By Peter Baker
29 May 2016
The comparison was inflammatory, to say the least. Former Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts equated Donald J. Trump’s immigration plan with Kristallnacht, the night of horror in 1938 when rampaging Nazis smashed Jewish homes and businesses in Germany and killed scores of Jews.
But if it was a provocative analogy, it was not a lonely one. Mr. Trump’s campaign has engendered impassioned debate about the nature of his appeal and warnings from critics on the left and the right about the potential rise of fascism in the United States. More strident opponents have likened Mr. Trump to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
To supporters, such comparisons are deeply unfair smear tactics used to tar conservatives and scare voters. For a bipartisan establishment whose foundation has been shaken by Mr. Trump’s ascendance, these backers say, it is easier to delegitimize his support than to acknowledge widespread popular anger at the failure of both parties to confront the nation’s challenges.
But the discussion comes as questions are surfacing around the globe about a revival of fascism, generally defined as a governmental system that asserts complete power and emphasizes aggressive nationalism and often racism. In places like Russia and Turkey, leaders like Vladimir V. Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan employ strongman tactics. In Austria, a nationalist candidate came within three-tenths of a percentage point of becoming the first far-right head of state elected in Europe since World War II.
In Hungary, an authoritarian government has clamped down on the news media and erected razor wire fences to keep out migrants. There are worries that Poland may follow suit. Traditional parties in France, Germany, Greece and elsewhere have been challenged by nationalist movements amid an economic crisis and waves of migrants. In Israel, fascism analogies by a former prime minister and a top general have again inflamed the long-running debate about the occupation of Palestinian territories.
“The crash of 2008 showed how globalization creates losers as well as winners,” said Mark Leonard, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “In many countries, middle-class wages are stagnant and politics has become a battle over a shrinking pie. Populists have replaced contests between left and right with a struggle between cosmopolitan elites and angry nativists.”
That dislocation may not lead to a repeat of Europe in the 1930s, but it has fuelled a debate about global political trends. There is a tendency at times to try to fit current movements into understandable constructs — some refer to terrorist groups in the Middle East as Islamofascists — but scholars say there is a spectrum that includes right-wing nationalism, illiberal democracy and populist autocracy.
“On a world level, the situation that affects many countries is economic stagnation and the arrival of immigrants,” said Robert O. Paxton, a professor emeritus at Columbia University and one of the most prominent scholars of fascism. “That’s a one-two punch that democratic governments are having enormous trouble in meeting.”
Mr. Trump dismisses the labels used by those like Mr. Weld, a long-time Republican now mounting a quixotic campaign for vice president as a Libertarian. “I don’t talk about his alcoholism,” Mr. Trump said through a spokeswoman, “so why would he talk about my foolishly perceived fascism? There is nobody less of a fascist than Donald Trump.” (Mr. Weld, who in the 1990s reportedly appeared in public a few times having had too much to drink, declined to respond: “I’ll let that ride.”)
Americans are used to the idea that other countries may be vulnerable to such movements, but while figures like Father Charles Coughlin, the demagogic radio broadcaster, enjoyed wide followings in the 1930s, neither major party has ever nominated anyone quite like Mr. Trump.
Some opponents have likened Donald J. Trump to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini; supporters call that a smear tactic. Credit Associated Press
“This could be one of those moments that’s quite dangerous and we’ll look back and wonder why we treated it as ho-hum at a time when we could have stopped it,” said Robert Kagan, a scholar at the Brookings Institution known for hawkish internationalism.
Mr. Kagan sounded the alarm this month with a Washington Post op-ed article, “This Is How Fascism Comes to America,” that gained wide attention. “I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from conservative Republicans,” he said. “There are a lot of people who agree with this.”
Fascist comparisons are not new in American politics. A Google search of “Barack Obama and Nazi” or “George W. Bush and Nazi” produces many images of the last two presidents as swastika-waving fascists. But with Mr. Trump, such comparisons have gone beyond the fringe and entered mainstream conversation both in the United States and abroad.
President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico criticized Mr. Trump’s plans to build a wall on the border and to bar Muslims from entering the United States. “That’s the way Mussolini arrived and the way Hitler arrived,” he said. The actor George Clooney called Mr. Trump “a xenophobic fascist.” Louis C. K., the comic, said, “The guy is Hitler.” Eva Schloss, the 87-year-old stepsister of Anne Frank, said Trump “is acting like another Hitler by inciting racism.” It got to the point that his wife, Melania Trump, was prompted to say, “He’s not Hitler.”
