One problem with the degraded discourse on our college campuses, social media, and so on — the cheap shots, the shrunken vocabulary — is that that once-powerful words are so plentiful that they have lost their meaning. A “fascist” has become someone more conservative than you are; a “communist,” someone more progressive than you are.
There are still communists in the world — check out Pyongyang — and it has become increasingly clear since this past summer that there is at least one American politician veering quite close to fascism as well: Donald Trump. Ross Douthat of the New York Times published two columns recently, here and here, using Umberto Eco’s criteria to decide whether Trump is really a fascist. The answer? He comes awfully close to being an heir of Mussolini, but comes up short because he is not particularly attached to tradition.
But let us not let arguments over whether Trump is Roderick Spode distract us from the main issue, which is that Trump is proposing measures that would gut American religious freedom. We are now in the realm of constitutional principle, not political tactics. We also are in the realm of national identity. The story we tell about our country is a large part of who we are. It also is a large part of who others think we are and think about how we relate to them. I am spending this year in Berlin, and last evening my daughters and I were picking up some Turkish food from a nearby kebab stand. The manager had the TV tuned to a Turkish channel, and Trump’s “no more Muslims” speech was a top story. The world is watching us, and what they see is ugly.
Trump’s America cannot be the true America. So let’s keep piling on the man. Not just liberals and secularists, who were doing so anyway. Conservatives and religious people — and I am both — must clearly repudiate Trump and make clear to our brethren why. Give reasons. We rightly say that Muslims must do most of the work of persuading other Muslims to repudiate radicalism. The burden of defeating Trump and his reptilian politics falls mainly on us.