Let’s be blunt about it: President Trump is inspiring fascism in America. And it is terribly important now that we name it.
What he says, and what he does, is making this evident to most people, especially the fascists themselves. This is not just true since the terrible violence in the recent demonstration in Charlottesville, Va. It has been increasingly true since the days of his candidacy, as he has encouraged those forces in America that promote racism, ethnic hatred, violence, and white supremacy.
The president has consistently vilified anyone who opposes him; he has disrespected and mocked Hispanics, African Americans, Muslims, women, and people with disabilities; now he is giving direct comfort and support to the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party, right-wing militias, and white supremacist groups.
When he leaves Washington to court his base at rallies around the country, he stirs his supporters in ways reminiscent of fascists from the past. His demagoguery, his threats to those who disagree, his support of those who disdain a democratic and diverse society, threaten our freedom.
I am the president of a community foundation, and the practice for leaders in positions like mine is to eschew partisan politics in service to the entire community. I believe in that, and I support it.
But this is not about partisan politics. It is not about Democrats or Republicans, or even about liberals and conservatives. It is about an existential threat to America and to the underlying values that led its earliest leaders to declare that “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are inalienable human rights. Slowly, all too slowly, America has moved to ensure that these rights are accorded without regard to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or identity. Those same early leaders enacted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to memorialize our liberties in American life and assert a rule of law that would protect them.
Now, the constitutional bulwark ensuring rule of law is being tested.
The president is under a special prosecutor’s investigation into questions of collusion between his campaign and a Russian government committed to disrupting the 2016 presidential election.
Among the triggers for this investigation: Trump’s repeated avowals of admiration and support for a ruthless Russian dictator and his disregard for the rule of law in firing the head of the FBI, which had been investigating his connections to Russia.
Trump told a delegation from that country that he had faced “great pressure” because of the FBI inquiry and that because of his firing of director James Comey, “that’s taken off.”
Still, the most ominous aspect is this: Trump is not a cause; he is a symptom. If he were to leave the presidency, the forces he represents will not be gone.
America is terribly divided today, and the source of much of it is an economic injustice that has been growing for four decades. Well over half the country lives one paycheck away from some personal disaster that can bring destitution, while a tiny percentage — myself included — enjoys unprecedented levels of economic prosperity. As long as the country is so sharply divided — with 1 percent of the population holding more wealth than the bottom 90-plus percent — the ties that bind all of us to the common good are far too fragile for stability.
It is this economic injustice — for blacks and whites — that threatens to topple our country into populist authoritarianism, rage, and racist hatred. We must resist the president’s tilt toward fascism. But we must also correct the underlying economic inequity that has fueled the strong response to it.
Eighteen months ago, I wrote an opinion piece that warned of Trump’s tendencies toward authoritarianism and fascism. I was told, “Don’t be silly; don’t worry: He can’t win the nomination.”
“Don’t worry: He can’t get elected.”
“Don’t worry: Once he takes office, the weight of the presidency will bring him to responsibility.”
But I am very worried. I am afraid for my community, for myself, for my country.
We must be clear about the problem because we are running out of time: These are threats to the very freedoms, the very values, that define America.
We cannot pretend that these politics are normal, that things are just a little bit out of kilter and will automatically correct. We must speak out. We must assert truth. We must force one another to be honest about the growing threats to our country.
One sign of hope: Regular citizens coming out by the thousands in Charlottesville for a memorial service recently, and then in Boston to counter a march by hate groups.
The people are leading. It’s time now for the country’s leaders — all of its leaders — to follow them in the same unequivocal denunciation of fascism.
Maxwell King is president of the Pittsburgh Foundation and a former editor of the Inquirer. firstname.lastname@example.org