Is This Trump’s Reichstag Fire Moment?

Is the president taking advantage of nationwide protests to advance an even more authoritarian agenda?

Subscribe to the Deconstructed podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Radio Public, and other platforms. New to podcasting? Click here.


President Donald Trump has seized on the nationwide protest movement that followed the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer to advance his most authoritarian political instincts. This week he threatened to deploy the military to cities whose leaders were unable to contain the violence themselves. Could this be an inflection point in his presidency? And is it time to finally use the F-word in discussing Trump? Fascism scholar Ruth Ben-Ghiat joins Mehdi Hasan to discuss.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat: If we wait around for a certain kind of violence that we associate with fascism to be worried, we’re gonna wake up one day and find an authoritarian state in the 21st century manner and not have understood how it got there.

[Musical interlude.]

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan.

Is it time to call Trump the ‘f’-word? Because what we’ve seen in recent days is the behavior of a deranged demagogue, someone who is following almost chapter by chapter the playbook of fascists.

RBG: A lot of the mainstream liberal politicians are in denial about this because it means that you have to come to terms with very unpleasant truths about America.

MH: That’s my guest today, fascism scholar and Mussolini expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat. We’ll be discussing Trump’s assault on the rule of law, on democracy, on actual Americans in the streets; his naked attempt to seize more powers for himself; and asking: Is this Trump’s Reichstag Fire moment?

Newsreel: Here you’ll see the Reichstag, the German House of Parliament in Berlin, which has been seriously destroyed by fire. Hitler, now chancellor, has announced that the fire was the work of communists, and was intended to be the signal for a Bolshevist uprising throughout the country. In consequence, Germany has been placed under a system of Martial law, a decree having been signed, which aims at the total destruction of communism.

MH: On February 27, 1933, the German parliament, the Reichstag, was burned down. Adolf Hitler, then in coalition government, used the fire to claim that the Communists were planning a violent coup and passed an emergency decree permitting his government to arrest and detain political opponents without trial, to disband political organizations, to confiscate private property, and to overrule state and local laws.

That fire, and the decree that followed, paved the way for Hitler’s Nazi dictatorship, for World War 2, for the Holocaust.

Now, I’m not suggesting Donald Trump is about to make himself Fuhrer and kill America’s Jews, but I do want to ask whether the president is using the chaos and violence we’re seeing on the streets of the U.S. in recent days as an excuse — as an opportunity — to seize more powers for himself, to crack down on his political opponents, to fan the flames of racial and ethnic division, to push his fascist — yes, fascist — agenda.

And of course it’s always risky to invoke the Nazis in any discussion about an authoritarian or a right-wing politician. I get that. My producer Zach and I were discussing whether or not to open this show with a Reichstag Fire reference because people understandably get nervous when you make comparisons to the Nazis. There’s a kind of rule on the Internet — Godwin’s Law, it’s called — which, for years, has mocked people online for comparing their opponents to Hitler or the Nazis.

But here’s the thing: even Mike Godwin himself, the guy who came up with that internet law, says it’s fine to compare Trump to Hitler. It’s fine to call him a fascist. I mean, if the shoe fits, and all of that.

And look, people have been calling Trump a fascist since before he was even elected, and not without reason. I mean, his entire presidential campaign was based on walling off one foreign group of people, and banning another. He also incited violence at his rallies, threatened to lock up his political opponents, and claimed he “alone” could fix America’s problems.

And yet even some of his own critics have always thought the ‘F’-word was a step too far. Some liberals were busy downplaying the threat from Trump back in 2016, like The Washington Post’s Katherine Parker, who claimed on the eve of the election that we’ll be fine if Trump wins because, “he’ll be held more or less in check by the House and Senate because that’s the way our system of government is set up.”

Yeah. That take aged well.

Some thought he was just all talk; a blowhard who wouldn’t actually do anything to physically harm anyone. And yet…

[Montage of sounds from George Floyd Protests, including sounds of crowds screaming, a cop saying, “you will be arrested, removed by force, if necessary, which may result in serious injury,” sirens, protestors chanting, “I can’t breathe.”]

