David Frum: There’s a Word for What Trumpism Is BecomingBreaking News
tags: fascism, authoritarianism, Juan Peron, Donald Trump, January 6
What shall we call this future? Through the Trump years, it seemed sensible to eschew comparisons to the worst passages of history. I repeated over and over again a warning against too-easy use of the F-word, fascism: “There are a lot of stops on the train line to bad before you get to Hitler Station.”
Two traits have historically marked off European-style fascism from more homegrown American traditions of illiberalism: contempt for legality and the cult of violence. Presidential-era Trumpism operated through at least the forms of law. Presidential-era Trumpism glorified military power, not mob attacks on government institutions. Post-presidentially, those past inhibitions are fast dissolving. The conversion of Ashli Babbitt into a martyr, a sort of American Horst Wessel, expresses the transformation. Through 2020, Trump had endorsed deadly force against lawbreakers: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he tweeted on May 29, 2020. Babbitt broke the law too, but not to steal a TV. She was killed as she tried to disrupt the constitutional order, to prevent the formalization of the results of a democratic election.
If a big-enough movement agrees with Trump that Babbitt was “wonderful”—if they repeat that the crowd of would-be Nancy Pelosi kidnappers and Mike Pence lynchers was “great”—then we are leaving behind the American system of democratic political competition for a new landscape in which power is determined by the gun.
That’s a landscape for which a lot of pro-Trump writers and thinkers seem to yearn.
You are living in territory controlled by enemy tribes. You, and all like you, must assume the innocence of anyone remotely like yourself who is charged in any confrontation with those tribes and with their authorities—until proven otherwise beyond a shadow of your doubt. Take his side. In other words, you must shield others like yourself by practicing and urging “jury nullification.”
Those words are not taken from The Turner Diaries or some other Aryan Nation tract. They were published by a leading pro-Trump site, the same site where Trump’s former in-house intellectual Michael Anton publishes. They were written by Angelo Codevilla, who wrote the books and articles that defined so much of the Trump creed in 2016. (Codevilla’s 2016 book, The Ruling Class, was introduced by Rush Limbaugh and heavily promoted on Limbaugh’s radio program.)
We are so accustomed to using the word fascist as an epithet that it feels awkward to adjust it for political analysis. We understand that there were and are many varieties of socialism. We forget that there were varieties of fascism as well, and not just those defeated in World War II. Peronism, in Argentina, offers a lot of insights into post-presidential Trumpism.
Juan Perón, a bungling and vacillating leader, attracted followers with a jumble of often conflicting and contradictory ideas. He had the good luck to take power in a major food-producing nation at a time when the world was hungry—and imagined that the brief flash of easy prosperity that followed was his own doing. The only thing he knew for certain was the target of his hatred: anybody who got in his way, anybody who questioned him, anybody who thought for himself or herself. An expatriate Argentine who grew up under Perón’s rule remembered the graffiti on the walls, the Twitter of its day: Build the Fatherland. Kill a student. As V. S. Naipaul astutely observed, “Even when the money ran out, Peronism could offer hate as hope.”
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