But I mean “fascist” in the more clinical sense. For close to a year, and especially since his election as president, people have been trying to figure out Trump’s political principles: What does he stand for, how will he act as president? Various theories have been advanced. Some think he won the election by pandering simultaneously to different groups with conflicting agendas, and convincing all of them he was on their side. Was this a calculated exploitation of America’s “gimme gimme gimme” politics? Or was it the politics of a man who had no politics, who wanted to be president because, in our celebrity culture, it was the only job more glamorous than starring in his own reality television show? It has even been suggested, in the sole subject of conversation in Washington for the past month, that Trump might allow himself to be sworn in as president and then resign, having accomplished all he aspired to.
But now that we’ve seen a bit of him in action, it seems that Trump actually does have a recognizable agenda that explains how he simultaneously can pander to big business generally while “strong-arming” (the words of a Post editorial Friday) an air conditioning manufacturer to save a few hundred jobs for a while. Or how he can make nice with the authoritarian Vladimir Putin while making bellicose foreign policy noises in general. Or how he can blithely upset with a phone call the absurdly delicate balance of our relations with China and Taiwan. All this seemingly erratic behavior can be explained — if not justified — by thinking of Trump as a fascist. Not in the sense of an all-purpose bad guy, but in the sense of somebody who sincerely believes that the toxic combination of strong government and strong corporations should run the nation and the world. He spent his previous career negotiating with the government on behalf of corporations; now he has switched teams. But it’s the same game.