I pretty much loathe formal definitions, but they'll do as a gateway drug into concepts that try and capture real movement and, dare I say it, momentum. Formally speaking then, if Trump was a fascist, he'd be calling for deportation, forgetting most American Muslims were born under the Stars and Stripes. Then again, reasoned opinion has never been the hallmark of fascist politics. The second formality concerns the character of historical fascism. In Italy, in Germany, in every country that excreted a sizeable movement, fascist parties ran their own militias and used them to attack rival parties - particularly communists and social democrats. And when they had state power at their disposal, well ... the world remains scarred by their horrifying crimes. Whatever you think of Trump's base, of which more shortly, as a rule they're not besieging trade union meetings or turning over tables at local Democrat committees.
What do actual, real, unambiguous fascists say about Trump's campaign? William Daniel Johnson of the American Freedom Party is very supportive. "What he espouses is the closest thing to (white) nationalism that we have seen since the Jingoistic era of Theodore Roosevelt ... Virtually all pro-white nationalists are at least somewhat supportive of Donald Trump and most are even enthusiastic ...". And how about "Heil Donald Trump, the ultimate saviour" says another. A case of by their friends shall ye know them?
One out of three obviously means Trump is no fascist. This, however, is where matters start getting complex. The Trump phenomenon is a movement, a lightning rod for an array of social forces embedded deep inside American society. His nomination bid has galvanised a layer of the population into passive support for his candidacy, so far. The question is where it's all going. At the moment, Trump looks set to grab the Republican nomination, unless the party bigwigs can cut him out - thereby likely splitting the right wing vote in the coming election and risking coming third behind Trump and the Democrat. Or Trump himself decides to throw the towel in, though with a runaway lead he'd be a fool to. Then again, this is a candidate not known for his close relationship with rational thought.
Like other similar movements across the Western world - UKIP here, the Front National over the channel, assorted racist populists further east and like classical fascism Trump pulls support from declassed layers - it's deeply rooted in significant structural transformations industrialised countries have undergone these last 30-odd years. And, as always, America is something of a special case. Lyndon B Johnson's prediction that the Democrats had lost the South for a generation because of its support for civil rights was met with the GOP's more or less successful southern strategy. The southern white American rural proletarian has always led a precarious existence, being dependent on the weather and fickle agricultural markets for prosperity, an existence punctuated by turns at wage earning, turns at running a small business. But never mind how insecure and anxious the existence, there were always black folks one could look down upon. Well, no, it's more complex than that. With the south's defeat in the civil war and the emancipation proclamation, white rural workers' continued animosity was conditioned by Jim Crow laws and officially sanctioned racism, but its sustenance was drawn from the competition with black workers for employment, the low wages employers were paying, and - from a petit bourgeois perspective - the competition for land and markets. And, of course, the institutions of the south did nothing to encourage the view that black workers were compatriots one should combine with, not competitors to be reviled. African-Americans were familiar yet exotic, known but unknown, a part of everyday life and an existential threat.
Racism may not have the sway it once possessed, but it stubbornly clings on across the states because the sort of precarity that underpinned mass support for racism and racist movements in the south is nationwide. Gone there, as here, are the jobs-for-life and the security of knowing one's place in the world. Yet, again drawing deep on American political traditions, "them" - of which Trump is, ironically, a crystallisation - are doing nicely thank you very much while "us"/"we" are losing our jobs to immigrants (Mexicans). Worse, "they" are pushing policies that encourage immigration, and are allowing the principles that once made America great to fall into disuse or, worse, get trampled on by a mixed race horde of gays, Muslims, loose women, and liberals. These are the scapegoats because it makes sense to pin one's situation on perceived bad guys. They're tangible. Large, abstract, impersonal, and invisible melanges of class interests and capital flows are not. UKIP does this. Le Pen does it. Someone else did it too.
The question is what is Trump going to do with the constituency he's tapped into? The answer, for the moment, is not a lot. He can count on the Tea Party for assistance. He might even be able to bring in the backwoods militia people with his second amendment fundamentalism. But there is no political programme as such beyond ban immigration and Muslims, no reason why disaffected people should get involved. His organisation is less an army of volunteers and more a bankrolled outfit. A small number of his support will make it to his rallies, where they let off steam via his moronic monologues and saying the unsayable. And that's what they're content to do. Like someone sending abusive tweets to MPs, a simulacra of defiance and naysaying will do. Trump's movement may contain the political dregs of American society, it might be attractive to fascists, but that doesn't make it fascist. It's still well within the traditions of (racist) American populism.
And, of course, one of the beauties of this is it should demonstrate once and for all that while its possible to mobilise a selectorate - in this case registered Republicans - behind a populist candidate, it's impossible to win on the basis of a core vote strategy. And while one is tempted to trough on the popcorn as American conservatism eats itself, Trump remains a very dangerous politician. He is the culmination of the unhinged right-wingery of a section of US capital and conservatism, one so politically and ideologically bankrupt that any old rope will do as it desperately scrambles to preserve its power and influence in the face of change. But as Trump peddles his idiocy, how many gun nuts are going to be inspired by his rhetoric? How many racists will find encouragement to firebomb a mosque or attack Muslims because Trump's effectively green lighting it? Thank goodness he'll never get within sniffing distance of the presidency, because if he did end up in the White House then it will be necessary to return to this question.