Let's Vote & Get Out the Vote on Tuesday
Avoiding Fascism & Preserving Civility in Politics & Life
In the summer of 2009, Sara Robinson wrote several articles on the possibility of fascism developing in the United States. As I wrote in response at the time (http://healingjustice.wordpress.com/), I had had some concern along those lines on and off for some time. The discussion then focused on the unruliness of many who attended political gatherings in what appeared to be spontaneous outpourings of outrage over various policies, on the part of people who came to be called Tea Partiers. Bullying of scapegoats by roving mobs was one of the elements of the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s.
More recently, several factors have given greater concreteness to the concern that such a phenomenon may be gathering force and coherence in the US. For one thing, it has emerged that the development, persistence and direction of what is often referred to as the Tea Party has been supported by right-wing billionaires whose sponsorship of think-tanks and ownership and direction of media has helped to create an atmosphere of hostility to government (rather than to the corporate masters of the government), in which the general financial and logistical support of these parties has been able to produce the appearance and increasingly the reality of a coherent “movement.” See, e.g., Pam Martens, “More Tentacles Surface at Rightwing Front Group: The Koch Empire and Americans for Prosperity,” http://www.counterpunch.org/, October 19, 2010).
There have now been a number of manifestations of bullying violence, in connection with the mid-term elections of 2010. In this context, my initial concern about the possible impact the victory of right-wing candidates could have on public policy has been augmented by my concern that such a victory would be a further development in the emergence of an atmosphere of bullying, scapegoating, and other aspects of a loss of civility which, whether one calls it a step on the road to fascism or not, would be deeply troubling. I have therefore come to have a renewed interest in the elections, taking the view that the victory of even candidates with whom I differ substantially on important issues would be preferable to that of their opponents, who threaten to bring with them not only even worse policies but an atmosphere of tolerance for and even encouragement of violence.
I’m again indebted to Sara Robinson for articulating earlier this month an updated analysis of the problem. http://pdamerica.org/articles/news/2010-10-24-03-55-29-news.php. As Ms. Robinson sums up her earlier work and its reception:
“In August 2009, I wrote a piece titled Fascist America: Are We There Yet? that sparked much discussion on both the left and right ends of the blogosphere. In it, I argued that—according to the best scholarship on how fascist regimes emerge—America was on a path that was running much too close to the fail-safe point beyond which no previous democracy has ever been able to turn back from a full-on fascist state. I also noted that the then-emerging Tea Party had a lot of proto-fascist hallmarks, and that it had the potential to become a clear and present danger to the future of our democracy if it ever got enough traction to start winning elections in a big way.”
At the conclusion of her updated treatment of the subject, Ms. Robinson suggests three possible scenarios:
“1. The Tea Party is rejected outright by the voters on November 2. A handful of their candidates do win their races; and for the next few years, the Democrats have a grand time pointing out their sheer wingnuttitude, bolstering a compelling case against electing any more of them in the future. The party begins to lose momentum, and in a few years is defunct.
“2. The Tea Party elects a credible number of these 70-odd candidates—enough to make a solid showing and establish its political bona fides, but not enough to get anything serious done. If this happens, progressives need to work fast and hard. If this right-wing tide continues to build as we head into the 2012 election, we'll still be cruising straight into a fascist future—just not quite yet. There's time to stop it, but the momentum is not on our side—and stopping it only gets harder with every passing week.
“3. A solid majority of the Tea Party candidates win their races, cementing the movement's lock on the GOP and turning it into a genuine political power in this country. They've already promised us that if they take either house of Congress, the next two years will be a lurid nightmare of hearings, trials, impeachments, and character assassinations against progressives. (Which could, in the end, backfire on the GOP as badly as the Clinton impeachment did. We can hope.) Similar scorched-earth harassment awaits officials at every other level of government, too. And casual violence against immigrants, gays, and progressives may escalate as the Tea Party brownshirts become bolder, confident that at least some authorities will either back them up or look the other way.
“In this scenario, the fail-safe point—the point beyond which no country has ever turned back from the full fascist nightmare—may well be behind us when we wake up on November 3. From there, the rest will play out in agonizing slow motion; and the character of the rest of this decade will hinge almost entirely on whether the corporatists, the militarists, or the theocrats ultimately get the upper hand in the emerging regime.”
