Late last month, Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole wrote a disturbing column about how Donald Trump was testing American support for fascism through various trial runs.
According to O'Toole, these trial runs "get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate."
He emphasized that fascism doesn't require majority support. Normally, it wins the backing of about 40 percent of the population and then relies on "control and intimidation" to solidify authority.
"One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections—we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections," O'Toole noted. "Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities."
It's been widely reported that Trump used to keep a book of Adolf Hitler's speeches near his bedside.
This is worth remembering as Trump prepares to hold a summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
The conventional wisdom is that the meeting will discuss curbing Iranian influence in Syria. That was the topic of a recent meeting between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Putin.
Some western media observers think that the gullible Trump is going to be outfoxed by the wily Putin.
But what if there's another far more globally significant issue on the agenda? And one that's flown under the radar screen of much of the North American media.
What if Trump is meeting Putin to sound him out on a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran?
Putin isn't going to be thrilled by the idea of a more pro-American regime coming to power in the Persian country on his doorstep.
But the upside for Putin is that this type of military action would likely send the price of oil soaring, which would be extremely beneficial for the Russian economy.
According to a 2016 World Bank Group report, income from oil and gas accounted for more than a third of the Russian government's revenues that year.
Late last month, Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, was in India meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and advising his country to stop buying oil from Iran.
“Sanctions are coming (on Iran) and we’re going forward on that, and with India and the U.S. building strong relationships we hoped that they would lessen their dependence on Iran,” Haley was quoted as saying by Reuters.
India has reportedly begun cutting oil imports from Iran. It's Iran's second-largest customer for oil after China.
In May, new Secretary of State John Bolton told CNN that Iran's actions were bringing America closer to war. To reinforce his jingoistic world view, a New Yorker profile on Bolton in March was entitled "John ('Bomb Iran') Bolton, the New Warmonger in the White House".
In fact, Bolton himself wrote an opinion piece himself in the New York Times in 2015 with this headline: "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran".
Iran's population exceeds 80 million. It's a major regional player affecting the balance of power between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
Trump has clearly sided with its arch rival, Saudi Arabia. That was reflected in a US$110 billion series of American weapons sales agreed to in 2017.
China won't like an attack on Iran
Meanwhile, the president of the Asia Society Policy and former prime minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, recently spoke about China's global ambitions in a speech in Singapore.
"China took the idea of the New Silk Road and turned it into a multi-trillion dollar trade, investment, infrastructure and wider geo-political and geo-economic initiative, engaging 73 different countries across much of Eurasia, Africa and beyond," Rudd said. "China signed up most of the developed world in the first large-scale non-Bretton Woods multilateral development bank called the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), capitalized it and launched it so that it now has a balance sheet already approaching the size of the Asian Development Bank."
The New Silk Road, also known as President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative, is designed to extend Chinese influence to an even greater degree through Pakistan, Iran, and all the way to West Asia, Africa, and the Mediterranean.
The Chinese-controlled Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is arising as a challenger to the World Bank, which is always headed by an American.
A U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran, followed by regime change, would seriously undermine China's grand plans.
It would also likely disrupt China's supply of oil, causing serious economic problems.
And this could come just as China's trade war with America is intensifying.
A president interested in peace would want to avert that from happening. But if Trump is truly a fascist, this won't be a concern for him.
What would Putin want in return?
When Hitler planned an attack on Poland, he first neutralized Stalin's Soviet Union with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which was named after their foreign ministers and which carved Europe into spheres of influence.
This cleared the way for Stalin's unsuccessful attempt to invade Finland.
Nobody knows if Trump is prepared to offer some bargaining chips to Putin in exchange for being left alone to attack Iran. Or even if Trump is going to try to work out a deal with Putin in advance of a possible war with China.
Putin would surely love to have a free hand in dealing with Ukraine and the independent Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia The latter three were annexed by Stalin under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
Is it any wonder, then, that China has been stockpiling huge amounts of crude oil in recent years?
Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has made the case that China is America's real enemy. And in the book Fire and Fury, author Michael Wolff reported that one of Bannon's earliest objectives was "all-encompassing" war with China.
At the very least, there are enough warning signs of trouble in the words of Bolton, the actions of Haley, the ideas of Bannon, and Trump's fascination with dictators.
It's conceivable that the pieces could be coming together for an attack on Iran, which would cause havoc in Central Asia and gravely disrupt U.S. relations with China.
At the very least, military action against Iran would have major ramifications on global oil prices and the economies of many countries.
The biggest winners would be major oil producers like Russia, the United States, and Saudi Arabia.
Hardest hit would be those that are most oil dependent, such as Japan and India.
Trump wouldn't care about them, of course. For him, it's America first.
And there's nothing like a war to help a dictatorial president consolidate power over his country in advance of the midterm elections.
On July 22, Trump put out the following tweet: