Noam Chomsky on Whether the Rise of Trump Resembles the Rise of Fascism in 1930s Germany

No mat­ter where you are in the world, you must by now be well-acquaint­ed with the polit­i­cal chaos in the Unit­ed States. No one can con­fi­dent­ly pre­dict what’s going to hap­pen next. A cer­tain priv­i­leged few still find the sit­u­a­tion amus­ing; a cer­tain few have found a tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ty to increase prof­it and stand­ing, embrac­ing the mad­ness by embrac­ing Don­ald Trump, the celebri­ty real estate mogul some on the right have dubbed their “Great White Hope.”

A col­umn last week by the far-right nation­al­ist Pat Buchanan— whom Trump once denounced as a “Hitler-Lover”—ran with the idea, express­ing the para­noiac fan­tasies of thou­sands of white suprema­cists who have ral­lied behind the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee. Rhetoric like Buchanan’s and David Duke’s—anoth­er sup­port­er Trump once dis­avowed (then famous­ly didn’t, then even­tu­al­ly did again)—has demol­ished the “Over­ton win­dow,” we hear. America’s racist table talk is now a major par­ty plat­form: the prover­bial crank uncle who immis­er­ates Christ­mas din­ner with wild con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries now airs griev­ances 24 hours a day on cable news, unbound by “polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness” or stan­dards of accu­ra­cy of any kind.

Grant­ed, a major­i­ty of the elec­torate is hard­ly thrilled by the like­ly alter­na­tive to Trump, but as even con­ser­v­a­tive author P.J. O’Rourke quipped in his back­hand­ed endorse­ment of Hillary Clin­ton, “She’s wrong about absolute­ly every­thing, but she’s wrong with­in nor­mal para­me­ters.” There’s noth­ing “nor­mal” about Don­ald Trump’s can­di­da­cy. Its freak­ish­ness enthralls his ador­ing fans. But the mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who aren’t among them have legit­i­mate cause for alarm.

Com­par­isons to Hitler and Mus­soli­ni may have worn out their use­ful­ness in elec­tions past—frivolous as they often were—but the Trump campaign’s overt dem­a­goguery, vicious misog­y­ny, racism, vio­lent speech, actu­al vio­lence, com­plete dis­re­gard for truth, threats to free speech, and sim­plis­tic, macho cult of per­son­al­i­ty have prompt­ed plau­si­ble shouts of fas­cism from every cor­ner.

For­mer Repub­li­can Mass­a­chu­setts gov­er­nor (and recent­ly reject­ed Lib­er­tar­i­an vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date) William Weld equat­ed Trump’s immi­gra­tion plan with Kristall­nacht, an anal­o­gy, writes Peter Bak­er in The New York Times that is “not a lone­ly one.” (“There is nobody less of a fas­cist than Don­ald Trump,” the can­di­date retort­ed.) Like­wise, con­ser­v­a­tive colum­nist Robert Kagan recent­ly penned a Times op-ed denounc­ing Trump as a fas­cist, a posi­tion, he writes, with­out a “coher­ent ide­ol­o­gy” except its nation­al­ist attacks on racial and reli­gious oth­ers and belief in “the strong­man, the leader (Il Duce, Der Führer), in whom could be entrust­ed the fate of the nation.”

On the lib­er­al left, fig­ures like for­mer labor sec­re­tary Robert Reich and actor and Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty orga­niz­er George Clooney have made the charge, as well as colum­nists in the New Repub­lic and else­where. In the video above from Democ­ra­cy Now, Mex­i­can pres­i­dent Enrique Pena Nieto com­pares Trump to Hitler, and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty’s Robert Pax­ton—who has writ­ten arti­cles and a book on his the­o­ry of fascism—discusses the pos­si­bil­i­ty of Trump-as-fas­cist.

At the top of the post, Noam Chom­sky (MIT pro­fes­sor and author of the new book, Who Rules the World?) weighs in, with his analy­sis of the “gen­er­al­ized rage” of “main­ly work­ing class, mid­dle class, and poor white males” and their “tra­di­tion­al fam­i­lies” coa­lesc­ing around Trump. (Any­one who objects to Chomsky’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Trump as a cir­cus clown should take a moment to revis­it his real­i­ty show career and per­for­mance in the WWE ring, not to men­tion those debates.)

