The History Of Fascism And Its Relevance To U.S. Politics Today

Donald Trump’s transition team says the president elect is choosing ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State. Tillerson is a controversial pick. Like Trump he has no government experience and is likely to face many questions about his business ties with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile Donald Trump is holding another victory rally today, gatherings his supporters greet with great enthusiasm. But some of his sharpest critics are concerned that his political appeal and agenda bear some similarity to last century’s fascist leaders in Europe. Join us to talk about reactions to Rex Tillerson plus the history of Fascism and what resonance, if any, it has in U.S. politics today.


  • Julie Hirschfeld Davis White House reporter, The New York Times
  • Stephen Moore senior fellow on economics, The Heritage Foundation; senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign
  • Timothy Snyder professor of history at Yale University; author of “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning”
  • Aaron David Miller vice president and distinguished scholar,Woodrow Wilson International Center former U.S. Middle East adviser in Republican and Democratic administrations
  • Transcript

    • 10:06:54

      MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President-elect Donald Trump is naming Exxon Mobile chief Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state. His choice raises concerns among many for Tillerson's close business ties with the Russian government. More broadly, some critics of Donald Trump say they're concerned that Trump is operating increasingly like the authoritarian fascist leaders in Europe after World War I.
    • 10:07:25

      MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about the issue, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of the New York Times, Stephen Moore of The Heritage Foundation and joining us from a studio at Yale, Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University. But first, I do want to hear reactions to President-elect Donald Trump's choice of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
    • 10:07:52

      MS. DIANE REHMJoining us by phone for that portion of the conversation, Aaron David Miller of the Wilson Center. And a little later on in the hour, we'll take your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And thanks to all of you for being with us.
    • 10:08:17

      MR. STEPHEN MOOREHi, Diane.
    • 10:08:17

    • 10:08:18

      MR. TIMOTHY SNYDERHi, Diane.
    • 10:08:19

      MR. AARON DAVID MILLERGlad to be here.
    • 10:08:20

      REHMAaron David Miller, talk about Rex Tillerson and why you believe he is such a controversial choice.
    • 10:08:30

      MILLERYou know, I think I quote Dorothy landing in Oz, basically to say that -- as she said to little dog Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore and I think we really aren't in Kansas anymore. Tillerson's appointment -- and I don’t want to prejudge it. Tillerson's appointment breaks with -- pretty sharply with past precedent. I think since the end of the Second World War, we have never had a secretary of state who's entire career was spent in the private sector without any traditional or former public service or government experience and exposure to foreign policy.
    • 10:09:07

      MILLERThat's not necessarily fatal. I mean, Exxon, in many respects, could be described as a country. It operates on five continents and fifty countries around the world. It has its own intelligence organizations, reporting on developments. Tillerson clearly is a man of the world. He's been around. He certainly knows the oil business, which is a political business, not just an economic business in Asia and the Middle East. So in many respects, the qualities that are required, at least the international wisdom that is required, and a sense of the world is present.
    • 10:09:46

      MILLERThe controversy, obviously, comes with trying to establish where the national interest begins and ends and where Exxon's interests begin and end. And I think that case is going to be made very clear, I'm sure, by the secretary -- during the nomination hearings in which he'll make a case that his is an honor and a privilege. He understands full well that this is now the national interests, the only interest that counts. Others will raise any number of issues, Exxon's policies on climate change, conflict of interests which flow from Exxon's deal with the Kurds, which would put them in the middle of a controversy with the government of Iraq.
    • 10:10:31

      MILLEROf course, the now famous relationship with Vladimir Putin. Let me just close, Diane, by saying one other thing. Based on working for half a dozen secretaries of state, Rs and Ds. Secretary of state fails or succeeds according to three factors. Number one, does he or she have a relationship with the president? Will the president protect secretaries back in Washington and abroad? Number two, are there opportunities in the world, crisis to diffuse, agreements to reach that would allow a secretary of state to be consequential?
    • 10:11:03

      MILLERAnd finally, the persona of that secretary. Does that secretary of state have the kind of personality and temperament that is required to negotiate and to create relationships with a broad array of countries and leaders? Those are the three factors. And I think, on all of them, I suspect we're going to find out where Mr. Tillerson has strengths and weaknesses.
    • 10:11:28

      REHMAll right. And turning to Stephen Moore. This is clearly someone that President-elect Trump feels comfortable with.
    • 10:11:39

      MOOREThat's right. I'm just relieved that Mitt Romney was not the choice because I thought Mitt Romney would've been a lousy choice for a lot of reasons. And he was seriously considered for this. I don't disagree with anything that was just said. I think there are going to be, you know, issues with Rex Tillerson in terms of this issue of conflict of interest because he did run the world's largest oil company for so many years. I got to know him a little bit, Diane, when I was at The Wall Street Journal on the editorial board.
    • 10:12:05

