4.25.2007

"a handful of patriots trying to hold back the tide of tyranny"

A few months ago, there was a letter in the Star decrying those who say the US is becoming (or has become) a fascist state. It was in response to an essay by Christopher Hedges, author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America. I wrote a letter in response, which the Star said was shortlisted for publication, but which did not appear in print. Here 'tis.
Letter writer [name] believes that saying the US is turning fascist is "idiotic". Perhaps he is looking for the wrong signs. Just because there are no tanks rolling through the streets and some dissent is allowed does not make a country a democracy.

Right now in the US, there is: overwhelming evidence that the last two presidential elections were fraudulent; the president's legal right to imprison American citizens indefinitely without charging them with a crime; endless war; government propaganda being disseminated through supposedly independent media; the escalating influence of religious fundamentalism in every public institution.

Perhaps we are witnessing something we have not seen before: a fascist state dressed in the trappings of democracy. The danger is not using a word too soon. It's recognizing the threat too late.

Much has been written about the warning signs of fascism. I've seen few pieces that lay it out more clearly than this one by Naomi Wolf, from The Guardian (UK), also found at Common Dreams.
Fascist America, in 10 easy steps

Last autumn, there was a military coup in Thailand. The leaders of the coup took a number of steps, rather systematically, as if they had a shopping list. In a sense, they did. Within a matter of days, democracy had been closed down: the coup leaders declared martial law, sent armed soldiers into residential areas, took over radio and TV stations, issued restrictions on the press, tightened some limits on travel, and took certain activists into custody.

They were not figuring these things out as they went along. If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways. But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy - but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.

Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree - domestically - as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of government - the task of being aware of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens' ownership to being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors - we scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we don't learn much about European history, the setting up of a department of "homeland" security - remember who else was keen on the word "homeland" - didn't raise the alarm bells it might have.

It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable - as the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise.

Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism. I am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US.

Wolf goes on to describe the ten steps, and how the junta has taken each one. She concludes:
Right now, only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the tide of tyranny for the rest of us - staff at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who faced death threats for representing the detainees yet persisted all the way to the Supreme Court; activists at the American Civil Liberties Union; and prominent conservatives trying to roll back the corrosive new laws, under the banner of a new group called the American Freedom Agenda. This small, disparate collection of people needs everybody's help, including that of Europeans and others internationally who are willing to put pressure on the administration because they can see what a US unrestrained by real democracy at home can mean for the rest of the world.

We need to look at history and face the "what ifs". For if we keep going down this road, the "end of America" could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before - and this is the way it is now.

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands ... is the definition of tyranny," wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

Read the essay here.

7 comments:

M@ said...

Maybe you and Allan are lucky you got out when you did. This essay is downright chilling.

James said...

After the Reichstag fire, Hitler got Hindenberg to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree, which gave Hitler the ability to arrest political enemies. The decree stated:

Articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 and 153 of the Constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice. It is therefore permissible to restrict the rights of personal freedom [habeas corpus], freedom of opinion, including the freedom of the press, the freedom to organize and assemble, the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications, and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.

Consider:

- rights of personal freedom [habeas corpus] has been severely curtailed under Bush

- freedom of opinion hasn't been officially suspended, but if you have an anti-Bush bumper sticker at a Bush speech, you can be thrown out for "disturbing the peace". If you oppose the President, you'll be accused of being a traitor and of providing aid and comfort to the enemy.

- including the freedom of the press hasn't been curtailed, and there is press out there exposing Bush's mendacity, but a lot of the press still simply regurgitates White House press releases.

- the freedom to organize and assemble -- "free speech zones".

- the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications -- Warrantless wiretaps.

-- warrants for house searches -- recent use of the Patriot Act by the FBI

-- orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property -- Patriot Act again

L-girl said...

Maybe you and Allan are lucky you got out when you did.

I often feel that way. Of course many people I love are still there, and on a less selfish note, the US going in this direction is a very bad thing for the entire planet. But personally, yes, I think we left a sinking ship.

Hitler and the Reichstag fire are very relevant, I think. But people go insane when you bring it up - if Jews aren't being loaded onto box cars, there can be no Hitler comparison. Meanwhile all this is happening under their noses, but they're busy looking for the wrong clues.

mac said...

Wolf's article is indeed scary. Even more chilling is that there seems to be a significant minority that would prefer to live in a dictatorship. Sometimes, I wonder what would happen to the US if another terrorist attack takes place on its soil?

James said...

Even more chilling is that there seems to be a significant minority that would prefer to live in a dictatorship.

There's only one thing that Bush has ever been right about -- it is easier to run a dictatorship than a democracy. That's why democracy takes so much work.

L-girl said...

Even more chilling is that there seems to be a significant minority that would prefer to live in a dictatorship.

That's well observed. There's a fascist streak in the American psyche a mile wide. I've always marveled at the fear of communism in the US. The real threat to democracy has never been from the left - it's from the right.

Sometimes, I wonder what would happen to the US if another terrorist attack takes place on its soil?

Well, look how they used the first one that was allowed to happen. If they let another slip through, we can only imagine the fallout. An October surprise to suspend elections? It's not all that hard to imagine.

James said...

Slactivist has a great article on the "NABA" (Not As Bad As) reaction to Naomi Wolf's article.

Everyone agrees that Guantanamo Bay has become a place where "detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial and without access to the due process of the law." You can either respond to those facts, or you can reassure yourself with NABA-NABA, desperately latching onto Wolf's use of the word "gulag" and indulging in the comforting distraction that, as bad as it may be, Gitmo is NABA the Soviet gulags.

That's true. It's also not the point.

Guantanamo is incompatible with democracy. I don't care, and it doesn't matter, if we can list a dozen or a thousand examples of places that were worse. That's not how this works. We're not grading on a curve. Guantanamo Bay is intolerable.

Shut it down. Burn it down, gentlemen. Burn it down and salt the earth.