No, Trumpism Isn't Socialism

The GOP moves toward a sinister kind of collectivism. 

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The Republicans have made such a habit of pinning the word “socialism” to policies they don’t like it’s natural for critics to cry foul when the GOP supports “socialism.” 

When the Trump administration spent billions on farm subsidies to offset the affect of import tariffs; when it raised levies on foreign steel-makers to prop up domestic manufacturers; when it reviewed plans to buy uranium directly from struggling mining interests; when it tried to gut renewable energy policy to help coal mining firms that can’t compete—liberal critics said these and other acts belie the party’s stated belief in free markets and free individuals, and together illustrate how barren its values are.


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To these liberal critics, I say that’s jim-dandy as far as it goes. But being critical of hypocrisy doesn’t go far. We should resist the tendency toward gotcha in order to establish a meaningful discussion of statecraft we want to have. Not all government activism is socialism, obviously, but the GOP has succeeded in making its argument stick—so much so that liberal critics can’t stop to consider that the GOP isn’t being hypocritical so much as moving in the direction of different kind of collectivism. 

Liberal critics aren’t alone. GOP propaganda on “socialism” has been so successful over the decades that even neutral observers like the Post’s Philip Rucker tend to think “socialism” when state economic intervention comes up. After Donald Trump “hereby ordered” American firms to “start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA,” he wrote:

Maybe, but first it’s fascism. 

That’s what real socialists thought, according to late Eugen Weber.

In Varieties of Fascism: Doctrines of Revolution in the Twentieth Century, the famed UCLA historian wrote that real socialists (as opposed to our soft-focus Bernie-Bro social type) believed fascism might be a necessary transition from capitalism to proletariat utopia. In 1964, Professor Weber wrote that, “the Fascist tendency is towards collectivism,” welcoming “the gradual squeezing out of capital and the diminution of its influence.” 

Over the decades, the Republican Party has encouraged Americans to believe that collectivism is the same as socialism, both of which are antipodes to individual liberty and the sanctity of private property. But German and Italian fascists didn’t believe that. 


“The Fascist tendency is towards collectivism,” welcoming “the gradual squeezing out of capital and the diminution of its influence.” 


A widely published Nazi propagandist once explained, according to Weber, that “private property” was of secondary important to German leaders who “approached it with the idea that the general interest is superior to the particular interest. For Nazi economic policy, it mattered little whether an enterprise was state-owned or in private hands. The essential was that everyone had to conform to the state’s directives.” 

Mass conformity was necessary because “the nation,” as the fascists understood the term, was locked in a life-and-death struggle against other nations—eat or be eaten, geopolitically. As a result, Weber wrote, the fascists believed that “an ideal cannot be one of individual freedom, free enterprise, and enlightened self-regard, because such concepts are disintegrating and divisive.” The fascists therefore sought a unifying “group ideal which will encourage the individual to transcend his private interests and give, abandon, and devote himself to the greater good of the greater whole.”

That ideal was corporatism, or the organizing of the economy so “the state is no longer an instrument for the conservation of individuals and the achievement of their ends; on the contrary, individuals become means, instruments of the life of the State.” Benito Mussolini was explicit about that. In 1929, he said: “The individual exists only insofar as he is in the State and subordinate to the necessities of the State; the more complex the forms of civilization become, the more freedom of the individual is restricted.”

But even after the fascist state has organized society in the way it wants it to be, it can’t stop. Indeed, it won’t. In not being able to stop, Weber argued, the fascist state lays the groundwork for its ultimate demise. “The Fascist leader, now that God is dead, cannot conceive himself as the elect of God. He believes he is elect, but does not quite know of what—presumably of history and obscure natural forces. The elect of God establishes or guards God’s order; the Fascist leader seeks a similar justification—but in the absence of ultimate authority, the order is one he defines himself.”

There’s a reason why white evangelical Christians support Donald Trump by huge margins. (Close to three-fourths approve of him.) To them, he is the elect of God. The president himself does not recognize or respect “ultimate authority.” He does, however, seek justification for his actions, whatever they might be for whatever reason, no matter how ridiculous, wrong, or immoral. The president’s trade war with China, for instance, has no rhyme or reason, expect one: It’s what he wants to do. 

“Somebody had to do it,” he said last month. “I am the Chosen One.”

—John Stoehr