Is Donald Trump a Nazi?
After calling white supremacist protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia “very fine people” and pardoning of Joe Arpaio (a man who operated what can only be described as a racist reign of terror while a sheriff in Arizona), it seems increasingly likely that the 45th president of the United States at least sympathises with the views of Nazis and white supremacists.
A lot of them think so too. The Daily Stormer, mouthpiece of the American neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements, took Trump’s failure to condemn them as a sign of tacit support.
However, while he has associates and supporters who certainly hold these views, the man himself does not appear to be motivated by anything so ideological as white supremacy or naziism.
Instead, the picture that emerges from Trump Revealed, the biography written by Washington Post journalists Marc Fisher and Michael Kranish in 2016, is one of a man whose only motivation is himself and his relentless quest to be “a winner”.
This quest provides a running theme for Fisher and Kranish’s biography, as does Trump’s division of the world into a zero-sum binary of winners and losers. No matter what he is engaged in – politics, business, baseball – there are winners, and there are losers.
More than this, there is no such thing as a “win-win”. If somebody is winning, somebody else must be losing, and more than anything Trump has to be winning. He has to be the richest, the strongest, the best, and he has to grind his victories into the face of the world.
It is a lesson he seems to have learned early on. Fisher and Kranish tell the story of a young Trump on the baseball field at school. He was, it appears, a good player and a strong hitter of the ball. In particular, he would drive the ball hard into right field, so much so that whenever he was batting, the fielders would shuffle over to give that side of the field more protection.
If Trump had decided to hit into left field, he would have made first base easily – there were no fielders there. But instead, Trump continued to drive the ball hard through the fielders and into right field, delighting in their humiliation. He was strong, but that wasn’t enough – the losers had to know it.
This story demonstrates the sort of access the Post’s journalists had when researching their biography – Trump himself contributed around 20 hours of interviews to the project, even while threatening to sue them if he didn’t like the book.
But it also reveals a pattern of thought that has stuck with him all his life. You can see it in his brash behaviour, the garish way he decorates his properties, even his lies about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. It’s all about looking like a winner.
Trump Revealed also focuses on his relationship with Roy Cohn, for a long time his lawyer and adviser. Cohn was a pugnacious figure who had worked for Senator Joe McCarthy and counted mafiosi and Rupert Murdoch among his clients. Fisher and Kranish credit him with giving Trump a definitive piece of advice: If you’re under attack, counterattack with overwhelming force.
This goes some way to explain the lawsuits and verbal abuse directed at Trump’s opponents and critics. But combined with his determination to be a “winner”, it provides a better explanation for his actions than any ideological one.
Indeed, he has no discernible ideology other than “Donald First”, and has switched parties around seven times. Instead, his anti-liberal policies like forbidding transgender people from serving in the armed forces or trying to repeal Obama’s healthcare legislation probably don’t come from a deep-seated reactionary bent, but rather because they are other people’s victories. And if other people have won, he has lost.
Similarly, his posturing over North Korea, and insistence that the Obama administration’s deal with Iran was a disaster do not come from any coherent diplomatic strategy or analysis of the facts.
Instead, he is acting on the global stage as he has acted in his business and personal life. Backing down or compromising even slightly over North Korea would be a loss, so he must show strength. Iran got something it wanted out of the deal, and therefore America lost.
To return to the question, Donald Trump probably is a racist, in the way that many whites who grew up in America in the 1950s are. Indeed, there is evidence of his businesses discriminating against black people and he was sued by the Department of Justice for discrimination in the 1970s. But this has not been a major part of his life in the way that it is for people like KKK leader David Duke and other white supremacists.
However, he has been drawn to defend these people because they support him, and if they lose, he loses. And he cannot lose, he must not lose. This is the Donald Trump that Fisher and Kranish have portrayed, and it is one that makes a lot of sense when looking at how he has conducted himself throughout his life and into his presidency.
This is not to exonerate him. He may not be a white supremacist or a Nazi, but he will continue to back them because, to him, it just doesn’t matter. Racial equality is peripheral in importance to his own desire to be a winner, and that is a terrifying thought.