Posts Tagged ‘Fascism’

Timothy Snyder on the 1930s playbook

February 16, 2017

There is a playbook from the 1930s that some people in the presidential administration are following.  This includes picking a minority in your country, associate it with a global threat and use the notion of a global struggle as a way to create national solidarity while neglecting the nation’s actual problems.

This is a quote from an article by historian Timothy Snyder for Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Donald Trump as the latest Hitler

January 2, 2017

For years, I’ve been listening to warnings of the threats of new Hitlers.

Back in the 1950s, Joe McCarthy supposedly was equivalent Hitler.   Then George Wallace.   Richard Nixon.   Dick Cheney.  Now Donald Trump is the latest Hitler equivalent.

trump-hitler-2016-02-27-1456595899-9124929-trumphitler-thumbThe problem is that Donald Trump can refute his enemies by simply not behaving like Hitler.

He can run an administration that is more corrupt than the Harding or Grant administrations.  He can be the enemy of organized labor, civil rights, civil liberties and women’s rights.  He can destroy the social safety net.  He can make the government more plutocratic and militaristic than it already is.

But as long as he does not embark on genocide or world conquest, he meets the standard of not being equivalent to Hitler.

I don’t see night-and-day differences between Donald Trump and the mainstream of the Republican Party on most issues.  On some few but important issues, such as relations with Russia or pro-corporate trade treaties, I think Trump is better than either the Democratic or Republican established leadership.

If you’re a liberal or progressive activist, there are better uses of your time that reading up on the Weimar Republic or making checklists of the characteristics of fascism.

Telling people that Trump is equivalent to Hitler makes it easy for Trump because (1) it’s unconvincing and (2) it shifts the focus to historical parallels and away from Trump himself.

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Trump’s election is not the end of the world

November 18, 2016

A few weeks ago, Democrats and liberals ridiculed Donald Trump for saying he might not accept the results of the Presidential election, and hinting of protests and riots if it was rigged against him.

Now some Democrats and liberals are protesting the results of the election and asking members of the Electoral College pledged to Donald Trump to go back on their word.

Clinical psychologists in New York City and elsewhere are flooded with calls from people who need help coping with their fear of Donald Trump.   Little Hispanic and Muslim children are terrified that Trump supporters are going to come after them.

Donald Trump giving victory speech (AP)

Donald Trump giving victory speech (AP)

They literally believe that the election of Donald Trump is equivalent to the election of Adolf Hitler.

I don’t want to make light of these fears.  I think people really are afraid.

Trump’s election was a bad thing.  A lot of people are going to be hurt because of the Trump administration (for that matter, many would have suffered under a Hillary Clinton administration).

American democracy survived Dick Cheney, Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy.  I am confident it will survive Donald Trump.  I highly recommend watching the 12-minute Ian Welsh video above and reading the links below for perspective.

Trying to negate the Electoral College vote is a terrible idea.  The effort is bound to fail, and will discredit future demands by liberals and Democrats to respect the rule of law.   Even if it succeeded, it would set a bad precedent of setting aside election results by fair means or foul.

The Electoral College has existed for more than 200 years.  It is what it is because of a compromise that was necessary to create a United States in the first place.   Progressive and liberal presidents have been elected in the past through the Electoral College system and have just as much chance of being elected in the future.

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How to tell when the fascists have come

November 18, 2016

During the past few years, I’ve read a number of definitions of fascism, which have been mostly lists of personality traits or philosophical assumptions or political tendencies.

The problem with these lists is that while they are traits, assumptions and tendencies often found in fascists, they also are commonly found among people who definitely aren’t fascists.

A blogger named Ian Welsh challenged his readers to produce benchmarks that would be definite evidence that fascism has arrived or was about to arrive.

authoritarianism9fd18cThat’s tough!  During the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, we had the executive claiming the authority to (1) arrest enemies of the state without legal process, (2) torture enemies of the state, (3) order the assassination of enemies of the state without legal process, (4) put the entire population under secret surveillance and (5) start wars without approval of the legislative body.

