Fascism must be distinguished from other kinds of authoritarianism and dictatorship and according to Gaetano Salvemini its key characteristic is the displacement of democracy and due process by what Robert Paxton has paraphrased as the “acclamation of the street.” Unlike other forms of oppression, fascism redirects the peoples’ passions into “an obligatory domestic unity” based on scapegoating within the nation and xenophobia without. In this definition the term ‘fascist’ can not be applied to even the most oppressive predemocratic dictatorships as it involves the idea of sliding away from free institutions in pursuit of a nationalist imperative.
In The Anatomy of Fascism Paxton proposes five stages in this decline. Stage One is the establishment of radical Right movements with some explicit or implicit link to fascism. He asserts that this has been the situation in “every industrial, urbanized society with mass politics” since the end of World War II. In Stage Two, these movements become rooted in their political systems as the mainstream elites start to cultivate and direct them against purported internal enemies. Stage Three is the seizure of power, Stage Four, the exercise of power and Stage Five involves the movements radicalization or entropy.
While Donald Trump’s escapade on Capitol Hill is a premature acting out, an impotent folly and a parody of Stage Three, it might also be a foreshadowing of more odious things to come in the United States of America.