Donald Trump has been called a buffoon, an entertainer, a circus clown. He’s also been called a fascist. But he’s aiming to called Mr. President. What does the Trump campaign, and the voters it’s mobilized, have in common with Fascism, not only in Europe but in America’s own dark past?
“As long you have racism, as long as you have Islamophobia, as long as you have rampant misogyny, you’re going to have the wellsprings of fascist sensibility.” — Chris Vials
It Can’t Happen Here by American writer, Sinclair Lewis, was published in 1935, and later mounted as a play. Lewis was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1930. His novel captures how fascist thinking demonizes entire groups of people, how it tacitly or explicitly sanctions political violence — and how its rhetoric privileges emotionality over rationality, and charisma over substance. As fascism rose in Europe, Sinclair’s view of American politics darkened — hence the ironic title: it could happen in the U.S.
The hurling of the f-word — ‘fascist’ — has happened a lot since Donald Trump entered the American political stage. But name-calling is facile — and imprecise. So how do we distinguish fascism from authoritarianism, populism, ethnic nationalism?
Guests in this episode:
- Dalia Fahmy, Professor of Political Science at Long Island University in Brooklyn, senior fellow at the Centre for Global Policy, a think tank that studies U.S. relations with the Muslim world.
- Adam Gopnik, staff writer for The New Yorker.
- Charlotte Canning, Professor of Performance as Public Practice, University of Texas at Austin, Theatre and Dance. Historian of American theatre including the 1930s production of the play It Can’t Happen Here’ by Sinclair Lewis.
- Chris Vials, Director of American Studies, Department of English, University of Connecticut, author of Haunted By Hitler: Liberals, The Left and the Fight Against Fascism in the United States, published by University of Massachusetts Press 2014.
Listen to the podcast here.
This excerpt was originally published by CBC on October 28, 2016.