I think Mr. Trump needs to be taken seriously for two reasons.
The first is the amount of emotionally powerful support he continues to receive from people who might otherwise consider themselves conservatives. I’m not so sure about that. Conservatives, on the whole, are inclined to resist radical change without a close examination of how it might affect their own well being. Trump’s supporters are inspired by emotional rhetoric calling for radical change, laying blame for every ill on scape goat populations, and demanding unparalleled spending of public money with no plans for how to raise it, but with the vague idea that it would go for a militarized Maginot Line style southern border. That’s not the conservative way. I find it appalling that Glenn Beck and I agree about that. That moment of unlikely astral conjunction aside, the momentum that Trump has managed to create and sustain is deeply troubling. I don’t think he could win an election, but he has demonstrated the depth and breadth of an unhealthy current not seen in American society for over 75 years.
If it’s not the conservative way, what way is it? That’s where the second reason comes in. Scanning the menu of currently available political systems, there is only one answer. Fascism. The problem with naming it for what it is, is that Fascism has become a personal insult rather than a description of a political system. That means that calling someone a Fascist is considered witty by some, crude and unsophisticated by some, and impolite bad taste by others. Not to be taken seriously in any case.
Well it’s not an insult, it’s an observation about the reality of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and methods, and about the reality of the response he has generated. So what is Fascism? I’ll leave it to you to do a little research on your own, but essentially it is a form of radical protective nationalism that envisions the militarization of a whole society for the purpose of self preservation. It idealizes the cultural mythology of its members, identifying others as enemies, some of whom are responsible for whatever ills they think beset them. Relying on strong, authoritarian leadership, most Fascist political systems also create tremendous opportunities for private enterprise to profit by selling the goods needed for a highly militarized agenda to be carried out. Think of it as Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex having mutated into an even more powerful monster masquerading under the cloak of national security and moral purity.
I’m not surprised that Mr. Trump appears to be an almost archetypical Fascist. As long as he was playing his personal game of Monopoly along the Atlantic seaboard, he was mildly entertaining. I am surprised that so many ordinary Americans seem to admire him for it, and are willing to go along with it. That’s why he needs to be taken seriously.