Friday, March 5, 2010

The Fascist Element

Political labels can be useful and they can be grossly misused. We all know how, back in the 50s, the mere whisper of the word "Communist" could induce paranoia, hysteria, and suspicion. Today, the likes of Rush Limbaugh cobble together "Fascist-Nazi-Socialist-Communist" as a contradictory one-size-fits-all epithet that also inoculates them from similar accusations. They throw the words around so recklessly as to deprive them of any meaning at all except as fearmongering hot buttons. So, I want to be judicious and discerning in my use of the word "fascist" and avoid using it as an indiscriminate shotgun blast.

Back in 1992, a colleague who had doubts about voting for then-candidate Bill Clinton asked me as a Texan what I thought about Ross Perot. Perot was the closest thing to a fascist that I'd seen in American politics, I replied. He was a right-wing businessman who relied on personality to spread a single-minded message that America was in danger of losing its greatness and that only he could retrieve it. I've since backed off that assessment and view Perot as well-meaning, patriotic man who attracted a fascist element that wanted to vent, turn the country's problems over to a charismatic leader, and not worry about them after that. This element imposed a view of Perot on him that he may well not have held of himself.

Eighteen years later, the element finds expression in the Tea Party movement. Oddly, it found its closest ally to date in Dick Cheney, a truly unappealing man who, I believe, is a genuine fascist apparatchik. While Cheney trained his energies on foreign policy, he concentrated his domestic focus on legalizing the concept of sweeping executive power to the detriment of the legislative and judicial branches. He overtly and covertly endorsed militarism and labored ceaselessly for the primacy of American military power as a means to dominate global politics. Domestically, Cheney is infamous for his commitment to expanded and often secret police powers ranging from the right of the state to torture prisoners and hold them without trial to warrantless phone surveillance.

Cheney may not have wanted to dirty his hands with other such domestic matters as immigration, although he was ever ready to toss a bone to the rabid right. Even given that, Cheney's positions are illustrative: He supported the "prompt deportation" of illegal immigrants who had "engaged in unlawful or disorderly" conduct while supporting "preferential treatment in the admission of certain children of US Armed Forces personnel." In other words, we don't want you if you get drunk in a bar on Saturday night, unless of course you have something to do with the military.

The teabaggers claim to not want a leader, but leaderless fascism is an oxymoron. That archfiend Dick Armey has urged them to remain independent, but that's only because he and his henchman at Freedom Works haven't found anyone credible whom they can manipulate from behind the scenes. (No doubt he finds Sarah Palin as eminently manipulable as she is incredible. Plus, he probably resists having a woman even nominally in charge.) Believe it: The bulk of the 'baggers want someone to emerge as their Fearless Leader. A charismatic leader who reflects and validates their assumptions is something that they simply can't resist.

The Pulitizer Prize-winning author Chris Hedges wrote convincingly about the links between religious right and fascism in American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2007). At the beginning of the book, he listed fourteen characteristics of fascism, based on an analysis by Umberto Eco, that included The Cult of Tradition, The Rejection of Modernism, Disagreement Is Treason, Fear of Difference, The Main Privilege Is to Be Born in the Same Country, The Followers Must Be Humiliated by the Wealth and Force of Their Enemies, Contempt for the Weak, Respect for the Majority and Disdain for Individualism, and Respect for Impoverished Vocabulary and Elementary Syntax in Order to Limit Complex and Critical Reasoning. Each of these apply to the Tea Party movement as well as the Religious Right, and I'll write more about them in the coming months.

If the two movements are not exactly the same, they certainly intersect at key junctions. And the teabaggers are edging toward a tactic employed by most fanatical members of the religious right, that being violence. (Ironically, Hedges was criticized for his apocalyptic warnings of widespread violence on the part of the religious right, warnings that now seem prophetic in light of the physical threats and mob tactics of the teabaggers.)

Maybe the threats of lynching and civil war are loud, cheap talk no different from the Religious Right's prediction that most of us are going to hell and perdition. I hope so. In 1848, Karl Marx wrote that the specter of Communism haunted Europe. Today, the specter of fascism haunts America. We fail to resist it at our peril.


Steven said...

I read Hedges book awhile ago. A very good read. When I saw Eco's name, I had to read it as he is definitely one of my favorite authors/thinkers. Everyone should read this...if you can't see fascism in the Right Wing, you must be blind.

K. said...

Fascism has always been at the far end of the spectrum for the right just as communism is for the left. But the fascism is this country has grown from a fringe element to take on the trappings of a genuine movement. I honestly don't think it can go that far per se; what I fear is that it will pull our mainstream politics further to the right, something that has been happening anyway.

I saw Hedges speak once. The guy is absolutely riveting. Twenty years covering war and guerrilla conflict has take its toll on him: He was a man who seen hell and knew that he could never explain it to people who hadn't been there.

Foxessa said...

Going by the latest SCOTUS review of a settled suit -- whether the city of Chicago, or the state of Illinois can legally forbid its citizens to carry guns in public -- these people are not going to be happy until everyone is forced to be armed and shoot at each other. Of course, they believe They will win a shooting war. And they are so creaming for it. They have been since the 70's.

Love, C.

K. said...

This business of wanting to arm everyone from airplane passengers
to teachers and students is insane. And yet the people who want to do it believe that it is a perfectly rationale response to perceived huge threat.