      MOOREHe come in every six months or so and I mean, I was incredibly impressed just with his knowledge of the world. I mean, this is a guy who does know what's happening, you know, in every corner of the globe. And just one other thing just to throw out there as a thought, you know, we started this conversation by saying, you know, that he is -- it breaks with precedent and certainly it does. But I think you're going to see a lot of that with Donald Trump, breaking with precedent and I think, you know, if Donald Trump were here right now, I think he'd say, well, I want to break up the kind of foreign policy industrial complex and then think anew.
    • 10:12:44

      MOOREWe saw that, by the way, with his taking the phone call with the Taiwanese minister, which was something I applauded.
    • 10:12:52

      REHMJulie Hirschfeld Davis, what do you think?
    • 10:12:54

      DAVISWell, one, I think, vital thing that Aaron raised is this idea of having a rapport with the president, which President-elect Trump has made very clear one of the reasons that he picked Mr. Tillerson is that he finds him to be a kindred spirit in terms of being a deal maker, somebody who has negotiated difficult deals around the world. And in fact, in the past several weeks, as Donald Trump has been criticized for his cabinet picks, so many billionaires and millionaires and, you know, you said you were going to be making policy for the forgotten men and women and all of, you know, you're basically assembling this ultra wealthy cabinet, he has said, listen, these are the sorts of people I want in my government.
    • 10:13:35

      DAVISPeople who have made a fortune, people who know how to do a deal. And we know, also, from some of what the president-elect has chosen to do during his transition, Steve just mentioned the call with the Taiwanese leader, he is taking a very transactional approach to foreign policy and to the United States' relationship with the world. That may turn out to be a great thing. It may turn out to be not such a great thing. But it's very clear that that is the way that he views a lot of these issues. And if that's going to be the case, it does make sense that he would pick someone who he considers to be an uber dealmaker, the best at that, to be his secretary of state.
    • 10:14:13

      REHMAaron, I want to ask you about Jerry Seib's column this morning that points to areas where he says that President-elect Trump has indicated he will shift U.S. foreign policy, especially in a partnership with Russia, trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad from Syria, having a warmer relationship with Egypt's president and a policy that will be even more hostile toward Iran. Tell me about your thoughts.
    • 10:15:00

      MILLERYou know, they -- someone defined a realist in foreign policy as someone who prefers order before -- order and stability before freedom. Now that's a rather harsh judgment, but I think what you're going to see -- and I think president-elect laid it out, frankly, two weeks ago in a rally in Cincinnati where he announced Jim Mattis as secretary of defense. Nobody paid much attention to the fact that he also laid out three elements of what he described in that rally as a new foreign policy. Number one, no more overthrowing or regime change.
    • 10:15:31

      MILLERNumber two, no more foreign policy, what Michael Mandelbaum would describe as social work. We're not going to pour trillions of dollars into nation-building and reconstruction in places like Iraq and Syria. And then, finally, cooperating with anyone who will help us defeat ISIS and I think the reference clearly was there -- was to Mr. Putin. The paradox here, Diane, I think, is interesting, though. I think -- I suspect, on these issues, the so-called transaction that Donald Trump is going to pursue, frankly, in many respects is not that radical of a departure from the transactional presidency we saw on these issues with President Obama.
    • 10:16:10

      MILLERHe was very risk averse when it came to militarizing the American role in Syria, only responded in Iraq as a consequence of the emergence and the rise of the Islamic State. So I think in that respect, there may be -- on those kinds of issues, there may be continuity, much, much more of a contrast, however, when it comes to dealing with Putin, when it comes to dealing with Iran and probably, almost certainly, when it comes to dealing with Benjamin Netanyahu.
    • 10:16:41

      MOOREYou know, when you say -- when you mention the nation-building, I think there's been a reconsideration of foreign policy on the right, frankly, in this, you know, still post-Cold War, World War II era of what is a conservative foreign policy. And I think just having been on the campaign trail with Donald Trump and when he talked about these issues of we're not going to be nation-building, we're not going to be sending tens of billions of dollars all over the world, you know, to try to make the world safe for democracy, I think that's evolving into a more conservative foreign policy, you know, whether it's the right one or not, but I think that is following where conservative thought is going.
    • 10:17:21

      REHMSteve, talk just one, a few seconds about apparently Donald Trump's pick for Department of Energy.
    • 10:17:32

