It is tempting to call our new president a fascist. Trump rants at mass rallies about restoring the nation’s “greatness,” tries to ban non-Christian immigrants, threatened to imprison his political opponent, smears non-fawning media outlets as “enemies of the people,” and despises an independent judiciary. It’s no surprise that neo-Nazis are among the president’s biggest fans. Soon after his election, David Duke tweeted, “Trump truly understands that the media is at war against him, our heritage and our people!”
Yet nailing the F-word to Trump is a temptation we should resist. While thoroughly abhorrent, he does not live down to the standard of tyranny set by erstwhile dictators in Germany or Italy, or their latter-day disciples in other parts of the world. Trump has not vowed to abolish opposition parties or fire federal judges, erect a militarized state, nullify the First Amendment, or unleash a wave of violence against his critics. If he undertook any of these blatantly unconstitutional acts, an outraged public would demand that he be impeached and convicted. Fearful of losing their majorities in Congress, GOP politicians would probably compel him to resign.
What’s more important, a fixation on Trump’s authoritarian personality obscures the real menace that he, with support from nearly every Republican officeholder, represents. They are determined to undo the progress made in social policy over the past hundred years. They would destroy much of the regulatory state, severely reduce taxes on the rich and corporations, make it harder for poorer citizens (especially those of color) to vote, cut way back on authorized as well as unauthorized immigration, leave every ill American at the mercy of insurance companies, and tear down the wall between church and state. Conservative ideologues have been developing this agenda since their failed attempt to thwart the New Deal. Trump is just an entertaining, if undisciplined, vehicle for fulfilling it.
A mass uprising against the new administration has been growing since last fall’s shocking election results. Americans will, one hopes, continue to demonstrate in the streets, challenge the president and his appointees in court, and organize to trounce Republicans at the ballot box. We have to keep building this movement of resistance with every peaceful means and in every institution to which we belong or can influence. None of that would be possible if fascism were truly on the march. But our main target must be Trump’s awful policies, not the despicable performer who boasts about his greatness, while his reactionary party is busy trying to make America meaner and less equal again.