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OPINION

Is it fascism yet?

Every move Trump makes is designed to destabilize the nation with threats, intimidation, and violence.

Photo illustration by Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Globe file photos

Concerned that schoolchildren are being indoctrinated with the truth about this nation’s racist origins, President Trump wants to indoctrinate them with “patriotic education.”

Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr — Bonnie to Trump’s Clyde — has designated three American cities — as “anarchist jurisdictions” for “permitting violence and destruction of property.”

And with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, Trump will soon name a nominee who, if confirmed, will help shove the Supreme Court as far right as it’s been in more than 50 years.

Is it fascism yet?

Democracy in America isn’t dying. It’s being strangled before our eyes by an administration determined to maintain power at any cost. Trump isn’t just playing to his base. Every move he makes is designed to destabilize the nation, to bring its citizens to heel with threats, intimidation, and violence.

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In the 2015 book “Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad,” M.T. Anderson writes that Russian dictator Joseph Stalin “was not merely trying to remove political enemies. He was not merely trying to terrorize the country into submission. He was trying to break down all social structure that did not emanate from him, and to create a new people, no longer Homo sapiens, but Homo sovieticus, the New Man of Communism.”

Except for the communism part, the rest sounds sickeningly familiar.

To bend Democratic-led cities to his will, Trump is threatening to withhold federal funding to New York, Seattle, and Portland, Ore., for not “protecting their own citizens,” as Barr said in a statement branding them as “anarchist jurisdictions.” This is yet another presidential flex in Trump’s law-and-order series meant to discourage protests against racial injustice and prove to his base his commitment to protecting white supremacy.

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That’s also the motivation around Trump’s desire to create a “1776 Commission” to revive “patriotic education to our schools,” which sounds like a lot of words for racist propaganda. This, of course, is his scared white man answer to “The 1619 Project,” New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones’s exemplary Pulitzer Prize-winning examination of how this nation’s origins and chattel slavery are inextricably bound, with ever-present reverberations in every aspect of American life.

Trump has no authority to dictate school curriculum, but like the dictator he sees when he looks in the mirror, when has that stopped him? “Our youth will be taught to love America,” Trump said last week. He forgot to add, “Or else.”

Historians will probably point to what happened in Washington D.C.'s Lafayette Square in June as a defining moment in Trump’s embrace of authoritarianism. That’s when Barr had throngs of peaceful protesters violently dispersed by riot police. People protesting against police violence after the police killing of George Floyd became victims of police violence ordered by a photo-op-seeking president.

To the contrary, I would argue that Trump’s budding fascism was illuminated just months into his presidency. After his first official White House visit in May 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered his bodyguards to brutalize a group of protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C.

House legislators on both sides of the aisle swiftly condemned the attack. Yet Trump neither denounced Erdoğan nor defended the demonstrators, though most of them were Americans, attacked by a foreign dictator’s thugs for exercising their constitutional rights on American soil.

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Trump wasn’t just enabling Erdoğan’s fascism. He was taking notes.

Now mysterious federalized police snatch people off American streets. Russian President Vladimir Putin is “probably directing” a disinformation campaign against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, with Trump’s apparent approval. The president has stacked the federal judiciary with dozens of right-wing ideologues, ensuring that the scourge of Trumpism will long outlive the insidious man himself.

In a Time magazine interview last year about the rise of fascism, Trump’s name is never mentioned. Yet Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University professor of history and Italian studies and an expert on Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, says fascism’s virulent tenets have been consistent through generations.

“It’s more striking what hasn’t changed — the hyper-nationalism, the leader cult, the idea that this is a leader who is going to save us, the fear of white population decline, anti-feminism, anti-left, things like that,” she said. “None of those things have changed.”

Except, this time, it’s happening in America.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.