Robinson acknowledges that people with the sorts of views now ascribed to Tea Partiers have always been with us, but notes:
“According to Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates, the Tea Parties are a broad movement that brings together several preexisting formations on the political right:
— Economic libertarians who worry about big government collectivist tyranny
— Christian Right Conservatives who oppose liberal government social policies
— Right-wing apocalyptic Christians who fear a Satanic New World Order
— Nebulous conspiracy theorists who fear a secular New World Order
— Nationalistic ultra-patriots concerned that US sovereignty is eroding
— Xenophobic anti-immigrant white nationalists who worry about preserving the “real” America.
“This unification of right-wing forces around radical far-right ideas has never happened on anything like this scale in modern American history. And it's why we need to recognize the Tea Party as something unique under the political sun—and seriously evaluate the future that awaits us if it becomes any more powerful.”
Her article concludes with this important call to involvement:
“Be the one who sees where this is taking us. Be the one who stands while you still can. The future these people have in mind for us is one that dozens of countries have already lived through; and all of them will carry the scars for centuries. It's not fascism yet; but if the Tea Party manages to get its hands on the levers of power, it will be.”
Writing along similar lines,Chris Hedges has raised similar concerns (“How Democracy Dies: Lessons From a Master,” Posted October 10, 2010 at http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/how_democracy_dies_lessons_from_a_master_20101011/):“The ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes spent his life battling the assault on democracy by tyrants. It is disheartening to be reminded that he lost. But he understood that the hardest struggle for humankind is often stating and understanding the obvious. Aristophanes, who had the temerity to portray the ruling Greek tyrant, Cleon, as a dog, is the perfect playwright to turn to in trying to grasp the danger posed to us by movements from the tea party to militias to the Christian right, as well as the bankrupt and corrupt power elite that no longer concerns itself with the needs of its citizens. He saw the same corruption 2,400 years ago. He feared correctly that it would extinguish Athenian democracy. And he struggled in vain to rouse Athenians from their slumber.
“There is a yearning by tens of millions of Americans, lumped into a diffuse and fractious movement, to destroy the intellectual and scientific rigor of the Enlightenment. They seek out of ignorance and desperation to create a utopian society based on “biblical law.” They want to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy. These radicals, rather than the terrorists who oppose us, are the gravest threat to our open society. They have, with the backing of hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate money, gained tremendous power. They peddle pseudoscience such as “Intelligent Design” in our schools. They keep us locked into endless and futile wars of imperialism. They mount bigoted crusades against gays, immigrants, liberals and Muslims. They turn our judiciary, in the name of conservative values, over to corporations. They have transformed our liberal class into hand puppets for corporate power. And we remain meek and supine.”
At the conclusion of his own analysis, Hedges echoes the call of Sara Robinson:
“Let us not stand at the open gates of the city meekly waiting for the barbarians. They are coming. They are slouching towards Bethlehem. Let us, if nothing else, like Aristophanes, begin to call our tyranny by its name.”
Bill Fletcher, Jr., articulates and reinforces the point that our first line of defense is the coming elections, in “Enthusiasm: I Am Not Interested In Things Getting Worse!, http://pdamerica.org/articles/campaigns/2010-10-27-10-51-34-campaigns.php (October 27, 2010):
“I am focusing on those on the right attempting to move in, and frankly they are an unsettling bunch. You see, my enthusiasm for voting rests on the fact that I am not interested in people who worship ignorance, intolerance, war and the strengthening of a plutocracy increasing their grip on power and pulling this country any further to the right than it currently is. In other words, the challenge for progressives is two-fold: one, to beat back the irrationalist right; and, two, to move against the right-wing of the Democratic Party and to push for real change.”
As Fletcher’s piece concludes:
“Well, we are now facing a moment of truth. This is not the boy who cried wolf. In addition to the Democratic Congress as a whole being under assault from the Republicans, there are some liberal and progressive Democratic elected officials who are under siege, and about whom we should be concerned. There is an energized, right-wing army waiting to turn back the clock. So progressives should be enthused right now; enthused to defend our friends, but also to defeat our enemies. But we should also be motivated to put into practice a different set of politics. We have got to get off the defensive and promote a different sort of vision, an inspiring, progressive vision.”
Many of us are by now aware of the incidents to which I refer above. As Michael Moore describes one of the most sickening:
“There she was, thrown to the pavement by a Republican in a checkered shirt. Another Republican thrusts his foot in between her legs and presses down with all his weight to pin her to the curb. Then a Republican leader comes over and viciously stomps on her head with his foot. You hear her glasses crunch under the pressure. Holding her head down with his foot, he applies more force so she can't move. Her skull and brain are now suffering a concussion.
“The young woman's name is Lauren Valle, but she is really all of us. For come this Tuesday, the right wing -- and the wealthy who back them -- plan to take their collective boot and bring it down hard on not just the head of Barack Obama but on the heads of everyone they simply don't like.” “A Boot to the Head…from Michael Moore,” October 28, 2010, http://www.michaelmoore.com/.
