I like much of Peter Baker’s reporting. I liked his book about the George W. Bush administration. I don’t like this article by Baker called “Rise of Donald Trump Tracks Growing Debate Over Global Fascism.”
It’s a slippery piece. Baker doesn’t argue that Trump is a fascist — it’s more along the lines of “some people say Trump is a fascist.” But by choosing to repeat the charge, and writing a long article about it, Baker lends respectability to the claim.
People have said all sorts of very bad things about President Obama. I don’t see the mainstream media converting these claims into news stories, except maybe for ones that attempt to paint Obama’s critics as deranged.
I discussed the matter of Trump and fascism here, borrowing extensively from Michael Ledeen, an expert on fascism. To summarize, there is no viable case that Trump is a fascist. Robert Kagan embarrassed himself when he tried to make one.
Speaking of experts on fascism, it is not until deep in Baker’s article that we encounter any (before then, we hear instead from William Weld and the Mexican president — why Baker gives them the floor on a matter of political theory is anyone’s guess). The experts Baker finally quotes don’t think Trump fits the fascist label.
Robert O. Paxton, a Columbia professor whom Baker identifies as one of the most prominent scholars of fascism, points out that fascists believe in strong state control, not get-government-off-your-back individualism and deregulation (as Trump does, at least to some extent).
Volker Perthes, the director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, rejects the Trump-as-fascist claim:
All the phenomena he describes are raising concerns, but I would still not call Trump or his campaign fascist. Maybe with German and European history in mind, we are a bit more cautious than others in using the label ‘fascism.’
Mr. Perthes said real fascism requires two more elements — an outright rejection of democracy and a harsher definition of order.
Charles Grant, the director of the Center for European Reform in London, explains the distinction between hard-line nationalism and actual fascism:
Historically, [fascism] means the demonization of minorities within a society to the extent that they feel insecure. It means encouraging the use of violence against critics. It means a bellicose foreign policy that may lead to war, to excite a nationalist feeling. It takes xenophobia to extremes. And it is contemptuous of a rules-based liberal order.
Grant argues that even Marine Le Pen’s “far right” party in France isn’t fascist. Yet, her National Front is much more stridently anti-immigrant than Trump. For example, Le Pen doesn’t favor bringing illegal immigrants back into France once they have been expelled and vetted.
Other scholars suggest that Trump may represent a wave of “right-wing populist nationalism” or “illiberal democracy.” I’m not sure that either label quite applies to Trump (the latter isn’t a bad fit for Obama). In any event, this isn’t fascism.
The title of Baker’s article should be “Experts Reject Claim That Trump Is Fascist.” Better yet, the article shouldn’t have been written.