Americans are in denial about Trump’s ‘dictator threats’ and ‘fascist language’: historian

Gun Rights

Despite threatening to jail political opponents and telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity that he would be a “dictator” on “Day One” of a second presidency, Donald Trump, according to polls, stands a good chance of winning the 2024 presidential election. Polls released in late May are showing a close race, with Trump slightly ahead in some polls and President Joe Biden slightly ahead in others.

Historian/author Ruth Ben-Ghiat, in an op-ed published by MSNBC on May 26, warns that Trump’s extreme rhetoric needs to be taken seriously but fears that too many Americans are in denial about the threat that he poses.

“Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who incited a violent insurrection in January 2021 to try and remain in office illegally after he lost the 2020 election, has been clear about what kind of president he intends to be if he returns to the White House in January 2025,” Ben-Ghiat explains. “In December 2023, he declared that he would be a dictator ‘on Day One’ of his time in office. He proposed deploying the National Guard and even the military as a deportation force in an April interview with Time Magazine. Add in his recent statement at the National Rifle Association convention that he might need three terms, and a new video from his Truth Social account with multiple references to the ‘creation of a unified Reich’ — the Nazi government was known as the Third Reich — and it seems likely that a Trump victory would usher in a new autocratic era for America.”

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The historian/author adds, “Yet it seems that so many in America are treating this election as politics as usual.”

Americans who are dismissive of warnings that Trump’s “dictator threats” and “use of fascist language” pose a real threat to U.S. democracy, according to Ben-Ghiat, are suffering from an “information deficit.”

But history, she emphasizes, shows that those who downplay the threat of authoritarianism do so at their own peril. And Ben-Ghiat makes her point by noting how many Europeans were in denial about Italy’s Benito Mussolini, a.k.a. Il Duce, and Germany’s Adolf Hitler during the 1920s and 1930s.

“Americans are not the first to live in a state of collective denial,” Ben-Ghiat argues. “Authoritarians have often told us what they are going to do, but people have rarely believed them, or they have felt that since they didn’t fit the profile of those the autocrat was targeting, they wouldn’t be affected. Later, when it came their turn to be harassed or persecuted, it was too late to do much about it.”

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The historian/author continues, “When Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini declared dictatorship in 1925…. Ignazio Silone, an Italian communist who took refuge in a safe house in Milan, heard a comrade say that even as the streets filled with fascist security forces, people lined up outside the La Scala opera house, waiting to see the latest spectacle as though Mussolini’s seizure of power did not concern them…. In Germany, the Jewish linguist Victor Klemperer, who kept a diary of his life during Hitler’s rule, was not in denial, but had to stay in Nazi Germany since he could not find a university position abroad. ‘Don’t think about it, live one’s life, bury oneself in the most private matters!’ he wrote on September 20, 1938, hoping that each new round of persecution would be the last.”

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Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s full MSNBC op-ed is available at this link.

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