The problem with the perspective that is presented in this interview that it makes it sound like Trump is uniquely authoritarian compared to his predecessors. No one considers Eisenhower, whose administration organized a series of right-wing coups in other nations and whose immigration policies were far to the right of Trump, to have been a “fascist.” Paramilitary policing has been going on for decades, since the Nixon era. Unlike Trump, Poppy Bush actually deployed the military in response to the LA riots in 1992. Trump’s law and order rhetoric was “normal” until fairly recently (watch some old Bill Clinton speeches on fighting crime from the 1990s). ICE and CBP are no more “fascist” than the full range of federal alphabet soup agencies and not a few state and local police departments. Has this professor ever heard of the “war on drugs”?
It is fashionable in some circles to compare Trump with Eastern European or Asian authoritarians like Orban, Erdogan, or Putin without any kind of understanding of the differences between the political cultures of the US and those places, all of which have long traditions of autocratic rule. Hungary was a communist dictatorship 30 years ago, and had no liberal democratic tradition prior to the Stalinist era, having been Nazi allies in WW2 and historically under monarchist rule.
Erdogan is an Islamist, and while he has made moves toward the greater imposition of authoritarian rule in Turkey, the Turks have always been a conservative Islamic nation that has maintained secular government only because the military and deep state are secular, and has kept Islamism at bay. The conflicts between Erdogan and the Turkish deep state are somewhat similar to the conflicts between Trump and the US deep state, but with the big difference being that Trump is a far less competent political operator than Erdogan and with the Turkish deep state being in a much weaker position. For instance, Wikipedia notes concerning Erdogan that “starting with the anti-government protests in 2013, his government imposed growing censorship on the press and social media, restricting access to sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Wikipedia.” With Trump, it’s just the opposite. Trump himself has been subject to Internet censorship, and Internet censorship has been imposed not by the state directly but by the tech oligarchs themselves who are very anti-Trump.
Russia has a historic tradition of autocratic rule, and Putin’s roots in are the KGB, the former Soviet secret police.
The professor being interviewed in this article says, “Historically once people bond to authoritarians, and, for elites, make their deals with him (they support him, seeing him as a vehicle for doing things they have wanted to do for years, as with the Evangelicals and all those wanting to reverse gender and racial emancipation of the Obama years) they generally stick with these leaders until the bitter end.”
What was all this “emancipation” that happened during the Obama years? I don’t remember any unless you consider the rising influence of PC culture to be “emancipation.” Incarceration rates remained the same during Obama’s tenure. Pro-immigration activists called Obama the “deporter-in-chief” and the “drone wars” escalated under Obama, along with the NDAA’s establishment of the “kill list.” Not to mention the total destruction of Libya and near-total destruction of Syria under Obama.
This professor is not a serious thinker. Read Stanley Payne or Paul Gottfried for a serious scholarly examination of historic fascism.
By Manny Otiko
Dr. Ruth Ben-Ghiat teaches Italian and History at NYU. Her expertise is “fascism, authoritarianism, war, propaganda, and Donald Trump,” according to the college’s website. I reached out to her to get her opinions on Trump and America’s descent into fascism. This is the conversation.
Otiko: As an expert in fascism, at what stage do you think America is?
Ben-Ghiat: Every authoritarian experience is different, but Trump has now amassed a loyal following, gotten many Americans to hate the press, has control of paramilitary-style forces (CBP, ICE, militias,) and the “right” right-wing men in key positions, like (William) Barr as attorney general. His next step is to secure his election no matter what — fraud, foreign-assisted infrastructural emergencies, voter suppression, martial law. We will see.