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Face It: CPAC Was a Mussolini Moment

Hitler is the Wagner of oratory, a master in repeating the leitmotiv in many varied forms, and the leitmotiv is “The Republican régime in Germany has betrayed you. Our day of retribution has come.” His use of the brass instruments of oratory is Wagnerian, and he thunders out his resounding blows against Bolshevism and against democracy.

— Legendary Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, writing after attending an Adolf Hitler rally in Germany, March 2, 1933

“In 2016, I declared, ‘I am your voice,’” Trump told the CPAC auditorium just outside D.C., in a room of largely Trump cultists, albeit not enough to fill the back rows. “Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution.

Trump’s pledge, with its nearly century-old echoes of the very worst movements that modern humankind has produced, was the low point of a weekend of red flags and flashing sirens for American democracy, just when you thought that it couldn’t get any worse.

Because to gain that dubious achievement, Trump had to beat out not only his own autocratic promises, such as “tent cities” that would essentially be concentration camps for the urban homeless, but also a prominent CPAC speaker who wants to “eradicate” transgenderism — which, to the as many as 1.6 million Americans who identify as transgender, amounted to a genocidal threat. And Trump’s chief rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nod, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, is working with lawmakers to crush the First Amendment by ending university academic freedom for good while proposing that bloggers be forced to register with the state government.

There are historical precedents for all of these actions and the overheated rhetoric — among history’s worst despots, genocidal maniacs, and totalitarian movements (like DeSantis’ blogger bill, which is almost identical to one that Russia strongman Vladimir Putin enacted in 2014). It’s been already way past time for the American media to start using the f-wordfascism — to describe this ideology that continues to transfix the core voting bloc in one of America’s two major political parties. But almost all of this weekend’s mainstream coverage of CPAC and related developments was too mealy-mouthed to tell the public the alarming truth.


Trump’s retribution would be their retribution — yet it also borrows the same messages that have powered every successful right-wing authoritarian movement for the last 100 years, ever since Benito Mussolini’s march on Rome. On Monday, I reached out to America’s top authority on the Italian dictator, the New York University professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, also author of the book Strongmen about the shared traits of autocrats.

“Mussolini called himself an avenger, and the strongman persona of both avenger and victim (because he takes the hits for the nation) dates back to Fascism,” she told me. “Trump’s speech had all of those elements, not just his focus on government as retribution, but his positioning of himself as the target of enemies who are out to get the entire people. The strongman must seem to embody the whole people and thus takes the hits by all the enemies. In that lies his heroism.”

Read entire article at Philadelphia Inquirer