Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Fascism-Lite in America (or the Social Ideal of Donald Trump)

British Journal of American Legal Studies, Forthcoming

TLI Think! Paper 26/2016

King's College London Law School Research Paper No. 16-26

26 Pages Posted: 3 May 2016 Last revised: 23 Aug 2017

Ewan McGaughey

King's College London - School of Law

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: May 1, 2016


What explains the election for the 45th president? There has been grave concern, raised since Citizens United v. FEC, that corporate money is corrupting democracy. Many commentators have even been analyzing Donald Trump’s candidacy as ‘fascist’. This article suggests the true cause of current developments is Buckley v. Valeo, in 1976. An extraordinary memorandum of Lewis Powell for the US Chamber of Commerce in 1971 urged that ‘[b]usiness interests’ should ‘press vigorously in all political arenas for support’. Richard Nixon then appointed Powell to the Supreme Court. A few years after in Buckley, over powerful dissent, a majority held candidates may spend unlimited funds on their own political campaign. Buckley v. Valeo was the ‘Trump for President’ decision. The 2016 election cannot be separated from the social ideal pursued by a majority of the Supreme Court since 1976. No modern judiciary had engaged in a more sustained assault on democracy and human rights. Properly understood, ‘fascism’ is a contrasting, hybrid political ideology. It mixes liberalism’s dislike of state intervention, social conservatism’s embrace of welfare provision for insiders (not ‘outsiders’), and collectivism’s view that associations are key actors in a class conflict. Although it is out of control, Trump’s candidacy is closely linked to neo-conservative politics. It is too hostile to insider welfare to be called ‘fascist’. Its political ideology is weaker. If we had to give it a name, the social ideal of Donald Trump is ‘fascism-lite’.

Note: this is the pre-election, 2016 version of the paper. See 2017 version for an amended post-election conclusion.

Keywords: Democracy, fascism, corruption, Lewis Powell, Antonin Scalia, Donald Trump, Buckley v. Valeo, Citizens United, corporations, campaign expenditures, free speech

JEL Classification: G30, G38, J40, J51, J58, K22, K30, K31, M14, P16, P26

Suggested Citation

McGaughey, Ewan, Fascism-Lite in America (or the Social Ideal of Donald Trump) (May 1, 2016). TLI Think! Paper 26/2016; British Journal of American Legal Studies, Forthcoming; TLI Think! Paper 26/2016; King's College London Law School Research Paper No. 16-26. Available at SSRN: or

Ewan McGaughey (Contact Author)

King's College London - School of Law ( email )

Somerset House East Wing
London, WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

Paper statistics

Abstract Views