For one thing, they personalize everything. A teacher is shot in classroom. The problem isn't that the student had a gun, but that the teacher did not. Why is that the problem? Because if they were a teacher they would want a gun.

It doesn't occur to them that most teachers don't want weapons within a mile of their school; that most teachers aren't trained to use a gun and don't want to be; and that the chances of something happening are infinitesimally small anyway or that the presence of weapons raises those chances. Suppose that a stressed-out armed teacher goes berserk one day and mows down an unruly class? There's zero chance of that happening now.

Roy said...

The link between fascism and evangelical Christianity goes back a long way. Many of the radio evangelists of the '30s preached isolationism and praised Hitler as a hero in the fight against Bolshevism, a la Father Coughlin (although he was Catholic, he was evangelical in temperament and often in theology; he was eventually silenced by the Vatican). They also preached conservative social/political ideas; Bob Jones, Sr. not only preached isolationism and the idea that Hitler should be left alone to fight the Soviet Union, he was also a rabid racist with strong ties to the Klan.

I know from experience, growing up in the northern fringes of the Bible Belt and personally witnessing the tent revivals of the '60s, that there's always been a fascistic tinge to evangelicalism, with its strong authoritarianism, racism, and nativism. These themes are repeated over and over in the sermons of the televangelists and the shining lights of the religious right, starting with Francis Schaeffer, who started the movement, right up through Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Ralph Reed. There's no doubt in my mind that Joseph Goebbels would have made good use of these jokers to manipulate the general populace.

K. said...

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I love Ireland. But one of the dark places in its past is the fascist Blue Shirt movement of the 30s that recruited for Franco and had the tacit support of the state and the over support of the Church. To Irish Catholic hierarchy of the time, respect for authority, anti-Bolshevism, and anti-Semitism trumped all, even democracy and social justice.

I've read comments on wingnut blogs that express a flat-out disdain for democracy while professing to support republican government. I've never been able to figure out whether the commentators mean that or whether they've conflated the terms with the two political parties.

RobinB said...

If you want a smaller government, and we know that these wingnuts do, the quickest way to get there is to establish a fascist power structure via anarchy/libertarianism.
Came face to face with a lot of guntoters outside Starbucks this week--so much palpable fear on both sides of the issue. Truly scary. The gun rights guys tried to shut the speakers up at every turn.

K. said...

Just what I want: The complete safety of knowing that I can sip my latte in peace because the rest of the patrons are packing. Makes me embarrassed that I wouldn't be doing my part.

Can you imagine the chaos if someone stuck up a Starbucks and one of those idiots pulled a gun? I wouldn't know where to hide.

I emailed them yesterday saying that I wouldn't set foot in a Starbucks until they tightened their policy. Admittedly, I'm a Tully's man, but I made the point anyway!

Foxessa said...

However, unlike the more recent past, there's an additional dimension to the everyone armed ambition: anyone who can afford cn have his/her own army and airforce, i.e. the Black Prince and Xe, previously Blackwater.

Reading the history of the high days of mercenary armies in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries is chilling. If it suited the mercenary commanders they ignored any wishes of those who hired them.

These are the conditions that the current warlordism has created in many large regions of Africa.

This hell is inevitable and you get there very fast -- when every man is allowed to form his own militia.

The current estimate of these private armies owned and run by U.S. citizens is in the hundreds. Blackwater / Xe is merely the most famous.

Love, C.

K. said...

Private armies are perhaps the most troubling expression of the fascist element. It's hard not to think of Blackwater in the same context as the Black Shirts and Brown Shirts. It was especially disturbing to learn that they were dispatched to NOLA after Katrina -- a private militia on U.S. soil.

ZenYenta said...

The interesting part of the guns for self defense argument is that they only seem to have the energy around the issue of guns in particular. If it's self defense you want, you might do better with a can of mace than with a gun. It's illegal to carry mace around here and probably for good reason, but still, you'd think that if people were so interested in deterring crimes against their persons they'd also be interested in some non-lethal ways to do it.

K. said...

The gun thing is weird and very sexual. I went to a gun range once as part of a bachelor's party. It was a weekend, and there were two kinds of men there. One kind was teaching a girlfriend or wife how to shoot. The others -- and I hate to stereotype, but it was greatly in evidence -- were seriously overweight, buzz cut young men who probably couldn't get a date.

Consider the reaction that guys like that would have to even the most remote possibility of having their penises severed -- excuse me, guns taken away -- and the response to gun control legislation makes a sort of sick sense.

RobinB said...

It's interesting that it's the men who pack and the women don't--it was all I could do to keep from saying to the pistol packer standing next to me, "forgive me, but your pecker's showing." It is a sexual thing, a power thing, and good for you for not going to Starbuck's any more. We aren't either.

ZenYenta said...

Being anti-government must be a wonderful relief for the real gun nuts. With so many law enforcement groups showing a lack of enthusiasm for a completely armed populace it's tough to advocate that everyone carry and still say you're all about law and order. Saying that you fear the government makes for a much more consistent message.

K. said...

And aw enforcement used to be the #1 champions of gun control. You rarely saw a photo op of Sarah Brady without a police chief standing next to her. I wonder what happened?