In Chomsky’s assess­ment, we need only look to U.S. his­to­ry to find the kind of “strong” racial­ized nativism Trump espous­es, from Ben­jamin Franklin’s aver­sion to Ger­man and Swedish immi­grants, who were “not pure Anglo-Sax­ons like us,” to lat­er par­ties like the 19th cen­tu­ry Know Noth­ings. Per­haps, as John Cas­sidy wrote in The New York­er last year, that’s what Trump rep­re­sents.

The his­to­ry of nativism, Chom­sky goes on, “con­tin­ues into the 20th cen­tu­ry. There’s a myth of Anglo-Sax­on­ism. We’re pure Anglo-Sax­ons. (If you look around, it’s a joke.)” Now, there’s “the pic­ture of us being over­whelmed by Mus­lims and Mex­i­cans and the Chi­nese. Some­how, they’ve tak­en our coun­try away.” This notion (which peo­ple like David Duke call “white geno­cide”) is

Based on some­thing objec­tive. The white pop­u­la­tion is pret­ty soon going to become a minor­i­ty (what­ev­er ‘white’ means)…. The response to this is gen­er­al­ized anger at every­thing. So every time Trump makes a nasty com­ment about who­ev­er, his pop­u­lar­i­ty goes up. Because it’s based on hate, you know. Hate and fear. And it’s unfor­tu­nate­ly kind of rem­i­nis­cent of some­thing unpleas­ant: Ger­many, not many years ago.

Chom­sky dis­cuss­es Germany’s plum­met from its cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal heights in the 20s—when Hitler received 3% of the vote—to the decay of the 30s, when the Nazis rose to pow­er. Though the sit­u­a­tions are “not iden­ti­cal,” they are sim­i­lar enough, he says, to war­rant con­cern. Like­wise, the eco­nom­ic destruc­tion of Greece, says Chom­sky may (and indeed has) lead to the rise of a fas­cist par­ty, a phe­nom­e­non we’ve wit­nessed all over Europe.

The fall of the Weimar Repub­lic has a com­pli­cat­ed his­to­ry whose gen­er­al out­lines most of us know well enough. Ger­many’s defeat in WWI and the puni­tive, post-Treaty of Ver­sailles’ repa­ra­tions that con­tributed to hyper­in­fla­tion and total eco­nom­ic col­lapse do not par­al­lel the cur­rent state of affairs in the U.S.—anxious and agi­tat­ed as the coun­try may be. But Hitler’s rise to pow­er is instruc­tive. Ini­tial­ly dis­missed as a clown, he strug­gled for polit­i­cal pow­er for many years, and his par­ty bare­ly man­aged to hold a major­i­ty in the Reich­stag in the ear­ly 30s. The his­tor­i­cal ques­tion of why few—in Ger­many or in the U.S.—took Hitler seri­ous­ly as a threat has become a com­mon­place. (Part­ly answered by the amount of tac­it sup­port both there and here.)

Hitler’s strug­gle for dom­i­nance tru­ly cat­alyzed when he allied with the coun­try’s con­ser­v­a­tives (and Chris­tians), who made him Chan­cel­lor. Thus began his pro­gram of Gle­ich­schal­tung—“syn­chro­niza­tion” or “bring­ing into line”—during which all for­mer oppo­si­tion was made to ful­ly endorse his plans. In sim­i­lar fash­ion, Trump has fought for polit­i­cal rel­e­vance on the right for years, using xeno­pho­bic big­otry as his pri­ma­ry weapon. It worked. Now that he has tak­en over the Repub­li­can Party—and the reli­gious right—we’ve seen near­ly all of Trump’s oppo­nents on the right, from politi­cians to media fig­ures, com­plete­ly fold under and make fawn­ing shows of sup­port. Even some Bernie Sanders sup­port­ers have found ways to jus­ti­fy sup­port­ing Trump.