      MOOREWell, I mean, this is going to be -- this issue of energy, I think, is going to be the starkest -- one of the starkest contrasts between, you know, Obama's eight years in office and Trump's. I mean, Trump wants to develop America's oil and gas and coal resources and he will do that. And Rick Perry is the governor of Texas. Texas is the leader of oil and gas development so it's a pro development pick.
    • 10:17:53

      REHMStephen Moore, senior fellow on economics at The Heritage Foundation. Short break. When we come back, we'll talk about fascism, what it is, it's history, how it may relate to politics today. Stay with us.
    • 10:20:02

      REHMAnd welcome back, as we turn now our attention to the issue of fascism. Donald Trump is holding another victory rally today, gathering his supporters with great enthusiasm. A number of his critics are increasingly concerned his political appeal and agenda, there's some similarity to last century's fascist leaders in Europe. And for that, I want to turn now to Timothy Snyder. He's professor of history at Yale University and author of a book titled "Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning." Timothy Snyder, help us to understand a little about what fascism is. That term is thrown around so much lately. In today's terminology, what do we mean by it?
    • 10:21:16

      SNYDERYeah. Thank you, Diane, for posing the question that way. It's true that fascism has become a kind of term of abuse. And even, sometimes, people who themselves are fascists end up calling other people fascists, which can be quite confusing. It's also true that the historical phenomenon is a few generations old now. We're just past the point where people who remember the 1930s can help us remember what fascism actually was. So I think it's important to start from the beginning.
    • 10:21:45

      SNYDERFascism was a reaction against globalization. It was the claim that one should put one's own country and one's own people first. Fascism put a face on globalization. It said that globalization wasn't just a matter of rules or challenges, but of specific enemies, usually ethnic enemies, often arrayed in some kind of a conspiracy. Fascism said we shouldn't try to understand the world with a reason, but instead rely on faith -- not faith in God, but faith in a particular leader. So fascism put emotions ahead of thoughts. It put will ahead of reasonability.
    • 10:22:19

      SNYDERNow, this is all very important, because these aren't just ideas. These are people and these are victorious election campaigns. And these are the ends of democracy. After 1918, much like after 1989, we thought, well, history has come to an end. There's no idea left besides (word?) democracy. And then we saw after 1918, as we're now seeing after 1989, that this is simply not the case. Fascists, their followers by way of elections or other means, were able to overturn democracies throughout Central and Eastern Europe. And we see something like a similar pattern emerging now.
    • 10:22:53

      REHMTell me what happened after 1918 to allow for the rise of fascism.
    • 10:23:04

      SNYDERWell, there are, I guess, three very important things to keep in mind. The first, which is really important for Americans, is that history doesn't actually have a pattern or a flow. We tend to think that once you have capitalism you'll get democracy, or vise versa or some such thing. And that's just basically nonsense. History doesn't bear that out. You need an awful lot of other conditions in place. You can't take your eye off the ball, in other words. Democracy does actually tend to degrade rather than to support itself. That's a general remark.
    • 10:23:37

      SNYDERSecond thing is, what you had was obvious inequality as a result of this thing that we now call globalization. We had -- there was a Great Depression, there was trade war, there was the experience at both the local and the national level that we should be doing better than we are, which led to counter-productive elections, counter-productive trade policies.
    • 10:23:58

      SNYDERBut the third thing, which is very important to keep in mind, are in fact the ideas. We've gotten ourselves convinced that ideas don't matter anymore, that all the big ideas have left the framework, which is just not the case. The idea, for example, that truth doesn't matter, the whole post-factual business that we're now getting used to. That's actually a fascist idea for the 1920s and 1930s, that one should have faith in individuals, one can ignore the facts, right? Those are old ideas. Those are the kinds of ideas which allow regimes to change. So those are -- that's another thing one should pay attention to.
    • 10:24:29

      REHMDo you believe that Donald Trump falls into the category of behaving with fascist beliefs.
    • 10:24:43

      SNYDERI find it very hard to know what the man actually believes. And I would be suspicious of anyone, you know, except perhaps his family and closest friends, who would make confident claims about that. But I think that, itself, is precisely one reason to be concerned. The way fascism works is to deny the importance of consistency, right? And Mr. Trump is someone who has generally taken both sides of every position.
    • 10:25:10

      SNYDEROne clue -- and this relates back a little bit to a side of the earlier discussion, which I think maybe was undertreated -- one clue is who he likes abroad, right? So the notion that a second reset of relations with Russia can be treated in narrow, you know, Washington-establishment type terms, like we just did. Or one could consider the fact that Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin have been carrying out for the past half decade a resuscitation of far right-wing and indeed sometimes fascist traditions, and have been supporting with propaganda and with money much of the European far right.
    • 10:25:48

