Assist. News Editor
Pro-Trump domestic terrorists stormed the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Jan. 6 in an attempt to prevent Congress from determing the official 2020 election results. That morning, Trump addressed his “Save America Rally” at Ellipse Park near the White House, where he ended his speech with the direction: “We are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue [. . .] we are going to the Capitol, and we are going to try and give [. . .] our Republicans [. . .] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” What followed was an insurrection consisting of forced entry, vandalism, stealing government property, violence, and possible attempted bombing, that drove those present into hiding below the building.
For those who study political trends, the events of Jan. 6 did not come as a surprise due to the way political polarization in the U.S. is becoming increasingly violent. “Having studied the blatant, violent racism, sexism, and oppressive political tactics applied in the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections, I was not as surprised as I could have been, sadly,” said Whittier College Professor of Political Science Sara Angevine.
President Trump’s sedition marks a historic moment in American history that has left many Americans concerned that U.S. democracy has been threatened, specifically wondering whether or not Trump and his presidency have reflected fascist trends. As such, conversations on social media and in news coverage have sparked questions about whether tactics used by the Trump Administration are similar to the early signs of fascist regimes.
In order to address these conversations, we are examining this prospect of how the Trump Administration relates to a recently popular criteria on which to examine facism. Political commentator Laurence W. Britt, who studied seven regimes including Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, supplied this criteria which the Washington Post has used and the Holocuast Museum promoted in their gift shop.
Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism
Throughout President Trump’s time in office, and during his 2016 election campaign, his platform ran on the idea that the U.S. is the best country in the world. At his Inauguration almost four years ago to this day, he began his presidency by claiming that,”From this day forward, a new vision will govern . . . it’s going to be only America first, America first.” This “America First” platform has been praised by his supporters for being an efficient way to pass legislation, though critics claim that it has created tensions between American and its global allies.
Trump has also referred to countries whose citizens immigrate to the U.S. as “sh—thole countries,” therefore placing a separation between the U.S. and other countries. In his UN speech in September 2019, Trump said that, “The future does not belong to globalists, the future belongs to patriots.” In a later rally, President Trump declared himself a “nationalist” and mentioned that he was proud to call himself so.
Sexism is another typical trait of fascist leaders. During Trump’s 2016 campaign, his language when discussing women came under fire. One particular infamous Trump quote from a 2005 conversation with Bill Bush displayed a correlation to his sexual assault allegations: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the p—y.” This quote faced criticism from feminist groups, and served as a focus of signs at the annual 2017 Women’s March on Washington. His language against his 2016 presidential race opponent Hilary Clinton, along with other female politicians like Elizabeth Warren, whom he called “goofy” and “one of the least productive U.S. Senators, [with] a nasty mouth,” has been criticized.
“I remember, during 2016 presidential elections, I had planned a post-election political discussion in the library far in advance, with the help of then-WC President Sharon Herzberger and English Professor Michelle Chihara,” said Professor Angevine. “However, when the results revealed that President Trump won in an upset, this scheduled academic conversation no longer seemed as appropriate. Students had shared in my classes how they immediately faced new forms of racial and gender targeting by Trump supporters, and that they feared for the safety of themselves and their families.”
Trump also has 26 allegations of sexual misconduct, though he denies the allegations. As women shared their stories during his 2016 campaign, Trump replied at a rally stating, “Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign.” In light of the #MeToo movement that gained support during his first year in office, a 2017 poll found that 59 percent of women voters felt that the President should have resigned in response to the allegations.
Rampant sexism as an identifier of fascism is likely because of how it is enforced systematically, such as through policies and promoting conservative social norms. Trump has appointed twice as many men than women to government positions, restricted abortion access, and praised traditional gender norms, which may display systematic sexism.
Controlled mass media
Trump has continuously called for accountability of the press through his “fake news” rhetoric, though some argue that this narrative places a distrust in journalists that shows a lack of respect for the freedom of the press. While the Administration has not attempted to directly control press coverage, Trump has continuously made his opinions regarding mass media evident to his supporters, and reiterating that it is “fake news.”
President Trump has reportedly barred reporters from White House events, gaining criticism from the Committee to Protect Journalists which consider his behaviors as “anti-press.” Recently, Trump turned his back on FoxNews, which he had supported throughout his presidency, because they publicized that Joe Biden would be the President Elect. In a Gallup Poll done in September of 2020, an all time high of 33 percent of those surveyed said they had no trust in the media.
At the “Save America” March on Jan. 6, President Trump made it a point to question and discredit media outlets, as he felt that they were reporting lies regarding the election. He stated that, “We don’t have a fair media anymore. It’s suppression and you have to be very careful with that, and they’ve lost all credibility in this country.”
Obsession with national security
President Trump initially ran in 2016 with a promise to increase national security such as through expanding the U.S. defense budget and criticizing U.S. allies he believed did not respect the U.S.’s efforts abroad “defend[ing] other nations.” One major security policy Trump has been most vocal about is preventing illegal immigration from Mexico by expanding the U.S.-Mexico border wall, which has seen over 5,000 children separated from their parents.
