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.