Donald the Duce?

This morning at breakfast, my wife asked me what Piers Morgan meant in calling Donald Trump a Fascist.  Without having read—or even intending to read the column—I was able to state with total conviction.

“Nothing.”

“He must have thought he was saying something.”

“Why would you say that?  People like Piers Morgan or Anderson Cooper generally have no idea what they are talking about, any more than Sean Hannity or Mark Levin have an idea.  The words they use can all be interpreted as varieties on “Yea Team! And Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo.  For all these people—fill in the editorial staffs of the New York and Washington Times—and virtually every other newspaper, syndicated radio show, and news website—words are only counters in a board game like Monopoly or Life.  

“The object is not to tell the truth or elucidate reality.  The point is to rack up points.  If Morgan had ever read anything useful on fascism, he would not have any interest in sharing information he would regard as useless folderol to be put into the cultural discard file, along with the American Constitution, the Bible, the collected works of Plato, Aristotle, and David Hume, and all the honest works of history ever written.”

Even though ‘it makes little difference what any of these pundits say about anything, I did look up Morgan’s self-inflating little squib.  After denouncing the Americans in the crowd for disagreeing with Piers Morgan, he summed up his position in a sentence:  

“Let’s be very unambiguously clear: what happened in North Carolina last night was not just racist-fueled demagoguery but bordered on fascism.”

Let me interpret this statement—which did not merely border on nonsense but crossed the frontier.  First, Americans who are angered by foreigners and their children who denounce America and its allies and do not even attempt to conceal their contempt for the American people are racists. Second, Trump, in ridiculing the pretensions of of a Muslim who hates Jews and Christians—talk about racism!—is flirting with fascism.

The question is not what Piers Morgan thought he was saying, but what hate-filled lie was he telling?  

Fascism is a complex ideology that evolved out of patriotism, nationalism, socialism, and modernizing secularism.  At its worst, it was a leftist revolutionary movement that owed a great deal to the French Revolution and post-revolutionary ideologies such as Comte's Positivism and socialism--both Marxist and Utopian.  At its best, it promoted love of country, protected private property, and accepted the fact that a majority of the population was Christian.

The primary objects included resistance to red revolution and the construction of a semi-religious ideology that would unify the nation against external enemies and internal divisions.  In the 1920’s fascist and semi-fascist movements sprung up, partly in response to the Russian Revolution and the spread of communism, in Italy, Spain, the Balkans, France, Japan, the United States, and Latin America. At one extreme, Hitler's national socialism was fascist and, at the other, such American politicians as Huey Long and FDR were also fascists in combining socialist and populist themes.

Perhaps the defining character was the socialist leader, Benito Mussolini, who had supported Italian entrance into WW II on the side of Britain and France and had been pushed out of the Italian Socialist Party.  Italy, which had gone through war and depression, was impoverished, and the streets of Italian cities were being overrun by Communist thugs who hated Christians, the entire Middle Class, and anything in Italian life that departed from Lenin’s nightmare state that was in the midst of murdering tens of millions of ordinary people who were not yet ready for the paradise he and his homicidal cronies claimed to be constructing.  

Ordinary Italians were terrified—far more terrified than ordinary Americans today are terrified of the the freshman Congressmen who have been dubbed “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Many, if not most, were alarmed by the Duce’s cult of his own personality and still more by his threats against free enterprise and the Catholic Church.  

Mussolini, in addition to being the leader of a political cult, had his pragmatic side.  He worked out a concordat with the Catholic Church that permitted Catholics to participate in politics and government with a clear conscience.  When his comrades-in-arms demanded the kind of national economic planning that his disciples in the American New Deal were attempting to implement, his response was astonishment at their impractical idealism.

He made two terrible errors.  The more obvious error was his pact with Hitler, which dragged Italy into a war it was not prepared to fight.  The less obvious, but equally pernicious error, was his attempt to impose a national ideology on the diverse regions of Italy.  He successfully degraded the rich Sicilian language into a mere regional patois, and he continued the ruthless policies of the Italian government (since the Risorgimento) in trying to eliminate the regional traditions and cultures that were and are Italy’s greatest source of strength.

In the first part of his career, the Duce was hailed as a philanthropic genius, and his ideas—though not his moderation and pragmatism—were imitated by self-aggrandizing politicos around the world.  It is no myth but plain reality that the leaders of FDR’s brain trust were doing their best to implement his wildest schemes.

If the Duce were around today, he would approve such leftwing nationalist policies as political correctness, the war on Southern symbols, the marginalization of Christian traditions, socialized medicine, and the crony capitalism that masquerades as the welfare state.

I hold no brief either for Mussolini or his party program, but they did have one good quality that is sadly lacking in latter-day fascists such as Nancy Pelosi and the Bush family:  Many of them actually loved their country and were willing to fight and die for it when their disastrous foreign policy lead them into a war they could never have hoped to win.  

Then how did fascism turn into the ultimate slur against a politician?  That’s an easy question.  During the war, the Communist and their allies in Britain and the United States devised a rhetoric to use against all their rivals and enemies.  Speak of marriage and the family, and you were (and are) a fascist.  Praise motherhood and motherhood?  Fascist.  Love your country?  Fascist again.  Oppose the nationalization of private property and resources?  Yes, now you understand.

None of these people, from Walter Duranty and Harry Hopkins to the Clintons and Obamas, cared about facts or history.  They had a winning formula, which was to taint every fine and decent thing with the charge of “fascism” to make it easier to eliminate or at least suppress them.