But Trump is “not Hitler,” as his wife Mela­nia claimed in his defense after his sup­port­ers swarmed jour­nal­ist Julia Ioffe with grotesque anti-Semit­ic attacks. Although he has an obvi­ous affin­i­ty for white nation­al­ists and neo-Nazis (see his activ­i­ty on social media and else­where) and per­haps a fond­ness for Hitler’s speech­es, the com­par­i­son has seri­ous draw­backs. Trump is some­thing else—something per­haps more far­ci­cal and bum­bling, but maybe just as dan­ger­ous giv­en the forces he has uni­fied and ele­vat­ed domes­ti­cal­ly, and the dan­gers of such an unsta­ble, pet­ty, vin­dic­tive per­son tak­ing over the world’s largest mil­i­tary, and nuclear arse­nal.

Per­haps he’s just a taste­less, cyn­i­cal con-man enter­tain­er using hate as anoth­er means of self-advance­ment. He has non-white and Jew­ish sup­port­ers!, his vot­ers claim. He holds “cor­rupt and lib­er­al New York val­ues”! say con­ser­v­a­tive detrac­tors. These objec­tions ring hol­low giv­en all Trump has said and done in recent years. His cam­paign, and the response it has drawn, looks enough like those of pre­vi­ous far-right racist lead­ers that call­ing Trump a fas­cist doesn’t seem far-fetched at all. That should seri­ous­ly alarm any hon­est per­son who isn’t a far-right xeno­pho­bic nation­al­ist.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Noam Chom­sky Defines What It Means to Be a Tru­ly Edu­cat­ed Per­son

Noam Chom­sky Slams Žižek and Lacan: Emp­ty ‘Pos­tur­ing’

How to Spot Bull­shit: A Primer by Prince­ton Philoso­pher Har­ry Frank­furt

Rare 1940 Audio: Thomas Mann Explains the Nazis’ Ulte­ri­or Motive for Spread­ing Anti-Semi­tism

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (26)
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  • Patrick says:

    You accuse the right of fear and hate-mon­ger­ing in this dri­v­el. Sure­ly you’re smart enough to see the hypocrisy of your own state­ments.

  • John says:

    If Hillary was­n’t a crim­i­nal and liar I might be able to vote for her but it appears that the Don­ald is this years ver­sion of hope and change. BHO was so awful that the pen­du­lum has swung ful­ly in the oth­er direc­tion.

  • Ed Wood says:

    By “polit­i­cal chaos,” the author means “There is a can­di­date who does­n’t sub­scribe to the allow­able opin­ion with­in the para­me­ters of (a) gigan­tic gov­ern­ment and end­less war and polit­i­cal crony­ism and (b) real­ly large gov­ern­ment, end­less war, and polit­i­cal crony­ism.” Sta­tists like the author are typ­i­cal fear mon­gers whose warn­ings fail to mate­ri­al­ize again and again, but some­how they’re still tak­en seri­ous­ly. Laugh­able.

  • Josh Jones says:

    @Patrick: Did you actu­al­ly read the “dri­v­el,” or do you gen­uine­ly think ally­ing with neo-Nazis is benign?

    @Ed Wood: a) Trump’s promis­es to build a wall on the bor­der and deport mil­lions of peo­ple are not exam­ples of “gigan­tic gov­ern­ment”? How is this pos­si­ble with­out mas­sive expen­di­tures and mobi­liza­tion of huge num­bers of police and gov­ern­ment per­son­nel? It isn’t! Do you think Trump would end crony­ism? How? What makes him a ban­ner of integri­ty? Please explain. He’s already cozied up to the NRA and more or less promised give­aways to fos­sil fuel ener­gy com­pa­nies, under­min­ing all action on cli­mate change. His threats to kill ter­ror­ists’ fam­i­lies and rein­sti­tute tor­ture are not calls for more war? Or is all of this just emp­ty talk we should ignore because he does­n’t mean any­thing he says? The warn­ings above aren’t my warnings–they’re those of all the peo­ple I cit­ed. Are Weld and Chom­sky “sta­tists”? Laugh­able.

  • Dan says:

    The author made an error in stat­ing that Hitlers par­ty bare­ly held on to a major­i­ty in the Reich­stag. Actu­al­ly no one had a major­i­ty. The Nazis were for a time the largest par­ty but just a tad less than 40% and were los­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty rapid­ly. In the last rea­son­ably free elec­tion in Novem­ber 1932 they lost so many seats that Goebbels was in despair. After Hitler was appoint­ed Chan­cel­lor the next Jan­u­ary that changed. Groups like this don’t need majori­ties, just enough to have influ­ence in the right quar­ters. How the Nazis got pow­er is a com­plex sto­ry com­plete­ly rel­e­vant to our times.

