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Trump Isn't a Fascist Leader, American Democracy 'Too Sick' to Produce True Fascism, Berkeley Professor Says

Cries of "fascism" often been uttered against President Donald Trump, but a sociology professor at the University of California, Berkeley argued that the term “fascist” didn't accurately describe Trump’s leadership.

During a presentation at the Havens Wright Center for Social Justice at the University of Wisconsin–­­Madison on Wednesday, Berkeley professor Dylan Riley explained how Trumpism wasn't a form of fascism, an assertion he expected would rattle some people in attendance.

“My sense was that the audience was fairly receptive to what I was saying,” Riley told Newsweek. “I think there were some people who expected me to claim that Trump is a fascist and may have been a bit disappointed that my talk was aimed primarily at deflating that notion.”

One of the points Riley made during his presentation was that American society and its politics weren't conducive to the widespread adoption of fascist rules and systems. According to the Badger Herald, Riley noted that facism had historically taken root in places with a strong working class population and a weak capitalist population, explaining that the United States’s political structure bore “no similarity” to that.  

“The paradox is that the reason that Trump is not a fascist is that American democracy itself is too sick to produce true fascism,” Riley told Newsweek. “I think it is very unlikely that true fascism will ever come to the United States. That doesn't mean that things couldn't get very bad, but people need to face the challenges in front them, not shadowbox with ill-understood phantasms from the past.”

donald trump, fascism, berkeley professor, dylan riley Demonstrators protesting the alt-right movement and mourning the victims of the Charlottesville, Virginia, shooting carry puppets of President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on August 13, 2017, in Chicago. University of California-Berkeley sociology professor Dylan Riley argued Trump's leadership didn't fit the mold of a fascist. Scott Olson/Getty Images

When it came to Trump’s relationships abroad, the Badger Herald reported that Riley said the fascist label still didn't stick. In contrast to fascist regimes focused on gaining land and “overturning international order,” Trump was more focused on conserving America’s current territory and power.

According to the Badger Herald, Riley argued that Trumpism was a form of neo-Bonapartist patrimonialism, which “demands loyalty to his personal power.” Broken down, neo-Bonapartism, as Riley explained in an article published in the January-February 2017 edition of New Left Review, was a form of rule that substituted a charismatic leader for a coherent hegemonic project. Patrimonialism was a style of rule in which government ran like a household, with power flowing directly from the leader.

“The distinctive feature of Trump's administration is that its style of rule is that of a family rather than a political organization per se,” Riley told Newsweek. “Second, I would emphasize that Trump's appeal to the electorate is not ‘ideological,’ but rather is based on a taboo-breaking boorishness that constructs a fictive intimacy with his followers.”

Riley added that the fundamental basis of Trump’s appeal stemmed from the idea that he’s “not a politician,” which the professor noted was entirely unlike the style of classic fascist leaders, such as Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler and former Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini.

Countless op-eds have questioned whether Trump was a fascist, and homework assignments have asked students to grapple with the same question in classrooms across the country. In protests against Trump and his administration, demonstrators touted signs about standing up against fascism as they chanted “No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA.”  

But when it came to the definitive group of fascist regimes that rose to power between 1922 and 1939 in Europe, Riley said much of the history was “completely unknown” to the American public. While many people have at least a “vague sense” that German National Socialism was fascist, he said they didn't have a good handle on what produced the phenomenon or its internal dynamics.

“I believe it is important that people understand the origins of the term and the historical thing to which it initially referred,” Riley said. “Otherwise, they risk falling into facile analogies and mistaken political strategies.”

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