Are Americans culturally self-centered

US presidential candidate Trump: self-centered, impulsive, but fascist?

Donald Trump has fascist tendencies. But the forces that support him do not strive for dictatorship, but for rule by the rich.

At first he doesn't have any similarities with Hitler and Mussolini, but fascist tendencies Photo: Reuters

Donald Trump is a man with no previous government experience and a tendency to make amazing public statements. His surprising rise to the Republican presidential nomination leaves observers puzzled: is he a fascist?

In fact, Trump outspokenly uses fascist themes in his roaring campaign events. He's riding around America's decline for which he blames Obama's alleged weakness and immigrants. He proposes drastic solutions: a wall on the border with Mexico, for which the neighboring country should pay for itself; Entry bans for Muslims; the forcible eviction of millions of illegal immigrants.

Such racist plans are incompatible with the rule of law. Trump mocks journalists and peaceful protesters and appears to condone violence against them. His style is also reminiscent of fascism: Theatrical arrivals by plane are Hitler's invention. Trump also gets the masses under control without any problems, shaking them up with an intimidating tone and insults. Its protruding lower jaw is reminiscent of Mussolini.

He is almost inevitably referred to as a fascist. But we should only use this label if it contributes to a better understanding. Although Trump's themes and techniques seem fascist on the surface, the social dynamics behind his rise are different.

Perversion of democracy

Hitler and Mussolini wanted to restore their countries to their old size by subordinating the individual to the community and a strong state. Trump's supporters want to limit the influence of the state and further reduce the taxes that the rich have to pay. The plutocracy they are striving for is a perversion of democracy that is clearly recognizable as American. The historical environment is also less unpredictable than in Europe after 1918 with its defeats, economic crises and rising communism.

Not so long ago, Trump attracted amusement as a rampant playboy. Its astonishing political success is based on several political and cultural processes that differ from those during the times of Hitler and Mussolini. Calling Trump a fascist prevents us from being aware of these processes and dealing wisely with them.

One development turned the President of the United States from a capable executive into a celebrity. So the US presidential election turned into a show, a bit like the election of Miss America. A candidate's ability to assess situations, their knowledge, experience, and leadership skills are less important to many voters than their attraction - a trivialized echo of the charism of fascist leaders.

Television has been instrumental in turning US presidential elections into popularity contests. One of the reasons why John F. Kennedy became president in 1960 was because he was well received in front of cameras - unlike the paranoid, sweating Nixon. Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, at least in part, for his confident smile.

The choice is made by the militants

Before the 1970s, US presidential candidates were determined in the smoking room by a few party honoraries. It was only after the youth protests of the 1960s that citizens played a greater role in the selection of candidates. The states have introduced very different procedures for this, such as area codes (as in New Hamshire) or city assemblies (as in Iowa).

In all cases, however, there is a tendency to choose the candidate that ordinary citizens personally “like”. Control over who runs for the presidency has shifted from party leaders to the most militant activists. Outsiders like Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump benefited from this.

The decline of the lower middle class, known from the classical sociology of fascism, is being relaunched in 21st century America. Instead of the general crisis, however, the reason is the economic recovery since 2008, which has not reached the middle and lower classes. So new wealth grows side by side - and poverty.

As services and the financial industry thrive, entire middle-class segments live worse than their parents, a humiliation no one in the United States expected. The victims are white, male, ill-educated, economically frustrated - and unprepared to partake in technology-driven economic recovery. They believe that idlers in Barack Obama's America enjoy unfair advantages. Her vague but bitter hatred of blacks, women, gays and everyone who are “politically correct” connects her to Trump.

The virtuoso of social media

So Trump's supporters “like” him for reasons that are irrelevant to his eligibility for the presidency. They want an anti-Obama who ruthlessly destroys the work of the current president instead of seeking consensus. Trump's vanity, his personal rudeness, his showing off only show them that he would strike boldly as President. They have neither the ability nor the desire to understand how much a President Trump could do to their economic well-being. They see him as a savior, not a potential dictator. Therefore, they are not aware of the dangers of handing the immense power of a US president into the hands of such an impulsive and self-centered person.

Social media is crucial: Trump is an absolute master on Twitter, Facebook and the like. His party is a virtual party of electronic fans. He is a virtuoso of the media explosion of the 21st century.

If Trump becomes president, this thin-skinned man who cannot stand opposition is likely to clash with Congress, the press and the courts. Would he then try to become a dictator - and force us to rethink our labeling?

German by Rüdiger Rossig