Yes, Trump's new talking point is full on Nazi
But it draws from American fascism too.
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Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has been more and more openly embracing fascist rhetoric on the campaign trail.
At a Veteran’s Day rally in November, he described his enemies on the left as “radical thugs that live like vermin in the confines of our country.” Then this past Saturday in New Hampshire, he said immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.” He added, “They poison mental institutions and prisons all over the world, not just in South America … but all over the world. They’re coming into our country, from Africa, from Asia, all over the world.”
Trump reiterated his “poisoning our blood” talking point Tuesday evening in Iowa, then alluded to criticism he’s received for it, saying, “I’ve never read Mein Kampf. They said, ‘Oh, Hitler said that.’ In a very different way.”
President Joe Biden has, accurately, noted that Trump’s rhetoric “echoes the same phrases used in Nazi Germany.” Trump isn’t just echoing rhetoric though. He’s channeling the core emotional and thematic logic of fascism — a logic which justifies, and calls for, extreme and escalating violence.
So much for economic anxiety
It’s worth emphasizing first of all what Trump is not saying. In the past, he’s often tried to claim (with little to no evidence) that immigrants take jobs away from American citizens.
“They’re taking our jobs. They’re taking our manufacturing jobs. They’re taking our money. They’re killing us,” he said in 2015.
Statements like this led some commenters to conclude Trump was appealing to the economic anxiety of American workers. Numerous studies debunked this theory though. An important one showed “financially troubled voters in the white working class were more likely to prefer Clinton over Trump.” Trump was strongest not with poorer voters, but rather with ones who expressed high levels of racial anxiety and animus. In 2020, Biden won voters making less than $50,000 a year, while Trump won those making more than $100,000.
At the New Hampshire rally last weekend, though, Trump dispensed with any pretense. He didn’t dwell on immigrants competing for jobs. Instead, he framed them as dangerous in themselves; just by virtue of existing they are “poisoning the blood” of the country. The evil of immigration is less economic than existential, according to Trump. He uses imagery of America being overrun, penetrated, conquered. It’s not about jobs. It’s about purity.
Fascism and purity
Purity is at the center of fascist ideology and propaganda. Scholar Robert O. Paxton, whose treatment of fascism is considered the standard, defines fascism in part as “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity.” Jason Stanley in his book How Fascism Works notes that the central tenets of fascist ideology are “authoritarianism, hierarchy, purity, and struggle.”
Stanley also says that Nazism sprang out of the German ethnic nationalism of the 1880s, which was built on “a romanticized notion of ethnic purity of the German Volk.” This purity was defined in opposition to an imagined Jewish corruption; Germans were pure because they were not poisoned by Jewish blood. The Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew visualizes the link between Jews and contagion by juxtaposing discussions of Jewish immigration with images of disease-carrying rats. It also links Jewish people to sexual corruption, with the ludicrous claim that Jewish people controlled 98 percent of prostitution worldwide.
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And indeed, Trump’s “poisoning the blood” line is remarkably similar to Hitler’s rhetoric. From NBC:
The term “blood poisoning” was used by Hitler in his manifesto “Mein Kampf,” in which he criticized immigration and the mixing of races. “All great cultures of the past perished only because the originally creative race died out from blood poisoning,” Hitler wrote.
Fascist language about purity evokes imagery of disease and sexual violation. Trump in 2016 claimed that Mexican immigrants were “rapists”. This Tuesday, doubling down on his weekend comments, he said that immigrants could “bring in disease that’s going to catch on in our country.” The goal of this kind of language is to make marginalized people seem like an existential threat just by existing.
Historically, fascist rhetoric about marginalized people, corruption, and purity has been very effective in priming followers for violence. As one example Stanley discusses, Black men in the South were invariably accused of rape and sexual assault — of violating the purity of white womanhood — as a prelude to murdering and lynching them.
“The myth of the Black rapist,” Angela Davis writes, “has been methodically conjured up whenever recurrent waves of violence and terror against the Black community have required convincing justification.”
The great replacement conspiracy theory functions through similar dynamics. It suggests there is a deliberate effort by nefarious elites (that is, Jewish people) to dilute the white race through lax immigration policies and intermarriage.
This conspiracy theory has been around in various forms for some one hundred years. But it has been mainstreamed again in part through the efforts of Tucker Carlson, who ranted about great replacement ideas constantly on his former Fox News show. Trump’s primary opponent Vivek Ramaswamy championed the great replacement theory by name during the most recent Republican presidential debate.
Again, great replacement theories play on fears of sexualized corruption and worries that the purity of the white race in general, and of white women in particular, is being violated by Jewish people, immigrants, Black people, and outsiders. And it’s led to numerous mass shootings. The Tree of Life shooter who slaughtered 11 Jewish people in Pittsburgh in 2018 referenced great replacement theory fears. So did the El Paso shooter who killed 22 Latinos in a Walmart in 2019. So did the shooter in a Buffalo, New York, grocery store who murdered 10 Black people in 2022.
When Trump tells his followers that they are under siege by a corrupting force, he is not just mouthing the words of a foreign fascist. He’s reiterating precepts of purity, paranoia, and hatred that have led to violent murders both in America’s racist past and in its racist present.
The halfhearted pushback is not good enough
As mentioned above, the Biden White House noted that Trump’s words echoed Adolf Hitler’s. Trump’s GOP primary rival, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, said Trump was “disgusting” and that his words were a “dogwhistle.”
Other responses showed a good bit less moral clarity. Fox News sycophant Bret Baier defended Trump’s remarks by saying he’s married to an immigrant, which is a bit like saying someone can’t be a misogynist if they’re married to a woman. Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville argued that Trump should have gone even further in condemning immigration. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis went on CNN and tried to cast doubt on whether Trump was really talking about immigrants, while Sen. JD Vance told reporters that Trump’s comment was “obviously true” but was actually about fentanyl — defenses Trump immediately destroyed by going on Truth Social and making very clear he was in fact talking about immigrants.
You expect Republicans to disgrace themselves when talking about Trump. More disturbingly, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, when asked about the comments on Tuesday, waffled.
“What Donald Trump said and did was despicable,” Schumer said — a promising start. But then he backpedaled, trying to find common ground.
“But we do have a problem at the border,” he said, “and Democrats know we have to solve that problem, but in keeping with our principles.”
Instead of explaining to voters and constituents that Trump is pushing fascist conspiracy theories which have already led to multiple murders, Schumer felt he needed to cosign a kind of fascism lite, pretending that Trump is addressing a real problem, or has any interest in addressing one. This effort to find a way to turn blatant fascist propaganda into some sort of consensus talking point is an ominous sign for the border security deal that Democrats are currently negotiating with the GOP. If Schumer isn’t able to unequivocally denounce what is in effect a call to violence against immigrants, how is he going to craft a deal that treats immigrants fairly or compassionately?
This is the real danger of Trump. Yes, his words echo Hitler’s (even if Trump claims he never read Mein Kampf.) But what’s just as bad is they draw on America’s own fascist traditions and purity paranoia. Trump’s language is the language of lynching, of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and of course of Fox News. Denouncing him means denouncing America’s own myths of pure (white) community and spotless American heritage. Politicians like Schumer are reluctant to do that unequivocally, either because they themselves buy into those myths or, in Schumer’s case, because they believe voters do. Even Trump’s enemies are afraid to fully confront his hate; that’s what he’s counting on.
That’s it for today
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