Mr. Trump has provided plenty of ammunition for critics. He was slow to denounce the white supremacist David Duke and talked approvingly of beating up protesters. He has praised Mr. Putin and promised to be friends. He would not condemn supporters who launched anti-Semitic blasts at journalists. At one point, Mr. Trump retweeted a Mussolini quote: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”
Asked by Chuck Todd on the NBC program “Meet the Press” about the retweet, Mr. Trump brushed off the quote’s origin. “I know who said it,” he said. “But what difference does it make whether it’s Mussolini or somebody else?”
“Do you want to be associated with a fascist?” Mr. Todd asked.
“No,” Mr. Trump answered, “I want to be associated with interesting quotes.” He added: “And certainly, hey, it got your attention, didn’t it?”
Mr. Trump’s allies dismiss the criticism as politically motivated and historically suspect. The former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who has said he would consider being Mr. Trump’s running mate, said in an interview that he was “deeply offended” by what he called “utterly ignorant” comparisons.
“Trump does not have a political structure in the sense that the fascists did,” said Mr. Gingrich, a onetime college professor who earned his doctorate in modern European history. “He doesn’t have the sort of ideology that they did. He has nobody who resembles the brownshirts. This is all just garbage.”
Beyond Hitler and Mussolini, fascism can be hard to define. Since World War II, only fringe figures have overtly identified themselves that way. In modern political discourse, the word is used as an epithet. And even Hitler and Mussolini were elastic in their political philosophies as they came to power; Mussolini started out as a leftist.
Others caution against comparisons. “I read Kagan’s piece, of course,” said Volker Perthes, the director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, in Berlin. “All the phenomena he describes are raising concerns, but I would still not call Trump or his campaign fascist. Maybe with German and European history in mind, we are a bit more cautious than others in using the label ‘fascism.’”
Mr. Perthes said real fascism requires two more elements — an outright rejection of democracy and a harsher definition of order. Jobbik, the ultraright party in Hungary, would fall into this category, he said, but Norbert Hofer, the far-right candidate who narrowly lost the Austrian presidential vote, and Mr. Trump would not.
Charles Grant, the director of the Center for European Reform, in London, distinguished between far-right nationalist parties like Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and actual fascism.
“Historically, it means the demonization of minorities within a society to the extent that they feel insecure,” he said. “It means encouraging the use of violence against critics. It means a bellicose foreign policy that may lead to war, to excite a nationalist feeling. It takes xenophobia to extremes. And it is contemptuous of a rules-based liberal order.”
The debate about terminology may ignore the seriousness of the conditions that gave rise to Mr. Trump and his European counterparts. The New York real estate developer has tapped into a deep discontent in a country where many feel left behind while Wall Street banks get bailouts, newcomers take jobs, terrorists threaten innocents and China rises economically at America’s expense.
“It seems to me in developed and semi developed countries there is emerging a new kind of politics for which maybe the best taxonomic category would be right-wing populist nationalism,” said Stanley Payne, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “We are seeing a new kind of phenomenon which is different from what you had” in the 20th century.
Roger Eatwell, a professor at the University of Bath, in England, calls it “illiberal democracy,” a form of government that keeps the trappings of democracy without the reality.
“Elections are seen as important to legitimizing regimes,” he said, but instead of imposing one-party rule, as in the past, today’s authoritarians “use a variety of devices to control and/or manipulate the media, intimidate opponents” and so on.
Either way, it has found pockets of support on both sides of the Atlantic. Lilia Shevtsova, a political analyst in Moscow, said neo-fascism in liberal societies in the West stems from crisis or dysfunction while in illiberal countries like Russia and Turkey it reflects an attempt to fill the void left by the failure of Western notions to catch on.
The problem, she added, is that “the Western political leadership at the moment is too weak to fight the tide.”
How Far Is Europe Swinging to the Right?
By Gregor Aisch, Adam Pearce and Bryant Rousseau
May 22, 2016
The candidate for the far-right Freedom Party in Austria lost the country’s cliff-hanger presidential election on Monday by the slimmest of margins. Still, it was an example of the electoral gains made by right-wing parties in a growing number of European countries amid a migrant crisis, sluggish economic growth and growing disillusionment with the European Union. The right-wing parties included below range across a wide policy spectrum, from populist and nationalist to far-right neo-fascist.
Norbert Hofer of the nationalist and anti-immigration Freedom Party had emerged as the clear front-runner in the first round of the presidential election in Austria in late April, winning 35.1 percent of the vote.
In Sunday’s runoff election, he received 49.7 percent of the vote, narrowly losing to Alexander Van der Bellen, a 72-year-old economics professor and former Green Party leader.
Though he ultimately lost the race, Mr. Hofer’s showing was the first time the Freedom Party, which was founded by former Nazis and Teutonic nationalists in the 1950s, had come close to gaining 50 percent of the popular vote.
Mr. Hofer campaigned on strengthening the country’s borders and its army, limiting benefits for immigrants and favouring Austrians in the job market.