MH: I wonder how many of them still think he isn’t a physical threat to us, he isn’t a threat to democracy and the Constitution, after the events of the past week. As the United States erupted in protest against police violence after the horrific killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and as police forces across the nation then brutally assaulted, and shot at, and ran over unarmed protesters and reporters, on camera — on camera — the president and his cronies decided to go into full fascist mode. First stop, the anti-fascists. Of course.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted: “The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.” Despite the fact that he has no legal authority to do that, despite the fact that Antifa isn’t even an actual organization, and despite the fact that the FBI internally was saying Antifa had nothing to do with the violence.

Then, on a call with governors on Monday morning, an angry president demanded they take tougher action against the protesters, and exact quote “retribution” against them:

President Donald J. Trump: You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time, and they’re gonna run over you and you look like a bunch of jerks. You have to arrest and then you have to try people.

“You have to dominate.” “You have to arrest … people.” Spoken like a true fascist! Remember Trump is on record praising the Chinese dictatorship for being strong in its response to the Tiananmen Square protesters back in 1990.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton, a Trump toady and ex-soldier, took to Fox News to make this chilling threat in support of the president:

Tom Cotton: If local law enforcement is overwhelmed, if local politicians will not do their most basic job to protect our citizens, let’s see how these anarchists respond when the 101st Airborne is on the other side of the street.

MH: Cotton also tweeted that the military should show “no quarter” to the anarchists — which is a phrase meaning, ‘take no prisoners, kill everyone.’

Later on Monday, in a speech at the White House, Trump ratcheted up his own rhetoric:

DJT: These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror.

MH: Domestic terror! A phrase he never used to describe the massacres of Jews in U.S. synagogues by white supremacists; a phrase he never used to describe the pipe bombs sent to Democratic politicians by one of his supporters! But Antifa, who’ve never killed anyone? Domestic terrorists! Funny that.

Trump then basically declared war on the American people:

DJT: “Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled. If the city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military, and quickly solve the problem for them.

And as he spoke on the grounds of the White House, his Attorney General Bill Barr — whose nakedly authoritarian instincts we discussed on this show just a few weeks ago — ordered the police and other federal law enforcement agencies outside the White House to disperse, to break up the crowds with smoke grenades, with rubber bullets, and what looked and felt like, to the protesters and reporters there on the scene, like teargas.

[Sounds of loud bang, crowds yelling in reaction.]

MH: Why? So that the president of the United States, who had been earlier mocked for hiding in the White House bunker, could have a photo op across the street, in front of a church, holding a Bible — a Bible he’s never read, by the way.

Reporter: Is that your Bible?

DJT: It’s a Bible.

MH: “Is that your bible?” the reporter asks. “It’s a bible,” Trump, accurately, replies.

By the way, they even gassed an Episcopal priest to get him out of the way of the president’s church photo-op. As the old saying goes, “When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

Or as my good friend Ayman Mohyeldin over at MSNBC pointed out in a tweet: “just imagine what American politicians and the President would do and say if a leader of an Arab country, brandishing a Quran in hand stood in front of a mosque in the middle of nationwide protests vowing to use the military to quell demonstrations.”

But see, we’ve been taught to believe that that could never happen here. Trump can’t be a fascist because the American people, the American political system, would never tolerate it.

Thankfully, as Trump talks about invoking the Insurrection Act and declaring martial law, and deploying tanks and bayonets against unarmed Americans, that naivety and complacency is now being challenged — even Democratic members of Congress like Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Eric Swalwell used the ‘f’- word to describe Trump and his remarks this week.

The liberal economist and former cabinet member under Bill Clinton, Robert Reich, said: “I have held off using the ‘f’-word for three and a half years, but there is no longer any honest alternative. Trump is a fascist, and he is promoting fascism in America.”

Some journalists have joined in. Here’s CNN’s Don Lemon speaking live on air:

Don Lemon: Open your eyes America. Open your eyes. We are teetering on a dictatorship.

MH: But is this hyperbole or is it fact? Will the media continue to resist calling out Trump for what he is? And will this week’s awful events, moreso even than the events of Charlottesville and Trump’s praise then for neo-Nazis as “very fine people,” will this week’s events come to be remembered by historians and by future generations as a fascist turning point in American history? As Trump’s own Reichstag Fire moment?

[Musical interlude.]

That’s what I want to ask and discuss today, and so I’m delighted that my guest is Ruth Ben-Ghiat, the scholar of fascism and authoritarianism, a professor of history at New York University, and an expert — not just on Trump — but on Mussolini, too.

She joins me now from New York. Ruth, thanks so much for coming on Deconstructed.

