Stop calling Trump a ‘fascist’
Liberal hysteria over The Donald has reached apocalyptic new heights.
There was a notable event this week in the American mainstream-media landscape. Rachel Maddow, the grande dame of the vote-blue-no-matter-who crowd, said something insightful for once. She tweeted out a clip of herself speaking to fellow MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes on his podcast a few weeks ago. In it, she cogently described why definitions matter and what happens when words lose their meaning. She noted how, in the run-up to the 2016 election, Trump turned the tables on his journalist opponents by appropriating the phrase ‘fake news’ to describe their reporting. As Maddow explained:
‘So then you couldn’t use this term anymore to describe [misinformation from foreign sources], which we had been previously describing. And without a term to describe it, we then lost track of it. Because then it became a thing that had a meaningless name. And so then you can’t talk about that thing happening.’
She then moved on to talk about the f-word. And no, not that f-word:
‘There’s some of that… in how [Trump] is now calling his enemies fascists… Everybody who’s not Team Trump is a fascist… And then all of his enemies are fascists. And then the word doesn’t mean anything anymore, it’s just an epithet that flies around in politics.’
Rachel Maddow would know all about that word. Why? Because she has just published a book, titled Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism. The book attempts to compare support for the Nazis in the United States in the run-up to the Second World War with the present-day ‘threat’ posed by Donald Trump. According to a New York Times review, the parallels Maddow finds between the 1930s and today are ‘strong, even startling’.
Maddow is absolutely correct that throwing words like fascism around, willy nilly, does an enormous disservice to public discourse. The problem is, that’s exactly what she is doing herself. Even before her book on fascism, she had been using the f-word to describe Trump since 2015. And she is far from alone.
‘Donald Trump is a fascist. Use the word’, said Robert Reich, veteran of the Clinton administration, on Facebook earlier this year. ‘This is fascism. It’s pure fascism. It’s using violent rhetoric’, said MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough just last month, in reaction to Trump taking the piss out of Nancy Pelosi (‘a crazed lunatic’) and her husband (‘What the hell was going on with [him]?’). Were Trump’s remarks in poor taste? Maybe. Goebbels? Not really.
Robert Kagan, a neoconservative Washington Post columnist, wrote an absurdly hyperbolic article back in 2016 headlined ‘This is how fascism comes to America’. He also wrote a long screed last month warning that ‘A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable’.
Tom Nichols, described as one of the Atlantic magazine’s ‘in-house experts on authoritarianism’, decreed solemnly in mid-November that now is the time to deploy the f-word. Apparently, a speech Trump gave on Veterans Day, in which he railed against ‘globalists’ and called his opponents ‘vermin’, has finally earned him the fascist epithet. ‘Trump and Trumpism’, Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg claimed this week, ‘pose an existential threat to America’.
Clearly, if anyone has overused the word fascism, it is liberals and the left. In fact, they have so overused the term that the claim ‘Trump is literally Hitler’ is now endlessly mocked in internet memes.
The problem with so many of these warnings is that we have seen for ourselves what happened when Trump was elected in 2016. Democracy did not, in fact, die in darkness during his term – no matter how much emotional blackmail the Washington Post threw at us to make us believe otherwise. And as noisily as he has protested against the election result in 2020, he was nonetheless ousted by the democratic process.
I would also have a lot more time for the media handwringing over democracy if they hadn’t spent all their time during Trump’s first term trying to reverse the will of the Americans who elected him in 2016.
Since 2020, I have watched the political establishment (both Democratic and Republican) upend every cherished norm of the democratic process in order to get at Trump. The FBI raided his home. He has been arrested and chased through the courts. There is even a legal bid to try to get him removed from the 2024 ballot. Doesn’t the use of lawfare to try to disenfranchise vast swathes of the electorate strike these people as undemocratic?
Even putting Trump himself to one side, where was the mainstream-media outcry over the Twitter Files, when it was revealed that the US government collaborated with Big Tech companies to censor American citizens? Those who opposed Covid lockdowns and vaccine mandates had their free-speech rights trampled on. These Covid policies were themselves authoritarian and undemocratic, and yet they were also embraced wholeheartedly by the same media types who rail against Trumpism.
What about when the mainstream media parrots every histrionic claim from social-justice warriors as if it were the gospel truth? In recent years, apparently serious journalists have told us that transgender people are being ‘genocided’ and that we are all living in a ‘rape culture’. Do the meanings of words – important words like ‘woman’ – matter to hacks in these instances?
For years now, Maddow and her comrades have done nothing but pump fear and confusion into the public sphere. On issue after issue, the American media have utterly failed to deliver nuance, balanced reporting and decency. They have proved time and again that they are more than happy to burn down the house, supposedly in order to save it.
So spare me the soul-searching about how words are valuable and must not be misused, Rachel Maddow. It’s a little late for that.
Jenny Holland is a former newspaper reporter and speechwriter. Visit her Substack here.
Picture by: Getty.
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