The USA is haunted by the specter of fascism

There are certain resemblances between the present-day USA and Germany in the last days of the Weimar Republic.

We have an ineffective government that’s unable to deal with major problems or rein in its military.

We have increasing numbers of Americans who’ve given up on trying to change things by means of politics.

Many see no point in voting or following politics. Others think the only hope for change is in street protests.

Along with this is a loss of confidence in all sources of authority—government, religion, science, academia and journalism—and a hunger for something new.

Ross Douthat wrote a column in the New York Times wondering whether the history of the Weimar Republic could repeat.  I think there are other, more likely ways that American democracy could break down, which I will get to.  But let me examine the Weimar script first.

While there are similarities, there also are big differences between Germany 90 years ago and the USA today. 

American political parties don’t have paramilitary auxiliaries.  Neo-Nazis and avowed racists are few.  Compare the turnout for the “unite the right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 with the massive Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year.

But all this could change if there was a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930s, particularly if it was accompanied by a humiliating military defeat.

Here’s how things could play out.  This isn’t a prediction, just a possibility.

In the wake of economic collapse, the streets of American citizens are filled with rioters, including extreme radicals and extreme nationalists.  A nationalist demagogue is elected President, and industrialists and the military look to him to restore order.  Congress votes him the power to impose martial law, which he does.  Martial law is never revoked.

The fascist movements in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s arose from a breakdown of social order and a fear of Communist revolution.  The same conditions could arise in the United States, except that revolutionaries wouldn’t necessarily be Communists and the President who imposes permanent martial law wouldn’t necessarily be a nationalist or a right-winger.

∞∞

The conservative Christian blogger Rod Dreher sees another path to totalitarianism—a kind of low-level bloodless Stalinism in the name of what’s called identity politics or “anti-oppression” or “wokeness.”

Individuals have every right to define themselves on the basis of race, sex, gender or any other attribute, and band together with others to defend their rights and advance their interests.  I would never deny that people are held back by prejudice, and have a right to organize to overcome discrimination.

The problem is that believers in wokeness have embedded themselves in institutions, and demand not only that people subject to those institutions passively accept their ideas, but actively endorse them. 

They also demand a certain kind of way of saying things, so you can get in trouble by saying  “all lives matter” instead of “black lives matter.”

That’s how the new ideology resembles Stalinism and Maoism.  They, too, demanded not only passive acceptance, but enthusiastic support expressed in a prescribed vocabulary and a required show of penitence for not measuring up.

A recent public opinion poll showed that six in 10 Americans have political opinions they’re afraid to share and three in 10 fear that their political views could harm their job prospects.  Half of all strong liberals would fire a business executive known to have donated to the Trump campaign; three in 10 strong conservatives would do the same to a Biden donor. 

I don’t equate this to Stalin’s mass executions or the Gulag.  But I do think there’s a widespread and well-founded fear of getting into trouble by inadvertently saying the wrong thing or offending the wrong people, and I do see people afraid to speak their minds as I think free Americans ought.

Some people make a practice of searching social media to find things that people have said that could be considered objectionable, and then using this information to attack their reputations and careers.

Dreher fears the emergence of a social credit system like the one in China, where everyone’s every move is tracked through surveillance technology and social media, and people are rewarded or punished according to the acceptability of their behavior.

What Dreher overlooks is know “wokeness” is being weaponized to crush dissent of all kinds.  The “anti-oppression” ideology can be a Trojan horse for authoritarianism generally.

Is there some environmentalist or labor leader who is making trouble for you?  Search his social media account and find something they’ve said that you can characterize as racist, misogynistic, homophobic or transphobic. 

Or you might not even have to do that.  “Wokeness” is not the only form of imposed political correctness.

∞∞

But it wouldn’t require any kind of a takeover to end American democracy.  All that would be required is for the USA to continue down the path it’s now on.

Years ago conservative Republicans such as Robert A. Taft and Barry Goldwater spoke of “creeping socialism.”  What I see going on now is creeping authoritarianism.

The Republican Party these days is committed to voter suppression as a political strategyThe Democratic Party is committed to censorship.  (These are points that are worthy of a long, separate post of its own, so I’ll just mention it here.)

Progressives point out that even when they win a majority of the votes, they don’t necessarily win the elections, and even when they do, the system is rigged against them enacting their programs.

But it’s not just the long-established pre-existing system.  Republican leadership are actively committed to gerrymandering, voter registration purges and active measures to discourage minority voting.

For their part, Republicans point out that no matter how many elections they win, they can’t get at a ruling elite that scorns them and their values.  It’s noteworthy that counties that gave Donald Trump the highest votes in 2016 are also counties with the highest percentage of war casualties, of mortgage foreclosures and of deaths of despair (suicide, drug overdoses, alcohol-related liver disease).

The response of many progressives to facts like these is, “Let them eat white privilege.”  But it’s not as if Trump himself did anything meaningful to help his struggling supporters.

So you have the leadership of the two political parties, in different ways, violating the civil rights of their opponents, while the followers of the parties become increasingly frustrated with the system.

Interestingly, unlike in many other democracies, surveys show self-described American centrists are more skeptical of democracy and more receptive to the idea of rule by a “strong man” than are right-wingers and left-wingers.  That is, dissenters set more value on democracy than to defenders of the status quo.

∞∞

One definition of fascism is the combination of corporate power with state power.  We already have that in the USA.  Some people call it the “deep state.”

Part of it is what President Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex.  It includes the Pentagon and the CIA, NSA and FBI, which are linked to Silicon Valley and the aerospace and armaments industries. 

Another part is the banking-financial complex, which includes Wall Street, the Federal Reserve System, the Treasury Department and supposed international organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

When I call them all part of a “deep state,” I mean they all set policy behind closed doors, they all prop each other up and their leaders are not accountable to the public for what they do.

In our war policy, the United States does most of the things that we Americans denounced the fascist countries for in the 1930s and 1940s. 

The U.S. doesn’t presently engage in genocide or totalitarian thought control, but our government engages in torture, assassinations and unprovoked military aggression, lies about them, breaks agreements, ignores international law and has a goal of world military domination.  Back in the 1930s, most Americans would have considered these to be defining characteristics of fascism.

We Americans largely ignore what is being done in our name abroad, but what our government does to foreigners, it may someday do to us.

Authoritarianism in American life arises from political factions and different centers of power, but all authoritarians have more in common with each other than they do with me and probably with you.

It’s not too late to turn back, but the hour is late.

Fascism is already here.  It’s just not evenly distributed.

LINKS

‘Babylon Berlin,’ Babylon America? by Ross Douthat for The New York Times.

Transcript: Ezra Klein interviews Kristin Soltis Anderson.  This interview with a top Republican pollster is a little off topic, but she has good insight into why so many Americans, especially Republicans, are alienated from the American political system.

62% of Americans Say They Have Political Views They’re Afraid to Share by Emily Ekins for Cato Institute.

Centrists, Not Extremists, Are the Most Hostile to Democracy by David Adler for The New York Times.

Rod Dreher has written a lot about authoritarian “wokeness.”  Click on this and this and this and this and this and this and this for samples.  And check out John McWhorter.

Greg Palast has written a lot about Republican voter suppression and election rigging.  Click on this and this and this and this and this and this for samples.

Glenn Greenwald has written a lot about Democratic support for censorship.  Click on this and this and this and this and this for samples.

Is Traditional Liberalism Vanishing? by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

Liberals want to blame right-wing ‘misinformation’ for our problems.  Get real by Thomas Frank for The Guardian.

Good coverage of the fascist face of American foreign policy can be found on Antiwar.com and The Greyzone.

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