In the U.S., former president Donald Trump is up in the polls. In Europe, neo-fascist parties have plunged into the culture wars, demonizing women, immigration, LGBTQ+, and other minorities and trashing globalization. Here: Trump speaks during a rally, Friday, July 7, 2023, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The possibility of a neofascist government in the United States is a perpetual weight on the psyche. With Donald Trump leading the race for the Republican nomination, Joe Biden remaining relatively unpopular, and the even less popular Kamala Harris in the on-deck circle, the idea of Trump being reelected seems unlikely but too plausible for comfort. And with the dark specter of third-party candidates siphoning votes away from Biden in critical states—from Cornel West to No Labels—it’s easy to be despondent knowing Trump need not get 50 percent of the vote to become the 47th president.

Trump, who will soon face indictment over his plot to fix the 2020 election and the related attempted coup, has already planned, if elected, to end the independence of the civil service, federal agencies, the Justice Department, and possibly the Federal Reserve. If he can utterly compromise the independence of federal law enforcement, we really will be an autocracy like Hungary or Poland channeling, in an American way, the neo-fascism unsettling Europe. To borrow Trump’s own words in responding to Jack Smith’s target letter: “Nothing like this has ever happened in our Country before, or even close.”

Trump has made it perfectly clear that his next administration will not have internal guardrails. You will not see the likes of James Mattis, Gary Cohn, Jeff Sessions, Bill Barr, Mark Esper, or anyone who, despite their timidity at times, tried to talk him out of his more gruesome overreaches. Imagine Kari Lake or Mike Flynn as the vice presidential nominee, and you get the idea.

Trump vows to abolish birthright citizenship, wants to reinstitute his Muslim ban even as the GOP courts Muslim voters, seeks to restart his unfinished border wall guarding against Mexican immigration, and hints he likes the idea of becoming “president for life.” When he was nominated at the GOP convention in Cleveland in 2016, he vowed to be a strong president for LGBTQ+ rights. That didn’t happen when he was in office, and he’ll only rubbish such rights if he returns to the Oval Office.

Trumpism is a crude rubbing of neo-fascism in Europe. I am a lawyer: lawyers call this in haec verba; my grandchildren call it “copy and paste.”

In Europe, neo-fascist parties have plunged into the culture wars, demonizing women, immigration, LGBTQ+, and other minorities and trashing globalization. They use the English word “woke” with abandon. Under the guise of extreme nationalism, they exploit the economic dislocation brought about by the pandemic just as conservative Brexiteers prevailed in 2016, pulling the United Kingdom out of the European Union—the “United States of Europe” that Winston Churchill saw as a lodestar for his beloved country.

A backlash against change and frantic fear of the “differentness” of minorities is driving European far-right parties as it is the MAGA Republican Party. Demagogic leaders lusting for power have long made hatred of minorities a winning issue.

The far-right targets “globalists” as the other enemy. We know that modern problems such as trade, climate, security, terrorism, and immigration can best be approached through international organizations, imperfect though they are (the U.N., the W.H.O., etc.). Neo-fascists take a different view, stressing sovereignty and nationalism above all else, like a Wagner opera with a dull but recurring leitmotif.

The war on international collective action would obliterate every glimmer of progress in civil rights, gender equality, climate, and global alliances. The world order, the backbone of the peace following World War II, is not to be prized but to be demolished. A second-term Trump would surely push to leave NATO, which he sees as a grift (something he knows well) for freeloading Europeans.

The “Big Lie” is the hallmark of neo-fascism as it was for the 20th-century original in Germany. Hungary, where anti-migrant sentiment abounds, is the European country with the lowest number of residents born abroad. Nevertheless, its president Victor Orbán successfully campaigned with a billboard headlined “Stop” juxtaposed with a sea of immigrants on their way to the border. It was a carbon copy of the billboard Brexiteers in England had used in the final days of their campaign. In case you didn’t know, Brexit was about sovereignty, not getting better trade terms for scotch and Land Rovers. When Britain exited from the EU, it took an economic hit, having to renegotiate economic ties with the EU and the U.S. Brexit ought to be a cautionary tale, but so should January 6.

The neofascist Vox party polled well before last week’s snap election in Spain. It was the first far-right party since General Francisco Franco with a chance to win. Vox did not win and only carried in the low teens. But if the mainstream conservative party can form a new government, Vox will likely have a voice in its government. Where’s a modern Orwell when we need him?

Vox’s leader, a piece of work named Santiago Abascal, is a climate denier who has falsely claimed that foreigners commit 70% of gang rapes, channeling Trump’s 2015 campaign debut, repeated in 2018, that Mexican immigrants were “rapists.” Abascal lards his speeches with references to the Reconquista, suggesting he’ll expel Islam as his forbearers did. This is what Slobodan Milosevic did in Serbia in the 1990s, fanning centuries-old hatred of Muslims for modern ends. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown argued before the election in The Guardian that a Vox wis would embolden the far right throughout Europe. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

Unfortunately, neofascists elsewhere in the EU don’t need the help. The far-right German party, AfD, has 20% national support and won its first local election, breathing hard on the CDU/CSU party, which at 25% is being bullied into moving even further to the right. Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 with only 37% of the German vote. The history of center-right parties allying with far-right ones is not comforting.