RBG: I’m really happy to be speaking with you.

MH: First off, before we talk Trump, let’s get our terminology in order: How do you define fascism? Who or what is a fascist? Because it’s a widely used term and often used, admittedly, as a term of abuse by some on the Left.

RBG: I see fascism as a — it’s a one party state. It’s a dictatorship, classically, if we look at the original fascist regimes of Mussolini and Hitler. It’s a system of organized violence, with the Left as one of its main targets, also other — Jews and ethnic minorities. But this, the fact of organized violence, state-organized violence is very, very important.

This is classic fascism, which is associated with a one-party state. But the techniques and the tools of fascism, like propaganda and corruption, they — they — can take different forms. They took different forms in the future up to today.

MH: And so do you believe Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States could be classified as a fascist or at least a wannabe fascist?

RBG: He — so I personally don’t use the term fascist for him, in terms of — if I have to do a one-word identifier of him, I use the word authoritarian. The reason I do that is many people have an outdated idea of what authoritarianism or fascism is, meaning that they think of jackboots and they think of, you know, immediate takeovers of government and one-party states. So you get a lot of mail from people who say: Well, here we have protesters, we have an opposition press. So what are you talking about?

So, in some — in some ways, although Donald Trump has many, many similarities to fascists — he has a leader cult, he uses repression and corruption — I prefer to call him an authoritarian which, fascism is a type of authoritarianism. And because I believe it is better suited because some people are lulled into thinking if we don’t have a one-party state today, we don’t have fascism. And that’s not actually true.

MH: How much has his behavior over this past week influenced that view of yours versus his behavior over the past three and a half years as president?

RBG: What we’re seeing these days with his calling out the military to be used on domestic populations and staging propaganda stunts with Bibles, all of this has been set up and is a continuation of what he’s been doing since he ran for office. There’s nothing really new. He’s always been talking about military parades and using the military. So it’s, it’s an escalation, that’s for sure, because he’s in a crisis, he’s at a crisis inflection point. But it’s not anything very, very different than what he promised before in his politics of threat.

MH: How fair is it? How accurate is it? Some people have talked about a Reichstag Fire moment? A, you know, the moment where Adolf Hitler used the burning of the German parliament to pass decrees which gave him extra powers, authoritarian powers, paved the way for the one-party state, the Nazi dictatorship. How many — I know, it’s always dangerous to kind of invoke the Nazis, I know, and look at historical comparisons — but how much of this is a moment for Trump an opportunity for him and Bill Barr and others to really push their authoritarian agenda?

RBG: It’s definitely a moment that in Barr’s case, and in Trump’s case, they’ve been salivating and waiting for. If you look at the speeches that Barr, the attorney general, has been making to police, benevolent societies, and other police gatherings and conventions, they — they talk about an, you know, a ceaseless war against criminal predators. They are in the tradition of what I call right-wing authoritarianism.

All of these things that are happening have been set up in rhetoric, and in desire, and, in some sense, in policy, and in cultivating the police, and cultivating the right wing base for many years.

MH: You can’t keep up with a litany of ridiculous things that he said. In terms of policy, the attempt to label Antifa a domestic terror group, something he’s refused to do with white nationalists — surprise, surprise — does seem like a brazen and unconstitutional power grab by this president.

RBG: Well, what’s interesting about that — it’s horrifying — is that legally it doesn’t have any teeth. It’s a toothless threat, as legal experts have said.

However, as always with Trump, it’s a message to multiple constituencies. And here he is, he was speaking to police, to the national guard, to all the armed forces, various people he has out there on the streets, telling them that they are legitimated by the President of the United States to treat protesters as though they were terrorists.

MH: Hmm.

RBG: With Trump, there’s always this kind of politics of threat, as I call it —

MH: Yes.

RBG: Because, legally, a lot of the stuff he says is not actionable, but it’s not about concrete, legal frameworks as much as, as changing behavior. And all of his campaign, and his rise, and his presidency has been about creating a class of Americans who follow him, you know, devotedly who are willing to drop away any compassion they had for migrants, for people who are not like them. And he’s really engaging in a kind of emotional training of Americans to be cruel and violent and all the things that there we have a link to historic fascism, for sure.

MH: Matt Gaetz, the Republican, the Trump mini-me in Congress, Representative Gaetz said on Twitter this week, and Twitter had to put up a notice on his tweet, saying, does that mean we get to “hunt” people down, Antifa terrorists down, like we hunt down terrorists in the Middle East? Which is an outrageous thing for a member of Congress to say, but it’s encouraged, incited by Trump.