All these things are characteristic of fascist regimes.  All would be powers that a fascist dictator would try to claim.

But I can’t really see the Bush and Obama administrations as fascist in the same way that, say, Chile under Pinochet was fascist.

Racism, misogyny, religious intolerance and extreme nationalism are characteristic of fascist governments, but not all racists, misogynists, religious bigots or nationalists are fascists.

For what it’s worth, here is my list of defining characteristics of fascism:

  • Deification of a leader.
  • A requirement to pay lip service to a ruling ideology.
  • Arrests of opponents of the government on trumped-up charges or no charges at all.
  • Fear of making criticisms of the government.
  • Arbitrary power and lack of due process of law.
  • Lynchings and pogroms.
  • Death squads.
  • Concentration camps.

The problem with making such a list is that the mere absence of death squads and concentration camps can be taken as evidence that the United States or any other country is a free country.

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What a real US fascist movement would look like

August 3, 2016

Donald Trump is not intellectually, temperamentally or morally fit to be President of the United States.  If elected, he would do great harm to the United States and to the world.

Trump_1_21_againagainLike Hitler and Mussolini, he is contemptuous of laws, human rights or restrictions on mob violence.

But I don’t think he has a conscious goal of creating a fascist dictatorship, and, even if he did, he is not backed up by the kind of fascist movement that would make it possible.

A full-blown American fascist movement would have these characteristics:

  1.  A party line and strictly enforced party discipline.
  2.  An armed party militia.
  3.  A covert understanding with Wall Street.
  4.  A parallel structure of authority that superseded the legal governmental structure.

∞∞∞

Here’s why Donald Trump and his followers don’t fit that profile..

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Why millions of ordinary Americans back Trump

March 11, 2016

Donald Trump is a con man, a racist and a bully.  The record is clear.  But the world is full of confidence men, racists and bullies.  What sets him apart?

Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter With Kansas? and other great political books, took the trouble to listen for himself to several hours of Trump speeches (which I confess I have never done).

I saw the man ramble and boast and threaten and even seem to gloat when protesters were ejected from the arenas in which he spoke.  I was disgusted by these things, as I have been disgusted by Trump for 20 years.

thomasfrank4718But I also noticed something surprising. In each of the speeches I watched, Trump spent a good part of his time talking about an entirely legitimate issue, one that could even be called left-wing. 

Yes, Donald Trump talked about trade.  In fact, to judge by how much time he spent talking about it, trade may be his single biggest concern – not white supremacy.   Not even his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, the issue that first won him political fame.  He did it again during the debate on 3 March: asked about his political excommunication by Mitt Romney, he chose to pivot and talk about … trade.

It seems to obsess him: the destructive free-trade deals our leaders have made, the many companies that have moved their production facilities to other lands, the phone calls he will make to those companies’ CEOs in order to threaten them with steep tariffs unless they move back to the US.

Trump embellished this vision with another favorite left-wing idea: under his leadership, the government would “start competitive bidding in the drug industry”.  (“We don’t competitively bid!” he marveled – another true fact, a legendary boondoggle brought to you by the George W Bush administration.) 

Many liberals think that Trump supporters are simply out of touch with reality.  But they themselves are out of touch with how trade and immigration are changing American life.

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Donald Trump and the sores of discontent

December 22, 2015

Lambert Strether, a blogger who helps with the naked capitalism web log, says college-educated liberals are making a big mistake to dismiss Donald Trump’s followers as ignorant, racist or fascistic, and nothing more

He wrote that history – the history of Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and the reign of the Ku Klux Klan in the Old South – teaches that people turn to fascist movements when they’ve suffered damage – military defeat, economic devastation and, above all, psychic damage.

Germans and Italians in World War One, and white Southern Americans in the Civil War, suffered  military defeat, economic devastation and, worst of all, humiliation.   What kind of damage have Donald Trump’s followers suffered?

Speculating freely, I’m guessing we’ve got several overlapping subsets in Trump’s following, with damage common to them all.

