Saturday, 8 August 2009

Are We There Yet?

One of the scariest things I've read in a loooong time.
All through the dark years of the Bush Administration, progressives watched in horror as Constitutional protections vanished, nativist rhetoric ratcheted up, hate speech turned into intimidation and violence, and the president of the United States seized for himself powers only demanded by history's worst dictators. With each new outrage, the small handful of us who'd made ourselves experts on right-wing culture and politics would hear once again from worried readers: Is this it? Have we finally become a fascist state? Are we there yet?

And every time this question got asked, people like Chip Berlet and Dave Neiwert and Fred Clarkson and yours truly would look up from our maps like a parent on a long drive, and smile a wan smile of reassurance. "Wellll...we're on a bad road, and if we don't change course, we could end up there soon enough. But there's also still plenty of time and opportunity to turn back. Watch, but don't worry. As bad as this looks: no -- we are not there yet."

In tracking the mileage on this trip to perdition, many of us relied on the work of historian Robert Paxton, who is probably the world's pre-eminent scholar on the subject of how countries turn fascist. In a 1998 paper published in The Journal of Modern History, Paxton argued that the best way to recognize emerging fascist movements isn't by their rhetoric, their politics, or their aesthetics. Rather, he said, mature democracies turn fascist by a recognizable process, a set of five stages that may be the most important family resemblance that links all the whole motley collection of 20th Century fascisms together. According to our reading of Paxton's stages, we weren't there yet. There were certain signs -- one in particular -- we were keeping an eye out for, and we just weren't seeing it.

And now we are. In fact, if you know what you're looking for, it's suddenly everywhere. It's odd that I haven't been asked for quite a while; but if you asked me today, I'd tell you that if we're not there right now, we've certainly taken that last turn into the parking lot and are now looking for a space. Either way, our fascist American future now looms very large in the front windshield -- and those of us who value American democracy need to understand how we got here, what's changing now, and what's at stake in the very near future if these people are allowed to win -- or even hold their ground.

It's long but worthwhile.

Sorry if you don't sleep well tonight.


jj said...

Oh, we're there alright. The upside is that the fascists are out of power for the time being... but being fascists, that won't stop them from just grabbing it.

These town hall fiascos are a perfect example: they are the essence of democracy, people meeting to have a rational, reasonable discussion of health care reform options. This is everyone's chance to learn something and/or give their input. Yet the right-wingers have been instructed by the the GOP to shut down these discussions. If that isn't fascism, it's damn close.

J. A. Baker said...

This is why it's vitally important that we keep the Rethugs from regaining control of Congress in 2010. If that happens, you can officially kiss the America I was raised to love and defend goodbye.

If that happens, immigrating to Canada is my contingency plan.

Gordie_Canuk said...

Thanks for that Fern...during the Bush years I was very worried about it, but slipped back into a sense of security with Obama's innauguration...and we Canadians continue to be stuck with Bush Lite.

The Mound of Sound said...

It's what Chris Hedges likes to call "Christian Fascism" and it seems to be coming very quietly to a ballot box near you. Read Sharlet's book "The Family" or his expose on the fundamentalist infiltration of the US Military in Harper's "Jesus Killed Mohammed." There's a fanatical fundamentalist movement spreading through the top ranks of American politics, business, industry and its military and it's replete with characters like Bush, LaHaye, Boykin and Prince. Has it made its way into Canadian politics yet? I suspect it has.

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