One of today’s popular parlor games involves finding parallels between Hitler and whoever is one’s least popular public figure. Right now listing ways President Trump seems to mirror Hitler or Mussolini is the game of choice. Not many game players, however, have gone to the trouble of detailing the specific ways the current tyrant reflects historic fascists. But I have come across a book by one of America’s foremost scholars, "Fascism: A Warning," by Madeleine Albright, which sets out how a fascist in any age or political culture might be identified.
Instead of starting with Trump and describing how he is like some past tyrant, on the last pages of her book Albright defines just what policies and programs are common to fascists past and present. Making the connection between this definition and one’s choice for fascist of the year is left up to the reader.
Here is a series of questions Albright poses describing how fascists might be identified.
- “Do they cater to our prejudices by suggesting that we treat people outside our ethnicity, race, creed or party (and I would add nation) as unworthy of dignity and respect?”
- “Do they want to nurture our anger toward those we believe have done us wrong, rub, raw our grievances, and set our sights on revenge?”
- “Do they encourage us to have contempt for our governing institutions and the electoral process?”
- “Do they seek to destroy our faith in the essential contributors to democracy such as an independent press?
- “Do they exploit the symbols of patriotism — the flag, the pledge — in a conscious effort to turn us against one another?”
- “Do they brag about their ability to solve all our problems?”
- “Do they solicit our cheers by speaking with a pumped-up machismo about using violence to blow enemies away?”
- “Or do they invite us to join with them in building and maintaining a healthy center for our society, a place where rights and duties are appropriated fairly, the social contract is honored, and all have room to dream and grow?”
I’m sure that any of us might find in history’s long and troubled past a list of those who have disgraced the nations or tribes that nurtured them. Clearly, fascists are made, not born, and their making is almost always the product of populations that allowed them to foul the nations’ nests. So who is responsible? It is not the fascist alone, but all those who for some reason allow the tyrant to gain and hold positions of overwhelming power. It is the political party which believes that it is to its advantage to support what will eventually cripple the nation. It is the co-opted popular religion that lies back and allows itself to be raped. It is the already wounded who in desperation have swallowed the poison that kills but cannot cure. It is the racists and lovers of violence who find common cause with tyranny. It is the gentle souls who simply smile from the silent sidelines while the nation is being dismantled piece by piece. It is the innocent aloof citizen who says, ”I choose not to be involved.”
So where is America today? What is the clear direction the President is intent on moving us? Where is he in light of the questions Albright has posed?
Well, if it quacks like a duck …