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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fascist America?

Fascism in America
[Image courtesy of The Old Hippie's Groovy Blog]

Naomi Wolf published an essay in the Guardian outlining what she sees are the "ten easy steps" towards fascism in America. I posted those steps here, but go read the original article.

Her essay has understandably provoked some debate, and here is a great back-and-forth with Boston College professor Alan Wolfe, author of Does American Democracy Still Work? The first posted comment on round 2 of the debate from commenter KevinM:
...it's starting to seem that the US public is done rolling over for the thugs currently in charge of the country. Bush and Cheney's poll numbers suggest as much; I read somewhere that Cheney's popularity is something like 19%, below even that of Stalin, who's at something like 20%. So, by all means, let's keep this debate going, but let's not panic, at least not yet!

I, too, feel a bit of sunshine and fresh breeze, so I would agree that full-blown panic time may have passed - but I say just barely. While Prof. Wolfe may be right that our democracy may have self-corrected already (may have), I do not hold that this was inevitably so, as he seems to:
If our democracy is as broken as you suggest, and in particular if it is rigged against fair elections, how could we possibly get a new law through? On the other hand, if you believe that a new law can make the system fairer, shouldn't we conclude that it is not in such horrible shape to begin with?

Naomi rightly responds with this:
...I am sorry to say that the presence of legislative activity is by no means necessarily a sign of the health of a democracy or the absence of a fascist trend. On the contrary: parliamentary processes were central to both Mussolini's and Hitler's accession to power. Both leaders, of course, came to power legally. These two fascists overtook modern democratic societies by making direct and explicit use of the law, and of parliamentary processes to pervert and eventually subvert the law.

Remember, Weimar Germany had a Constitution. Its own politicians weakened its own Constitution, making it much easier for the Nazis to come to power.

Once empowered, the Nazis actually made using legislation to crush the German people into an art form. The law was a prime mover that drove Nazi goals from a point at which there could have been a 'turning back' - if citizens had recognized the disaster as it unfolded and if parliament had refused to legislate away its own powers - to the point of no return. The Enabling Act was legislation passed by a working parliament in the wake of the Reichstag fire: it disemboweled civil liberties and thus made it far more difficult for civil society to rouse itself effectively as the danger escalated. Members of parliament passed that law with scarcely any debate, because they did not wish to seem unpatriotic.

[snip]

It does not progress like a diagonal line going straight across a chart; it progresses in a buildup of many acts assaulting democracy simultaneously that then form a critical mass, that suddenly erupts the nation into a different kind of reality; the nation `stablizes'; then this process begins again at that elevated level of suppression; and eventually there is no turning back. It is more like a series of `tipping point' progressions than an arithmetic one. If you mapped it on a chart it would look more like a series of steps.

Her point, if I may be so bold as to distill it for her, is that a faux democracy is useful to fascism, a mollifying Kabuki dance to reassure the public and give them enough of a semblance of people's rule to go along. Within the framework of lawmaking, a lot of mischief can be done, as we are seeing today.

What's interesting about the debate is that the two Wolves really aren't disagreeing all that much on substance. To me, that is a high signal that some of us tinfoil-hatters who've been sputtering about the fascist leanings of Corporate America have been absolutely right, and we have no reason to be invoking nonsense like "Godwin's law" and such. Naomi again:
We all have to talk about what those tactics look like. As the (Jewish) writer Hannah Arendt explained in her book on totalitarianism, it's our task as civilised people who cherish the rule of law to ask of such times in history: "What happened? Why did it happen? How could it have happened?"

I agree with Alan Wolfe in that I think the push-back has begun, but I'm not sure it was as much as a predictable response of our democracy as he seems to feel. One very strong reason the public has been alerted to the misdeeds of this administration is the administration's own breathtaking incompetence. While I feel that an entrenched, "successful" fascist takeover will always decay into incompetence (the cronyism and paranoia of such an arrangement guarantees it), these clowns began tumbling off the bus before even successfully following through on their putsch. Thank goodness, but that was their doing, not the American public's (or the media's). The administration is, ironically, the one leading their own bringdown - the press & the public are merely following. This is not something to be proud about as American citizens.

In any case, I am glad to see that this is up for serious discussion - it is that very fact which makes me inclined to think that the second serious fascist putsch (the first here) in America is over, and it's now cleanup time.

Boy, I hope I'm not wrong about that. I saw some ugly stuff coming down the pike...

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