Congressman Jerrold Nadler labeled President Donald Trump “a fascist” at a town hall on the Upper West Side last night—even as he seemed to advise those in attendance to avoid using that freighted term whenever possible.
Nadler, one of the most liberal members of the House, made the remarks in response to audience members who demanded he unequivocally apply the term to the president and his administration. The congressman, whose Manhattan-Brooklyn turf has the highest percentage of Jewish residents of any congressional district in America, hesitated at first.
But the lawmaker then asserted that Trump’s broadsides against foreign powers and undocumented immigrants, along with his claim at last year’s GOP convention that “I alone can fix” the nation’s problems, mark him as a figure in the mold of Benito Mussolini.
“Donald Trump is the first major candidate in American politics, in recent decades, that I think really deserves to be called a fascist,” Nadler said, comparing the president negatively with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. “Trump comes along and says ‘you’ve got some real problems: A, B and C. And it’s the fault of the Mexicans, and the Chinese.”
“‘And the solution is me. I am the solution. Only I can take care of it.’ That is, that is fascism: blaming it, blaming the problems on scapegoats, and the strongman,” the congressman continued.
The comments drew applause from the audience. But only moments before, Nadler suggested it was politically ineffective to bandy the term “fascist” about.
The congressman recalled his activism in the anti-Vietnam War movement, but also remembered becoming “annoyed” when “extreme left” groups like Students for a Democratic Society deployed the word “fascist” as a casual political pejorative against any opponent.
“I’m not sure of the impact of the word ‘fascist.’ To some people, if you say ‘fascist,’ they just tune you out, they don’t listen to what you’re saying,” he began.
A woman in attendance interjected “but it’s true!”
“Yes, it is true. Yes, it is true,” Nadler continued. “But that’s not the only question. The goal is not to feel good about yourself because you said the truth. The goal is to stop what’s going on.”
“It’s true, there are fascists. Some of them are fascists. I think the president is. But you want to stop what they’re doing. And you want to use the terminology that is most effective for doing it,” he continued.
Other than militaristic and expansionist nationalism, totalitarian governance and murderous hostility toward groups perceived as subversive, pre-World War II European fascists often lacked a coherent political program. Leaders like Mussolini and Adolf Hitler frequently advocated populist economic policies, but also formed alliances with traditional conservative parties and business interests during their ascent to power.