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Ask a Redbird Scholar: Could the U.S. ever have a fascist leader?

Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Munich, Germany, ca. June 1940. (Courtesy of Flickr user Marion Doss: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ooocha/2629711091/in/gallery-skorpion3-72157648680388178/)

Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Munich, Germany, ca. June 1940. (Courtesy of Flickr user Marion Doss: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ooocha/2629711091/in/gallery-skorpion3-72157648680388178/)

Could the U.S. ever have a fascist leader?

The simple answer is “yes.” But, to understand how a fascist leader could emerge, we need to know what fascism is. Fascism is a political ideology that is based on nationalism (hyper-patriotism), a form of populism (an attempt to unite the mass populace of a country usually through economic appeals), collusion between government and corporations, and an insulated ethnocentrism (typically bigotry and/or a rejection of people not belonging to the dominant group).

Joe Zompetti

Joseph Zompetti

No country is immune from the potential of a fascist leader coming to power, including the United States. We have to remember that Adolf Hitler was actually democratically elected. Some people argue that Donald Trump is a fascist, or has fascist tendencies.

Thus, a charismatic leader who resonates with a majority of the electorate can become the president of the United States. By appealing to American pride, having a vision for economic stability for the working class, and a philosophy of excluding certain groups from participating in civil society, a fascist could feasibly come to power.

Having said that, however, there are also some practical checks that limit this possibility. First, obviously Americans would need to vote such a person into power. To prevent that from happening, we must be as knowledgeable and politically engaged as possible.

Second, the federal government has a system of checks and balances that could offset or limit the authority of a fascist leader. Finally, the nominating process of the two major political parties and the watchful eye of the media can serve as filters that can repel fascist tendencies. Nevertheless, a fascist president remains a possibility, even in the United States.

Joseph P. Zompetti, professor, School of Communication

Our top faculty experts answer questions from the Illinois State University community in the “Ask a Redbird Scholar” section. To submit a question, email Kevin Bersett at kdberse@IllinoisState.edu or tweet it to @ISUResearch. Chosen questions and answers appear in each issue of Illinois State’s new research magazine, the Redbird Scholar. To read other “Ask a Redbird Scholar” posts, visit IllinoisState.edu/RedbirdScholar.

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