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People don't like to use the word "Fascism" to describe the current political process in the USA, because it seems or appears that we want "democracy" for Afghanistan and Iraq so badly that we'll sacrifice many lives and many billions of dollars to achieve it, even sacrifice some democracy at home to spread it abroad. And then that F word implies so much: that there may not be another national election; that somehow thugs have taken power without our really knowing or noticing; that it is evil people doing evil things for evil reasons rather than good people doing evil things for unfathomable reasons; that a big majority of Americans have slipped into irrationality; that our media and favorite anchor people have been given drugs of some kind -- and a list of "frightening implications" like these could really go on forever. It is because the list could go on forever that we don't want to go there. But we are already there. Like the long predicted ecocatastrophe, we have been in it and of it for a while now. That's the problem.
Let me say at the start that I don't want to beat people over the head with the F word -- "you're bad" "you're evil" "you're sick in the head" -- I'm just trying to describe where we are at, and what the growing "polarization" (that's how they talk about it in MacNeil-Lehrer land) is actually about. We are being divided into Fascists and anti-fascists. And you had better know who you are with before uniformed people come knocking at your door.
Fascism is named after a bundle of twigs or straw wrapped around a battle ax that the Romans once used to intimidate the locals. As I remember the story, Romans would send the tightly wrapped bundle or fasc over to the Visigoths or the Huns and say we're big and strong, unbendable, unbreakable, united around our armaments, and since you are not wrapped up tight in our bundle you must be against us. Unless, of course, you want to be with us and part of the bundle? That's why fascism and imperialism always go together. Those patriarchal imperialists are always looking for another piece of fasc.
Let's call "the military-industrial complex" that Ike Eisenhauer noticed with alarm in the 1950s a soft, or friendly, or even a technically rational fascism. Technically, fascism is when the state and the corporations are collaborating very closely and rationing out the weapons building contracts, the infrastructure contracts, the farm export subsidies, the building of airfields and subsidies to airlines, the oiling of the manufacturing wheels and politician pockets with taxpayer dollars, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. and this business-politics as usual has been going on for quite some decades. The networks of interdependence between the state and the biggest corporations became tighter and tighter over time, so that with each "change" of government different people rotate out of government and into business, while other people leave businesses and become cabinet members and undersecretaries of this and that. I never for a minute thought the cold war was rational; I've been a conscientious objector to war and preparations for war since the 1950s when I was a junior in High School; it looked crazy or irrational to me then and it looks even crazier now that the cold war is over and we've invented a war of terrorists to take its place (remember we created the Taliban, we had and may still have Osama on the payroll, we sustained Saddam Hussein with billions for arms and billions for food over many, many years). But a very big majority of Americans thought the cold war made some kind of sense, and so big military budgets and a doling out of contracts to subcontractors in all of the 50 states, Puerto Rico and Guam seemed to be the rational core of our economy. A closely corresponding program of elaborate international subsidies to dictatorships abroad to buy our farm products also made sense to some. Did you know that in the 1980s China's dictatorship was the biggest subsidized buyer of our soy beans and grains [needs fact-checking], followed by Iraq where Saddam Hussein was given 100s of millions of dollars to buy our rice and wheat each year [does not need fact-checking]? These farms subsidies and arms subsidies were the strings that kept the soft, friendly, technically somewhat rational fasc a very tight and strong bundle indeed.
Let's stick with that image of twigs or straw in a bundle around the battle ax. The strings that hold it all together are crucial. What are the strings made of? Beliefs. Faiths. And hard fascism, unfriendly fascism, deadly irrational Fascism, the big F word for when we are really and truly F'd by the merger of state apparatus and corporate greed is when bigger and better ropes of belief and faith are added to the bundle as the arms subsidy and farms subsidy strings are looking a little frayed. (Please read William Appleman Williams on farm state senators and foreign policy --very enlightening.) End of the cold war. People calling for a peace dividend? New wars needed. And new beliefs and faith-based initiatives to hold US together.
Have you noticed the big amount of pundit bewilderment these days? Can the Republicans be ruining the country on purpose? Are we going bankrupt morally, politically, economically, all at once for some real goals? Carlyle and Haliburton and some arms builders will profit in the short term, but what about the other 45O companies in the Fortunate 500? What explains the fiscal insanity of tax cuts to the richest on top of tax cuts to the rich? Why do people still believe the lies told about the need for a war in Iraq long after the lies have been exposed as lies? Why do people still believe the lies told about 9/11? And so forth. Again, the list of questions is getting so long that people don't want to go there. But we are already there. That's the problem.
