In her 2018 book, "Fascism: A Warning," former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, herself a refugee from totalitarians, cautioned that it is hubris at best and delusion at worst to imagine that fascism of the sort that ascended to power in 1930s Europe couldn't do the same here. The book was released two years into Donald Trump's presidency, and the ugly outlines of fascism were already discernible in Trump's conduct. Hitler, Albright wrote, "lied incessantly about himself and about his enemies." He duped millions of Germans into thinking that he "cared for them deeply when, in fact, he would have sacrificed them all." He strove to nullify limits on his power. He exhorted his supporters to harm his political opponents and delighted in the suffering of his victims.
There is a strong resistance to comparing anyone, no matter how vile, with fascist leaders, and with good reason. Four years of the Time of Trump, however, has made honoring this taboo more and more of a strain.
The famously cautious Joe Biden entered new territory on Saturday, saying aloud what most of the world has already concluded: America has a president who acts a very great deal like Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. "He's sort of like Goebbels," Biden said of Trump. "You say the lie long enough — keep repeating it, repeating it, repeating it — it becomes common knowledge." That, of course, is precisely what Trump does. He has been doing it his entire life. He did it throughout the 2016 campaign. And he has done it day in and day out during his presidency. With the polls showing him trailing Biden badly and the election only weeks away, more lying is what America will get. It is the only trick this one-trick pony knows.
To be precise, however, Goebbels isn't the only fascist Trump resembles, and lying isn't the only trait he has in common with fascists. Another is his refusal to agree to honor an election in which American voters express their will that he leave office. Asked last week whether he would abide by the most basic of democratic norms — the peaceful transfer of power from incumbent to challenger — Trump replied, "We're going to have to see what happens." He added: "Get rid of the ballots and we'll have a very peaceful — there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."
On Friday, Trump celebrated the painful injury suffered by MSNBC journalist Ali Velshi, who crumpled to the ground after being hit by a rubber bullet while reporting on protests in Minneapolis this spring. "It was the most beautiful thing," Trump told his cheering crowd. "It's called law and order."
During demonstrations in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the police shooting of an unarmed Black man seven times in the back, a teenager allegedly shot to death two protesters with an assault rifle. Trump fabricated the usual hogwash. The teenager, Trump lied, was simply "trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like."
Speaking in Minnesota last week, Trump channeled the "master race" rhetoric of German fascists of 80 years ago. "You have good genes. You know that, right?" he said, stroking his virtually all-white crowd. "A lot of it is about the genes, isn't it? Don't you believe? The racehorse theory." Seeking to whip up the nativist hatred of a Pittsburgh crowd, he targeted Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee who is not only an American citizen but also a member of Congress. "How about Omar of Minnesota?" he asked mockingly. "She's telling us how to run our country. How's your country doing?"
When the similarities are so obvious, it is no longer the making of comparisons between Donald Trump and European fascists that seems inappropriate but refraining from making them. America has flirted with fascists and fascism before. It happened here in the run-up to World War II. It happened during the era of Joe McCarthy. But it's never been as bad as this.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast. To find out more about Jeff Robbins and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our webpage at www.creators.com.