      SNYDERIf we look at the Trump-Putin relationship that way, it might then give a clue to what some of the underlying ideas are, or at least some of the direction as to where foreign policy might be going. Again, with foreign policy -- sorry, go ahead.
    • 10:25:59

      REHMLet me pose then the question in another way, not so much as to beliefs but to behaviors.
    • 10:26:12

      SNYDERI think, if you watch the rallies, if you go to the rallies and listen to the rallies, there are some patterns which are quite familiar to those of us who have watched the films or read the transcripts of rallies from the 1920s and 1930s. The first is the total hostility to facts, right? That you just most of the time say things that aren't true. The second is the kind of shamanistic incantation, which in Trump's case was, build that wall and lock her up. Things which are criminal, things which we know are not actually going to happen, but which establish a kind of mystical relationship between the crowd and the person.
    • 10:26:55

      SNYDERThe third is magical thinking. You know, the constant promise at the rallies that we're going to simultaneously cut taxes, pay off the national debt, increase spending on domestic policy and on defense. We all know that this is impossible, right? But we embrace it. And then, finally, the final element, which is very similar to Interwar fascist rallies would be the misplaced faith. Where Trump says things like, I alone can solve this, or I am your voice, which can lead people to confuse their faith in the leader with truth or can lead people to abandon their own claim to individually discern what's actually going on. That's very similar and that's alarming.
    • 10:27:35

      REHMTimothy Snyder is professor of history at Yale University. Julie Hirschfeld Davis, you've been watching President-elect Trump and have seen what's going on, have heard what's going on, have reported on what's going on. How do you interpret Professor Snyder's comments?
    • 10:28:02

      DAVISWell, I have been with him a lot over the past several weeks. I was at several of these rallies last week. And the first thing I would say is that I agree completely with Tim that, you know, it's hard to know exactly what Donald Trump's core is. He's just been elected president. I think we know less about him than many presidents-elect of the recent past. We don't know how he's going to be when he gets into the Oval Office. But what I can say is, it's interesting, when I was listening to Tim describe the attributes of this kind of a leader, I mean, we do see a lot of these themes and hear a lot of these themes at Donald Trump's rallies.
    • 10:28:37

      DAVISThis -- the idea of a reaction against globalization. He talks about, we haven't been for our own people in the past. Now we have to be for America first, the American people first. It's going to be hire American and buy American. It's all about, we haven't had a focus on you, the American people, and we're going to have that now.
    • 10:28:57

      REHMBut what is wrong with that, to his supporters?
    • 10:29:02

      DAVISNothing. There is nothing wrong with that to his supporters. And I think that is the reason, frankly, that he was able to put together the coalition that he did to win and surprised a lot of people, including himself and some of -- many of his closest aides. So, I mean, but the themes are certainly there. This idea of, you know, emotions ahead of thought. A lot of these rallies are very, you know, he walks out to the proud to be an American. And you can really feel the sort of electricity of emotion in those rallies, where people are, you know, there's a transference onto him of a lot of ideals and a lot of hopes that people feel like they have not been able to accomplish or achieve or live up to over the past several years.
    • 10:29:47

      DAVISAnd globalization and trade and this idea of, we're outward looking instead of inward looking in terms of our national priorities really does capture people's imagination. We do also hear a lot of contradictory statements coming from Donald Trump. You know, he has been -- he talked a lot in the last could of weeks about -- we saw him tweet about millions of illegal votes. That he would have won the popular vote were it not for millions of illegal votes. There was no foundation for that claim. There's been no proof of that claim. He then said, this week -- also on Twitter I believe -- that, you know, he had had the largest electoral college victory in history. Not even close.
    • 10:30:29

      DAVISThese are things that he says by way of effect. And people sort of write off, they say, oh, it's details, you know? It's not -- he didn't really mean that. And there was a lot -- there was much made during the -- at the end of the campaign of Donald Trump supporters took him seriously but not literally. The rest of the country, who questioned him, including the press, took him literally but not seriously. And so I think there is really this whole question of what is the place of facts. And he very effectively, with his 17 million Twitter followers, raises all sorts of questions about what is really true, and if the press is out to get him, if they report otherwise.
    • 10:31:05

      REHMJulie Hirschfeld Davis, White House reporter for The New York Times. Stephen Moore, tell me your reactions to the discussion of fascism, it's association with Donald Trump.
    • 10:31:23