You can know for a certainty that it's the hard F, the big, nasty F, the yeah, we're totally F'd F, when everything is Faith based. Our currencies are faith-based these days. The money is worth just about what we think it is, certainly nothing more than that. The currency is not backed by gold or precious metals or commodities. Some economists think that Aunt Fannie Mae and Uncle Freddie Mac are backing the currency with mortgages on our homes, but it's paper backing paper in ponzi pyramids that keep that idea and all the other ideas about our currency's value afloat. All the currencies are floating in relation to each other, and our worldwide belief in "economic growth" or 'full faith and credit' is the only thing backing the float. It's what Hakim Bey calls the numisphere, we all breath it, money as air, air as money. And where do the mega-capitalizations of mega-corporations go in the coming stock market crash?
What if the currencies aren't real? What if it's all funny money? What if it's a monopoly game that Bill Gates and Paul Allen and Warren Buffet have won, they're holding all the paper, and they go to the cashier to get plastic chips, and the supply of plastic chips can't be found? What if all the people who want a computer and can afford a computer already have a computer and it is running fast enough to suit them forever? What if people are tired of buying music by cursing NWAs and sad country singers and self-destructive rock stars and just don't want another CD of modulated misery at any price? What if digital tech is taking music, movies, books, media airwaves out of the commodity sphere and returning all "intellectual property" to the commons where it has always belonged? What if people don't feel safe enough in 4 by 4s and hummers and want actual armored cars and tanks? What if all the Chinese want to use toilet paper and squeeze the charmin? What if people all over the world get disgusted with US violent greed and decide not to buy Coke, or Wrigley gum, or Mel Gibson's Passion, Calvin Klein's nakedness, or anything that even hints at American health or American decadence? What if consumerism is over the top and declining? What if global consumerism is just getting started? What if economic growth is really a cancer on the planet and people lose faith in the strange idea that it is good to kill themselves with it?
We are asked to keep the faith that capitalism is being reformed, even though the key Enron witness, Cliff Baxter, may have been murdered, no Enron pals of the President have gone to jail, no one seems to be punished except maybe Martha Stewart (if she had done the interior decoration at Enron they would have found another scapegoat?)
We are asked to keep the faith in our media and broadcasters even though they are broadcasting more and more froth and have stopped investigative reporting on any matter of substance that might lead readers/listeners/viewers to use any of the F words -- fraudulent, fake, fony, foolish, fishy, Fascist. We stopped having a TV in the house over a dozen years ago so whenever we visit TV-land the view is more and more absurd, fast paced enigmatic ads about nothing or whatever, steady flow of infotainment and survivalist dreck that must be amusing someone somewhere. But who?
We are asked to believe in the basic goodness or personal integrity of the Bushes and the Cheynies, and the Rummies, and the Straussians and Colin and Condosleasus, even as they lie to us more and more and commit high crimes and misdemeanors that should inspire accusations of treason and impeachment trials. I've been reading a book written in 1939 about the rise of Hitler; on the brink of World War II Sebastian Haffner looks back at the 30s and marvels at all the different places where Hitler and the Nazis might have been so easily nipped in the bud but were not. Hitler's moves were so bold, the implications so outlandish, that reactions were always too late or too little or some kind of compromise with the rising evil.
In the grip of the Big F, cold hard facts and figures, statistics, projected trends in budgets or in unfolding environmental destruction, just don't seem to matter. Counting doesn't count. Computing doesn't compute. Science can't cut through the Fascist fog or typhos. We are told that it is unpatriotic to be afraid of ecological disaster, unpatriotic to be afraid of huge debts and deficits, unpatriotic to not support perpetual and preemptive wars. Faith, Si. Fear, NO.
Why were all those Bin Laden family members, some of whom think like Osama, put on a plane with other Saudi students and sent home without questioning so soon after 9/11? The only plane flying in American air space is taking key witnesses or possible conspirators out of the country to their Saudi home? No scandal? No cry of outrage from the reporters or the American people? Fascism.
Bush calls for perpetual war AND preemptive war? Sounds like "Mein Kampf" to me. Fascism.
Putting treaties in the shredder and opposing a world court? Sounds like we're in rogue state mode or a "reich" in the making, in a search for "corporate lebensraum" with the unopposed power to do what we please when we please on whom we please without regard for legality or morality. Fascism.
Bush makes war in Afghanistan with an alliance of the willing, those willing to go along with a "you're with us or against us" ultimatum that sounds to me like bundling the twigs and straw around our armaments. No? Yes, Fascism and imperialism.
Bush lies to us about weapons of mass destruction, lies about Iraqi connections to Osama Bin Laden and 9/11, pushes past the UN to make a war on Iraq. Fascism. Patriot Act opens up the home front, adds repression at home to aggression abroad. Fascism.
Patriot Act #2 is in the planning stage and will go into effect, with a lot more teeth than Patriot Act #1, right after the next non-symbolic terrorist attack. Average citizens will feel the bite. Fascism. And about that time, I will be afraid to write something like this, and you will not want to be caught reading it. That's why I'm writing it now.
After the third non-symbolic terrorist attack when Allah wills some American nut to lob 38 mortar shells into Indian Point from across the Hudson, we go to martial law, postponement of elections, or to easily manipulatable electronic elections, and the constitutional era of American history is over.
