I see that polite conservatives have taken to labeling Donald Trump a fascist. That used to be a confession of failure: when all else fails, call your enemy a fascist or a Nazi. I think it’s still a confession of failure, but if one thinks more carefully about the charge one begins to see just how hollow it is.
Oh, I do think the impulse to illiberalism, and even fascism is there. But you’ll find it in the Democrats, not in Trump. In recent days Bernie Sanders has proposed that denying climate change be criminalized. Excuse me, Senator, but that’s a thought crime. I had thought that 1984, if not the First Amendment, had taught us not to go there. Then there’s Hillary, our Madame Defarge, knitting her own enemies list, who indeed described Republicans as her enemies in the first Democratic debate. Is there anyone who believes that she wouldn’t surpass Lois Lerner’s IRS in attacking her foes?
Turn next to the Republican side. I don’t see any fascists there, but tell me, didn’t Chris Christie’s bridge scandal have the ring of truth? Couldn’t you just see him relishing the opportunities for payback? Then there’s Ted Cruz. A really smart guy, but doesn’t he strike you as a little mean-spirited, loud, and argumentative. Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m a lawyer too, and these are my people! But does it seem so strange to you that the Dems are hugging themselves at the prospect of running against Mr. Nasty?
That’s what missing with Trump. He likes jabbing his Republican opponents with his tweets, but you have the sense he’s having fun, that he doesn’t have a mean streak. He’s not Hubert Humphrey (“I’m just pleased as punch to be here”), but he’s still a happy warrior, and that helps explain why so many Americans support him.
There’s one thing more. Trump is a product of the age of Obama, of a president who for the first time fails to give Americans the sense that he has their back. The day after the San Bernardino killings, his Attorney General announced that her chief concern was Islamophobia, not simply actions but anti-Moslem speech. That, and Obama’s tendency to preach to most Americans as though they are heartless bigots, signals that he doesn’t much think them worthy of attention.
Tell you the truth, I don’t get a strong sense that the other Republican candidates have a tremendous fellow feeling for their fellow Americans either.