When Trump was elected, certain “radical” commentators tried to distinguish themselves from supposedly credulous academics and journalists by insisting, against all evidence, that he was in no way unusual, and far from a budding authoritarian. They soon fell silent, as the Trump administration indulged in an endless series of power grabs, both effective and futile.
But now the radicals are back again, purporting to have been vindicated by the same people whose views they’d dismissed two years ago. Today, it turns out, those people are conceding that Trump is “weak,” proving that their fears of his authoritarianism had been mistaken after all.
As it was then, this reading of the zeitgeist is once again highly selective and disingenuous, eschewing the plethora of prominent depictions of Trump’s fake emergency as an authoritarian gambit. Worse, this self-serving narrative keeps moving the goalposts, dismissing authoritarian behavior on the grounds that it hasn’t (yet) turned the country into a functional dictatorship and deliberately conflating practical incompetence with institutional weakness.
Presumably, we should infer that, had Eichmann been lousy at his job (or had partisan resistance been more successful), Hitler wouldn’t have counted as the author of a genocide. So don’t worry, folks. Nothing to see here. The commentariat is all fools and gadflies, and only the select few armed with the right flavor of historical materialism are privy to the truth. Aspirational fascism is not true fascism, which is in any case only plain old conservatism in fancier clothing. Never mind that historians, political scientists, and other experts in the field almost universally regard Trump as an existential threat to whatever passes for democracy in the US today. What do they know? There are, evidently, no weak dictators—no matter how littered the landscape is with examples of them.