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Is MAGA Fascist? An Analysis
Using Umberto Eco's 14 characteristics of "Ur-Fascism"
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The term “Fascist” is used so frequently nowadays that it risks losing its legitimacy, rendering it almost as meaningless as the term “Socialist.” And while it is often leveled at right-wing politicians, Conservatives have long employed the “leftists are the real Fascists” line in an attempt to mitigate criticism of their extreme tendencies.
For obvious reasons, many have noticed similarities between Donald Trump’s MAGA movement (which now dominates the Republican Party), and 20th-century Fascist parties. Pointing to Trump’s machoism, repeated law-breaking, and attempt to overturn the 2020 election, they claim Trump and his ilk are the ideological descendants of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco. Conservatives respond with mockery of “being too sensitive” and having “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” a disease that unfortunately cannot be cured with The Donald’s COVID remedy of sticking a UV light up one’s asshole.
So, which is it? Is MAGA Fascist? To answer this question, I’m going to be as analytical as can be when measuring the appropriateness of a subjective term. I have no interest in using an unnecessary buzzword, though I find it important to correctly label threats to society so they can be rightfully combatted.
Umberto Eco’s “Ur-Fascism”
To provide objectivity, I’ll use the 14 characteristics of Fascism laid out in the 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism” by Italian historian Umberto Eco. Raised in Fascist Italy, Eco’s early life was spent in the conclusion of the Fascist project. It wasn’t until African American G.I.s liberated his hometown that he learned there was a world outside the one created by dictator Benito Mussolini. His essay provides 14 points for the purpose of determining if a politician or party is Ur-Fascist, his term for the loose ideology from which the variations of Fascism (Nazism, Falangism, etc.) grow. The 14 points offer us concrete measurements to compare against, eliminating the all-too-common “vibe-based measurements” currently employed. They were also written over two decades prior to Trump’s election, meaning they far predate any assumptions about Trump.
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Before we begin, it’s important to note that Fascism is inherently contradictory. For example, the Falangism of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco was aggressively Catholic, while the Nazism of his ally Adolf Hitler was anti-Christian. Mussolini himself wavered between militant atheism and religious politics. He openly mocked God, yet asked bishops to bless his pennants. Most laughably, Hitler’s Nazism promoted the “master race” of Aryan Germans while demonizing Jews, yet Hitler himself held Jewish heritage while not possessing the blue eyes and blonde hair he claimed superior. The contradiction extends far beyond personal traits into the economic sphere. Mussolini demanded complete state control of the economy, yet appointed free marketeers as Minister of Finance. Despite being a fan of Capitalism, he promoted anti-Capitalist American Fascist Ezra Pound to puppet wartime propaganda from Italy.
The list of Fascists’ contradictions is as long as a list of their crimes. Besides pointing out that they are not good faith actors (I pray I’m not the first to tell you that), it is important to understand that something can’t be “proven not to be Fascist” just because it contradicts what was practiced by a past Fascist government. For example, we’re often told American Conservatives can’t be Fascist, as they “support small government, unlike the Nazis who like big government.” Along with being untrue, this is simplistic reductionism that does not clear one from the charge.
“Mussolini did not have philosophy: He had only rhetoric.” - Umberto Eco
Examining MAGA against The 14 Characteristics of Ur-Fascism
#1. The Cult of Tradition. An appeal to “the good old days” was a common tactic among the most prominent historical Fascists. Mussolini sought to “rebuild the glory of the Roman Empire,” while Hitler reminisced about the mythical German occult.
Obviously, “Make America Great Again” is an example of the Cult of Tradition, but it goes deeper. As Eco states: “(To the Fascist…) Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.” This is eerily similar to the Conservative mythos, which believes the Founding Fathers established the most perfect system of government ever known. It doesn’t need to be changed, but rather “understood” by our 9 unelected Ivy League overlords (who happen to discover modern Conservative policies in a 200-year-old document. What a coincidence!).
#2. Rejection of Modernism, or Irrationalism. No need to spend too much time here. I’ll simply leave you with Mr. Trump’s strategy for attacking Russia. I think you’ll find “irrational” is a fitting moniker.
#3. Action for Action’s Sake, and Thinking as Emasculation. This characteristic has two prongs. The first is that Fascists embody their masculinity and Do Things (see above), while their “weak opponents” want to “think.”
Eco also elaborates by stating: “Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism.” Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to spend a minute on twitter dot com knows the Right hates universities, seeing them as full of “Cultural Marxists” and “Woke” professors.
For those keeping score, MAGA is 3-for-3.
#4. Disagreement is Treason. This one also predates MAGA, as it has long been a tactic of the Right to call anyone who opposes them “un-American,” “commies,” and not part of “Real America.” But like most things, Trump turned the dial to 10 and broke off the knob when he accused politicians who certified Joe Biden’s 2020 election (including his own Vice President) as “treasonous.”
#5. Fear of Difference. Eco writes: “The first appeal of a Fascist or prematurely Fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders.”
I think we can all agree an “appeal against the intruders” is Donald Trump’s “thing.”
Next week I’ll examine Eco’s points 6-10. They include appeal to a frustrated middle class, life as permanent warfare, contempt for the weak, machismo, and more. Remember to subscribe so it is delivered straight to your inbox.
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