By Sunsara Taylor
February 27 Tuesday night, on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, I said: “A fascist regime has seized the reins of power in the sole superpower in the world. Trump and Pence are operating out of Hitler’s playbook, only they have nuclear weapons.”
The next morning, Fox News assembled a panel to debate whether I had “gone too far.” The Democrat on the panel, Julie Roginsky, insisted that only people who carry out mass genocide deserve such a comparison. She further argued that Hitler had immediately eradicated all opposition in the Reichstag (German parliament) and enforced all sorts of laws that she believed Donald Trump “would not enforce,” but also “wouldn’t be allowed to enforce.” All the pundits agreed: “Certainly there is no place to analogize anybody to Adolf Hitler in American public life today.”
I disagree. But, I am glad this question has come up. A lot can be learned by honestly exploring it.
History Never Exactly Repeats Itself, but There Are Real Patterns That Can Shed Light
First, let’s get something out of the way. History never repeats itself exactly. During Hitler’s rise, Germany was coming out of defeat in World War 1, was in the throes of a major depression, and faced a popular communist movement and broad sections of very combative and progressive working people. The U.S. ruling class does not face that situation. But it does face an international situation increasingly fraught with challenges to its geopolitical, military, and economic domination. It does face a situation in which different sections of the ruling class are sharply divided over the “legitimating norms” of society—that is, the common set of values and morality around which the society is broadly understood, held together, and cohered.
Quite a bit of this crisis flows out of the conflict between the foundational and structural character of the U.S. as a white supremacist society, and the way this has been challenged over the past 50 years—both through righteous liberation struggles and through major demographic changes, like the growing number of immigrants. And while the U.S. does not face a major depression right now, there is no work for huge sections of the working class (speaking here of the multinational U.S. working class, made up of Black, Latino, Arab, Asian, and other nationalities, as well as white), living standards and future prospects have gone significantly down for sections of the working class that do have jobs, and large sections of the middle class also face great uncertainty.
So, no, the U.S. does not face the exact circumstances of Germany; but the contradictions and problems it DOES face have proven extremely intractable. In the face of this, there have been increasingly strong fascist currents brought forward over a whole period of decades. In this situation, Trump has been able to cohere forces and come to power determined to carry out a fully fascist restructuring of society. And let us not fail to notice, Trump has already inherited—and has vowed to massively strengthen—a repressive apparatus that goes far beyond what Hitler inherited when he came to power. And, Trump—unlike Hitler—has unchecked personal control over the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and is clearly itching to use it. During a briefing, he asked three times, “If we have nuclear weapons, why can’t we use them?”
Fascism Advances Aggressively, but Also in Stages
Next, let’s set the record straight. In contrast to the simplistic and inaccurate view put forward by Roginsky (as well as Carlson), Hitler did not carry out all his greatest crimes on day one or even his first years in power. For example, while it was clear from the beginning Hitler had an anti-Semitic program of eliminating Jews from German society, this went through a process which included leaps as well as periods of stability during which many Jews unfortunately convinced themselves that the “worst was over.”
The wave of terror and the laws expelling Jews from many aspects of public life and the economy in 1933-34 caused tremendous suffering and humiliation, but was still not on the same level as Kristallnacht—the night of the shattered crystal—in 1938 when some 7,000 Jewish businesses were ransacked, over 1,000 synagogues were burned, many Jews were murdered, and tens of thousands were rounded up to concentration camps. And even that was not the same as the decision to carry out the full-on mass extermination of Jews which was made in 1942.
Roginsky is probably familiar with the famous quote from Pastor Martin Niemöller. What did he say? That they came for everyone all at once? No. He said, “First they came for the communists, but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist… Then they came for the Jews…” and on and on. He describes a process that was telescoped, but still a process nonetheless… and when you look at what Trump has already been doing, it is stark how far along the process today already is. It’s not for nothing that as early as midweek of Trump’s first week in office, protest signs started popping up that read, “First they came for the Muslims, then they came for the Mexicans, then the women, then the climate scientists, then the media, then LGBT people… and then it was Wednesday.”
Hitler utilized the incident of the burning down of the German legislature (the “Reichstag fire”) that took place early in his regime to single out the communists in particular for severe repression to jump-start this process. Trump has not yet had such an “incident” to use, but once one happens—whether it be something along the lines of the Orlando massacre or something staged or some combination of the two—does anyone doubt he will attempt to seize on this to qualitatively escalate repression? Even without such an incident, the dizzying pace of Trump’s repressive assaults should serve as warning.
