The ‘Unified Reich’ Scandal is a Feature Not a Bug of Trump’s Brand of American Fascism

Below the 'GA' in MAGA you can spot the phrase "unified reich." Accidents happen, but when you spill the milk 36 times people have a right to ask questions.

Donald Trump has shown the public many times who he is and in whose political tradition he’s planted himself. With the debate about the accuracy of using the “f-word” (i.e. fascism) in regard to Trumpism ever raging, the former president chose on Monday evening to once again show whose imagery and political ideas he finds most alluring.

In a now-deleted 30-second video on his Truth Social platform, viewers were offered a glimpse into the United States during a second Trump administration. The video, which asks What happens after Donald Trump wins? offers future scenarios in the form of imaginary headlines intended to make Trumpist hearts beat faster and install fear in those on the other side (the side of democracy). Headlines catered to anti-immigrant sentiment (“BORDER IS CLOSED—15 MILLION ILLEGAL ALIENS DEPORTED”) while also promising riches (“ECONOMY BOOMS”) and the end of foreign wars (“PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH,” with the added antisemitic dog whistle “PRESIDENT TRUMP REJECTS GLOBALIST WARMONGERS”). 

And while this in itself isn’t news—it’s essentially what Trump has vowed to implement in a second term—there was another, disconcerting glimpse into the mind of the Trumposphere. Multiple times in the video, text appears below a headline, which reads

Industrial strength significantly increased … driven by the creation of a unified Reich.

The German word for “empire,” Reich can refer to a number of entities, the most common association today being Nazi Germany, which referred to itself as the “Third Reich”—following the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and Imperial Germany. 

The video’s reference to the Reich, as the Associated Press has reported, seems to have been taken verbatim from a Wikipedia entry on World War I: 

German industrial strength and production had significantly increased after 1871, driven by the creation of a unified Reich.

And while the snippet appears to be derived from a paragraph on Imperial Germany, a pan-German nation, the context of the fascist rhetoric—and politics—of the Trump campaign makes it plausible, even likely, that the historic trajectory that supporters were to glean from the video was, in fact, that of a different “Reich.” 

Democrats seized the opportunity and condemned Trump’s post, with Biden spokesperson James Singer declaring: 

America, stop scrolling and pay attention. Donald Trump is not playing games; he is telling America exactly what he intends to do if he regains power: rule as a dictator over a ‘unified reich.’

Trump’s spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said the former president had nothing to do with the video, claiming that “This was not a campaign video, it was created by a random account online and reposted by a staffer who clearly did not see the word, while the President was in court.”

According to the Washington Post, the video seems to have been posted toward the end of the lunch break on Monday during Trump’s ongoing Trial in New York, while the AP notes that it appears to have been created by a member of a Trump-affiliated “meme team.” But in the end, it doesn’t really matter whether it was Trump himself, a staffer, or even a Trump-adjacent unhinged MAGA meme team. The fact that a staffer could have that easily overlooked—or worse, recognized and deemed acceptable—such obvious connotations to Nazi Germany is indictment enough. 

If one scrolls through the videos re-posted on Trump’s Truth Social page, there might be no further mentions of a “unified Reich”—but there is more than enough evidence that the presumptive presidential candidate for the GOP is a man who very much fashions himself in the style of fascist dictators. 

And, of course, we need not scour his timeline or zoom in on blurry video stills for clues to Trump’s admiration for the Third Reich. As some have noted recently, several years ago Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly told CNN’s Jim Sciutto about his boss’s admiration for Hitler’s economic policies, for which “[he] did some good things,” and “for Hitler’s hold on senior Nazi officers” (which, Kelly informed him, was not actually true). 

And yet. As still others have pointed out, we’ve known for at least 34 years about Trump’s admiration for Hitler, since Vanity Fair’s Marie Brenner reported in 1990 that:

Ivana Trump told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed.

“Perhaps,” Brenner speculates presciently, “his possession of Hitler’s speeches merely indicates an interest in Hitler’s genius at propaganda.”

And his admiration certainly appears to have stood the test of time in another recent video posted on Trump’s account, accompanied by a pathos-laden monologue. The voice seems to be speaking to Donald Trump directly, over images of the former president from childhood to present wannabe-dictator. And the tone seems to fit the violent yet schmaltzy aesthetic of fascist Füher-worship:

I’m going to look you in the eyes and I’m gonna tell you the future. It’s an American story, and that’s why Americans are gonna love it. People are going to build you up, and, God, are they going to, because when you’re great and new, we love you. Man, we’ll build you up into something that doesn’t even exist. You’re going to change the world. 

But you know what? Once they’ve built you as high as they possibly can, they’re gonna tear you back down—it’s the most predictable pattern. We build you into something that doesn’t exist, and that means you have to try to be that thing all day, every day. That’s how it works. And we do it again, and again, and again. 

And I’m going to tell you the truth. You’re going to be attacked, betrayed, exposed and humiliated. And you’d survive that. A lot of people can climb that mountain. It’s the way down that breaks them, ’cause that’s the moment when you are truly alone. And what would you do then? Can you summon the will to fight on, through all the pain, and rise again? That will be the defining question of your life. 

And I think you already know the answer, and that’s why we’re all here. A shoe is just a shoe until somebody steps into it. Then it has meaning. The rest of us just want a chance to touch that greatness. We need you in these shoes not so you have meaning in your life, but so that we have meaning in ours. Everyone will be forgotten as soon as our time here is up—except for you. You’re gonna be remembered forever, because some things are eternal.

