Perhaps the title of my opinion piece caught your attention, as intriguing titles should do.

This is a surprising question for a Baptist minister to pose. The fact I am speaking of the terms “socialist” and “fascist” may not make my query any less questionable for some readers.

After all, aren’t ministers supposed to promote harmony and practice forgiveness?

Furthermore, didn’t I just write an opinion piece decrying the crumbling of the constitutional wall of separation between church and state?

However, I am not speaking, here, as the pastor of a Baptist congregation. I am not leading a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a tax-exempt status at risk by my speaking out.

Nor do I hold an elected or appointed office – either political or clerical – that gives me a “bully pulpit” for authoritatively disseminating my ideas.

It is only as a private citizen, a retired Christian professor and missionary, that I feel justified in offering my opinion on the appropriate use of these two words.

Before turning to the F-word, “fascist,” I pause momentarily to comment on the S-word that has been thrown around repeatedly during this political season.

“Socialist” has been used by many Republican leaders to brand all Democrats, especially Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and – now most warily – Joe Biden.

The objective is to label Trump’s opponents with a term that many loyalists will only understand in the thinnest, most caricatured way.

The hope is to frighten them with sweeping innuendo and unfounded associations they have with the S-word.

During the Democratic primary season, Vice President Mike Pence in an interview with CNBC opined, “I think the choice that we face in this country today is a choice between freedom and socialism.”

In swing state Florida, Latino Democrats are concerned with Trump campaign messaging that constantly calls Biden a socialist or a communist, whether through virtual events, social media or campaign emails.

Evelyn Pérez-Verdia, a Democratic strategist, warns even the use of “progresista,” Spanish for “progressive,” is problematic because voters who grew up in Latin America associate it with strongman socialism they witnessed in their youth.

As the election grows nearer, Trump is ramping up his S-word attacks on Biden, attempting to paint him as a “radical leftist” or as one who is so weak he will be controlled by them.

When U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, an ardent Trump ally, accused Democrats of backing “riots,” “vandals” and “anarchists,” New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist – responded, “Yes, that is why the party nominated … Joe Biden.”

AOC’s quip is sarcastic yet intended to score a point. Biden, as his statements during primary debates repeatedly demonstrated, positions himself as a centrist.

While he stated the wealth gap in America is a moral challenge that must be addressed, that the state must help the poorest members of our society and that the richest Americans must contribute their fair share through higher taxes, he also took issue many times with Sanders and Warren.

Trump’s efforts to portray Biden as a socialist, or a stooge for socialists and radicals, are not working, for “only 17% of registered voters perceive the former vice president as more liberal than most Democrats.”

Consequently, I believe the use of the S-word for Biden is not appropriate.

On the other hand, I believe using the F-word, “fascist,” for Trump has real merit.

In 2003, political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt, international businessperson and political scientist, studied the regimes of Hitler, Franco, Suharto and Pinochet.

He discovered 14 characteristics of these fascist leaders, about which he wrote in a highly quoted magazine article.

These characteristics are 1) powerful and continuing nationalism, 2) disdain for the recognitions of human rights, 3) identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause, 4) supremacy of the military, 5) rampant sexism, 6) controlled mass media, 7) obsession with national security, 8) the intertwining of religion and government, 9) protection of corporate power, 10) suppression of labor power, 11) disdain for intellectuals and the arts, 12) obsession with crime and punishment, 13) rampant cronyism and corruption and 14) fraudulent elections.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who fled fascism in Czechoslovakia as a child, wrote a 2018 book, “Fascism: A Warning,” detailing encroaching global fascism.

While she hesitates to label Trump a fascist, she talks about the fascist doctrine of anger and fear.

She also notes, “There’s a long history of fascists using ‘emergencies’ to create fear and conflict. If Trump does that, then he really is a bully with an army.”

She also says, “I’ll tell you where the line gets crossed. If Trump actually uses the military to deploy or incite violence, that’s where all bets are off.”

Given the more than suggestive correspondence between these characteristics of fascism and Donald Trump, as well as his white supremacist tendencies and unabashed admiration for world dictators, such as Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan and Rodrigo Duterte, I feel it is appropriate to use the F-word for Trump.

We live in strange times. Who could have predicted one presidential candidate could be vilified by some voters for wanting to give all Americans an equal chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness while another would be praised by those same voters for safeguarding those unalienable rights primarily for Americans who are white or wealthy?

In this election season, we will hear the S-word a lot. In my opinion, however, what we should really be hearing – and considering – is the F-word.

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