It came as no surprise to overhear a young Donald Trump supporter assure his friends against accusations of fascism: "We're obviously not fascists," he protested as they walked past me. Thousands of peaceful protesters were broadcasting their anguish on Inauguration Day, souring the day for the outnumbered Trump supporters who had poured into Washington for the day's festivities. One of the most common chants heard in the crowds of protesters marching through the streets demanded, "No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!"
What is fascism and why do we care? Academics give fascism various definitions; some develop litmus tests. For instance, many academics insist that a hypernationalistic regime must be "totalitarian" in order to qualify as fascist, such that the state and the regime's ethos must reach into every part of an ordinary person's life. But of course we do not need to concern ourselves with fully developed fascism. We must instead know how fascist regimes develop so that we can stop them before it is too late. Much has been written on the formation of fascist regimes and the tools of their leaders, such as "charisma." I will address the ideological underpinnings of fascism itself because we cannot forget that people come to be fascists out of the logic of certain beliefs and values.
In other words, we must detect proto-fascist beliefs and values. This process of calling out such underpinnings is more of a tool than a science, but I have long believed that you can reduce fascist thought to three broad pillars: a belief in innate superiority, a value placed on order and a value placed on unquestioning obedience.
The core is of course superiority: fascists believe that certain individuals, certain nations, certain countries and (for Nazis with their pseudoscience) certain races are inherently superior to their peers. From this belief in superiority stems everything from a personal dictatorship (since the leader is superior to all others) to might is right politics (encapsulated by the so-called "realist" school of international relations). We know that belief in superiority is a vector that leads straight towards death: hate crimes, state repression and international war as superiority is fought for on the world stage.
Fascists draw the same conclusion and they prepare for war by attempting to mold society into an efficient killing machine. Fascists cultivate a value of order such that totalitarian conformity sweeps the masses, and they demand unquestioning obedience such that neither the press nor even facts stand in their way. As George Orwell terms the result of unquestioning obedience on the common psyche, "Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them."
Doublethink, which brings us back to Donald Trump and the "alternative facts" of his supporters. We are not wrong to warn against the dangers of fascism when Trump's campaign slogan was "Make America great again." Trump based his entire campaign on "American exceptionalism," on the belief in superiority. His treatment of women and signature slogan before hitting the campaign trail, "You're fired!," reeked of a belief in the superiority of some individuals over others. Trump's racism similarly reeks of a superiority complex. We know that the belief in innate superiority leads inevitably to fascism and death.
We say "no" because we prefer to live in a world where life is valued. Most Trump supporters do not see themselves as fascists, but they have already bought into tenants of fascistic thought. Self-aware fascists choose to live in a dark world with beliefs and values that bring suffering to the doorstep of their fellow humans. We choose to live in the world we live in. No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA! Life matters and it is our responsibility to let the general public, Trump supporters and fascists know that human suffering is a choice imposed on their compatriots.