Mike Lux sums up the situation this way (“Robbing You With A Fountain Pen – Rightwing Electoral Violence,” October 28, 2010, http://pdamerica.org/articles/campaigns/2010-10-28-01-20-20-campaigns.php):
“I think the lawlessness reflected in the physical violence on the campaign trail coming from so many on the right, and the blatant disregard for the rule of law by the big banks trying to railroad so many people out of their homes without the proper paper work, are more related than conventional wisdom would suggest. The fact that banks and their "servicers" have apparently committed massive document fraud and have in some cases actually hired thugs to break into people's homes and change their locks during foreclosure proceedings, and the fact that they lied to and bet against their own clients in investment deals is all part of a pattern: people with too much power and an Ayn Randian view of the world. Ayn Rand, the Social Darwinists of the 1880s, the big Wall Street banks, libertarian candidates like Rand Paul and these thugs who work on their campaigns all make the same arguments: power is morality, greed is good, compassion is weakness, buyer beware. While they call for civility, and argue against class warfare and populism, they believe in turning the Golden Rule of the Bible on its head and replacing it with another one: he who has the gold, rules. And if the rule of law gets in their way, they just ignore it or use their political power to change the law. If politicians or public opinion create a problem for them, they use their money to dump millions into lobbying to change the law, or dump millions into secretive groups to buy elections.”
“The best argument for the Democrats in these elections is that the sharks are in the water, and the thugs are in the street. Democrats can and do drive us crazy sometimes, but when the Ayn Rand Social Darwinists on Wall Street and the streets of Kentucky argue that the strong should rule over the weak, it is better to strengthen the hand of our advocates like [Elizabeth] Warren and [Alan] Grayson and [US Senator] Sherrod (rather than Scott) Brown. There are some who rob you with a gun, and some with a fountain pen—some who kick you in the head and some who throw you out of your home—and it is better to have a sheriff who will be on your side at least some of the time.”
Right here in my home area of Lane County, Oregon, a recent public hearing of the Board of County Commissioners raised some of the same themes. A crowd of perhaps 450-500 people angrily packed what was to be a public hearing on proposed rules to protect public drinking water by regulating the use of property adjacent to the McKenzie River. At the outset, as the Commissioners were trying to get the meeting underway, many in the crowd rose as one and preemptively recited the Pledge of Allegiance. They subsequently shouted down any effort to speak. Since there were problems with the sound system and the venue couldn’t safely accommodate so many people, the hearing was reset to a later date. Some who attended have called for all who attend the rescheduled hearing to wear red shirts.
Obama has not disappointed me once. I voted for him because I thought he was unlikely to get us into a nuclear war, whereas there was a much higher probability McCain would do exactly that. Thus far at least, Obama has lived up to my expectations. But his administration has nevertheless been a dismal failure thus far from my perspective, for reasons alluded to in several of the articles cited in this piece, such as passing an inadequate stimulus and failing to articulate the need for more; compromising the guts out of health care reform, and doing the same with reregulation of the financial system.
And as I said, I have some serious policy differences with many Democrats, even including some whose candidacies I actively support in this election. Congressional Democrats as a group have disappointed me so deeply that I have declined to give any support whatsoever to the national Democratic Party or any of its organs, such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or its counterpart for Senatorial candidates. But as election eve approaches, I’m very glad I did seek out some of the most clearly and reliably progressive candidates nationally, especially those supported by Progressive Democrats of America. And as I wrote yesterday to Meredith Wood Smith, chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon, in sending a small contribution to the DPO:
“I've given in a small way before and am adding [a bit more] now. In doing so I'd like to say that I have big differences with [gubernatorial candidate] John Kitzhaber about biomass and with [US Senator] Ron Wyden about trade policy and forest issues. I'm contributing in part because Oregon Democrats have backed progressive taxation and finally put an end to field burning [by grass seed growers in the Willamette Valley, a controversial practice that routinely polluted the air where I live]. But on a more general level, I believe the opposition threatens us with not only destructive policies favoring even worse concentration of wealth, plundering of the Earth and loss of the social safety net, but a loss of civility. In that connection I’m afraid the incident in Kentucky may be emblematic of larger tendencies that we face even here in Oregon and specifically, Lane County. I look forward to working with Democratic officeholders and citizens in Oregon after Election Day, regardless of what happens nationally, and hope those with whom I disagree will have open minds and a willingness to consider science and facts, which is sadly lacking in so much of the opposition.”