RBG: Yeah, and you know, here we need to broaden the discourse to — it’s, it’s easy to focus everything on Trump, but as we, as you well know, he would be nothing without his GOP collaborators and enablers.

MH: Indeed.

RGB: And many of them are — I’ve called them thugs on Twitter many times — people like you know, Greg Abbott, who held up the kind of target practice thing and joked about shooting journalists.

MH: The Governor of Texas.

RBG: Yes, the governor of Texas.

All of these people have engaged in violent rhetoric and incited violence and contributed to the climate that we have now. So and, and here with the, that specific comment about, can we hunt them like we do in the Middle East? We also have to look at, you know, this declining empire and a compensation for kind of, you know, America used to more openly cause coups and military crackdowns in other countries. And now, my own personal feeling, after spending two years for this, my book coming out next year called “Strongmen,” on right-wing authoritarians minds, is, you know, what’s what’s been happening is kind of a cultivation of a counterinsurgency mentality with Americans as the targets of what used to go on in Fallujah and God knows where else.

MH: Which is a logical end point of a War on Terror abroad is to bring those tactics home when they’re needed by an authoritarian president.

Some Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren have attacked Trump for authoritarianism. Others, like Senator Ron Wyden, just straight up called his remarks on Monday, “fascist.” Overall, though, Ruth, I feel like Democrats as a whole — including their presumptive presidential candidate Joe Biden, and the liberal media as a whole — still, even now, don’t quite take the authoritarian the fascistic threat that Trump poses to American democracy seriously enough, they don’t quite get it or want to get it. They don’t recognize that he’s probably not going to accept the election result in November. He’s gonna stoke more and more violence and division between now and November. Am I being unfair?

RBG: No, this is a source of as you can imagine, great frustration for me that a lot of the mainstream liberal politicians are in denial about this, as well as a lot of, you know, mainstream media outlets, who will, for example, very often have American historians on who can comment about what’s Trump doing in, as opposed to, you know, in comparison to Nixon and American history. But they’ve been very reluctant to have on people who put Trump in a framework of authoritarianism.

So they don’t want to go there. And I think it’s because it means that you have to come to terms with very unpleasant truths about America, and also the political climate that’s been shaped by, in some ways, by both Democrats and Republicans. And a lot of people don’t want to do that right now. And it’s, and also if you start talking about authoritarianism, then you have to, you have to do something about it. It’s been a very slow process for Americans, both in government and outside of government to accept this authoritarian framework. I was called, like many other people, “alarmist” and “crazy” and “hysterical” for many years, and even though many of us predicted exactly what’s going to happen.

So I think it’s a question of a mentality shift. And I think it’s changing a little bit now, but whether the political elites are going to buy in and do something about it is — remains to be seen.

MH: Ruth, you and I were messaging each other the other day about Trump and you said, “The question is what do people think fascism will look like today? It’s not old-school dictatorship.” Explain to our listeners what you meant by that.

RBG: Yeah. So, you know, in the, in the 20th century, fascism was — it was about one-party states, the complete suppression of elections, the complete suppression of any political opposition and opposition press.

Today, it works differently. Many — I call them new authoritarians — and they, there, there are many variants and every ruler finds his own formula. But you have, you know, from Putin to Orban to Erdo?an, and today they don’t always do away with opposition parties. They also retain elections, where some semblance of elections. But they manipulate them through fraud and voter suppression and things that go on in this country, too — to, they use these kind of what used to be democratic institutions to maintain themselves in power.

And they keep a pocket of opposition as Putin does, so if we try and pigeonhole today’s rulers into the fascist framework, it doesn’t work very well. So what I like to do is look at these kind of, the authoritarian toolkit that they use —

MH: Yes.

RBG: — violence, corruption, for reality, and look at how these tools have evolved over 100 years because they’re using the same things. Putin, you know, still eliminates his opposition. He poisons people, he puts people into, you know, penal colonies, but he doesn’t suppress 100 percent opposition, and he still has some kind of veneer of elections.