    I also dis­agree with the sum­ma­ry that Trump is not a Hitler. That is more hope­ful than real­is­tic. We tend to believe that Hitler was some­how a one-off, some­thing par­tic­u­lar­ly evil. Actu­al­ly his char­ac­ter is com­mon­place. They exist every­where. Hitler’s sup­posed genius has been con­sid­er­ably exag­ger­at­ed. He was “far­ci­cal and bum­bling.” And also a “taste­less, cyn­i­cal, con-man”. The cir­cum­stances were just right, basi­cal­ly chances of his­to­ry. The Ver­sailles treaty just set up the per­fect cir­cum­stances for such char­ac­ters as many peo­ple at that time pre­dict­ed, includ­ing John May­nard Keynes and a lit­tle lat­er even Win­ston Churchill. Trump is a fas­cist and is a very great dan­ger to this coun­try and of course the world.

    The com­men­ta­tor above who called the arti­cle writer a typ­i­cal fear mon­ger­er whose warn­ings fail to mate­ri­al­ize does­n’t know his his­to­ry or any­thing about the present state of the world. They do mate­ri­al­ize, and often.

  • Josh Jones says:

    Thanks for the cor­rec­tion, Dan. I agree with your com­ments. In say­ing that Trump is “not Hitler,” I mean that he’s basi­cal­ly a dif­fer­ent kind of fas­cist, but a fas­cist nonethe­less. I also wrote that he’s “maybe just as dan­ger­ous” and that we should all be alarmed at his rise. Real­is­ti­cal­ly, I do believe that’s so, and that the con­di­tions are right in this coun­try for some­one like him.

  • Dan says:

    There was some­thing I did­n’t put in because I thought my com­ment might be too long but since some peo­ple might notice I sup­pose it should be added. There was anoth­er elec­tion in March 1933 where the Naz­i’s won back many seats. But that was after Hitler had been appoint­ed Chan­cel­lor so that elec­tion could reflect a cou­ple of things. One is an increas­ing dubi­ous­ness about the free­dom of the elec­tions. The oth­er is the cachet Hitler had achieved sim­ply by then hold­ing that office. What wor­ries me is the appar­ent legit­i­ma­cy attached, pos­si­bly sub­con­scious­ly, by many to peo­ple in posi­tion of real or appar­ent author­i­ty. Con­sid­er how far that com­plete idiot Sarah Palin got just be being cho­sen as a vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. Now Trump has achieved a sim­i­lar assumed legit­i­ma­cy among many which auto­mat­i­cal­ly increas­es his sup­port. Anoth­er scary par­al­lel.

  • A.pfeiffer says:

    As a Chris­t­ian I am alarmed and shocked by Trump’s pop­u­lar­i­ty in the church both in the u.s and Canada.jesus said “I am not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them”.this is a mes­sage of love,not hate and fear mongering.christians every­where need to wake up.

  • Stau says:

    Only had to ready the head­line to imme­di­ate think “Let me guess. It is!” Your bias is aston­ish­ing.

  • Bill W. says:

    Why vote for the less­er of two evils when one can vote for a bet­ter, third-option? I’ll be vot­ing Lib­er­tar­i­an this time around, John­son is polling dou­ble-dig­its against Trump and Hillary–meaning he has a chance (34% need­ed)!

  • Josh Jones says:

    @Stau: Ah, yes, I have an aston­ish­ing bias against fas­cism. How damn­ing.

  • Peter says:

    Steve Mosh­er, a Catholic con­vert, has giv­en guard­ed approval of Trump because of his list of pos­si­ble Supreme Court Nom­i­nees. Hillary would cer­tain­ly make the SC a Left­ist orga­ni­za­tion. From Cana­da.

  • Patrick Hattaway says:

    @Patrick…Dunno who you are, but you give my name a bad name.
    @Other detractors…Trump could be this bad. To think oth­er­wise is to be a poor stu­dent of his­to­ry.

  • Patrick Hattaway says:

    @Dan…What you say is cor­rect. Han­nah Arendt parsed out these ideas with great clar­i­ty half a cen­tu­ry ago, but his­to­ry is taught poor­ly, and less well remem­bered.