  • First overlap:  The cohort described by Yves [Smith] in this post: “‘Stunning’ Rise in Death Rate, Pain Levels for Middle-Aged, Less Educated Whites”; “488,500 deaths would have been avoided in the period 1999‒2013,” had the death rate continued to fall at its previous rate of decline.  That’s a lot of organic damage.
  • whats.wrongSecond overlap: The “working class whites” whose jobs and communities were destroyed by the neo-liberal dispensation that began in the mid-70s, given that “less educated” is a proxy for working class.  More damage there.
  • Third overlap: Military personnel who were sent, by elites, to fight and lose the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, many of whom (thanks to the wonders of modern battlefield medicine) came back to their families and communities terribly wounded (not to mention with post-traumatic stress).  More damage.
  • Fourth overlap: The “bitter”/”cling to” voters (explicitly) thrown under the bus by Obama’s faction when it took control of the Democratic Party in 2008 (with results that we saw in the failure to ameliorate the foreclosure crisis, and the administration’s successful shrinkage of the workforce, as shown by the labor force participation rate).  More damage.

So Democratic apparatchiks can recycle 2008’s racism tropes all they want — identity politics is all they know, after all — but at best they’re over-simplifying, and at worst they’re destroying the dream of “uniting lower- and middle-income Americans on economic issues.”

Again, add up the decades of organic damage.  My anger would be bone deep. And justified.  Wouldn’t yours?  Trump, and maybe Sanders, are speaking to that anger.  Today’s Democratic establishment is not.

Source: naked capitalism

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Terrorism from the air is still terrorism

December 22, 2015

My friend Hal and I were in a coffee shop the other day.  Hal remarked that if somebody set off a car bomb in the parking lot and blew us all to smithereens, that would be an act of terrorism.

But, he went on to say, if somebody dropped a bomb from 15,000 feet into the parking lot and blew us all to smithereens, that also would be an act of terrorism.

And it would be an act of terrorism even if we were foreigners with brown skins and Arabic names.

This is so obviously true that I am continually amazed at how many people I know, including self-described liberals, that are unable to see this.

If killing civilian bystanders is terrorism when Muslims do it at ground level, it is terrorism when Americans and Europeans do it from the air.

LINK

An Idiot’s Guide to Why They Hate Us by Paul Street for Counterpunch.

Terrorism: Sayed Ali Khamenei’s Letter to Youth in Western Countries [added 12/23/2015]

How Obama paved the way for Trump

December 4, 2015

Seeing the popularity of Donald Trump’s nationalism and authoritarianism, many liberals and progressives are reading up on the history of fascism in Europe and wondering about the future of democracy in the USA.

What really makes Donald Trump and other authoritarian Republican candidates so dangerous is George W. Bush and Barack Obama have already created a legal and organizational framework for exercising the powers of a dictator.

Consider the powers claimed by President Obama:

  • To wage war on his own say-so by means of bombs, drone attacks, Special Operations, proxy armies or any other means short of massive use of American ground troops.
  • To order the killing on his own say-so of any person he says is a threat to national security.
  • To preside over a secret national surveillance system that potentially reaches every citizen and covers the whole world.
  • To prosecute whistle-blowers who reveal abuses of power.
  • To give immunity from prosecution to torturers, crooked bankers and other high-level criminals.

authoritarianism9fd18cObama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered an attack on Libya, a nation whose government was no threat to the United States, and reduced it to bloody chaos, where radical jihadists flourish.  Now Obama is carrying on a proxy war to overthrow the government of Syria, which also was no threat to the United States, and which, if successful, would create more bloody chaos where ISIS terrorists would flourish.

The Department of Homeland Security exists in theory to protect Americans from jihadist terrorists from abroad.  But it was used to coordinate a nationwide crackdown on Occupy Wall Street protesters, which, whatever you think of them, constituted no threat to the security of the homeland.