MH: Yeah. And what’s frustrating for me following this as a non-scholar is, you have scholars like Robert Paxton, author of “The Anatomy of Fascism,” who says says Trump’s not a fascist, don’t call him a fascist, he’s more plutocratic than fascist, he says. Roger Griffin, the Oxford historian, author of the nature of fascism, told Business Insider this week, “Somebody who’s totally erratic and has no ultimate vision and is basically knee-jerking all the time, it’s almost a misuse of the term to flatter them with a political science term, because it gives their behavior a sort of Machiavellian subtlety, which it lacks in the case of Trump.”

And I just worry, because as you mentioned, he has a lot of the ingredients of what we would call fascism, or at least authoritarianism. And are we getting hung up with, you know, the literal use of the word and ignoring the fact that he fits the model and the mold?

RBG: Yes, I think you’re — I think you’re right. And in the case of Griffin, this smacks of not taking him seriously.

MH: Indeed.

RBG: And Griffin — Griffin would know that, you know, Mussolini and Hitler were called buffoons.

MH: Yes.

RBG: They were called Mad Men. People didn’t take them seriously and — or they were bewitched by them. There’s lots of, you know, documentation of American journalists being bamboozled by them. Because the one thing that they have in common, all these leaders, is that they’re seducers. They know how to treat the press. They’re, they’re marketers; they’re journalists in their own fashion. And they know how to manipulate people to get them to accept their own vision of reality. And that includes foreign journalists or sometimes historians.

MH: Yes. I mean, in terms of, in terms of the Hitler comparisons, for example, Richard J. Evans, who’s one of the world’s experts on Nazi Germany, you know, he said last year, “if Hitler’s rise teaches us anything, it’s that the establishment trivializes demagogues at its peril.”

And that line really resonated with me because, as you know, The New York Times when they reported on Hitler back in the 1920s, they were saying stuff like: oh, he doesn’t really have a vision, he doesn’t know what he wants, his anti-semitism isn’t as, “genuine or violent as it sounds.” That’s what The New York Times said in 1922. And we all know how that worked out.

RBG: Yeah. And here we go back to this question of, of human denial, of not wanting to see what’s in front of you. And when we go back to the origins of fascism, it’s — we don’t, we don’t forgive, I don’t forgive any of these people nor excuse them, but in the case of Italy, you could see that some people at the very beginning didn’t really know what to make of Mussolini because he was doing something new. He was writing a template, laying down a template.

We know better now. And yet, in doing this book, which goes over 100 years, it’s really striking how human nature leads people to make the same errors. And one of them is, as we said, not taking them seriously. Another is believing that when they get into office, they will calm down.

MH: [Laughs.] Yes.

RBG: They will normalize, they will become like regular politicians, and they can be controlled. And this is — this was the logic of not only the famous cases of the Italian elites and the German elites who let in the fascists, but found in the case of the Pinochet coup in Chile, where, you know, it was a coup, so it was a fait accompli. But there were many Christian Democrats who were — became — later became bigger opposers, who actually thought that Pinochet was going to, “restore order” and then return the country to democracy. So in the case of Trump, there was a name for this delusion called pivot.

MH: Yes.

RBG: The idea was that we that Trump was going to pivot to becoming —

MH: Today’s the day he becomes president! Remember that? Today’s the day!

RBG: Yes. So — yes, the ally thing was that he has finally become presidential. And this drove me — and continues to drive me — completely crazy.

MH: Same.

RBG: Because there — it is a total lack of understanding of who this man is and what his goals are.

MH: And also Ruth, we don’t even need just the historical examples. We don’t have to go back to the 1920s or 30s in Germany or Italy. We have contemporary examples today.

You have Viktor Orban in Hungary, who’s got his own playbook that looks so similar to the Trump playbook. What he’s done in Hungary, one of the first things he did after he was elected was to muzzle the judiciary to undermine the independence of judges and the judicial system in Hungary, and I feel like in the U.S. we still haven’t quite gotten the Trump judiciary angle. We talk a lot about, oh, how Trump and Mitch McConnell are getting their judges confirmed at a record rate, but not what the purpose of that operation is, which is not just to further a conservative agenda, or, you know, you know, the war on abortion, but to have a judiciary that basically refuses to act as a check on executive power, that refuses to be independent of Trump and the Trumpian Republican Party.

RBG: Yeah, no, that’s accurate. And the Orban is a very good comparison because people can look at Erdo?an and say: Well, Erdo?an has engaged in mass detention of his critics. So in our country, we also have mass detention. But people say: Well, it’s not his critics, it’s migrants. But Orban has jailed — he’s threatened many and jailed relatively few, used the least violence of any of these, this crowd, and he’s still gotten his way including domesticating the press.