In 2017, Trump released his first National Security Strategy, which detailed a plan to confront the Middle East’s nuclear possessions, along with increasing tensions with China and Russia, which Trump claimed “challenge American power.” Since then, Trump has increased military spending by $738 billion and “suggests the U.S. military will continue to expand despite Trump’s calls to limit America’s involvement overseas,” according to the Washington Post. Additionally, Trump increased tensions with North Korea through aggressive sanctions when Kim Jong Un fired ballistics openly, which today results in a stalemate.
Obsession with crime and punishment
“Law and order” has been one of Trump’s major slogans throughout 2020 to back his criticism of the Black Lives Matter protests and stressing a “tough on crime” approach. For example, in late June of 2020, alongside the Black Lives Matter protests which left some buildings damaged, Trump signed an executive order that “authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the U.S. with up to 10 years in prison,” as affirmed by a tweet.
While Trump has supported strong police and legal response to some protests, he has also been criticized for not holding the same “law and order” stance involving the riot at the Capitol. However, he did Tweet, “We are the party of law and order,” as the riots were occurring.
Professor Angevine shared her opinion of Trump effort’s promoting law and order over his administration: “[I]ncidents of white nationalist violence, anti-Semitic violence, and sexuality and gender-based violence in the U.S. have increased dramatically. Additionally, we have lost faith that the police officers charged with protecting us from violence will do so equally and may be the ultimate perpetrators of violence themselves,” said Professor Angevine. “All of this embedded ideological division was clearly illustrated as numerous members of the pro-Trump mob on Wednesday were flashing their badges indicating their U.S. police or military membership, and assumptions about whiteness weakened the preparation of the Capitol police.”
Rampant cronyism and corruption
Accusations against the Trump Administration for cronyism, the favoritism that holds partiality towards friends, family, and associates, began early in his presidency. Some of Trump’s high-ranking advisors have been fired due to corruption or views contrary to the President. The President’s ex-advisor Steve Bannon was arrested on corruption charges in the border wall scheme. U.S. Attorney General William Barr resigned in December of 2020, likely because “Mr. Barr said there was no evidence of widespread fraud in November’s election.” Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebbs, was fired in November of 2020 for tweeting against Trump’s allegation that voting machines in various states had switched ballots in favor of President-elect Joe Biden.
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper was fired through a tweet by President Trump, possibly because he disagreed with the president on certain issues, including the use of active-duty military forces to stop street protests like those hosted by the Black Lives Matter movement. Trump has also pardoned many of his former advisors that had been convicted of criminal charges. In December of 2020, Trump pardoned former campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to “making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Kremlin-connected Russians,” former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who “pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and then recanted,” former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who did not comply with federal authorities, and former adviser Roger Stone, who lied under oath. All were convicted during Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference to back Trump in the 2016 election.
During the entirety of the election process this past year, President Trump was letting his followers know that he believed that this election was rigged. President Trump went into this election believing that he would come out the victor and was shocked when he did not. The “Save America” March stemmed from Trump’s followers believing that this election was rigged, and they gathered to walk to the Capitol in order to stop the count. During this gathering, President Trump told his followers,“We beat them four years ago. We surprised them. We took them by surprise and, this year, they rigged an election. They rigged it like they’ve never rigged an election before.” This is now being labeled as the core root of the riot that ensued at the Capitol.
Donald Trump has made his followers believe that the sole reason that he lost this election was because it was rigged, and not because people wanted him out of the White House. This rhetoric defies the democratic process. Trump was also very concerned about voter fraud as he believed that people who voted for President Elect Joe Biden were illegally voting. According to The Brenner Center, in 2016, there were only four documented cases of voter fraud and the likelihood of an individual impersonating another voter at the polls is the same as that individual being struck by lightning. By publicly calling to question the accuracy of the voting system in the U.S., he is pushing forward the idea that Republicans need to question election results because they did not end in their favor.
As we move forward, many will want to combat the threats of fascism. Professor Angevine shares tips for interested activists: “Democracy is a delicate balance, fragile, and requires work by the people. We all need to play a role in protecting the values of liberty, freedom, justice, compromise, deliberation, protest, and equity. [. . .] We must protect the press, educate each other on different forms of media, and, lastly, and perhaps closest to my heart, fight for the value of science, particularly for policy decision-making.”
“To cope with this rupture and fear, I sought out my friends and colleagues to process the events together — even if it was over Zoom. I suggest that you each try and do the same within your community. You can also speak to the numerous people listed in Dean Smith’s email. Lastly, perhaps sign up for a class where you can talk and learn about these issues in a structured manner.
“We, as members of the Whittier College community, need to come together to heal our democracy, and perhaps each other in the process. United we stand, divided we fall. Democracy alone no longer.”
Feature image: Courtesy of Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus