It was a shock to many of us in the Aloha State when the candidate with the least imaginable “aloha,” Donald Trump, won the Republican presidential primary caucuses here last week.

It seemed as though Mr. Trump really ought to be running for office, not in Hawaii in 2016, but in Italy in the 1930s, since he is a remarkable cross between the sleazy media-mogul and former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi (another loud-mouthed sexist and tycoon of highly questionable business ethics), and Benito Mussolini (“Il Duce,” ally of Hitler, and leader of Italy up until the end of World War II).

Although Donald Trump has recently been compared by many in the media to Adolph Hitler, and admittedly some of the things he proposes (such as sending out the jackboots to round up millions of unwanted Latinos) do sound Hiterlesque and, in spite of the fact that he reminds us of the Nazis when he calls out certain ethnic and religious groups (such as Mexicans and Muslims) for national opprobrium, his methods and his appeal are much closer to those of the actual founder of “Fascism,” Benito Mussolini.

Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in Munich, 1940. Donald Trump is drawing comparisons to both of them.
Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in Munich, 1940. Donald Trump is drawing comparisons to both of them. Marion Doss/

Benito Mussolini appealed to “Italian Exceptionalism,” to the greatness of the Roman Empire. He attracted underemployed working class Italians and veterans of World War I who felt ill-used by the Italian élite, who saw their country, once cultural capital of Europe and master of the Mediterranean, left behind by the great powers, Britain, France and America.

He blamed liberals and the unpatriotic intelligentsia for Italy’s demise. Only a totalitarian state and the crushing of Italy’s enemies, domestic as well as foreign, could allow the nation to rise to its rightful place in the sun.

Now, Donald Trump uses the anger and bitterness of the least-educated, most often white working-class and older rural Americans, those for who modernity and ethnic diversity are code words for the undermining of “Americane exceptionalism” and their own perceived loss of social status vis-à-vis minorities and immigrants of color.

An African-American from far-away Hawaii becoming president of the United States or homosexuals being granted equal civil rights are ideas so upsetting to their world view that the only explanation can be evil-doing by un-American left-wingers in high places and the only remedy can be an authoritarian crackdown and the barring or expulsion of anyone who does not look like or think like themselves.

The Donald.
Donald Trump is appealing to the same types of voters as the man who became the Italian dictator during World War II. Courtesy: Ninian Reid/Flickr

What is currently happening, the rise of Trump and the unraveling of the Republican Party establishment, is something the GOP has brought upon itself, starting in the late 1960s with its “Southern Strategy,” pandering to the ignorance and bigotry to be found in the states of the Old Confederacy.

This, combined with the strident rejection of the society of Roosevelt’s New Deal, union-busting and the calumnizing of anything liberal or intellectual — tactics well-developed under both Nixon and Ronald Reagan to attract the same swath of prejudice and resentment among Northern whites at the lower end of the social pyramid, all quietly in the service of the “One Percent,” captains of capital and corporate industry — has morphed into what we are witnessing today: the rise of an American Mussolini.

Of course, the United States in 2016 is not Italy in the early-mid 20th century and, unlike the original Mussolini, who ended up shot by Communist partisans and hung by his heels alongside his mistress in a gas station in Milan in April, 1945, it is unlikely that the founder of “Trumpismo” is going to be strung up by those whose country he will ultimately betray.

One reason is that, hopefully, enough decent American voters will see the looming danger and make sure that Mr. Trump simply ends up going back to building casinos and running beauty contests.

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About the Author

  • Stephen O'Harrow

    Stephen O’Harrow is a professor of Asian Languages and currently one of the longest-serving members of the faculty at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. A resident of Hawaii since 1968, he’s been active in local political campaigns since the 1970s and is a member of the Board of Directors, Americans for Democratic Action/Hawaii.