You know another way we can be sure that it is Fascism and not just fraud? Or faith-based this and that? Or the soft fascism we got used to in the 1950s? Or something a lot like Fascism but not the real thing? Because the minute that Bush started talking about "perpetual war," millions of Americans did not rise up chanting the F word and saying No! in thunder. The very minute Bush said "no world court for us," we should have said with one, united voice, "That's Fascism!" "No rule of law?" "No due process?" "No human rights?" "That's not what America stands for!" "How will the next Saddam Hussein be arrested and brought to trial?" Well, the answer to that one was, we're afraid we will be the ones hauled into the world court! Wake up call. Wake up call. The phone keeps ringing but Nat Hentoff and a very few others are the only ones picking up the receiver. Paul Krugman, as smart and questioning as he is, titles his book "The Great Unraveling: Losing our Way in the New Century", as if the frayed strings of the fasc are not being replaced by heavy ropes that bind the Fascist past, present and future into place. Krugman speaks of a "sea change" as in "it gradually became clear that something deeper than mere bad economic ideology was at work. The bigger story was America's political sea change, the central theme of this book's Introduction." A "sea change" makes Fascism sound like a shift in the breezes, a tide gently turning, when in fact any livable human future and the future of the speciation are both at stake. The imperial navy already runs on nuclear energy. The empire's armaments in space require nuclear power. A flood of radiation and chemical pollution is on its way, volks, and it sure looks hellish up ahead -- what's the German word for that? Gotterdamnearhung or something. Hope you're one of the lucky ones who will be raptured up to (a nuclear polluted?) heaven.
There is a lot of War & Peace dialogue that could be written, novels upon novels, diaries, poetry, describing what is happening in the USA these days. And these books would all be about what it feels like to be struggling in the grip of Fascism, or what it feels like to be in denial about Fascism and the accelerating ecocatastrophe. The Haffner book written in 1939 is about what it felt like to be in the tightening grip of a fascism where most citizens were either sleepwalking or working up more and more enthusiasm for the Nazi mission. Though written in 1939, the year I was born, it was only published in 1999, the year I retired from teaching, 60 years later. There are surprisingly few documents like Haffner's. Very few "good Germans" to put on the shelf next to The Diary of Anne Frank. Think about it. Intelligent people contemporary with the unfolding events in Germany didn't write about "it" much. Willingly or unwillingly, they were in it and of it. Finally, we know it's Fascism when it looks like fascism, smells like fascism, meets every rational definition of fascism, tastes like fascism, and no one wants to use the word often and loudly to describe what is in their mouth, ears, eyes, nose, face. Benjamin DeMott the elder calls it "junk politics" and "post-literate" in the latest issue of Harper's, but Fascism is not so easily dismissed or deplored. Intelligent people not using the F word is one of the surest sign that we are in it and of it.
Recent polls show a steady decline in Bush's popularity. Time and Newsweek and The Economist covers begin to ask real questions. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Greater Israel are not going well because there is no sincere interest in either developing democratic institutions or in self-determination of peoples. Peace, justice, sustainable democracy and reasonably free markets in multicultural states or regions require something like the Swiss Federation model, cantons or provinces that might reflect the different splits within the Kurdish or Shiite or Sunni populations of Iraq, the different tribes and religious factions in Afghanistan, the different mixes of peoples within Isarael, Lebanon, Palestine. You can't have an effective, democratic pan-Iraq or pan-Afghanistan election or a genuine roadmap to peace in the Middle East without people feeling secure in self-governing provinces or cantons (some of which could be very multicultural) and curious about the regional economic benefits of federation. Yet I don't hear much about these kinds of discussions being planned, much less taking place, do you?
The most important reason for using the F word here at home and developing a persuasive analysis of imperialism abroad, is that we must reject Fascism and imperialism completely, clearly, once, and literally for all. People all over the world need genuine help in rejecting power politics, nuclear proliferation, genocidal "administrative massacre" strategies, terrorism, the spirals of violence and vengeance. We need a functioning world court and a functioning world police force capable of at least attempting to arrest people who mastermind administrative massacres anywhere in the world. People all over the world need the example of a USA that rejects Fascism and imperialism and embraces principles of freedom, justice and equality as the path to peace and sustainable levels of prosperity that restore ecological balance and co-evolution. Billions of people and the millions of species out there are asking us to use the F word. The birds and bees are not in denial.
Unless we call processes by their right names and reclaim a moral and political vocabulary from the prevailing "newspeak" and "yadayada", we won't be able to converse with those we need to persuade. Use the F word. Use it freely. And place the adjective "evil" in front of the proper nouns and pronouns. Let "evil" be the predicate in simple sentences, e.g. Fascism is evil.
And know for sure that if we are not up to our ears in it yet, we are certainly up to our armpits.