With our ability to gather and sort data growing by leaps and bounds, there’s one graph I’d like to see: comparisons of Republicans to fascist leaders over time.
I’m not just talking Hitler here; the big H has been invoked so many times since 2016 that Godwin’s Law has crossed over from internet maxim into general linguistic usage. I’m talking comparisons to pretty much any fascist despot here.
Benito Mussolini is kind of the minor-league Hitler; if it’s over something where a comparison to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party would be considered over-the-top, Mussolini will do. Vidkun Quisling’s name, no doubt, has been applied to those who work in the White House. I’m sure there have been a few Generalissimo Franco mentions. A few pub quiz players out there have probably dug deep into their mental crates and brought out a Field Marshal Pétain reference.
Let’s plot time on the X-axis and public invocations of those fascists on the Y and see just how untethered to history our country — indeed, our world — has become since President Donald Trump came down that escalator.
The latest name to add to our data set is none other than retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey. McCaffrey is apparently unhappy that the president canceled the White House’s subscriptions to The Washington Post and The New York Times.
“All these people doing it for The New York Times, which is a fake newspaper, we don’t even want it in the White House anymore. We’re gonna probably terminate that and The Washington Post. They’re fake,” Trump said during a Monday appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.
The White House confirmed to Politico on Tuesday that they wouldn’t be renewing the subscriptions. On Thursday, Trump ordered other federal agencies to unsubscribe to the publications as well, according to the Washington Examiner.
I don’t think this is particularly enforceable or effective, all things considered, but it was certainly a good way to rankle particular individuals. One of these was McCaffrey, who served in President Bill Clinton’s cabinet as the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Now, this wasn’t quite a moment to trot out Hitler, but it did rise to the level of an Il Duce comparison.
“The White House Trump statement telling the entire Federal Government to terminate subscriptions to the NYT and Wash Post is a watershed moment in national history,” McCaffrey said.
“No room for HUMOROUS media coverage. This is deadly serious. This is Mussolini.”
The White House Trump statement telling the entire Federal Government to terminate subscriptions to the NYT and Wash Post is a watershed moment in national history. No room for HUMOROUS media coverage. This is deadly serious. This is Mussolini.
— Barry R McCaffrey (@mccaffreyr3) October 25, 2019
When it comes to humorous coverage, I’m assuming he was talking about headlines like this one from Vanity Fair: “Angry Little Man Cancels Newspaper Subscriptions.” If you’re going to get indignant over this, I suppose this is the best way to express it — by pointing out the fact that this isn’t exactly going to hurt circulation or have any sort of concrete effect.
As for Mussolini, well, this is the worst possible way to express it. “This is serious, everyone — Donald Trump is acting like Mussolini!” is the most fundamentally unserious kind of statement, one that goes directly to comparisons with fascist dictators when the president does something you disagree with.
Benito Mussolini, you may remember, did a lot more than just cancel some newspaper subscriptions. He consolidated the press into something that was little more than a machine for state-sponsored propaganda for a single-party dictatorship outside of which no freedom of speech existed.
Neither The New York Times nor The Washington Post would exist under a Mussolini regime, mind you. The second The Post printed up the first “Democracy Dies in Darkness” T-shirt, its offices would have been raided and its employees imprisoned or worse.
But no, let’s all please pretend Il Duce is in the house. And although he said there was “[n]o room for HUMOROUS media coverage,” he did concede there was an aspect of humor involved in his choice of fascist leader comparisons when someone suggested he should have gone with the “furher.”
No. Mussolini. There’s an unintended comical aspect to his foul, dangerous rhetoric.
— Barry R McCaffrey (@mccaffreyr3) October 26, 2019
There is an “unintended comical aspect” to “foul, dangerous rhetoric” here, but it isn’t the Trump’s.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.