ferocity when roused. Had Hitler been more discreet, as Stalin was in the Ukraine or in the gulags (or as Mao was in China), Hitler’s fascist, genocidal state could have lasted for decades more.
After the war, Hitler’s grandiosity ensured that “fascism” was a dirty word. American communists needed to move fast to erase Russia’s pact with Hitler and to disguise that “fascism” and “communism” are variations on a theme. Using America’s media and higher education systems, America’s communists associated the word “fascist” with “right wing.” This allowed them to affix the “fascist” label to those who cherish individual liberty, tying them to Hitler, the ultimate madman. It didn’t matter that the new label was deconstructionist sleight of hand. The only thing that mattered was that it stick, along with all the ugly associations surrounding it.
So, no, fascism is not limited to state control over privately-held industry. In any event, Kinsey’s attempt to shoehorn Trump’s Carrier deal under the corporate statism side of the “fascism” label is also wrong. Outside of communism’s nationalizing industry, all governments engage in some way with wealth owners and wealth producers.
In America, the government’s engagement with businesses takes three primary forms: (1) it taxes corporate profits; (2) it enriches corporations that engage in conduct the government favors; and (3) it uses regulation to take over entirely an economic sector, as was done with Obamacare (an action Mussolini would have recognized). Cronyism or corporate statism, or whatever else you want to call it, happens when a government, to benefit government insiders, favors certain businesses over others and uses taxpayer monies as a sign of that favoritism.
Keep in mind that the government has no money of its own because it generates no wealth. All of the money it possesses it has taken from citizens via taxes and fees that are requested politely, with the understanding that the polite request is enforced with a gun. Any money that the government gives a corporation is taxpayer money. When a government foregoes collecting taxes, it is simply leaving money with its true owner — although this can be abused if the government foregoes tax collection for the benefit of a select few.
Compare what Obama did in 2009 with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“the stimulus”) versus what Trump is doing now: In 2009, the Democrats took taxpayer money, in the form of guaranteed loans, and handed it out to favored corporate constituencies. These corporations were usually staffed with Democratic Party insiders who promised to provide magical green benefits that would eventually create jobs and improve the climate. (Think: Solyndra.) Although the administration touted the stimulus’s success, claiming it “saved or created” over a million jobs (a metric that is almost entirely imaginary), the cold-cash reality is that jobs either weren’t created or did not last, green corporations went under, America’s real infrastructure (e.g., roads and bridges) continues to decline, and taxpayer money vanished into crony bank accounts.
The Carrier deal is different. Trump got Indiana to allow Carrier to keep more of its own profits through a series of tax incentives playing out over the next few years. The real incentive for Carrier and all American businesses is Trump’s overarching promises to (a) lower dramatically the corporate tax rate, which at 35% is now the highest in the Western world; (b) lift burdensome regulations that harm profits; and (c) increase available fossil fuel energy, bringing down costs. These benefits would not be conferred solely on “friends of Donald,” but would extend to all American businesses. This is the opposite of crony capitalism or “corporate statism” or “fascism.”
I’ll start worrying if Trump, like Obama, uses taxpayer money to give benefits to favored corporations that are, in turn, expected to return some portion of that taxpayer money to Trump and his buddies. And I’ll start worrying about a new dawn of fascism in America when Trump, instead of shrinking the regulatory state to lessen government’s hold on American purses and minds, starts to extend the regulatory state into every area of American life, from education, to business, to bathrooms, to forcing Americans to buy products they don’t want from an industry under government control.
One more thing: Obama said that the biggest disappointment of his presidency was his failure to grab more guns from American hands. Statists always grab guns because their regimes are fundamentally hostile to the citizens they control, making it impossible for those citizens to defend themselves against tyrannical government. Trump’s promise to protect the Second Amendment is the antithesis of a statist, especially a “fascist,” regime.
So, Kinsley, if you want to go around calling people “fascists,” start by looking in your own mirror and by saluting the picture of Obama you have hanging over your bed.