So, what is the essence of this process? RefuseFascism.org has written: “Fascism has direction and momentum. Dissent is piece by piece criminalized. The truth is bludgeoned. Group after group is demonized and targeted along a trajectory that leads to real horrors.” Fascism is not just a collection of horrific policies, it is a qualitative change in how society is governed. Longstanding political and social norms are shredded, violence is whipped up and unleashed against demonized groups, the ability of the people and of oppositional forces within the governing structures to disagree or resist is obliterated with democratic rights essentially eliminated. All this sets the stage for, and makes it immeasurably difficult to resist, unfathomable horrors.
This is what Hitler did, and this is what the Trump/Pence regime is moving aggressively right now to do as well. Let’s walk through the most essential features and dynamics of Hitler’s program and how these same essential features are manifesting themselves today by the Trump/Pence regime.
Fomenting and Unleashing Violence
Trump, like Hitler did, came to power by lambasting all who opposed him as “enemies” and whipping up violence against them and the people. This goes far beyond the normal rivalries and often vicious power struggles within the ruling class. And this goes far beyond the “normal” levels of unjust government repression—political arrests and imprisonment, racist police terror and mass incarceration, massive spying and more.
Think about it: Trump led frenzied chants that his opponent should be locked up. He suggested she should be assassinated. This is important to grasp: fascists MUST attack and destroy the previous “rules of the game” which allow a certain degree of space for disagreement and argument over how to defend and extend capitalism-imperialism and intimidate other sections into silence in order to implement the radical re-ordering of society they intend.
And they DO intend to not just maintain but to qualitatively intensify the repression that masses of people face in this society. Trump openly longed for the days when protesters were “carried out on a stretcher” and offered to pay the legal fees of anyone who assaulted a protester. He bellows endlessly about “law and order” (police state terror against Black and Brown people), has massively expanded deportation forces and begun terroristic raids, all while downplaying or excusing the violence unleashed by his supporters against immigrants, Muslims, Black people, and others. Again, this is coming on top of—and intensifying—the already existing levels of terror and repression against those groups to a far more dangerous level. And it is just the beginning. Fascism rules through the open use of unrestrained legal and mob violence.
Bludgeoning the Truth and the Press
Trump, like Hitler did, has open contempt for the truth and violent animosity towards anyone who challenges his LIES. This goes far beyond the regular lies told by politicians and media. Trump is not only a world-class, habitual LIAR, he is working aggressively to destroy anyone who challenges his LIES. He calls the media “Fake News” and barks at them to “sit down” if they don’t ask “nice questions.” He has gone so far as to declare the media “the enemy of the people,” with the full threat of violence and suppression this implies.
He sends his political hitmen out to repeat his lies and to insist, as Stephen Miller did, that the president is always “100 percent correct.” And now, even as I am finalizing this piece, the news is breaking that the Trump White House has barred the New York Times, CNN and other long-established bourgeois media from attending their press briefing, even as they have allowed in fascist outlets like Breitbart and others. Again, all this is just the beginning. Fascism insists on a centrally determined “narrative” in which there is no objective measure of what is true, and is determined to break any voice or institution that does not comply with this narrative.
Subverting the Separation of Powers
Trump, like Hitler did, is subverting the separation of powers and building supreme and unchecked power in his executive branch. This goes far beyond even the grotesque expansion of the executive power enacted by George W. Bush and carried forward by Barack Obama. Trump has repeatedly made clear his intent to openly defy the courts. In his inaugural address, Trump broke with precedent by refusing to pledge any responsibility to abide by the Constitution, instead pledging allegiance to the people who supported him.
When the acting attorney general acted on the mandate of the U.S. Constitution, rather than the wishes of Trump to violate that Constitution, Trump immediately fired her. When a court blocked his January 27 Muslim ban, he called the judge a “so-called judge” and set him up as responsible for anything bad that happens to the U.S. Then he sent out his stone-cold advisor, Stephen Miller, to hammer home: “[W]e have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become in many cases a supreme branch of government. … The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.” (emphasis added)
Exalting an Exclusionary and Racist Vision of “The People”
Trump, like Hitler did, has fostered a seemingly “mystical” bond between himself and the section of the population he deems deserving of the title “the people”—meanwhile defining “the people” in an extremely narrow, openly racist way that feeds the logic of genocide. Contrary to popular caricature, when Hitler came to power he initially toned down his hate-speech against Jews (even as his minions continued anti-Semitic agitation and actions). Instead, he invoked his absolute devotion to the German Volk (i.e., the people)—but everyone knew that Hitler didn’t consider Jews, Roma people, communists, or others he demonized to be part of “the Volk.”
Similarly, Trump has pledged his allegiance repeatedly to “the long-forgotten American people.” But everyone knows he is not talking about Muslims (who he’s demonized and is working to ban), Mexicans and other Latinos (who he is already violently rounding up and deporting), Black people (who he threatens with even greater racist assault from the police and prisons with the code words “law and order”), women (who he bragged about sexually assaulting and said should be “punished” for abortion), or anyone who refuses to submit to his openly white supremacist, woman-hating, xenophobic program (recall his threat to imprison and strip citizenship from flag burners).