To sum up:  The President has the power to commit acts of war, with no accountability.  He has the power to sign death warrants, with no accountability.   He presides over a vast surveillance apparatus which can be used to spy on dissenters and he prosecutes those who reveal abuses of power.

What power would be lacking for a would-be dictator?  Maybe you think President Obama has enough restraint and good judgment to be trusted with such power.  But he is not going to be in office after January, 2017.   Somebody else is.

Recently the U.S. Congress did enact one restriction on abuse of power.  Congress banned torture and limited interrogation to what is now permitted in the U.S. Army field manual.  But, oddly enough, this does not seem to bother Donald Trump, who continues to promise that, if elected, he would authorize torture.

How could Trump promise to do something that is against the law?  Well, torture was against international law all along.  And there is another law, called the War Powers Act, which forbids the President to engage in acts of war without congressional authorization except in an emergency, and then to get authorization within 60 days.   President Obama has disregarded this law, without consequences, so why couldn’t President Trump disregard the anti-torture law?

During the Watergate era, President Richard M. Nixon broke the law and abused the power of his office.  There were countervailing forces in Congress, in the courts, in the press and in his own administration that held him in check and made his accountable.   Where are today’s checks and balances?

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Tommy Douglas on the definition of fascism

October 25, 2014

TommyDouglas.fascism1_n

Via Notes to Ponder.

Tommy Douglas, as virtually all Canadians know, was the father of Medicare in Canada, which was first introduced in Saskatchewan and then rolled out into Canada as a whole.   Canadian Medicare inspired U.S. Medicare, but it covers almost all Canadians while the U.S. plan only covers the 65 and older population.

Douglas was a champion of civil liberties.  As a member of Parliament, he had the courage in 1970 to refuse to support the War Measures Act, which, in response to terrorist activity in Quebec, expanded police and military powers and curtailed civil liberties throughout Canada.

In 2004, Douglas was voted the greatest Canadian in a nationally televised CBC contest.

The new normal: Links & comments 6/22/14

June 22, 2014

Thrown Out of Court: How corporations became people you can’t sue by Lina Khan for The Washington Monthly.

Individual Americans are losing their right to sue large corporations by means of “terms of service” contracts that customers and employees are required to sign as a condition of doing business.   By signing these contracts, individuals give up their right to take their complaints to a judge and jury and instead agree to abide by the decision of a corporate-friendly arbitrator.

Corporations have been complaining for years about the burden of litigation, and, back in the day, I fell for this.   But even then, the courts were busier with lawsuits by corporations against each other than they were lawsuits by individuals or by class-action suits.

Owners and managers of corporations already have a privilege denied to ordinary citizens, which is limited liability for their debts and fines.  We are getting far beyond the question of whether corporate entities have the same rights as individuals.  By means of this 21st century version of the “yellow-dog contract,” they are becoming mini-governments.

Hillary Clinton forgets the ’90s: Our latest gilded age and our latest phony populists by Thomas Frank in Salon.

When Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992, he ran as the advocate of working people against the corporate interests who didn’t play by the rules.  What we got was Ronald Reagan with some of the sharp edges filed off.  As Thomas Frank wrote in Salon today, the Clinton Presidency was an era of corporate mergers, financial deregulation, downsizing of government and NAFTA

That’s what we’re likely to get from a Hillary Clinton presidency, too.  She voices the same populist rhetoric and has the same corporate allegiances.

The floor is open by Psychopolitik.

How committed are we Americans to democracy?  A Gallup poll indicates a “no confidence” vote in the institutions of democracy.   The institution in which Americans have the most confidence (74%) is the military and the one in which we have the least confidence is Congress (7%).   A majority lack confidence in the Presidency and the Supreme Court, but they have confidence in the police.

If I didn’t know better, I’d take that for a poll of Italians just prior to Mussolini’s march on Rome.

Every year, we waste Spain by Tim Stuhldreher.  Hat tip for this link to Mike the Mad Biologist.

U.S. Healthcare: Most Expensive and Worst Performing by Olga Khazan for The Atlantic.

