Is Donald Trump 'actually a fascist'?
© Getty Images

Michael Kinsley, a liberal/leftist opinion writer, has published an op-ed in The Washington Post (Dec. 9) titled: “Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Major Hollywood talent firm considering rejecting Saudi investment money: report Mattis says he thought 'nothing at all' about Trump saying he may leave administration MORE is actually a fascist.”

Kinsley concedes that the term “fascist” can be an “all-purpose epithet” that often signifies only that the speaker dislikes a particular person. That is not, however, the sense in which  Kinsley attaches the term to Donald Trump. He means to use the term “in the more clinical sense.”

According to  Kinsley, all of  Trump’s “seemingly erratic behavior can be explained — if not justified — by thinking of Trump as a fascist…in the sense of somebody who sincerely believes that the toxic combination of strong government and strong corporations should run the nation and the world.”

So, there you have it: in “the more clinical sense” of the word “fascist,”  Trump qualifies as one. What could be more convincing than that trenchant analysis? But, before we start awarding  Kinsley any prizes, there are at least three questions we might want to ask.

The first one would be whether  Trump actually qualifies as a fascist under  Kinsley’s own definition. One of  Trump’s most recent forays was his intervention into the Carrier air-conditioner company’s proposed transfer of jobs from the U.S. to Mexico. 

Trump made some phone calls to Carrier executives, and as a result some jobs will remain in the U.S.  Kinsley says that viewing  Trump as a fascist “explains how he simultaneously can pander to big business generally while ‘strong-arming’ (the words of a Post editorial Friday) an air conditioning manufacturer to save a few hundred jobs for a while.”

With all due respect, this is doubletalk. If fascism is, by definition, a view that exalts “the toxic combination of strong government and strong corporations,” why would someone who is supposed to be a fascist attack and presumably weaken a corporation such as Carrier?

In this context, viewing  Trump as a fascist explains absolutely nothing.

Another question that is of interest is this: if  Kinsley is right about the “clinical” sense of the word, how many other actors on today’s political stage also qualify as fascists, in addition to  Trump?

Do Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTrump attacks ‘Crazy Bernie’ Sanders over Medicare plans Overnight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight Overnight Energy: Trump administration doubles down on climate skepticism | Suspended EPA health official hits back | Military bases could host coal, gas exports MORE, Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHatch mocks Warren over DNA test with his own results showing '1/1032 T-Rex' Warren DNA test reinvigorates fight with Trump On The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race MORE, and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCarter Page files defamation lawsuit against DNC Dems fear party is headed to gutter from Avenatti’s sledgehammer approach Election Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight MORE believe in a weak federal government? This would be news. Democrats generally tend to believe in a strong, expansive federal government, so  Trump would not be alone in entertaining that belief.

What about strong corporations? Are all Democrats in favor of weak, unprofitable corporations? In the course of the presidential campaign, candidate Clinton said this about her proposal to give tax relief to corporations that institute profit-sharing plans for their workers: “Studies show profit-sharing that gives everyone a stake in a company’s success can boost productivity and put money directly into employees’ pockets.

That’s good for workers and good for business.” My ear might not be as finely-attuned as is  Kinsley’s, but that does not sound to me like the statement of someone who wants to see corporations weak and unprofitable. Maybe Hillary Clinton is another fascist.

Or, maybe we should ask a third question: does  Kinsley’s notion regarding the “clinical” sense of the word “fascist” bear any substantial relationship to the generally-accepted meaning of that word among native speakers of English? Here is Merriam-Webster’s primary definition of fascism: [A] political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized, autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

I would suggest that Merriam-Webster’s definition is slightly different from that offered by  Kinsley.

For one thing, I see no reference to “strong corporations” in the—dare I say it?—official definition of the word. I do see a reference to “severe economic…regimentation,” but to my mind that bears no relationship whatsoever to strong corporations.

Moreover, the Merriam-Webster definition refers to “autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader.”  Trump has not even been sworn in, and yet  Kinsley somehow knows that he will be autocratic and dictatorial. How does he know that? Would

Congress and the courts permit him to be a dictator? I have my doubts, even if  Kinsley has none.

Has  Trump exalted “race above the individual”? It may be that some far-right numbskulls that supported and voted for him have such ideas, but has Trump himself ever expressed such views?

If he did, I missed it. Finally, how can  Kinsley know, before Trump even takes office, that he will forcibly suppress opposition to his policies? The answer, of course, is that  Kinsley can’t. My bet is  Trump won’t.

Kinsley takes pains to distinguish his use of the word “fascist” from that of an all-purpose epithet roughly equivalent to “bum”. But, in the end, he doesn’t take enough pains. Instead, he invents his own definition of “fascist” and then—surprise!—he discovers that, at least in his own mind, Donald Trump fits that tailor-made definition. I would suggest  Kinsley might want to check out the Merriam-Webster definition of “foolish.”

David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the NYS Bar. He currently resides in Cary, N.C., and has published pieces on the Social Science Research Network and The Times of Israel.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.