Donald Trump and his presidential campaign possess many of the attributes of fascism, most of which are common at one level or another of the Republican Party that he represents. These include ethnic nationalism, militarism, religious bigotry, sexism, racism, xenophobia, populist rhetoric and plutocratic policy, attacks on journalist, constant threats of violence and incitement to violence, and cult of personality.
Trump has now combined these dangerous characteristics with a new one: an assault on the courts. At a first glance, his recent comments about the integrity of judges could just be grouped into his racism and his religious bigotry. But I think otherwise.
The judge presiding over the suit against Trump “University” released documents illustrating the fraudulent and predatory nature of Trump’s creation. Trump’s response was to say the judge was compromised because of his ethnicity, repeatedly referring to the U.S.-born judge as “Mexican” by way of discrediting his credentials in the eyes of a xenophobic and hyper-nationalist public.
Trump has now expanded on this theme, arguing that “‘it’s possible’ that Muslim judges, in addition to Hispanic jurists, would be biased against him and thus ineligible to oversee any case involving him.”
It is widely known that “race, ethnicity and religion are not legal grounds for a recusal, courts have ruled for decades, and the complaint runs afoul of basic US civil and religious rights.” And so I suspect that Trump’s dog-whistle attacks on the legitimacy of a legal system that represents all of our nation’s communities are not just red meat to the most racist of his supporters.
I believe they are also a prelude to the initially-stealthy attacks Trump will make on the legitimacy of that court system as an impediment to his authoritarian style should he win the White House.
Fascists in the interwar years depended on eroding support for and corrupting judiciaries, and Trump will do the same. He is beginning by tarring members and groups within the courts, questioning their ability to serve impartially. Although Trump is most directly questioning their legitimacy with reference to suits involving him, the way he has done so invites any white American to embrace his toxic non-logic and make the same kinds of arguments.
I have no idea what the next step in Trump’s assaults on our country’s institutions will be, but by targeting both courts and journalists he is undermining the ability of two core institutions to hold him accountable for his words and actions in politics and business. But the contrast with Bernie Sanders, who could win tomorrow's California primary, and even with Hillary Clinton, could not be clearer.
Trump’s attacks on Clinton revolve around her supposedly being ‘crooked.’ Whatever you think of Clinton’s politics, in her handling of scandals real and imagined she has cooperated with and voiced respect for the courts and the press, despite her wary relationship with the latter. But what could be more crooked than Trump’s efforts to subvert the ability of legal and investigative institutions, with grounding in our constitution, from holding him to the same standard as every other citizen?