If the U.S. spending per person for medical care were the same as a typical industrial nation, our annual health care budget would be more than $1 trillion less.   That’s the equivalent to the gross domestic product of Spain, out of which a nation of 47 million people feed, clothe, shelter, educate and amuse themselves, and, yes, also provide medical care.

The difference between Communism and fascism

June 10, 2014

MaoTens of millions of people died in China in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a result of Mao Zedong’s failed policies and his refusal to acknowledge they were failures.

I said his policies were failures, but from Mao’s standpoint, maybe they weren’t.  Like Stalin’s agricultural collectivization policies in the 1930s, they have have caused death and suffering, but they enabled the government to tighten its grip over the nation’s food supply and its population.

adolf-hitlerSome scholars think that Stalin and Mao caused the deaths of more than beings than Hitler did.   It is impossible to say for certain because the historical record was suppressed.

Why, then, does Hitler stand alone as a symbol of evil?  I think that one reason is that Hitler is a defeated enemy.  If Nazi Germany had won the Second World War, and if there were a powerful government in existence today that was the heir of Hitler’s regime, there would still be apologists for Hitler.

638519-stalinThe other reason is the difference between the appeal of fascism and Communism.  Fascists for the most part are racists, elitists and thugs.  Communists for the most part are defenders of labor rights and civil rights.

Throughout the 20th century, members of the American Communist Party became disillusioned when they discovered that Communist regimes in fact suppress labor rights and civil liberties.   I never heard of a member of the American Nazi Party becoming disillusioned because they discovered the Nazis were insufficiently racists and thuggish.

I don’t think that Communists—the ones outside actual Communist countries—are as bad as fascists.  Many have fought courageously for civil rights, labor rights and other things I believe in myself.  The worst you can say of them is that they have been willfully blind to horrible things.

But Communism is the more insidious ideology.   It is one thing to recruit racists and thugs to defend a cruel totalitarian dictatorship.   It is a far worse thing to persuade people who believe in democracy and workers’ rights to justify the crimes of a totalitarian dictatorship.

Ukrainian resistance to the Nazis

March 4, 2014

Since there has been a lot of talk about neo-Nazis and fascists in Ukraine, it’s worth remembering that the Nazis killed millions of Ukrainians as well as Belorussians, Poles and other Slavs during the Second World War.

The Nazis regarded Ukrainians and other Slavs as sub-human, and that their long-range plan was to open up Ukraine as “living room” for the German population by killing or starving the majority of Ukrainians and reducing the rest to slaves and serfs.

Ukrainians suffered as much or more than Russians did from the Nazis, because the German army occupied all of Ukraine but only a tiny portion of Russia proper. Ukrainians in the Red Army against the Nazis as valiantly as any of Soviet peoples.

I briefly had a Ukrainian roommate, actually a naturalized Canadian citizen, when I was in college in the 1950s.  Lubaslaw was a teenager when the Nazis consquered Ukraine.  He ran away to join the partisan resistance fighters, and this enabled him to survive.  He told me of watching from a hiding place as German soldiers lined up all the members of his high school and shot them dead in reprisal.

He also told me that many Ukrainians initially welcomed the German invasion.  That is because during the 1930s, the Stalin regime also killed and starved millions of Ukrainians.  Stalin ordered targeted killings and deportations to force labor camps of prosperous farmers (kulaks) and confiscated Ukrainian harvests and let millions of Ukrainians die in order to force them into collective farms.   The government-controlled collective farms were an ineffective system for farming, but a highly effective system for keeping control of the population.

Older Ukrainians remembered the German occupation during World War One as comparatively benign, and were understandably willing to welcome the Germans back.  They soon learned they had gone from the devil they knew to the devil they didn’t know.

I find it hard to believe that, in the light of this history, that there is a substantial neo-Nazi following in Ukraine.  I have no direct knowledge, and I could be wrong, but I find it hard to believe.   Anybody who identifies with the Nazis is ignorant of the historical record and blinded by hate, but this would be especially true of Ukrainians and for that matter Russians.