  • NikFromNYC says:

    Chom­sky is Marx’s chimp. Every­one knows this.

  • Erik says:

    Chom­sky is a moron so who real­ly cares? Wish I could block him from my world

  • Linda S. Coble says:

    Thank You.

  • Linda S. Coble says:

    Thanks again — for the per­spec­tive and the enlight­en­ing his­to­ry les­son. Do not fear that no one pays atten­tion to thought­ful and knowl­edge­able com­men­tary online. It’s the sound bite thinkers who are sus­pect.

  • Stuart LeVine says:

    Col­man’s love of Chom­sky, a fanat­i­cal left­ist wacko, is all you need to know to dis­miss this dri­v­el.

  • James Phillips says:

    When Bernie was run­ning, the com­mon wis­dom was “great ideas, but he’ll nev­er get enough sup­port to make them hap­pen.” This about a decades-long DC vet­er­an with a his­to­ry of bipar­ti­san deal­mak­ing.

    But some­how Trump, who is over­whelmed with detrac­tors and has made ene­mies on both sides, will eas­i­ly turn Amer­i­ca into a fas­cist state upon tak­ing office.

  • Henry Hildebrand says:

    I would like to hear more detail on the effects of the treaty of Ver­sailles, and the cul­ture that made Hitler’s rise so fer­tile. It may explain the blind spot in rea­son­ing that Trump sup­port­ers have, and (God help us) find a way to coun­ter­act their rabid vit­ri­ol and desire for destruc­tion.

  • MWBrown says:

    Google is your friend.

    You’ve already got Ver­sailles Treaty, now add Weimar Repub­lic, and you’re on your way to deep­er under­stand­ing!

    Good luck.

  • Wll says:

    His state­ments are valid. Sure­ly you under­stand that?

  • greg says:

    hes refer­ring to the notion that the usa is one that is gov­erned by ratio­nal choic­es, civic moral­i­ty and rule of law. trump rep­re­sents none of these, he rep­re­sents the oppo­site. i guess i was wrong about white trash amer­i­ca not actu­al­ly being trashy enough to vote him in. thank jesus its only a mat­ter of time before white peo­ple become a sta­tis­ti­cal minority—he is the death knell of the dinosaur obnox­ious white racists have been for over a decade yest havent had the good taste to rec­og­nize.

  • Rudolf Mencken says:

    The real ques­tion isn’t whether Trump is a fascist–this eas­i­ly beocmes either a mere swear word or an emp­ty his­tor­i­cal quibble–but how bad is he–is he as bad as a fas­cist?

    The answer to that is–barring some­thing on the scale of Hitler’s Final Solu­tion, which came at the very end of the Nazi apogee and arguably was not defin­i­tive for fas­cism as a whole–he will be ful­ly as bad when:

    - His pri­vate pro­tec­tion staff (schutzstaffel)–which cur­rent­ly does exist–becomes unit­ed with a con­sol­i­dat­ed State police charged with stamp­ing out all effec­tive polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion.

    - He becomes the ben­fi­cia­ry of some sort of Enabling Act that gives him legal dic­ta­to­r­i­al author­i­ty.

    - He estab­lish­es con­cen­tra­tion camps, death squads, kan­ga­roo courts, and/or oth­er com­pa­ra­ble means of phys­i­cal coer­cion nec­es­sary to main­tain a dic­ta­tor­ship.

    - He mobi­lizes the entire pop­u­la­tion through pro­pa­gan­da, huge ral­lies, and coer­cive pro­fes­sion­al and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions to unite in an orga­nized man­ner against Mus­lims and oth­er des­ig­nat­ed “ene­mies of the state.”

    Short of at least these basics, you don’t real­ly have fas­cism. A lit­tle pop­ulist BS mixed in with author­i­tar­i­an­ism, mil­i­tarism, aus­teri­te­ri­an­ism, and threat­en­ing lan­guage by itself does­n’t real­ly meet the test.

    The ques­tion is, how much dif­fer­ence, if any, does this dis­tinc­tion real­ly make? Bad enough is pret­ty bad no mat­ter what you call it.

  • harold says:

    W went from a lier to a super lie on steroiods. We have our first dic­ta­tor and will enact the agen­da of the john birch soci­ety aka tea par­ty aka Repub­li­can par­ty

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