America is at a fascist turning point — and only totally disempowering and humiliating Trump will stop it

Will our leaders and media have the courage to do it?

Photo by Nathan Shipps on Unsplash

If Trump isn’t exposed as a weakling fraud, our country dies.

Battle lines are now drawn in neighborhoods, workplaces, and even families, as longtime relationships are torn apart over loyalty to America’s strongman fascist leader, Donald Trump.

The main key to fascism, the one element that shows up in fascist takeovers worldwide and has for a century, is the emergence of a strongman leader who uses age-old aspects of toxic masculinity to draw in and hold his mostly-male followers.

While the ground is typically laid by an economic crisis and political power vacuums, the strongman and his masculinity-based rhetoric and actions are key to the movement really taking off.

Whether it’s the fascism of the 1930s with its well-remembered Hitler, Mussolini and Franco, or the fascism of Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Bin Salman or Donald Trump, the key that turns on the takeover is a strongman leader who promotes a macho values set and remaking of society in a brutal and predictable way.

When we think of authoritarians, we typically think of men like just mentioned. But the majority of authoritarian-leaning people in society aren’t authoritarian leaders, they’re authoritarian followers. Science says they’re about 20 percent of any population.

While such followers may project their authority and compensatory “strength” by brutalizing their families or, when given legal authority like joining a police force or running a business, brutalizing their community or employees, at their core they’re longing for an authoritarian leader they can follow in the way the knights of legend swore “loyalty to the death” to King Arthur.

The attraction to the strongman comes from his projection of masculinity, which draws authoritarian follower-types like a magnet, usually demonstrated by his willingness to break laws and norms in the service of his power and his claimed (and usually simplistic) “solutions to the problems of society.” Misogyny is also always featured in fascistic authoritarian regimes.

While this behavior is typically seen as antisocial and/or criminal and shunned when done by politicians and “normal people,” when a political strongman does it, it actually enhances his power and his followers’ devotion.

The world sees this today with fascist leaders like President Rodrigo Duterte of The Philippines, who publicly ordered his police squads to execute drug dealers on the streets and in their homes with a bullet to the head, without even arrest or trial, leading to the over 10,000 drug-user murders that he frequently brags about.

Last week Duterte played the most naked of the strongman cards when he said that women, who he often refers to as “bitches,” are incapable of serving in leadership positions. “You know, the emotional setup of a woman and a man is totally different,” he said on January 14th. Having a woman as a leader, he added, “[W]ill drive you nuts. This is the sad story.”

It was his version of Trump talking about women bleeding (being weak) whether it was Megyn Kelly or Mika Brzezinski. It’s classic fascist strongman behavior.

From Bolsinaro to Erdowan to Putin to Xi to Orban, imprisoning or killing political opponents or “bad people” — brutality —confirms the strength of fascist leaders to their followers. Such illegal and extra-judicial behaviors actually strengthen the loyalty of their authoritarian follower base.

Trump putting thousands of refugee children into cages and executing more federal prisoners — most black — than any administration in the past 120 years is another homegrown example. He’s also repeatedly and regularly called for violence at his rallies, dating back to 2015, and frequently praises those who use or threaten to use illegal violence (including “his” police), even offering to pay their legal fees.

The strongman authoritarian fascist leader appeals mostly to men, who hold the majority of economic and political power in society, and to those fewer women who’ve been acculturated to submit to strong male figures. We see this clear pattern repeated over and over in the stories of the men and women arrested for the attempted murder of Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi during the failed coup of January 6th.

Even in poor communities — or particularly in poorer communities — while men don’t have the kind of political and economic power one normally thinks of when considering national politics, authoritarian-type men play the role of lords of their manors, and sometimes become the men who dominate — or at least cower — their own communities.

When Trump emerged as the nation’s uber-authoritarian, the alpha dog of national politics, the one man who was “brave” enough to openly express their rage at “others,” they jumped at the chance to fall into line.

So here we are at a turning point in America’s most recent experience with authoritarian fascism. (I outline the three other times in American history parallel to now in my new book The Hidden History of American Oligarchy.)

Weapons manufacturers funneled millions through their front organization, the NRA, appealing to insecure authoritarian-follower white men and making billions in profits, while leaving America today filled with millions of weapons that every other developed country in the world legally confine exclusively to their military.

Men desperate for money or fame built and promote propaganda-based radio and TV shows and networks featuring authoritarian hosts and commentators, further cementing the certainty and loyalty of Trump’s authoritarian-follower base. As Hitler noted, when the Big Lie (in this case “voter fraud”) is repeated often enough, it’s eventually believed by a critical mass of the people.

History shows that when an authoritarian leader is not utterly crushed, exposed as a failure and a fraud, and stripped of his mantle and patina of masculinity and strength, his movement will grow. Hitler, for example, came out of prison in the late 1920s stronger than when he went in.

Instead of exposing Hitler as a failed wannabe artist, grifter and small-time hustler using his charisma and oratory skills to lie to the German people, the administration of that day let his Big Lie of how Jews and Communists had “stabbed the German people in the back” by prematurely ending the winnable World War I persist, fester and spread.

Like a weed — or a cancer — it soon infected a majority of the German people, and once that happened the genocide and war Hitler perpetrated was all but inevitable.

Fascists within the Republican Party are already working to consolidate power in 2024 with authoritarian leaders like Cruz, Hawley and Cotton, and are supported by a small number of hardcore rightwing billionaires and foreign strongman fascist regimes.

By not repudiating Trump’s Big Lie that “voter fraud” commited by Black people in America’s big cities stole the election from him, these politicians and media outlets amplify and strengthen his appeal to his white authoritarian followers.

The future of Trump’s modern American fascist movement is now largely in the hands of the Biden Administration, the CEO of Facebook, and the mainstream American news media.

If they continue to soft-pedal the vicious behavior of Trump’s toady officials, to pretend that Trump has been pushed into obscurity, and to push the narrative that “it’s just a few crazies,” they will leave Trump in charge of his movement, just like when Hitler emerged from prison in 1924.

If he essentially gets off with a slap on the wrist, today’s American fascist movement will grow just like it did in Germany, and, in modern times, in more than a dozen countries around the world.

And that could well signal the end of the American experiment. The stakes have never been higher.

America’s #1 progressive talk show host & NY Times bestselling author. Thom’s latest project is the “Hidden History” series of books.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store