On Monday's edition of MSNBC's "All In," Chris Hayes' guests explained what President Donald Trump's authoritarian tendencies signify about his view of the world, and of his own position in America's political system.
"I've seen it with Berlusconi when I was living in Rome, when they brought the neo-fascists to power," said history professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat. "I've seen it over and over again. The fringe people, the extremist people who had no power, who are, again, lunatics, conspiracy theorists, they actually get into the mainstream and there's no better legitimator than the president of the United States. So we're seeing a very concentrated and dangerous form of this process that's been repeated for 100 years with other dictators."
"And that's the key to breaking down any sense of reality," added philosophy professor and "How Fascism Works" author Jason Stanley. "You break down the mainstream media as an authority source. You go after the universities, you say 'They're not allowing free speech since they don't allow these nut-ball conspiracy theories in.' This is what Trump did with Birtherism."
"Right, but there's a bark and bite question always with this, right?" said Hayes, noting that Trump "likes to talk a lot of trash and doesn't like to actually throw punches."
New Yorker contributor Delani Cobb noted that Trump never bothers to condemn people who threaten or commit acts of violence in his name, except when cornered. "It's a kind of tacit endorsement, and we say that people can be damned by faint praise. It can work on the opposite too. They can be praised by faint damnation. So when you give these kind of half-hearted denunciations of things, what it actually does is encourage more of the same."
Stanley agreed. "You don't denounce the unofficial vigilante violence. You don't praise it, you just let it go, and so therefore sanction it. And I don't think this is innocent."
"Oh, I don't think it's innocent," cut in Hayes. "I want to be clear about that. I think it's malicious and nefarious, I just don't know how powerful it is."
"It is making the information sphere into spectacle," said Stanley.
"But it's also, he signaled — what authoritarians do, and they start this when they're still on the campaign trail, when he did that quote where in January 2016, where he said, 'I could stand on 5th Avenue and shoot someone,' he was being very intentional," said Ben-Ghiat. "He was giving Americans a message that he could be violent, that he would connect himself to violent people, and that he figured he was above the law. Because it wasn't just he was gonna shoot someone, it was also he'd have no consequences."