Trump supporters

A supporter of former President Donald Trump holds up a sign during a rally on November 18, 2023 in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

(Photo: Jim Vondruska/Getty Images)

Journalists Have Already Moved on From Trump’s Fascist Rhetoric—That Is a Serious Mistake

The disgraced former president repeats classic fascist rhetoric and has received enthusiastic support from contemporary U.S. fascists. You don’t have to ask me what that makes him.

It is profoundly surreal to observe that, in the year 2024, Donald Trump’s breath is rank with the fetid stench of fascism. Of course, fascism has visited the United States in the past, but it was still dizzying, late last year, to hear a former U.S. president pledge to “root out the communists, Marxists…and radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of the country” while despicably slandering immigrants for “poisoning the blood of our country.” There is no mystery here. Trump is parroting classic fascist rhetoric of the sort deployed by Hitler and Mussolini.

It would be tempting to dismiss Trump as a backward-thinking Neanderthal, like the character in The Great Gatsby who, after insisting that others heed his warnings about the imminent collapse of the “Nordic race”, is dismissed by the narrator as an ignoramus reduced to “nibbl[ing] at the edge of stale ideas.” The problem, of course, is that Trump is not a fictional character but rather someone with a very real chance of returning to the White House in this year’s election.

Unfortunately, media attention seems already to have moved on from Trump’s fascist rhetoric. This is serious stuff that will demand close and sustained scrutiny. Trump is putting fascism on the ballot and it is essential that voters understand exactly what his election would mean.

Because Trump has darkened our political landscape for so many years, it is natural to assume that everything about him must already be well known. Indeed, one of the challenges is to avoid being wiped out by Trump scandal fatigue. But the reality is that some of Trump’s most astonishing deviations from normalcy have received insufficient attention.

For instance, Trump’s celebration of fascism may seem like something new for the would-be U.S. dictator, but there is a much larger context here that is essential to fill in. I recall in the summer of 2016 being shocked to read that 1) there is still an American Nazi Party; and (2) its leader, Rocky Suhayda, was eagerly rooting for Trump’s election. I do not believe this has received much attention, and I have never heard any reporter ask Trump whether he rejects Nazi support.

Similarly, before the 2016 election, when the founder of a neo-Nazi website declared that “virtually every alt-right Nazi I know is volunteering for the Trump campaign,” Trump was not asked whether he accepted such support. Trump was, of course, asked by CNN about an endorsement he received from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Trump initially claimed he “[didn’t] know anything about what you’re even talking about,” refusing to reject Duke on national television—a reaction that members of the U.S white power movement enthusiastically welcomed as a tacit indication that Trump is on their side. The violent extreme right wing group known as the Proud Boys similarly inferred that Trump was with them when he, upon being asked to repudiate the group, instead told them to “stand back and stand by” (The Proud Boys, some of whom participated in the 1/6 insurrection, had Trump’s words printed on t-shirts).

Journalists understandably wonder how they can cover Trump in a way that does not treat him as just another standard candidate without abandoning professional objectivity. One commentator, Margaret Sullivan, suggests that “Perhaps the most important thing journalists can do as they cover the campaign ahead is to provide thoughtful framing and context.” Applying that to Trump’s fascist rhetoric, journalists can help fill in the context that helps make sense of his remarks by making sure Americans understand that American Nazis and white supremacists have been with Trump since his 2016 campaign. Reporters should also ask Trump whether he accepts their support—to my knowledge, he has never issued a public repudiation of support from the American Nazi Party and other fascists. It would also be worthwhile to check in with the American Nazi Party to see whether they continue to support Trump in his current campaign.

Donald Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, repeats classic fascist rhetoric and has received enthusiastic support from contemporary U.S. fascists. You don’t have to ask me what that makes him. Reporters can, and should, ask Trump.

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