Trump and Mussolini

 

J. B. Bosworth’s excellent “Mussolini’s Italy” illustrates the vast differences between the two right-wing populists

Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship 1915-1945, R. J. B. Bosworth, Penguin Press, 736 pages, 2006, $25.00 paperback

OPINION

By George Howland Jr.

U.S. President Donald J. Trump should not be compared to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Commentators ranging from The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank to retired four-star general Barry McCaffrey have compared the president to the Duce, who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1945. While Trump is a very dangerous chief executive, Mussolini was a fascist who cleverly combined violence against the Italian population itself with deft manipulation of the existing political elites. Whatever his desires, Trump has not practiced the former and seems incapable of the latter.

A good jumping off point for examining the Duce in detail is Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship, 1915-1945, by R. J. B. Bosworth, the renowned Australian scholar.

Fascism: from decentralization to dictatorship

After World War I, when the fascist movement began, its organization was highly decentralized. There was no single leader and no nationwide or regional coordination of activity. Instead, local strongmen attacked their enemies as they saw fit. Communists and socialists were the common enemies of these little Duces. The fascists used squads of thugs and former soldiers to beat, maim and kill their enemies. The squads also destroyed the leftists’ infrastructure: burning their offices and smashing their printing presses. During the rise of fascism, 3000 Italians were killed (425 were fascists).

While Trump has used the government to commit acts of horrible cruelty against immigrants and refugees—separation of families and detention in inhumane facilities—populist violence has not been in his toolbox. Gangs of Republicans are not physically attacking Democrats and setting fire to their offices. I do not see any signs of such “squadrism” emerging in our current political environment.

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A punch against the gays

One summer night in Wallingford, near Dick’s drive-in

Blossom Boys
Members of Camp Blossom for Boys:  I am third from the left with long hair and a beard

MEMOIR

By George Howland Jr.

My boyfriend, Tommy, and I walked with arms around one another to the bus stop. It was the summer of 1979 and he was working graveyard at a print shop. We both had long hair and beards. My hair was blonde, and my beard was black; all his hair was brown. Both of us were way skinny. He wore jeans, a t-shirt and boots. I had on draw-string pants, a t-shirt and Birkenstock sandals with no back strap.

We were on North 45th Street, a main drag through Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, at the time a neighborhood of overwhelmingly white middle-class and working-class people.

I was living right up the street at Camp Blossom for Boys, an intentional community for gay, bi-sexual and straight men. I had spent 18 months putting Camp Blossom together as part of my effort to “fight the patriarchy” by changing men. Seven of us had rented a suburban looking house next to a gas station on First Avenue Northeast. Four gay men, two straight guys and me—the lone bisexual. Three of us were anarchists, one was an activist skeptic and the other three were gay guys who were curious about living with other men.

At the time, you didn’t see many gay couples in Wallingford. We didn’t care. We were proudly, militantly out.

I wore dangling earrings and androgynous clothing. The more stares I drew, the better. I wanted to confront people’s homophobia. I told everyone—my school district employer, my alternative public high school students, people that I met—that I was bisexual. The confrontations took their toll—my stomach was often convulsed with cramps.

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