The question of whether or not U.S. President Donald Trump is a fascist has been a popular debate amongst sects of the liberal base. However, the question of fascism has recently reached the frontline of academic political thought and headline in media circulation. It is fair to ponder the question: does a fascist ideology linger in the executive branch? If so, will this lead to the weakening of democracy and upsoar of tyranny?
“Post-truth is pre-fascism,” according to Timothy Synder, author of On Tyranny. Academics have labeled the phenomenon of distorting the truth and deviating from reality as “post-truth politics.” It is framed largely on the grounds of appealing to emotion, disconnecting from fact, and reasserting spinned talking points ad nauseum. While post-truth politics has been a longstanding issue in politics, the phenomenon has especially thrived in the era of the 24-hour news cycle. As such, there is a disproportionate amount of media coverage placed on certain stories of corporate or state interest, leading to a false balance of prioritization. This special interest construction of “official” news is coupled with the prevalence of social media consumption and the dissemination of misinformation and false news to passive scrollers.
In particular, social media has dire consequences on our democracy. Of the top 20 Facebook stories ranked by engagement on the U.S. presidential election of 2016, fake news stories recieved 1.4 million more views than mainstream news media. It is fair to assume that the electorate pool had been tainted by this manipulation of public opinion.
This avalanche of media manipulation is a hefty load for honest journalists seeking the truth. However, even honest journalism cannot retain legitimacy in the contemporary political landscape. This “war on fact” has been perpetuated by Donald Trump. On February 17, 2017, Donald Trump declared on Twitter that The New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, and CNN were “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.” The political designation of “enemy of the people” has been used by Donald Trump only to selectively condemn those who he disagrees with, while simultaneously hailing those who praise him and his abilities.
Fox News, a network both praising and praised by Trump, has been lambasted by the left for perpetuating a misinformation “echo chamber” of right-leaning politics. Not only has there been a consolidation of conservative thought in Fox News, but it has also become a mouthpiece for Trump propaganda. Through the use of an “enemies list” of experts barred from being interviewed on Fox News, senior executives exercise a stronghold on limiting any opposing liberal thought. The polarization of partisan politics is largely due to the separation of diverse opinions and the creation of an earthquake of democratic stability.
“I would never kill them but I do hate them,” Donald Trump said of reporters. “And some of them are such lying, disgusting people.”
Not only has Donald Trump been a proponent of post-truth politics, he has specifically pushed forward the deconstruction and delegitimization of any fact that is “anti-Trump.” His calls against such media coverage have been a beacon for extremism. Cesar Sayoc, the October 2018 United States mail bomber, targeted prominent critics of Donald Trump, of which included high-profile democrats and the headquarters of CNN. Sayoc had also laminated his van windows in Trump propaganda that positioned a reflector sight on the heads of CNN anchors.
It is impossible to see the overarching victors in the current fight between the mainstream media and the Trump base. What is certain is that it directly handicaps the right to the freedom of press found in the First Amendment.
In an era where truth is largely doubted, are we approaching an authoritative, ultranationalist regime?
A larger question arises: Is this delegitimization of the power of American institutions leading us towards tyranny? The framers of the Constitution were keenly aware of the possible revolution of democracy. It was tyranny against King George III that led to American independence. It was the establishment of a separation of powers to counteract such a revolution against the United States itself.
In Plato’s “Republic”, written in 380 B.C., he describes a leader of democracy as “false and braggart words and opinions” who dismisses moderation, calls “insolence ‘good breeding,’ licence ‘liberty,’ prodigality ‘magnificence,’” and “temperance they call ‘want of manhood’ and banish it with contumely.”
The description does lean near to Donald Trump.
Plato believed that systems of government were to naturally dissolve into its next natural order. With timocracy would come oligarchy, and with oligarchy would follow democracy. After democracy, however, would come tyranny. The fall of democracy in the Republic is because of Plato’s unfavorability of strong men with demagogic tendencies in a democracy. According to Plato, while the looseness of truth and the appeal to populism weakens democracy, it is polarization and divisiveness that splits the system open for tyrannical takeover. This is what we should be cautious about in the age of Trump.
One might expect that the state of democracy will sustain itself. However, when considering the long arc of history, democracy is all but flawed with failure and collapse. With Donald Trump’s one-man actions redefining the Office of the President, and therefore his power, there is a blurring of true separation.
Tyranny may be an implication of Trumpism. Even further, it may be an implication of democracy.