Word scholar Donald Trump, who currently serves in a high office in the U.S. government, once modestly explained:
I beg to differ. I can think of many words better than “stupid.” Or at least words that I like better, and including words that are perhaps more important in trying to describe Donald Trump.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a little book called “A Brief History of Fascist Lies” by Federico Finchelstein, a scholar on the subject of that particular F-word, and its history.
The Trump era, for reasons that are obvious to those with eyes to see it and minds willing to entertain it, has put the subject of the F-word onto the table in America.
Some might argue that in dealing with Trump — for whom name-calling ranks slightly behind breathing and eating as a necessity of daily life — worrying about whether it’s fair or unfair, true or untrue, to refer to Trump as some kind of fascist is a waste of effort, or a case of bending over so far backward to be careful and fair that you only fall of your face.
I get that. But I’m a word dink, and I try to be careful about rhetoric escalation. And, although I have been using them for most of my life, I don’t claim to be a word expert.
Finchelstein, on the other hand, an Argentinian-born historian — who grew up in a country that some say has slipped in and out of fascism a time or two, and who now chairs the History Department at the New School for Social Research in New York — is a scholar of the amorphous meaning of the F-word (fascism) and people occasionally turn to him for help in understanding the similarities and differences between Trumpism and fascism, and between Trump and various of the famous historical fascists.
So on Monday night, after a combination of police from federal agencies and suburban Virginia, acting on Trump’s behalf and reportedly under orders from supine Attorney General William Barr, fired rubber bullets and then “flash-bang” grenades to stun and disorient a crowd of peaceful protesters so that Trump could proceed with a staged walk to a nearby church carrying a Bible, Finchelstein was asked how such a scene fit into or compared with the history of fascism. Finchelstein, who has carefully avoided ever explicitly calling Trump a fascist (for which I commend his caution) said of the overall event — mixing the excess of official violence against peaceful protesters with a staged picture of the leader, carrying an (apparently borrowed) Bible into church:
It was a display straight out of the fascist playbook, connecting political violence with religion. … Goebbels and Hitler would have been proud of Donald Trump. They would have appreciated the ways he lies and presents himself as a leader with a unique connection to the divine.
I will note for emphasis that Finchelstein carefully did not call Trump a fascist, and neither have I. He said only that Trump had used a tactic “straight out of the fascist playbook,” and that Hitler would have been proud of him.