8.24.2009

if you are still fighting for u.s. democracy, read sara robinson

Sara Robinson holds a mirror to the slackened mouth of US democracy, and still sees a trace of fog.
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.

For my money, after two fraudulent US presidential elections, added to everything else, I decided there must be a new kind of fascism, one disguised as a democracy. If it's not wholly new, if there's historical precedent, then at the very least it's not the face of fascism most USians would immediately recognize.

Later, I used Naomi Wolf's Fascist America, in 10 easy steps, and I knew the US was there.

Sara Robinson and Dave Neiwert, and the others Sara mentions, have far more expertise in this area than I do (also more invested in the US, I believe). I don't dispute their analysis. It just doesn't work for me. As I read it, I find myself responding, "Too late... won't happen with enough strength... not organized enough... too late... too beaten down...". Not to mention, "What? You're expecting help from the Democrats?"

But just because I don't have any hope for the US, doesn't mean I'm right and Sara's wrong. Those of you who are still fighting, perhaps this follow-up will help.
In the previous post, I pointed out that the most insidious part of fascism is that by the time it's finally obvious to absolutely everyone that these people are dangerously out of control, it's too late to do anything about it. Early warnings are even more valuable here than they are in most domains. And since futurists are -- more than anything -- in the business of early warnings, it falls to me to step up there and point out that according to at least a few of the more reputable atlases in the glove box, this looks a lot like the last turn into the parking lot of downtown Fascist Hell.

The good news is: we're not yet parked and locked, let alone committed to entering the building. (Which is good, because the doors appear to be all one way, just like in the Hotel California.) We've still got a few minutes left to change our minds, back out of this, and go spend our future somewhere else. But we are now actively in the process of choosing, whether we're aware of it or not. Things are happening quickly now that could set us on a course we will soon regret.

How do we turn back? Here are some basic principles to guide our action.

First: The teabaggers must not win this one. Back in elementary school, most of us learned that when a bully learns that intimidation and threats work, he'll will keep doing more of it. In fact, the longer he goes without comeuppance, the bolder and badder he becomes, and the harder it is to make him stop. Every success teaches him something new about how to use terror for maximum effect, and tempts him to push the envelope and see what else he can get away with. Do nothing, and he'll soon take over the whole playground. . . .

Read: Fascist America: Are We There Yet? and Fascist America II: The Last Turnoff.

8 comments:

David Cho said...

Laura, this is quite fascinating and disheartening at the same time.

As someone with conservative leanings in the past without the demographic qualifications to be in the rightwing camp (native, white, etc), I am watching people from both sides expressing despair and hopelessness for very different reasons.

You might have seen this video clip of birthers disrupting a townhall meeting. The most telling quote: I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK.

Do you think they know they are "winning," but are pretending not to just to incite more outrage? They feel they are losing their country just as you feel hopeless for the US, but for completely different reasons. They see socialism taking over the US.

Joe Grav said...

I feel like if I was born to do anything, it's to keep fighting.

But lately, i have been getting disheartened.

L-girl said...

Joe, disheartening comes with the territory. You have to find ways to work around it. I highly recommend reading Howard Zinn's memoir "You Can't Be Neutral On A Moving Train".

I blogged about it a lot after the 04 "election". I was in a state of despair, and Howard Zinn pulled me back to myself.

L-girl said...

The most telling quote: I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK.

In what way do you find that telling?

White South Africans said that. Slaveowners said that. Men who don't value women as fully people said (say) that. Homophobes say that.

I find it telling that people say this after an African American has been elected president.

Do you think they know they are "winning," but are pretending not to just to incite more outrage?

David, perhaps you need to read more about these "movements" and who is behind them. Sara Robinson, the stories I linked to here, is a good place to start.

These people are on a mission, but that mission is not what it may appear to you to be.

They see socialism taking over the US.

They cannot see what does not exist. Do you think they have the slightest idea of what socialism is?

Do you have any idea how bizarre and ridiculous it sounds to say that "socialism is taking over the US"? It's like saying with six women in the US Senate, women have taken over the Senate. Or that African-Americans have now taken over the presidency (1 out of 44). Or that gays and lesbians have now taken over the country, because they one or two states regards them as equal citizens.

The US has had many social programs to check the worst excesses of capitalism, and to have some sort of social safety net. FDR was not a socialist - his New Deal programs saved capitalism and helped kill the US socialist movement.

Meaningful health care reform is no more socialism than social security or minimum wage laws.

Before you compare "birthers" and "teabaggers" to progressive activists who have been raising the alarm about real threats to democracy, you should learn more about who they really are, who funds them, and what they really want.

David Cho said...

Laura, I think you misunderstood me. I am not necessarily sympathizing with any of the "movements." In fact, I find their racial overtones and demagoguery appalling, and I don't equate them with progressives.

Just making observations. Somehow, the people who are behind these movements are tapping into something which already exists in their psyche - the fear of "losing their country."

Isn't that due to inroads made by progressives at least in some areas?

Of course there are lots of gains that people on the right have gained since the 80's, notably the long march toward theocracy and big business, which is why I cannot identify with the right any more and you see hopelessness.

L-girl said...

Laura, I think you misunderstood me. I am not necessarily sympathizing with any of the "movements." In fact, I find their racial overtones and demagoguery appalling, and I don't equate them with progressives.

I understood what you meant. I knew you weren't sympathizing with them or speaking for them.

Somehow, the people who are behind these movements are tapping into something which already exists in their psyche - the fear of "losing their country."

I disagree. I think they are tapping into racism. There's fear, but it's the fear of "the other", and of change, and of invented bogeymen that the corporate strategists dream up.

At different times and in different places, those bogeymen have been Jews, homosexuals, communists, blacks, Japanese, Germans, Muslims.

Isn't that due to inroads made by progressives at least in some areas?

What inroads would those be? In what areas have gains been made? Progressives have been fighting a defensive struggle to keep things from sliding backwards even faster than they have been.

redsock said...

The people at the top of this movement know very well that Obama is doing absolutely nothing that even gets within a mile of progressive.

They want a dictatorship state -- and they are using the buzz words and scare tactics that will turn everyday people to their side. (Most of the dittoheads couldn't define socialism if you gave them a dictionary.)

I see Obama doing nothing to stop them and plenty to assist them.

It is simply more theater -- with actors on both sides. And more and more people are getting wise to how the play ends.

redsock said...

Ack. I hit send too early.

A similar situation happened around Iraq. The US government knowingly lied about its goals and reasons for invading to whip up support for the occupation. And a ton of regular citizens bought it and shouted the proper slogans.

The government knew there was no WMD or terrorists in Iraq or any threat of any kind. That has been proven beyond all doubt. But they used buzz words and lies and propaganda to make everyone believe what was happening was something that was not happening.