'We should be afraid' of the world Trump and his 'fascist' supporters envision: Historian
Supporters rally behind President Donald Trump during an October 2016 event. Image via Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore.

The political movement gathering around President Donald Trump looks quite a bit like fascism, according to at least one historian -- but it's not quite there yet.


Trump has turned the Republican Party into a personality cult, but his political movement still lacks some of the defining characteristics of fascism, wrote Leiden University in the Netherland lecturer Andrew Gawthorpe for The Guardian.

"Full-blown fascism usually emerges under the pressure of economic collapse or existential war, but it is constructed from pre-existing social and political raw materials," wrote Andrew Gawthorpe, a lecturer in history and international studies. "But while the Trump era hasn’t seen the rise of a true fascism in the United States, it has given us sharp and painful insights into the raw materials out of which a future American fascism might be constructed."

Fascism in the 20th Century will take a different form than its original incarnations in the previous century, Gawthorpe wrote, but it would almost certainly share features of ultranationalism, illiberalism, a regimented society and the forcible suppression of opposition.

"This fascism would, in other words, cut against what most Americans still recognize – even if only to give lip service to – as the core values of their nation," he wrote.

Trump's core supporters -- white evangelicals and other white voters fearful of demographic and cultural change -- seem willing to embrace the power of an illiberal state being used to punish their enemies, because they believe they face an existential threat.

"This ideology’s beating heart will be a white nationalism motivated by a belief that the 'true' (read: white) America is under siege from a combination of racial minorities and liberal elites," Gawthorpe wrote. "This conspiratorial worldview likewise lends itself to a support for using state power against these enemies of the people."

Some conservatives have been pushing to destroy liberalism to save their cherished values, and they're willing to overlook Trump's abuses and incompetence because they believe their enemies represent a greater threat.

"We live in a moment in which it has become possible to imagine an illiberal America, and (the far-right's) flirtation with the forces which might take us there," Gawthorpe wrote. "Illiberal intellectuals are starting to see the Trump movement as a force to be harnessed in pursuit of undemocratic ends."

"We don’t yet know the limit of what those chanting people at Trump rallies who say they want to lock people up and send them away would tolerate in practice," he added. "But we should be afraid to find out."