In the days after President Obama’s rare Oval Office address to the nation in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack, the Republican presidential candidates’ pushback was predictably racist and horrible. Ted Cruz ’92 and Jeb Bush doubled down on their absurd and unenforceable Christians-only refugee idea, and Mike Huckabee claimed the President cared more about the “reputation of Islam” than the security of the American people. But of course, none was more repugnant than Donald Trump’s idea to ban all Muslims from entering the United States for any reason.
In light of his previous proposals to deport all 11 million immigrants who came to this country illegally, to build a database of all Muslims in the United States and to have the federal government shut down mosques, there’s simply no reasonable characterization of his campaign left that doesn’t involve the idea of a 20th century fascist police state. It’s quite literally gotten to the point where people have started to see for themselves how Hitler could have risen to power in Nazi Germany.
Finally, though, other Republican officials have begun to push back. The previous months of tepid claims that Trump “doesn’t speak for us” made by minor Republican strategists no one has ever heard of were finally not enough. House Speaker Paul Ryan gave a brave and blistering speech to the press, in which he defended religious freedom, tolerance and American Muslims. He explicitly denounced Trump’s Muslim travel ban, saying “what was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for, and more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.” Former U.S. Senator from Kansas Bob Dole, who lost the 1996 presidential election to President Bill Clinton, added that he might “oversleep” on election day if some of the top GOP candidates (Trump or Cruz, namely) had been nominated. Even former Vice President Dick Cheney, who is possibly the last person I’d think of in a word-association test for “human rights,” said that it “goes against everything we stand for and believe in.” (So does waterboarding, but that’s a conversation for another column.)
While it’s admirable that top-tier Republicans have finally started calling Trump what he is — not a conservative but a fascist — it says something horrible about the state of our politics more broadly that denouncing someone who proposed a Third-Reich style registry of religious minorities just places you to the left of him as a “relative moderate” on the GOP spectrum.
Dole is not a moderate; when he ran against Clinton in 1996, he ran from what was then the far-right wing of the right-wing party. He now claims that neither he nor President Ronald Reagan could win a primary today, given how Hard Right the party has gone. Ryan is an avid proponent of the cruelest forms of laissez-faire capitalism and admits to getting his economic philosophy from the pages of Ayn Rand. And I don’t think even Cheney ever thought someone more conservative than himself could be a serious contender for President. But denouncing fascism, which is to say, having basic human decency, does not make you a “moderate” compared to Trump’s “conservatism.” It makes you an arch-con compared to Trump’s fascism.
A problem in the way our media has covered this frankly absurd election cycle is that objective factual truths have given way to everything being seen on a spectrum, and all points on that spectrum being seen as legitimate political positions. So any time the right has moved further down the spectrum since 2010, those who were previously considered “far-right” were re-dubbed “the Republican establishment” or a “moderate.” They are anything but.
Just because U.S. Senator from Arizona John McCain believes refugees shouldn’t be discriminated against on the basis of religion, or Jeb Bush recognizes it would be impossible to round up 11 million undocumented immigrants and deport them en masse, does not mean they are not far to the right of what’s deemed conservative in any other Western liberal democracy. Even Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front, has more generous views on social welfare than Jeb. The fact that there’s a right, a far-right and a fascist wing of the Republican party, when such parallels simply do not exist on the Democratic side, does not mean we have to say “both parties have their extremes.” Asymmetric polarization is real, and to deny its existence is simply to ignore facts.
Trump isn’t the “conservative” to Jeb Bush’s “establishment wing” of the Republican party. He’s the fascist to the basic human decency of us all.
Ryan Dukeman is a Wilson School Major from Westwood, Mass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.