      MOOREWell, you know, it's interesting. I wrote a column on this issue of fascism about a year ago, when people first started saying that Donald Trump had fascistic tendencies. There were a lot of articles about that a year ago. And I started looking at just the history of the meaning of the word fascism. And what's interesting that has evolved, if you look at the definition, say, 50 years ago versus today, 50 years ago it just meant a ruler who had a demagogic rhetoric and that wanted to use the power of the state to control people's lives. Now, if you read the more modern definition of fascism, it means a right-wing, you know, dictator that wants to pursue these policies, as if you can't have a left-wing fascist.
    • 10:32:12

      MOOREAnd one of the -- the reason I don't like that term fascist anymore is because it tends to mean -- to people on the left, it just means someone on the right who they don't agree with. And so a couple of things. I mean, you know, for example, when the professor was talking about the rallies that Trump has had. I've attended a lot of those, as you have. I met some amazingly, you know, incredibly patriotic Americans. And I think, frankly, it's a little insulting to say that Trump is a fascist when he holds these rallies, because I think it's insulting to the people -- the millions and millions of people who attended these rallies.
    • 10:32:44

      MOOREBut the other thing I was thinking about -- and I'd love the professor's reaction to this -- is look at Barack Obama. I mean, some of the rallies that he had in 2008, with the gothic columns, and he would come out as if he was the Messiah. Was that fascistic?
    • 10:32:57

      REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How do you respond to that, Professor Snyder?
    • 10:33:08

      SNYDERWell, first o fall, I think it's very important for us to take history seriously and rather than focus on what fascism means to you and to me, to remember that fascism was actually a thing in the world which brought about tens of millions of deaths and a Second World War and a Holocaust. It was something -- to move to the question of whether, you know, one is insulting one's fellow Americans or not -- it was something that appealed to patriotic Italians, patriotic Romanians, patriotic Germans, and in the '20s and '30s, also many patriotic Americans. That is precisely the problem. We can't get away from the problem by saying we're insulting this or we're insulting that.
    • 10:33:55

      SNYDERThe whole point is that history is one flow. That things that happened in the past, teach us about what's possible in the present and in the future. So we have to be alert to this, precisely because we are vulnerable to it. And in that sense, I agree.
    • 10:34:12

      REHMWell, how much, Tim Snyder, of what is happening would you attribute to simply the way the country is moving or to Donald Trump himself?
    • 10:34:33

      SNYDERHe's -- he maps on very well the things that are happening in the country. We do have a problem with globalization. Globalization creates the appearance and the reality of inequality. People -- it creates the appearance and the reality of problems of social advance. People are vulnerable to the claim, especially when the state doesn't do its job, that globalization has a face, that that face is Chinese or Mexican or Jewish or Muslim, rather than globalization being a condition. That's a real problem. There are two ways to address it. The first way is to try to get better rules and have a more functional state. The second way is to look for enemies. We know, from history, which way both of those things go.
    • 10:35:14

      SNYDERBut, secondly, Donald Trump is undeniably a talented rhetorician. He's undeniably a good speaker. He undeniably understands the way that technology works. I mean, in many ways, he's like a 25-year-old rather than a 70-year-old, because he uses technology to get through, to get by, to get over the normal conventions about what's true, right? And in that, I have to say, it's extremely important -- and it's something I think conservatives in particular should be alert to -- the indifference to facts or the attempt to create a new reality isn't just some kind of detail.
    • 10:35:49

      SNYDERThat's the core of the whole project. You substitute faith in yourself, you substitute the regularity of your own address to the people, for the kinds of truths that people on the right, people on the left, normal people, people who vote one way, people another way, can agree on. When we get to a world where the fiction trumps the fact, we've taken a big step towards fascism. Not towards conservatism, that's something completely different, but towards fascism. This whole post-factuality business, I think, is pre-fascist.
    • 10:36:18

    • 10:36:19

      MOORESo, look, I think the most important -- of course, fascism was one of the most horrific events of human history, no question about it. And the 20th century was clearly one of the bloodiest centuries ever. And it was all -- see, I see all these isms, whether it's fascism, communism, Stalinism, socialism, they're all basically the same. They are the bringing together of massive power within political leaders who have used that power to create great acts of murder and genocide. My point is, you know, people on the left talk about Hitler. But the same people on the left, you know, people back in the 1950s, look at the people in Hollywood who apologized for Stalin, who apologized for Castro, who apologized for, you know, Mao, who were great tyranny too.
    • 10:37:16

      MOOREAnd my point is, when you centralize government power, that's what leads to fascism.
    • 10:37:21

      REHMStephen Moore of The Heritage Foundation. Short break here. And when we come back, more of our discussion, your calls, your comments. Stay with us.
    • 10:40:03

      REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about both the history and present-day outlook on the question of fascism, a word that's been tossed around a great deal, certainly Steve Moore, who is here in the studio, wrote about a year ago. Then we had Michael Kinsley writing about it in the Washington Post. We had John McNeill writing about it in the Washington Post and grading, indeed, Donald Trump on the -- what he called the 11 attributes of fascism.
    • 10:40:49

      REHMJulie, many people have complained there's a real risk now of normalizing Donald Trump's behavior. How have you as a journalist approached this?
    • 10:41:02

      DAVISWell it's a difficult challenge, right, because he is now the president-elect. There's a certain amount of stock and respect and sort of seriousness with which you have to take any utterance of the president-elect, in this case including his many posts on Twitter. We've been criticized in the media for writing stories when Donald Trump tweets something. Well the fact is that is the -- his means of communications with 17 million people, that is in a lot of ways the clearest distillation of what he's thinking and feeling about a given policy issue, a personnel decision.
    • 10:41:40

      DAVISAnd we know that one of the things that has characterized Donald Trump's transition since he won is he has a very tight inner circle, and a lot of the time they don't exactly know what he's thinking. He's very much -- he sort of has consolidated a lot of these decisions and a lot of the power of the, you know, pre-presidency to himself. So you have to sort of -- I think as journalists, one of the ways that we've tried to approach this is real-time fact checking.
    • 10:42:09

      DAVISWe've -- you know, there's been -- we always try to fact check. Anyone who we are interviewing, anyone who, you know, makes a statement about policy, is characterizing a decision by the government, we always try to fact check. But with Donald Trump, it has to be a lot more quick and a lot more thorough because he is tweeting in real time, and some of these things, as I've mentioned before, are on their face not true. Some of them are open to interpretation, what he has said about climate change, for instance.
    • 10:42:35

      DAVISThere's a -- there's a vibrant debate about climate change, but when he utters -- you know when he makes an utterance about climate change and the realities of science and the environment, that demands more than just us reporting the president-elect said X.
    • 10:42:54

      REHMThe president-elect's called climate change a hoax.
    • 10:42:59

      DAVISA hoax. He has also then said, in a subsequent interview, and this is an example of what I said earlier, that he's been on both sides of many issues, he sat down with the New York Times reporters and columnists a couple of weeks ago and said he was open on the issue. So you don't really know where Donald Trump stands on this, and frankly I think that is how he wants it because he is not president yet, and he wants a lot of latitude to figure out what's possible, what's not possible politically and practically.
    • 10:43:23

      REHMSo how does that fit in, Tim Snyder, with the idea of what a president-elect says that is confusing in the end, that you really don't know exactly what he believes or what he stands for?
    • 10:43:46

      SNYDERFirst of all, I want to agree with Steve that Stalinism is also a bad thing. I made my career on that claim. So I want to -- I want to, you know, try to find some common ground. The reason why this question, Diane, is so interesting is that it calls us back to what I think the really important question is, not the analogy with fascism, not the comparison with fascism, not the term but what we learned from it.
    • 10:44:12

      SNYDERAnd what we learned from the history of fascism is how democracies die, right, and one thing which Hitler, just to take that example, was in fact very good at was communicating in one way to his followers, in a way they understood, and in a different way to the political establishment. And thereby if you look at the end of 1932 and the beginning of 1933 when he came to power, in this respect it actually was very similar.
    • 10:44:32

      SNYDERI mean, I'm not -- just to be very clear, I'm not saying that they're saying the same person, or I'm not making a metaphor, but in this respect there was a similarity. You had a politician who intended to undo a system but who was able to placate or at least confuse enough of the establishment that this normalization business went on until it was impossible.
    • 10:44:51

      SNYDERAnd I think that's really the important invitation. I think this is what Americans should be thinking of and don't -- the question of how democracies die, what it looks like when a figure comes to power who we don't know -- I agree, we don't know, but a figure who may be an anti-systemic figure. What are the things that happen next? The history of the '20s and '30s gives you landmarks. One of them is this kind of confusion. Another is a disaster which happens, which then leads to a state of emergency.
    • 10:45:18

      SNYDERSo, you know, these are -- these are things which, if we know history, we can watch out for without panicking, without saying it's all the same thing.
    • 10:45:22

      MOORESo can I ask you a quick question? Would you say that Castro was a fascist? Would you say that Hugo Chavez was a fascist?
    • 10:45:30

      SNYDERNo, of course not because not everything objectionable is fascist, right. Fascism is one of many bad things in the world. If Donald Trump had a disciplined, far-left-wing party, which ran an underground newspaper and talked about Bolshevism, we'd now be talking about other things. But he doesn't. The closer historical resemblance is with right-wing populism and fascism. That's why we're talking about fascism. There are many bad things in the world. Some of them are more relevant to this discussion than others.
    • 10:46:00

