In the past year there have been a number of attempts to define fascism. Madeleine Albright strives for a comprehensive understanding in her book “Fascism: A Warning.” Yet beyond efforts to arrive at a formal delineation of the term, we might examine the profiles of notable fascists to see how they got and maintained such enormous power.
A recent television series focused on Franco, Hitler, Mussolini and Idi Amin. Once they took control, first of their party and then the nation, they surrounded themselves with supporters who kept them in power until finally the people of their nation, or some coalition of external forces, brought their reigns to an end. In each case a power base maintained their support no matter what the rulers did.
Donald Trump offered perhaps the best definition of how fascism functions in an Iowa campaign rally on January 23, 2016, when he said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue, shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any votes.” In that boast Trump told the world it doesn’t matter what he says or does. His security lies in his uninhibited base, and that may be the essence of fascism.
From candidate to president, Trump proves this: No matter how outlandish, crude, obscene, brazen, egotistical or untruthful he is, Trump gathers the people who put him in power and vow to keep him there. It is a rock-solid base, this 35 percent to whom he appeals in every tweet, speech and interview. Most public figures are judged by their words and actions, but with the Trump brand of fascism that doesn’t seem to matter.
This is not to say that an unmovable base is evidence of fascist leadership. The most honored men and women earn steady support because of their vision, morality and truthfulness. These are the heroes that prompt parents to say to their children, “I want you to be like that when you grow up.”
Such leaders include liberals and conservatives, but each has an authentic personal nobility worth honoring and emulating. I think of Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Among American presidents we surely would list Lincoln, Roosevelt, Reagan and Obama. People did not always agree with their policies, but they heard these leaders call the nation to greater goodness and gratitude.
What parent would hold Donald Trump as an example their children should respect? There is at the heart of religion a trust in morality. I don't understand how over 80 percent of evangelical Christians continue to honor and support someone who has never been faithful to any of his three wives, pays multiple thousands of dollars to buy the silence of his paramours, brags about grabbing women by the genitals, continually lies, dishonors minorities and immigrants, and exhibits the most vulgar egotism.
I do understand how religiously motivated people legitimately hold a variety of opinions about birth control, abortion, homosexuality and economics. But common decency is not negotiable. Can anyone swearing allegiance to Jesus suggest a single act or attribute of this president that flows from a religious perspective? Have the 80 percent of evangelicals who support Trump abandoned honest religion or did they just use it apart from any sincere commitment to its meaning?
I also understand how honest Republicans remain committed to a leader they have created or allowed to take over their party. Yet what a tragic commentary on the decline of American politics. They will stay aboard a sinking ship, and sooner or later will discover the end that comes to fascists and their supporters in an unforgiving sea. Their only hope is to get off before it is too late.