Over the past five years or so, I've had no problem using the "F" word (fascism) to describe what's been happening under President Trump and the Republican Party. I wrote about it here in Salon all the way back in 2015, noting that I wasn't the only one. In fact, it was his fellow Republicans who were the first to use the term to describe him. All you have to do is go back and read that full-page newspaper ad Trump took out in 1989, headlined "Bring Back the Death Penalty, Bring Back Our Police," to understand his fundamental authoritarian nature.
Even though we knew from the beginning that we were dealing with an essentially authoritarian leader, our awareness of it has sometimes been subsumed amid the sheer chaos of daily news over the past five years. But if you look at the various issues Trump is most obsessed with, whether it was the lurid obsession with terrorist violence and refugees during the 2016 campaign or his preoccupation with immigrants, the pardoning of war criminals, his flirtations with dictators, the endless threats to jail his political opponents and muzzle the press, the valorizing of the Confederacy and the openly racist "law and order" campaign of this year, it's pretty clear what gets him excited — along with his devoted following.
But wait, you say: Donald Trump only cares about himself! He's not interested in anything as abstract as "issues," not even the ones that tickle his lizard brain. But these are not mutually exclusive things. You see, Donald Trump genuinely believes he is scientifically superior to all those "others" and that they must be kept in check, with whatever level of violence may be necessary.
He doesn't talk about this a whole lot, but it definitely comes up from time to time. Just this past weekend in Minnesota, in the midst of one of his most rambling, racist rallies in a long while, Trump said this, startling quite a few people who perhaps weren't aware of his deep and abiding belief in eugenics:
The last time he brought this up was in May when he visited a Ford plant to praise the organization for some PPE initiative:
Trump is poorly educated, so he probably doesn't even know that such language evokes Nazi Germany's eugenics program and Adolf Hitler's theory of the "master race," especially when discussing the notorious anti-Semite Henry Ford. But it's clear enough that regardless of the historical context, Trump is on Ford's wavelength when it comes to eugenics.
He's talked about "bloodlines" line before, weirdly telling a group of British businessmen in 2018 that "you've all got such good bloodlines in this room.You've all got such amazing DNA.'" He obviously didn't know anything about their "bloodlines," but made the assumption they must be amazing because they were a bunch of rich, successful white, men.
According to Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio, he does believe in a "racehorse theory of human development." It's all about the breeding.
"I'm a big believer in natural ability," Trump told me during a discussion about his leadership traits, which he said came from a natural sense of how human relations work. "If Obama had that psychology, Putin wouldn't be eating his lunch. He doesn't have that psychology and he never will because it's not in his DNA." Later in this discussion, Trump said: "I believe in being prepared and all that stuff. But in many respects, the most important thing is an innate ability."
Perhaps Trump's conviction that DNA — not life experience — is everything explains why he proudly claims that he's "basically the same" today as when he was a boy. "When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I'm basically the same," he said. "The temperament is not that different."
The racehorse theory of human development explains Trump's belief in his suitability for political leadership, despite the fact that he has never held office. He's absolutely convinced that America's problems will be solved by his God-given management skills, bankruptcies notwithstanding. You are either born with superior qualities — the right DNA — or you are not. And people get what they deserve. In his case, that includes the White House.
According to D'Antonio, Donald Trump Jr. also told him that he believes in the racehorse theory as well, and that he too is "in the high percentile on the bell curve," although his father scores even higher.
In Trump's case, the belief that he has "great genes" means that he is not required to study or consult experts or really ever bother to learn anything. He explained this to the Washington Post back in 2016:
He said in a series of interviews that he does not need to read extensively because he reaches the right decisions "with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words 'common sense,' because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability." He believes that when he makes decisions, people see that he instinctively knows the right thing to do: "A lot of people said, 'Man, he was more accurate than guys who have studied it all the time.' "
This was most recently demonstrated in his bizarre comments at the CDC last March:
You'll note that he mentions once again that his uncle, John Trump — an electrical engineer and inventor — taught at MIT, which he believes confers on him the same level of intelligence because of their shared genes.
For Trump, this isn't just idle talk about an accomplished relative. It is central to his understanding of the world and his ability to navigate it. He simply does whatever he feels like in the moment, secure in the knowledge that it must be right because his instincts are superior to any book learning due to his great "bloodlines":
It's easy to laugh at Trump's foolishness or assume that he's just blathering on as usual. But consider his obvious willingness to sacrifice the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans to the deadly pandemic for his own purposes. As he has put it, "We'll let it wash over the country" and achieve "herd mentality." Or what about the horrific conditions at the border over the past three years, most recently the accusations that doctors are performing hysterectomies and other sterilization procedures on immigrant women against their will. Think about what former Homeland Security chief of staff Miles Taylor reported: "This was the president of the United States who looked at me and told me, when we're deciding who to let in to the U.S., he didn't want us to accept people who had quote, 'missing toes or funny foreheads.' This is how the president talks about human beings."
Trump's absurd talk about his "good German genes" doesn't sound so funny when you consider his policies. Somewhere along the line, all these words of his and all the actions of his administration come together in a pattern in which his belief in eugenics fits right in with a program that looks an awful lot like that "F" word.