Michael Kinsley's Article:
Michael Kinsley is a columnist for Vanity Fair magazine and a contributing columnist for The Post.
Donald Trump is a fascist.
When you call somebody a fascist, you can mean any number of things. Often, it means no more than “somebody I don’t like.” It is an all-purpose epithet, usable by anyone against everyone from university deans to Fox News anchors. For that reason, the label should be used sparingly — saved for special occasions. As with “Nazi” or “Hitler,” it is often said that in any discussion, the first person reduced to using such a word has lost the argument. It’s ridiculous to compare any living person to Hitler or Mussolini.
But I mean “fascist” in the more clinical sense. For close to a year, and especially since his election as president, people have been trying to figure out Trump’s political principles: What does he stand for, how will he act as president? Various theories have been advanced. Some think he won the election by pandering simultaneously to different groups with conflicting agendas, and convincing all of them he was on their side. Was this a calculated exploitation of America’s “gimme gimme gimme” politics? Or was it the politics of a man who had no politics, who wanted to be president because, in our celebrity culture, it was the only job more glamorous than starring in his own reality television show? It has even been suggested, in the sole subject of conversation in Washington for the past month, that Trump might allow himself to be sworn in as president and then resign, having accomplished all he aspired to.
But now that we’ve seen a bit of him in action, it seems that Trump actually does have a recognizable agenda that explains how he simultaneously can pander to big business generally while “strong-arming” (the words of a Post editorial Friday) an air conditioning manufacturer to save a few hundred jobs for a while. Or how he can make nice with the authoritarian Vladimir Putin while making bellicose foreign policy noises in general. Or how he can blithely upset with a phone call the absurdly delicate balance of our relations with China and Taiwan. All this seemingly erratic behavior can be explained — if not justified — by thinking of Trump as a fascist. Not in the sense of an all-purpose bad guy, but in the sense of somebody who sincerely believes that the toxic combination of strong government and strong corporations should run the nation and the world. He spent his previous career negotiating with the government on behalf of corporations; now he has switched teams. But it’s the same game.
The game has several names: “Corporate statism” is one. In Europe, they call it “dirigisme.” Those two other words for it — “Nazism” and “fascism” — are now beyond all respectability. It means, roughly, combining the power of the state with the power of corporations. At its mildest, it is intrusive regulations on business about parental leave and such. At its most toxic, it is concentration camps. In the 1930s, a few Americans (including a few liberals) bought into it. Pearl Harbor ended that argument. Even for Trump, “fascism” itself now is a dirty word, not just a policy choice. Even Trump would not use it — least of all about himself.
But the deal Trump negotiated with Carrier and its parent company, United Technologies, to “save” hundreds of jobs is a prime example of the philosophy. Trump brags about “saving” Midwestern blue-collar jobs through a combination of bribery and arm-twisting. Turns out hundreds more jobs will be lost, and Trump as president can’t possibly negotiate on behalf of millions of workers.
But Trump believes — truly believes, I think — in the title of one of his books: the art of the deal. He thinks he is the world’s greatest negotiator. When he says he won’t reveal his income taxes because he is in the midst of negotiations with the IRS, he may be sincere. He says, believably, that he gets audited every year. That means every year’s tax bill is just the government’s opening move in an annual chess game, and Trump doesn’t want to give away his own opening move. Now he plans to negotiate more “deals” and he thinks — because he can outfox some midlevel IRS auditors — that he can outfox the political and business leaders of the world. “The Art of the Deal” is not “Mein Kampf,” although “not ‘Mein Kampf’ ” isn’t much of an endorsement.
Just to be clear: If I’m correct that Trump actually has a governing philosophy, that’s a bad thing, not a good thing. If he actually has principles to guide him through those famous swamps he plans to drain, that’s alarming, not reassuring. Bad principles are not a good substitute for no principles. Four or eight years of bad principles may make no principles look pretty good.