Austria’s ultra-right Freedom Party is poised to be the ruling party after next year’s election. Georgia Meloni in Italy and her far-right Fratelli di Italia Party is in power, although she’s taken a more sensible line on Ukraine than many imagined. And let’s not leave out our new NATO ally, lovable social-democratic Finland, where the Finns Party has taken over seven of the 15 ministries in the newly constituted Finnish cabinet.

There is a wave of street violence in France, where President Emmanuel Macron won a narrow victory over rightist Marie Le Pen in 2022. Who is not to say that a thirst for law and order will not propel her into the Elysées Palace next time round?

In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte resigned his office over immigration, forcing a general election later this year. Historically, fascism has never had a firm footing in Holland, but neo-fascism is rising. When Trump said he’d declare ANTIFA a terrorist organization the day before threatening to send the military to stop nationwide protests against police violence in 2020, he found a supporter in Thierry Baudet, leader of the far-right Dutch party, Forum for Democracy (FvD). Baudet branded Trump’s Antifa announcement a “[v]ery good decision.” Two weeks later, Freek Jansen, leader of FvD youth, tarred Black Lives Matter as a “racist movement,” giving rise to “anti-white sentiments and anti-white violence.”

A prominent British journalist told me recently that allied government leaders in Europe, South Korea, and Japan feel deep insecurity at the prospect of another Trump presidency and its impact on the world order. I didn’t bother pretending there was nothing to worry about.

Still, with all the hurdles confronting Biden, this is not 2016, and America is not Europe. History may be a stern teacher, but you never put your toe in the same river twice. Things are going in Biden’s favor even as he languishes in the polls. Americans have witnessed the incontestable evidence of what happened on January 6. As Michael Podhorzer argued in the Monthly, an emerging anti-MAGA coalition is building, which is why the MAGA right failed to make significant gains in 2018, 2020, and 2022. The Trumpist Supreme Court threw Democrats a lifeline with the Dobbs decision tossing abortion back to the states. Republican statehouses in Tallahassee and Columbus and Boise and elsewhere have only animated women and younger voters with ever more draconian laws. Jim Jordan’s antics, Marjorie Taylor Greene’s perfidy, and Lauren Boebert’s idiocy aren’t helping the GOP. And while the mounting legal troubles engulfing Trump have strengthened his hand with Republican primary voters, it’s done nothing for him with suburban women or other swing voters.

Americans have also witnessed Biden’s remarkable legislative successes, the most monumental since Lyndon Johnson. Inflation has been curtailed. The price of gas is down.

Biden’s international accomplishments have been signal, culminating in his recent performance among the NATO allies in Vilnius, for which he deserves high praise. Meanwhile, his campaign reportedly raised $72 million in the three months ended June 30 as compared with Trump’s $35 million for the same period. The party is united behind him, even if Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and his weird quackery draw some protest votes.

We’re also not Europe because our immigration problems don’t stir the same passions. Despite the anti-immigrant demagoguery and the “crisis at the border” blather on Fox and Newsmax, the U.S. never faced a wave of immigration as big and sudden as what struck Europe in the mid-aughts. And we remain an assimilation machine compared to Europe. Visit a Little League game in heavily Arab Dearborn, Michigan, and compare it to the heavily segregated housing projects in the Paris suburbs. Immigration is not the killer issue here that is in Europe because we’re still a peaceful assimilationist nation built on the idea that America is rooted in values and not blood and soil. Plus, the Biden administration has stemmed the flow of migrants seeking asylum at the border. The much-anticipated flood after Trump-era regulations were lifted never emerged.

A Republican other than Trump could well take out Biden. Still, the Democrats are lucky that GOP voters, like a teenage girl in love with a juvenile delinquent, only fall deeper into the quicksand the more he spirals out of control. DeSantis’s faltering campaign and bizarre decision to run against The Walt Disney Company is a blessing to Democrats. The more cheerful Republicans like Tim Scott and Nikki Haley seem unlikely to prevail, and the very happy warrior, Chris Christie, probably can’t win in a splintered GOP primary hellscape. Republican fat cat donors seeking an alternative to Trump haven’t yet coalesced around a single candidate, raising the possibility of a protracted fight as Trump’s third indictment heads for the courthouse.

As a former prosecutor, I’m not confident that any of Trump’s criminal trials will be completed before next year, which means the courts won’t be able to do the work of the voters and spare us another four years of this malevolent buffoon. But the trials of Trump—there won’t be any plea deals—will likely animate Democrats, even apathetic ones, and rouse enough swing voters to get Biden-Harris another term. At least, I hope so. The problem is that Trump probably has maybe a 1 in 3 chance of winning when all is said, the same odds Jack Smith lost with when he drew Judge Aileen Cannon in Florida. Those are not the odds on which you want to risk a constitutional democracy, but Americans will prove risk-averse regarding their precious form of government.

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James D. Zirin, author and legal analyst, is a former federal prosecutor in New York's Southern District. He also hosts the public television talk show and podcast Conversations with Jim Zirin.