News Release

The Evolution of Trump’s Fascistic Politics


Since 2016, critics have become more comfortable labeling Trump––and Trumpism––as fascist. 

JEFF SHARLET;, @JeffSharlet
    Sharlet is a journalist and author, and an expert on the far right. His books include The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War. 

In an interview on Democracy Now! after Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primary, Sharlet asserted that “fascism is on the ballot.” 

Sharlet told the Institute for Public Accuracy: “Until 2016 or 2017, I was rejecting the term fascism in application to the U.S. There have been moments of fascism in American history. It’s not just Italy and Germany; there have been fascist movements all over the world, and most have not succeeded. [Until now,] there hasn’t been a full cult of personality or the celebration of violence, which are two key facets of fascism. [But] Trump has achieved a blurring of the line between divinity and person. [And] there has been a normalization of violence.

“Trumpism has gotten more fascistic in the last four years. It’s been a long time since Trump led his movement––but he does follow it. He tries to keep up. Trumpism has gotten more fascistic, so Trump has too. He has osmosed some of [the] conspiratorial thinking” and the antisemitism and xenophobia of the far right. 

Sharlet argued that even as Trump has made antisemitic and fascistic comments––toward special prosecutor Jack Smith, toward immigrants––that have echoed language straight from Adolf Hitler, the press has not been direct enough. “The press needs to say ‘Trump is quoting Hitler.’” 

Sharlet also questioned why media outlets are not devoting coverage to the frenzy and undertow of violence that is taking place at Trump rallies. “We overlook the ecstasy and eroticism [of fascism]. You go to a Trump rally and it feels like a Deadhead show. You dance in the parking lot for hours. There is a violent festivity to it. It’s not just that Trump’s fans relish his rudeness. [Trump gives his supporters] permission to feel that level of anger. It’s really fun to give in if you have been resisting that anger and hate for a long time. That permission structure is incredibly empowering.” 

Sharlet added: Outlets like the New York Times tend to use the term “fascism” to describe other countries, but not the United States. “Calling Trump [labels like] ‘neo-fascist’ is a dodge and an evasion. The fascism of 2024 doesn’t look like the fascism of Germany in 1936––that’s a given. Fascism gets hardened and concretized into a static thing. But fascism is less an ideology than it is an aesthetics, and it evolves. It mutates

“There is an exceptionalism going on here. That’s where the mainstream press needs to catch up. Left media, meanwhile, needs a more sophisticated definition and understanding of white supremacy. They’re convinced that the only people at Trump rallies are white.” The left imagines fascism as an “other,” Sharlet said. “If fascists are this other, then you are immune and you don’t need to contend with its gravitational force. Because that force is not a sharply delineated ideology, [fascism] allows people to imagine their way into it from all different angles and identities.”