At the same time, Trump—like Hitler did—puts himself forward as a single, strongman leader against the “elites.” This coded language against “elites” (read: intellectuals) is straight out of the Hitler playbook, by the way, which goes along with the anti-Semitism that also suffuses the Trump movement.
Actually, the Hitler analogy in this case could serve to underplay how dangerous Trump is: Hitler did not come to power in a society which had built itself on the genocide of one people and the enslavement over the course of centuries of another, and then the imposition of a system of racist oppression even after that enslavement ended. All the more reason to fully confront the utter catastrophe the consolidation of Trump/Pence would represent and why it is so urgent to drive them out.
Deeper, Driving Contradictions and Needs of an Empire
Trump has come to power at a time when the U.S. is confronting major changes in the world and internally that threaten to spin out of control. Powerful uprisings and protests have shaken this country against police murder of Black people and others, even as white supremacy has surged. The country is equally polarized around the role of women, immigrants, LGBTQ people, the importance of science and reality of global climate change, and more. Starkly different visions of morality, justice, and humanity contend in a way not seen since the 1960s, and perhaps the Civil War.
Internationally, U.S. military and economic supremacy is threatened—by wars that have gone disastrously wrong in the Middle East and North Africa, by emerging threats from China and Russia, and many other factors. The post World War 2 economic and political order is going through upheaval, with the rise of reactionary and racist nationalism and fascism going on throughout Europe and the U.S., while Islamic fundamentalist jihadism continues to gain ground in the Middle East, North and now sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia and Indonesia. 65 million people are refugees from military and ecological catastrophe.
Trump seeks to violently reassert U.S. supremacy in the world and to remake society in a way that not only holds things together, but “Makes America Great Again” no matter what the cost. In doing so, Trump has drawn together several strains of fascism that have been building in this country for decades, including various white supremacists, as well as powerful (often overlapping) Christian fascist forces with enormous influence in the courts, the military, and high finance. This Christian fascism—with its enslaving view of women—echoes the Nazis as well, who criminalized abortion (for “Aryan” women) and erected a vicious cult that exulted motherhood while shaming and then eliminating women who would not or could not “breed” for the nation. Bob Avakian sounded the alarm on this 20 years ago and has developed this analysis since, and I urge anyone seriously trying to understand what we face to dig into this work. (Trump’s reliance on the Christian fascists is, ironically, one area where he could be said to differ from Hitler, who forged a different cohering morality; but in both cases, there was an absolutist moral code which deemed some people to be sub-human and undeserving or humane treatment.)
All these elements—and others which are gone into in various articles and analyses at www.revcom.us—work together as part of a package. As revcom.us has written, “Fascism is the exercise of blatant dictatorship by the bourgeois (capitalist-imperialist) class, ruling through reliance on open terror and violence, trampling on what are supposed to be civil and legal rights, wielding the power of the state, and mobilizing organized groups of fanatical thugs, to commit atrocities against masses of people, particularly groups of people identified as ‘enemies,’ ‘undesirables,’ or ‘dangers to society.’”
Fascism Must Be Stopped BEFORE It Is Too Late
But, Tucker Carlson taunted me, “If it’s a fascist regime, how are you on this show?”
This was nothing but a debater’s trick distortion. I clearly said a fascist regime has “seized the reins of power,” not that it has fully consolidated and locked their fascist order into place. And, that is exactly the point. Just like the key to treating a particularly aggressive cancer is to catch it before it has spread throughout the whole body, so is it necessary to rise up and drive out a fascist regime before it is too late.
Quoting again from Refuse Fascism’s Call to Action, “Even as the Trump/Pence Regime is moving fast, they have not yet fully consolidated their regime, or, as yet, been able to implement their full program. But, this is their objective and it is very possible. It might only take a single crisis—international or domestic—for this regime to drop the hammer. We do not have much time.”
For the very same reason that Hitler analogies shouldn’t be made lightly, when the analogy does shed light on the situation that we face every single person better look into it deeply and act accordingly, and with great urgency.
Go to RefuseFascism.org. Read and sign the Call to Action. Spread it everywhere. Act together with people across this country to carry out the four essential tasks identified: take up the single unifying objective to drive this regime from power; spread the symbol NO!; meet every outrage from the regime with growing resistance; and organize—working with all our creativity and determination toward the time when millions of people can be mobilized to stay in the streets night after night and day after day, demanding and not stopping until the Trump/Pence Regime is Driven From Power.
Do this not just for ourselves, but in the name of humanity.
Sunsara Taylor writes for Revolution, where this article originally appeared, and is an initiator of Refuse Fascism.