      DAVISLook, I just -- you know, Castro was a charismatic leader, he said he could accomplish things, he suppressed and violated human rights and murdered people. You know, why is somehow a left-wing dictator somehow superior to someone on the right? That's sort of what I don't get about this debate, that somehow if you're on the left, and you murder people, that's okay, but if you're on the right -- the point I'm making is I think a lot of people who call Trump a fascist are just people who don't agree with his ideas.
    • 10:46:30

      SNYDERRight, but that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about something else, which is the danger to the republic that we share, right. We're not talking about name-calling. And the interesting thing about fascism is that as a historical phenomenon, it's precisely neither right nor left. The claim that fascism makes is that's beyond all of that, which is, by the way, another similarity to our present situation.
    • 10:46:52

      SNYDERFascism is not something that can be dismissed from history just by saying that left-wing people call other people fascists. Fascism is something that happened to people who were very similar to you and me. That's why we have to be concerned.
    • 10:47:06

      MOORELook, I agree. I mean, I think one lesson I've learned from American history is that, you know, when you have very popular leaders, and let's take Franklin Roosevelt, remember the incident where he tried to pack the court, and the American people said -- even though Franklin Roosevelt was a very popular president, people said no, you know, we believe in freedom, we believe in the separation of powers.
    • 10:47:25

      MOOREI have a kind of fundamental faith in the American people that if Donald Trump does overstep his, you know, his responsibilities and his obligations as president, I think the American people would rise up in objection to that. I really do. I think we have freedom in our DNA. We're not the Germans, and so I'm not as worried about this as the professor is.
    • 10:47:47

      SNYDERI think that conservatives in particular, people who care about history, should be raising examples, as you just have done, about the 1930s. The example of FDR packing the courts is one minor example of something that went wrong in the 1930s. If one looks a bit more broadly in the U.S. and the world, one sees lots of other examples.
    • 10:48:07

    • 10:48:07

      SNYDERAnd it's precisely conservatives that people who care about tradition, who have the responsibility for going back to the 1930s and being very sure that our institutions are not under threat.
    • 10:48:16

      DAVISI think it's a fair point, I agree.
    • 10:48:18

      SNYDERI haven't seen -- I haven't seen that effort on the right thus far. I'm still waiting for that.
    • 10:48:23

      REHMAll right, I'm going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Jim in Canton, Ohio, you're on the air.
    • 10:48:35

      JIMYes, it's important to know historically that fascism arose in response to communism at the end of the second -- the first world war when the -- Germany in particular lost the war, and they had to have a scapegoat to blame. And Hitler German society and most of Europe into categories of people, Jews being of course his primary objective, but he hated the Jews not for racial reasons or religious but because he saw them as politically affiliated with Bolshevism, with communism, and they had to be eradicated, the basic belief being that might makes right and that the way to improve your society and rule at large is to exterminate that category of people, the subclass.
    • 10:49:30

      JIMAnd in modern times, we see the same kind of thinking, whereas Hitler called about -- talked about illegal -- inferior races, we talk about illegal aliens, like the Mexicans or the Muslims or these subclasses of people who our society would be better off if we could just get rid of them.
    • 10:49:50

      REHMWhat do you think, Stephen?
    • 10:49:53

      MOOREWell, that's a tough one. Look, I think that I don't always agree with -- look, I don't always agree with a lot of the things that Donald Trump says. I agree with many of the things, and I disagree with others, and I think it's our responsibility as conservatives to make sure that, you know, Donald Trump stays true to conservative principles of limited government.
    • 10:50:16

      MOOREAnd I think the one thing I would say is the best check against the rise of fascism in this country or anywhere is to limit the size and power of government and decentralize government. When you have that kind of system, then it's much harder for political leaders to, you know, wreak the kind of havoc that they have around the world.
    • 10:50:35

      REHMTim Snyder?
    • 10:50:38

      SNYDERThe general point that the gentleman makes is one which does apply to the past and the present, and that is do you deal with globalization by facing up to it, or do you deal with globalization by claiming that it has a face. Hitler was an extreme example of giving globalization a face. He said that the Jews are responsible for all of the evils, including communism, that the globe brings. That's one pattern of politics. It takes more or less extreme forms.
    • 10:51:07

      SNYDERWe should know that it works and how it works. As for -- as for limited government and fascism, it's -- I think the relationship is a little bit more complicated. Fascism arises partly when people are affected by inequality and are looking for some reason and can't quite grasp it. I tend to think it makes sense, and one can disagree about the range of this, I tend to think it makes sense to have a government, which gives people a sense that they have a future, and therefore it makes them less likely to fall for this kind of anti-globalization rhetoric.
    • 10:51:42

