Donald Trump: The Reluctant Fascist

Until relatively recently, I’d assumed that Donald Trump’s political ambitions amounted to little more than self-promotion, not unlike Sarah Palin’s post-2008 career trajectory. Sean Illing suggests this is still the case and that Trump’s recent pronouncements can be seen as increasingly desperate attempts to disqualify himself while creating a media storm:

Like almost everyone else in the media, I’ve spent an egregious amount of my time analyzing Trump – Is he serious? What’s his strategy? Does he really want to be president? We’ll never know for sure what Trump was thinking when he lurched into this race, but this much is clear: He’s in over his head.

Rachel Maddow put an interesting question to her audience this week:

“It’s time to look seriously at this question, which is the question of whether or not Trump is trying to blow up his presidential campaign? Has he been spooked by his own impenetrable lead in the polls? Is he trying to get himself effectively kicked out of the Republican Party so there’s no longer a threat he might actually get nominated as that party’s nominee for president, or, God forbid, that he might win the office.”

Given how malleable his convictions are and how increasingly insane his proposals have been, it’s entirely possible that Trump is looking for ways to exit this race without appearing to quit. A “winner” like Trump can’t be seen losing to low-energy “losers” like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio – that would undermine his brand and thus defeat the point of running in the first place. If he does want out, he needs to save face, to leave on his own terms.

I’m not sure if I believe this. After all, there’s a psephological reading of his growing extremism: when a bounce is needed, say something outrageous, enjoy the media attention and rely on an anti-PC backlash from his supporters in the face of widespread criticism from the ‘establishment’. Plus he might actually be a bit of a fascist. All his public pronouncements show him to have a remarkable lack of expert knowledge, he’s manifestly a raging narcissist and his obvious opportunism has been on full display during the campaign. I find it plausible that the combination of these factors could generate a peculiar kind of organic 21st century fascism, into which he is capable of investing himself, even if it’s not a pre-existing belief as such. He is bringing his fascism into being on the campaign trail, as opposed to it being an expression of prior reflective belief.

Nonetheless, I love the idea of the front runner in the Republican race desperately trying to disqualify himself through ever more extreme statements, only to be cheered ever more emphatically by a disturbingly large chunk of the American electorate. I can imagine The Donald coming out of a rally, collapsing into an exasperated heap on his battle bus and wailing to his chief of staff that “I thought I’d really put them off that time!” What if he gets carried to the Whitehouse in this way? He whips up a popular movement that he has no choice but to try and lead? His pronouncements become ever more publicly extreme while he becomes ever more privately exasperated? I think there’s a political satire here: The Reluctant Fascist.