Is President Donald Trump a fascist? Not quite, according to Madeleine Albright. But he still makes her nervous.
“I do think he’s the least democratic president in modern history,” she told an audience of 800 on Monday at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. “His instincts are not democratic. And the fact that he tries to divide us into us versus them.”
Albright, who served as secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, came to promote her new book “Fascism: A Warning.”
Asked by interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic to describe fascism, Albright provided a series of definitions that included discriminating against those who disagree with the leader, using propaganda to put out a message and saying disparaging things about one’s opponent.
“We will get to the person in a minute who I think you’re talking about,” Goldberg responded as the audience laughed. Although it was obvious Goldberg was hinting at Trump, he joked that he “meant Vladimir Putin.”
Fascism develops in countries because of unrest among frustrated, working-class citizens who feel economically disenfranchised, Albright said. Those forces shaped the rise of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. She said a similar phenomenon is happening today in Poland and Turkey.
The similarity “is an unhappiness over something to do with their economic condition, or they feel there is a minority in their country they feel is undermining the system,” she said.
Albright called herself an “optimist who worries a lot” and said she is concerned that those economic frustrations have created a “petri dish for something terrible to happen.” Albright said those frustrations from the working class are also being seen in the United States due to a lack of professional skills that match today’s workforce needs, fueling the anti-immigrant sentiment.
Working class people need somebody to blame, she said. “We’re operating on the fear factor. There’s a sense that the worst things are going to happen.”
Albright, an immigrant herself, fled Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939 at the age of 2 with her parents, who were Czech Jews. She was raised Catholic and it was only as an adult that she discovered her Jewish roots, and that 26 members of her family died in the Holocaust.
Turning to the question of American foreign intervention, Albright said it is important for the United States to return to a foreign policy of multilateralism.
Clinton’s policy of multilateralism, or “America as the indispensable nation,” was what drove him to become involved militarily in the Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts during the 1990s, she said.
Albright has criticized President Barack Obama’s policy on Syria and said Trump made the right decision in attacking Syria last week, following a deadly chemical weapons attack in Douma. But she was still critical.
“I think it was right to respond, but the bottom line is there’s no strategy,” she said. “These one-offs are not a good idea.”
She said that any government decision on the question of whether to use force overseas will inevitably draw criticism.
“The number of times [the Clinton Administration] got blamed for not doing anything in Rwanda, and then got blamed for doing something somewhere else,” she said. “It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
Attendee Thaddeus Bradley-Lewis, a Washington resident, said he was intrigued by Albright’s take on American indispensability.
“I think we have good reason to feel less and less exceptional due to domestic events, but I think it would be a tragedy to forget that we are exceptional because of our ideas, and those ideas should be championed around the world,” he said.