COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 23: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters during a campaign rally at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on November 23, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. Trump spoke about immigration and Obamacare, among other topics, to around 14,000 supporters at the event.  (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
Is Donald Trump using fear to get votes?
02:30 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of the forthcoming book “United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists.”

Story highlights

Peter Bergen: Trump meets several criteria in historian's checklist of what defines a fascist

Exception is that Trump doesn't want to foment violence against enemies, Bergen says

Trump a proto-fascist who echoes wave of extremist movements in Europe, he says

CNN  — 

Is Donald Trump a fascist?

To answer that question it is helpful to examine three interrelated phenomena: the history of European fascism, the rise of far-right nationalist parties around the West today and what historian Richard Hofstadter famously termed “the paranoid style in American politics.”

Let’s start with the classic 2004 study “The Anatomy of Fascism” by American historian Robert Paxton, who examined the fascist movements of 20th-century Europe and found some commonalities among them. They played on:

• “A sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of traditional solutions.” Trump’s ascendancy outside the structures of the traditional Republican Party and his clarion calls about America’s supposedly precipitously declining role in the world capture this trait well.

• “The superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason.” Trump’s careless regard for the truth – such as his claims that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheered the 9/11 attacks, or that Mexican immigrants are rapists and murders – and the trust he places in his own gut capture this well.

• The belief of one group that it is the victim, justifying any action. Many in Trump’s base of white, working-class voters feel threated by immigrants, so Trump’s solution to that, whether with Mexico (build a wall) or the Islamic world (keep them out), speaks to them.

• “The need for authority by natural leaders (always male) culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny.” This seems like quite a good description of Trump’s appeal.

In Paxton’s checklist of the foundational traits of fascism there is a big one that Trump does not share, which is “the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will when they are devoted to the group’s success.”

trump le pen
From America to France, extreme politics reign
11:18 - Source: CNN

There is no hint that Trump wishes to engage in or to foment violence against the enemies, such as immigrants, he has identified as undermining the American way of life.

One is therefore left with the conclusion that Trump is a proto-fascist, rather than an actual fascist. In other words, he has many ideas that are fascistic in nature, but he is not proposing violence as a way of implementing those ideas.

So how else might we frame the Trump phenomenon? It’s useful to view in the context of the wave of the far-right nationalist movements that have swept Europe in recent years and that are defined by hostility to immigrants and minorities.

On Sunday, Marine Le Pen’s National Front far-right party finished first in the initial round of regional elections in France, transforming her party, in the words The New York Times, from “a fringe movement into a credible party of government