      REHMTimothy Snyder...
    • 10:51:42

      SNYDERAnd if we're talking about limited government on the right -- sorry go ahead.
    • 10:51:46

      REHMI'm going to interrupt you right there. Timothy Snyder is professor of history at Yale University, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have an email from Ann, who says fascism evolves in a population when leaders are able to convince their people that social inequalities are the result of immigration, globalization, feminism and liberal education but not the result of social and financial policies that have left a majority of the people behind, Stephen.
    • 10:52:36

      MOOREI don't agree with that. I think, you know, fascism arises -- look, I was on the campaign trail with Donald Trump. There is no question there is an economic unease out there in this country. And, you know, when I went to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, the Midwestern states, they do feel that government hasn't been responsive to their economic anxieties and their concerns, and I think part of it, the Trump phenomenon, was economic, part of it was cultural, frankly.
    • 10:53:01

      MOOREAnd, you know, I mean look, this happened in 2008 with the rise of Obama, and I think it happened in 2016 with the rise of Donald Trump, and again I don't really see the fundamental differences, except for the fact that one is -- wants to move to the right, and the other wanted to move to the left.
    • 10:53:20

      REHMTim Snyder.
    • 10:53:21

      SNYDERI'm going to take a slightly broader take on this. We have the lesson of the 20th century. The lesson of the 20th century says when you get into global capitalism, global capitalism brings wealth, but global capitalism also brings inequality and lots of challenges. Because people feel inequality, subjectively objectively, you get extreme reactions, as Stephen says, both fascism and communism. The repair job that we did in the second half of the 20th century was to remember that if we want to have capitalism that doesn't radicalize people, we also have a state -- has to have a state which gives people a sense that they and their families have a future. That's a kind of bare minimum.
    • 10:54:01

      SNYDERWe learned that lesson as an answer both to communism and to fascism. I think it's a lesson worth remembering.
    • 10:54:08

      REHMAnd Stephen, finally, do you agree, something Julie was talking about earlier, do you agree that Donald Trump has played a major part in the flood of disinformation that has seemingly now made all information suspect?
    • 10:54:29

      MOOREThat's a -- look, Julie is the media person here. I'd like to have her answer that question. I mean, you do have a situation now where people on the right get their information from news outlets on the right, people on the left get their information from news outlets on the left, and I'm not so sure that's a healthy thing, but I think it's clearly happening.
    • 10:54:51

      DAVISWell, and I think we have to be careful that we don't attribute all of that to Donald Trump, right. I mean, who -- President Obama has been a master at using Facebook and Twitter and medium to go around the press and to sort of put his own narrative out there. The big difference, though, is that, A, he does not say things that demonstrable false repeatedly, B, and when he does, frankly, we call him on it, but it doesn't happen very often, he's very careful, sometimes to a fault, and those of us who have covered him have sometimes bristled against how disciplined they've been.
    • 10:55:20

      DAVISBut secondly, he does not turn around and criticize or question the very foundations of a free press. He comes to news conferences, President Obama does, he will challenge your premise, but what we see is Donald Trump saying, you know, they've not been nice to me, they've been rough on me, and he's not talking about editorial pages here, he's talking about the news pages and the fact that he does not feel that he's been treated nicely by news reporters.
    • 10:55:49

      DAVISThat is not the responsibility of a free and independent press in a democracy. The responsibility of a free and independent press in a democracy is to report the news and to report the facts and to hold leaders to account for them.
    • 10:56:00

      REHMTim Synder, last word on news and the president-elect.
    • 10:56:07

      SNYDERI think we're seeing a realignment in politics as we see changes in forms of communication. I'm not so sure that right and left are the right way to describe it. I think the better way to describe is factual and post-factual. I find myself in huge sympathy for conservatives who care about truth, just like the anti-communist dissenters, who are my friends and models, cared about truth. I think in the next few years, that really is going to be the major divide.
    • 10:56:37

      SNYDERAnd I think it's interesting and concerning, given the history of fascism, that we're going to have a president who's on a wrong side of that divide.
    • 10:56:44

      REHMTimothy Synder, he's professor of history at Yale University, author of "Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning." Stephen Moore is senior fellow on economics at The Heritage Foundation and senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign. Julie Hirschfeld Davis is White House reporter for The New York Times. Thank you all so much for being here.
    • 10:57:15

      MOOREThank you, Diane.
    • 10:57:15

      DAVISThanks, Diane.
    • 10:57:15

      SNYDERThank you very much.
    • 10:57:20

      REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.



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