So it’s a — it’s a good comparison to show that if we wait around for a certain kind of violence that we associate with fascism, to be worried we’re going to wake up one day and find an authoritarian state in the 21st century manner, and not have understood how it got there.

MH: Yes. And I remember when Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, when AOC referred to “concentration camps” at the border, people lost their minds and started getting into kind of, well, what is a concentration camp and he hasn’t killed 6 million Jews.

RBG: Yes.

MH: It was — it was really weird. It was like, really, that’s your response, not the fact that children are being stolen from their parents? People are being forced to lie in, you know, dozens to a cell? That’s the response to pass over the exact terminology. I just feel like it’s a complete distraction and, and yet not taking the threat seriously enough.

RBG: Well, it’s again, it’s, if you make that the bar, then it partly assuages your conscience because it means that you don’t — maybe you don’t have to worry about it. You don’t have to do anything about it.

MH: Yes, good point.

RBG: Yeah.

MH: Well, what can we do about it? That’s my question to you, Ruth as we wrap up. What is the solution? Because it’s not just Trump — as you mentioned, there’s Erdo?an, there’s Orban, there’s Putin, there’s Duterte in the Philippines, Bolsonaro — perhaps the most obvious example of modern day fascism in Brazil. This is a global trend. What can liberal-minded folks do at home or abroad to push back against this?

RBG: Well, it’s, it’s interesting that in 2019 and up to when coronavirus began was a period of, of huge mass protests all over the world. And those protests were mostly about economic inequality. But they also, in many places, were against rising authoritarianism which exacerbates those things — and also plunders the environment.

MH: Yes.

RBG: All of the things that you know, these protests brought many kinds of people together. So my historical studies show that nonviolent mass protest, if it’s consistent, it’s been effective in the past in showing not just the leaders but their supporters that they may not have, they may lose their seats in whatever Congress they have, if they continue to support the leader, and it’s especially effective in periods of transition like ours. And it’s been very interesting that despite coronavirus right now, so many people are out protesting, which also bodes well for voting because there was this idea that people wouldn’t go out and vote, because they’re worried about coronavirus. Well, that doesn’t seem to be — that doesn’t seem to hold.

MH: It doesn’t bode well for public health, but that’s a discussion for another day.

RBG: Yes.

MH: In terms of, in terms of looking forward, you’re a historian. You study, you teach the past, you teach lessons from history. You’re also an expert on authoritarianism. Given the authoritarian moment we’re in, this dark moment we’re in in terms of the coronavirus, in terms of the question of democracy, in terms of these protests, police violence — how optimistic or pessimistic are you about the future?

RBG: I think it’s very important to have optimism and, and, and always have hope. When, when we give up hope, we become defeatist sometimes and we can stop mobilizing. And it’s — it’s really important to build bridges, and not to give up the idea that you can unite with people and to have a dialogue with them. Because propaganda stops when dialogue begins.

I’m personally doing something: I’m writing back to all the haters who write me and I’m having very interesting experiences.

MH: [Laughs.] Good luck!

RBG: This is a tiny, tiny micro experiment. Well, it’s, it’s so many of them when they feel you’re, you respond to them, and they’re heard, they completely change their manner and they find common ground.

MH: Interesting.

RBG: So I may seem like a pollyanna, but in my book as well, I conclude that building bridges and not giving up hope, which also leads us to be activists, right? It’s important — without a sense of a better future it’s hard to be motivated to work today. So I — I do hang on to that.

MH: Wow. That’s admirable and inspiring, even, Ruth. Thanks so much for joining me on Deconstructed.

RBG: Thank you for having me.

[Musical interlude.]

That was historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor at NYU and author of the forthcoming book, “Strongmen: From Mussolini to Trump.” I thought her point about people refusing to call Trump a fascist or even an authoritarian, her preferred term, because they’d then be forced to take much stronger action in response to him, was spot on. We need to know who our opponent is, what they’re capable of; we need to know what threat they pose to us; and we need to push back as hard as we can. Because these aren’t your bog standard, garden variety right-wingers we’re up against. These are authoritarians, and, in my view, fascists.

That’s our show! Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show, so you can hear it every week. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice: iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review — it helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at so much!

See you next week.

Join The Conversation