Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Is Donald Trump a Fascist?

Waller Newell

Image courtesey of TheFrisky.com

Last week, Dr. Stephen M. Stahl explored the topic of Donald Trump being a psychopath. This week, Waller R. Newell, author of Tyrants: A History of Power, Injustice, and Terror explores how Donald Trump compares to fascist rulers of the past.


In a recent column for The Washington Post, “This is How Fascism Comes to America,” Brookings Institution Fellow Robert Kagan likens Donald Trump and his followers to previous Fascist movements including National Socialism and the followers of Benito Mussolini.

While I appreciate the passion of this piece and can understand anyone’s misgivings about Mr. Trump, I think it cheapens the currency of the word “Fascism” as a term of condemnation to apply it to someone who is a xenophobe, isolationist and protectionist, but nothing more than that. There are precedents far closer to home — Andrew Jackson, George Wallace — without recourse to such an exaggeration.

In discussing the frequently vague quality of Mr. Trump’s policies and his many flip-flops, Mr. Kagan also writes:“Fascist movements, too, had no coherent ideology, no clear set of prescriptions for what ailed society.”

On the contrary: Fascist movements like National Socialism had ideologies that were evil but entirely coherent and that is why they were far more lethal than any danger posed by Mr. Trump.

Hitler believed that the destruction of the Jews sparked by a war with the Soviet Union (the world center, for him, of “Jewish Bolshevism”) would bring about a global utopia. And sometimes, coincidentally, Nazi weren’t necessarily evil — Hitler commissioned the world’s leading monetarist, Hjalmar Schact, to spend Germany out of the Great Depression through massive public works.

Another difference: Hitler and the Nazi Party were responsible for tens of thousands of innocent lives taken, years before the outbreak of World War II and the “industrialized genocide” of the Holocaust, including thousands of disabled people who were euthanized. Is there a scintilla of evidence that Trump’s agenda is comparable to such actions?

Yes, Trump does fit the description of what Plato, Sallust and Hamilton would regard as a demagogue, someone who mirrors the worst qualities of the mob, like Catiline.

But Fascism?

Not by a long shot, and that is why it’s important to study the history of tyranny in its many varieties in order to make the right kinds of distinctions when we encounter leaders today who may endanger healthy democratic self-government.

About The Author

Waller Newell

Waller R. Newell is Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Carleton University, Ottawa, where he helped found and also teaches in the College of the Humanities, Canada's ...

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