What fascism is, and isn’t

March 4, 2014

Fascism and the Future, Part One: Up From Newspeak

Fascism and the Future, Part Two: The Totalitarian Center

Fascism and the Future, Part Three: Weimar America

Since the word “fascism” is being bandied about fairly loosely, I recommend these articles by John Michael Greer of Cumberland, Md., for anyone who is interested in the historic definitions of fascism and national socialism.

I read somewhere — I can’t verify the fact, but I believe it – that Stalin banned the use of the word “Nazi.”  The Communists instead referred to “fascists” and “Hitlerites” because the term “national socialism” might invite comparisons with the Soviet regime.

I have a couple of minor quibbles with Greer.  He is correct in saying that the Nazis were not conservatives, and that German conservatives were not comfortable with them.  But it also is true that the German business owners were allowed to continue enjoying their profits while German labor leaders went to concentration camps.

The reason that most of the internal opposition to the Nazis came from conservatives was that the socialists and Communists were in concentration camps.  That is not because the Nazis were in fact conservative, but they needed a functioning army and functioning industry and needed (temporarily) the existing Army officers and industrialists.

His last article is a scenario in which a Hitler could arise in the United States, as a populist reaction to the failure of the U.S. government instead of (as happened in Spain, Chile and Argentina) a counter-revolution imposed from above.

I don’t think his scenario is impossible.  I don’t think the United States can continue as it is, but change is not necessarily for the better.

I think Greer neglects the degree in which the existing U.S. national security apparatus is made to order for a Hitler.   But, as I said, these are minor quibbles.  His articles are a good review of the historical background and meanings of the words “fascist” and “national socialist”.

A pre-emptive counter-revolution in the USA?

October 8, 2013

tumblr_luwdnp4plT1qzlfumo1_1280

Eric Hoffer wrote in The True Believer that people do not revolt because they are poor and miserable.  If that there the case, the world would be in a constant state of revolt.  No, Hoffer wrote, people revolt when something to which they think they have a right is taken away from them, or when hopes are raised that things will get better.  Having a lot of highly educated young people without jobs is a spark that sets off the tinder.

If that is the case, the American people are ripe for revolt right now.   Although we are wealthier and more free than much of the world’s population, our economic security and political rights are being eroded.  The younger generation knows it is worse off than the generations that came before.  And the hope of change generated by Barack Obama has proved to be an illusion.

Historically the powers that be in the United States headed off revolt by responding to the discontented and bringing them into the system.   This happened with the labor movement in the 1930s and the civil rights protests of the 1960s.  But I think this time is different.

The electoral process is being altered to increase the power of money and to shut out minority groups, poor people, young people and others who might upset the status quo.  The legislative process is being altered so as to give veto power to the opponents of progressive reform.  The administration of government is becoming interlocked with corporations and shielded from public view.

Protest and dissent are being criminalized.  The U.S. government has the legal and institutional basis to impose a police state.  And the United States is being locked into NAFTA-like trade agreements which give corporations rights that override national law.

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BP and power grabs

July 6, 2010

President Obama has come under attack from the right-wing for pressuring BP into setting up a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Yes, they say, it may be a good idea, but President Obama has no constitutional or legal authority to tell the managers of a corporation to do the right thing.  According to columnist Thomas Sowell, he is putting us on the slippery slope to fascism.

The other day the Coast Guard announced new rules imposing $40,000 fines and prison terms of one to five years on reporters who come too close to the BP oil spill.  I’m not aware of anything in the Constitution or the laws that gives the Coast Guard the power to regulate the press.

This follows many reports of local law enforcement and Homeland Security officials acting as enforcers for BP in restricting news coverage.  These reports do not involve public safety or interference with the cleanup work; they’ve even banned planes from flying over the oil spill sites. This suppression of documentary evidence will be important to BP later on when it has to defend itself against lawsuits.

If I was going to draw analogies with fascism, this is the example I would use.

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