Now you know why Piers Morgan calls Donald Trump a fascist.

This is just a teaser, since I hope to take up the claim that President Trump is flirting with fascism at greater length.

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

9 Responses

  1. Avatar David Wihowski says:

    “The object is not to tell the truth or elucidate reality. The point is to rack up points.” What a perfect, succinct description of all the political blather I try to avoid (almost impossible these days).

  2. Avatar Robert Reavis says:

    Was Francisco Franco Bahamonde a fascist? Was Mussolini and Adolf Hitler both fascist in the Piers Morgan/ Donald Trump tradition? Do the Eastern cultures have fascists in their history? Middle Eastern cultures ?? Yes I agree with David in the object here being anything but reality or truth . Piers said it because he’s paid to say such things much like libertarians are paid to shout freedom in as many different voices as there are fascists.

  3. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    Franco would not appear to have been much interested in political theory or ideology. The standard story is that he absorbed the Falange Espanola, created by the younger Primo de Rivera, and turned it over to his son-in-law to manage, thus preventing the more enthusiastic adherents from becoming troublesome. He would certainly agreed with the emphasis on patriotism, Spanish unity, courage, and moral decency. To me, he seems to have had too much plain common sense to have spent much time on abstractions.

  4. Avatar Irv Phillips says:

    It seems to me that the word ‘fascist’ is only now being used as frequently as it has been in, say, the UK for at least the last thirty years. Every time I have ever heard a Brit (or my childhood friend who has lived there for twenty-five years) invoke it I can’t help but smile because I know it means “people I disagree with”. Think “racism”.

    I have a question for people a bit older than I: “Was this what it was like when Nixon was in office?” I imagine American journalism has become, mirabile dictu, even stupider and more dishonest than it was then but am I correct that there really wasn’t any effort actually to report news; rather, it was a way for the Great Minds to assure their peers that they had the Correct ideas? I can’t even pore over the gd sports pages without reading about some athlete whining over Trump.

  5. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    Mutatis. mutandis, the press in Nixon’s day was much the same as in our own: ill-educated, dull-witted, partisan, and dishonest, but the mutata do in fact make a difference. The level of decorum, literacy, and rationality among college-educated Americans of the early 1970’s were noticeably higher, which meant that a correspondingly higher level of fairness–at least on the surface–was expected of the press. In those days,. a man who detested the NY Times could still manage to read news stories in it. Today, an educated leftist would only be able to read such trash with a blue pencil in hand. The entire body of American reporters and commentators must strike the previous generation was a bunch of nasty children.

    Dan Rather appeared a step down from the old guard on TV but, until he cracked up, even he was superior to the current lot. The arguments against Nixon were usually based on considerations of the Constitution and the facts such as the press was willing to inform us. Of course, they had tried, convicted, and hanged the man before his reelection, but they, with the exception of Rather and a few others, nonetheless, preserved something of an appearance of sobriety and fairness.

  6. Avatar Irv Phillips says:

    In my opinion, the 2016 election represented something of a journalistic crackup: the media went from merely dumb and biased to bat-shit crazy. I can’t imagine even attempting to have a conversation with many of these people. On top of all that, their writing is wretched. Are there copy editors anymore?

  7. Avatar Jacob Johnson says:

    The lack of nuance employed by various pundits who are opposed to the current variety of leftism, and seek to defend themselves, Trump, or others from the label fascism is a bit strange. One often hears things like “isn’t it ironic that the so called anti-fascists behave exactly like fascists?” I also remember hearing a pundit famous for three minute videos of him telling college students there are only two sexes say on the radio that the anti-leftist running for office somewhere who apparently shoved a leftist journalist to the ground was being a fascist in doing so. Is there anything at all about politically motivated physical intimidation specific to fascism, or even to any modern ideology? Isn’t this just a generic feature of human conflict?

  8. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    Fascist activists were perfectly willing to use force, particularly when attacked by Communist activists, but if one tots up the number of people murdered by Fascist Italy as government policy and compares it with Communist states like the USSR and China, the ratio is something like one to a million. As for repression of speech and other “liberties,” all authoritarian modernist states engage in such behavior, as does the “democratic” USA. In the New Deal years, FDR personally contacted editors hoping to silence writers like Mencken, Nock, and John Flynn. Of course, the American method for 100 years has been to send people to Coventry rather than to jail, by denying jobs and media access to anyone who seriously criticized the regime’s ideology. They fail sometimes, but the general effect is to silence any opposition to the right of or more fundamental than what talk radio dishes out. For all his virtues, Rush Limbaugh is more or less a Jacobin promoting global democracy and American exceptionalism. If he were to wake up knowing better, he would either have to lie or go off the air.

    When I speak frankly in private to people–and not about race and religion–I am usually told, “You can’t say that” or “Why don’t you say what you really mean?” It is this stifling air of conformity that makes public discourse about politics and history intolerably dull and stupid and brings it down to the level of sports talk radio.

  9. Avatar Harry Colin says:

    To supplement Dr. Fleming’s last point, when Limbaugh first took to the airwaves way back when, he talked often about the evils of abortion, and had that flushing sound effect playing in the background. Once he became popular enough to reach big-time syndication and multi-zillion dollar contracts, his mention of abortion went way down. I don’t listen to him anymore, but I remember him mentioning it in later years only every four years, on cue with the GOP stalwarts, who told everyone that we’re on the cusp of reversing Roe v. Wade, until the election of course, when war-mongering resumed as top priority.