This is clearly presented as commentary on Trump’s indictments, while also elevating him to god-like, immortal status. Now, if the voice in that video sounds familiar, that’s because you’ve probably heard it in countless movies—it’s Matt Damon speaking. The monologue is lifted (and edited significantly) from Damon’s 2023 film Air, in which he plays sport marketing legend Sonny Vaccaro—and the person he’s delivering it to is not in fact Trump, but—wait for it—Michael Jordan (Damon might want to phone his lawyers). 

This unites the two seemingly contradictory elements of Trumpism: the fascist reverence for a god-like leader who his supporters have made a core part of their own identities—and the laughable act of a presidential candidate reposting a fanfic-video with a speech lifted from a basketball movie, and then preposterously applying it to himself. While the latter (rightly) seems pathetic, we often forget that fascist leaders, before their rise to power, were often considered boorish clowns, not to be taken seriously, but to be laughed at. 

The time for laughing has long come and gone, as Trump seems way too close to a second term, a result that would likely—according to some of the country’s most prominent historians with expertise in the matter—mean the end for American democracy, at least for the near future. 

Trump has repeatedly echoed Nazi-language, deriding his enemies as “vermin” that need to be rooted out of the Volkskörper (i.e. “national body”), for it to remain strong and healthy, claiming that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of the country”—inferring, of course, that there is such a thing as a pure-blooded nation, whose purity needs to be defended and whose pollutants need to be expelled and destroyed. 

He has lunched with Nick Fuentes, a known White supremacist, antisemite and Hitler-enthusiast. He has echoed Nazi-slogans like “one people, one realm, one leader,” only in a slightly modified form: “one people, one family, one glorious nation.” He has rallied his supporters against democracy itself, claiming the “greatest threat” to the country is enemies from “within,” echoing Nazi claims. Trump has styled himself as savior and messiah alike, as the distributor of divine vengeance and the deliverer of biblical wrath, promising his followers:

I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution. 

And even the various would-be mini-Trumps and their campaigns employed fascist rhetoric, with Ron DeSantis promising to “slit the throats” of “bureaucrats” to rid the imaginary “Deep State” of the Right’s enemies on his first day in office. DeSantis’ campaign even had its own Nazi-scandal, with staffer Nate Hochman posting a video including not only alt-right, incel-manosphere imagery, but an actual “Schwarze Sonne,” a Nazi symbol consisting of three overlapping swastikas, creating the impression of a black wheel, with DeSantis’ face superimposed on it. Hochman was fired—but again, how many fascist echoes, terms, and images must be used to prove, once and for all, that if it talks like a fascist and walks like a fascist and quotes a bunch of fascists, it might, in fact, be a fascist. 

Trump’s “Reich”-scandal is also symptomatic of what a new generation of historians like John S. Huntington and David A. Walsh have argued recently: that not only is there a native form of fascism to the US, but that the assumed “firewall” between “respectable” conservatism and far-right radicals, amongst them Neo-Nazis and fascist sympathizers, has either never existed at all—or has at the very least been very porous from the beginning. Walsh’s recently published Taking America Back: The Conservative Movement and the Far Right (Yale UP, 2024) examines how the long-forgotten ties between conservative stalwarts like William F. Buckley and open Nazis like George Lincoln Rockwell are indicative of a “popular front” approach on political coalition building on the Right. The “Reich” scandal, Walsh tells RD, fits neatly into this framework:

Clearly Donald Trump [himself] didn’t create that ad, but somebody in Trump world did. And these are people who are going to be in power in a second Trump administration if project 2025, the plan to purge the US civil service, ever comes to fruition. These are the people who are going to be appointed to those jobs. We saw this in the first administration with people like Stephen Miller and others. That has real, and quite frankly, potentially disastrous, consequences. 

And I think that gets missed in much of the media coverage and debates around Trump in 2024, especially because so much of the focus has been on the question of is there a nascent multiracial coalition that’s going to be backing Trump? Certainly, it does appear to be that Trump is drawing from a more diverse voter base than he did in 2016 or 2020. But I don’t necessarily think that changes this other dynamic; it might get him elected, but it’s the Groypers who are going to be in the staff positions, and free to enact their political vision for America.

It’s the same fascist fever swamp that brought us the heavily Groyper-coded DeSantis ad with the Nazi “Schwarze Sonne.” Asked if he could see a second Trump administration potentially hiring Hochman, Walsh’s response was sobering:

If Trump is serious about his calls to become a dictator on day one, somebody’s going to have to staff that administration. And in particular if you remove thousands, if not tens of thousands of career civil servants, somebody needs to fill those positions. And I think the first Trump administration did show pretty persuasively that a career national security official, a career neoconservative is not going to be as reliable in implementing, you know, Trump’s agenda either domestically or in foreign policy. And, you know, the Nazis will. They’re not exactly Trump loyalists themselves, they have this sort of ambiguous relationship with him. But they would have no problem implementing, for example, a Muslim ban.

This “Reich” incident is only the latest bullet-point in an ever-growing and decades-long list that demonstrates what Trump and his supporters champion: a fascist dictatorship, whatever shape it may take in the present day, brought to power by something, we must face head-on—and name accordingly. As historian Rick Perlstein put it in January 2024: “The word we have to begin using for this situation, as melodramatic as it seems, is ‘American fascism.’” It seems less melodramatic every day.