President Trump isn’t crazy. But he is dangerous.

tags: Hitler, fascism, populism, Trump

Federico Finchelstein is professor of history at the New School and author of the new book, "From Fascism to Populism in History."

... Globally, Trumpism has a history that includes populists and fascist leaders like Juan Perón in Argentina and Getulio Vargas in Brazil in the early postwar period and, more recently, Silvio Berlusconi in Italy and Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. As a modern populism in power, Trumpism is not a mental state but a form of post-fascism, an anti-liberal, and often anti-constitutional, authoritarian democracy with a political rationale of its own.

The idea of denouncing such a leader as insane is also not new. Populist and fascist leaders have often been defined as crazy. But rather than an accurate diagnosis, this view reflects the confusion of an opposition faced with an unusual form of politics — a confusion that historically has led to inaction vis-à-vis authoritarianism and its intolerant consequences.

Adolf Hitler was serially treated as crazy. This conceptual laziness perpetuated by so many antifascists at the time of the Holocaust contributed to Nazi success. By considering Hitler to be a pathetic, impulsive, crazy charlatan, they ignored that he coldly planned war and genocide while generating a wide consensus among the German population.

More generally, the idea of a ridiculous, deranged individual, an idea fixed on style and not on content, proved to be a distraction from the real consequences of the practices and politics of these unconventional leaders. This idea also separated the “abnormal” leaders from the supposedly confused and sane followers. And it separated political ideology, including racism and anti-Semitism, from political analysis resulting in an inability to clearly oppose these leaders’ agenda.

This ascription of mental illness or disorder to the rhetoric and actions of such leaders adds to the misunderstanding of what makes such leaders successful: a narcissistic populist ideology that poses them as godlike genius figures, absolute voices of the people who know better than the people themselves what they, the people, truly want.

The idea of presenting these irrational leaders as insane scores easy political points. (Really easy, judging from the Twitter response.) But in the long term, such focus on insanity rather than ideology overshadows the most important fact behind their leadership: the reality that their extreme ideas are constantly normalized and supported by a wide segment of the people, as well as key party figures. Trump is probably right in assuming that many of his followers share his racist notion of Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries.” ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post

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