The far-right party, whose motto is “Austria first,” holds 40 of the 183 seats in the National Council.
Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice Party roared back into the government by winning 39 percent of the national vote in the 2015 parliamentary elections.
The party was founded in 2001 by Lech Kaczynski and his identical twin, Jaroslaw. Law and Justice first won power in 2005. Lech became president and Jaroslaw, eventually, his prime minister.
In 2010, Lech Kaczynski and much of Poland’s top leadership died in a plane crash while landing at an airport near Smolensk, Russia. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who was not on the plane, is now leading Poland’s shift rightward as the party leader.
Viktor Orban and his right-wing Fidesz party, running on a joint list with the K.D.N.P., a Christian Democratic party, have won the last two parliamentary elections in Hungary, worrying many Western leaders about his increasingly authoritarian rule. The party also decisively won in voting for the European Parliament in May 2014.
Jobbik, a far-right, anti-immigration, populist and economic protectionist party won 20 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections in 2014, making it Hungary’s third-largest party.
Its policy platform includes holding a referendum on membership in the European Union and a call to “stop hushing up such taboo issues” as “the Zionist Israel’s efforts to dominate Hungary and the world.”
Jobbik wants to increase government spending on ethnic Hungarians living abroad and to form a new ministry dedicated to supporting them. In a 2012 bill targeting homosexuals, the party proposed criminalizing the promotion of “sexual deviancy” with prison terms of up to eight years.
In late April, the party’s leader, Gabor Vona, said Jobbik would remove half its leadership board; some analysts saw the move as an attempt to purge the party’s most extremist elements before a bid to become Hungary’s governing party by 2018.
The far-right Sweden Democrats party, which has disavowed its roots in the white-supremacist movement, won about 13 percent of the vote in elections in September 2014, which gave it 49 of the 349 seats in Parliament.
Because none of the mainstream parties would form a coalition with the Sweden Democrats, which is led by Jimmie Akesson, the country is governed by a shaky minority coalition of Social Democrats and the Green Party.
The Sweden Democrats’ platform calls for heavily restricting immigration, opposes allowing Turkey to join the European Union and seeks a referendum on European Union membership.
Founded in 1980, the neo-fascist party Golden Dawn came to international attention in 2012 when it entered the Greek Parliament for the first time, winning 18 seats. The election results came amid the country’s debilitating debt crisis and resulting austerity measures.
The party, which the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner described in 2013 as “neo-Nazi and violent,” holds extreme anti-immigrant views, favours a defence agreement with Russia and said the euro “turned out to be our destruction.”
In September 2013, the Greek authorities arrested dozens of senior Golden Dawn officials, including members of Parliament and the party’s leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, who was charged with forming a criminal organization.
Golden Dawn, which again won 18 seats in parliamentary elections in September, was largely silent as the migrant crisis in Greece began, but in recent weeks, members have been marching in several areas where migrants are camped.
Party leaders, since released from custody as their trial continues, have said Golden Dawn is planning numerous protests around the country against what they warn is the “Islamisation of Greece.”
The National Front is a nationalist party that uses populist rhetoric to promote its anti-immigration and anti-European Union positions.
The party favours protectionist economic policies and would clamp down on government benefits for immigrants, including health care, and drastically reduce the number of immigrants allowed into France.
The party was established in 1972; its founders and sympathizers included former Nazi collaborators and members of the wartime collaborationist Vichy regime. The National Front is now led by Marine Le Pen, who took over from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2011.
She has tried to soften the party’s image. Mr. Le Pen had used overtly anti-Semitic and racist language and faced repeated prosecution on accusations of Holocaust denial and inciting racial hatred.
In the first round of voting in regional elections in December, the National Front won a plurality of the national vote (27 percent), but in the second-round runoffs, the party was denied victory in all 13 regions.
Ms. Le Pen is expected to be her party’s candidate in the 2017 presidential election and to make it to the second round of voting.
The far-right Alternative for Germany party, started three years ago as a protest movement against the euro currency, won up to 25 percent of the vote in German state elections in March, challenging Germany’s consensus-driven politics.
The party failed to win seats in the German Parliament in 2013 by narrowly missing the 5 percent threshold, but is now polling at 10 percent to 12 percent and is expected to be the first right-wing party to enter the Parliament since the end of World War II.
Support for the party shot up after the New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Cologne. The party “attracted voters who were anti-establishment, anti-liberalization, anti-European, anti-everything that has come to be regarded as the norm,” said Sylke Tempel of the German Council on Foreign Relations.
Frauke Petry, 40, the party’s leader, has said border guards might need to turn guns on anyone crossing a frontier illegally. The party’s recently adopted policy platform says “Islam does not belong in Germany” and calls for a ban on the construction of mosques.