Is Donald Trump a fascist?
Op-ed writers have explored the question extensively over the past week or so, but because I'm definitely no expert in European political movements of the 20th century, I thought it might be wise to run the question past someone who is. So I reached out to Cornell University professor Isabel Hull, a historian whose work focuses on Europe's fascist movements, and is one of America's leading scholars on the role of fascism in history.
In an email exchange, Hull and I discussed where Trump fits on the sliding scale between "Fascist" and "Republican," and what that might mean for the future of the American conservative movement in 2016 and beyond. Below is the lightly edited text of our conversation.
VICE: People are beginning to use the word "fascist" to describe Donald Trump. You seem like an expert in this area, so I thought you might be a good person to ask whether that label is correct.
Isabel Hull: My first reaction is that he is not principled enough to be a Fascist. He strikes me more as a nativist-populist. That is, some one from the right wing, angry about various aspects of the present, longing for a golden past, and focused primarily against his own government, but not equipped with a set of adamantine principles to be put into practice, no matter what, and no matter the cost. Perhaps a more interesting question for you would be to ask if there is a genuine conservative running amongst the Republican candidates, as opposed to what in European history would be known as "revolutionary conservatives."
Commentators have used Umberto Eco's definition of fascism as a kind of litmus test for Trump's fascism. Is that a good approach?
Eco's seven signposts of fascism are an OK start, but Eco wasn't an historian, and most historians would be more specific than that. [Political scientist and fascism historian] Robert Paxton once made the excellent point that fascism in the US would doubtless come from the Christian fundamentalist right—and I think he's correct about that. But the interesting thing about Trump, as [conservativeNew York Times columnist Ross] Douthat pointed out, is that he does not have anything to do with the normal right wing Republican base, especially on such matters as religion and economics.