By Jim Smith
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (and women) do nothing.” –Edmund Burke
Alarm bells are sounding throughout the country over the widespread disruptions of congressional town halls on health care. Is it possible that we are seeing the beginnings of a mass fascist movement in this country?
Many of us breathed a sign of relief when George Bush and Dick Cheney laid down the mantle of power. We suffered through an anxious eight years that saw the expansion of a fascist legal structure, laws and government reorganization. Many of these changes, including the so-called Patriot Act, which has no place in a democratic society, and the Germanic-sounding Homeland Security Department are still with us today.
When friends would tell me during the Bush years that we had already gone fascist, or were on the verge of it, I would disagree, saying that fascism needs a mass base, something that majority sentiment against the Iraq invasion, and Bush’s declining popularity would argue against. In addition, I would tell them, there is no large socialist or communist movement to frighten the lords of finance.
Today, we may have an emerging mass base for fascism in the “Tea Party,” movement and the disruptions of town hall meetings. And if these right-wingers can be compared to the Nazi’s thuggish SA troops, then Blackwater – which is still being paid by the government – is the modern version of the elite Nazi SS forces. These professional assassins and para-military soldiers have killed indiscriminately in Iraq, and may well be willing to do so again in the “homeland.” And more and more, young people in particular are fed a growing diet of militarism, violence and “terrorism” adventures by the film industry. The informal alliance between the film industry’s corporations and the government was formalized on Nov. 11, 2001 when, according to the New York Times, 40 top moguls met with Bush strategist Karl Rove who proceeded to give Hollywood its marching orders. Even though there has been a change in the presidency, Hollywood keeps churning out the same patriotic themes, now including GI Joe. Critical or anti-establishment films seem to be a genre of the past.
So instead of relaxing while the Obama administration gradually expanded our basic rights, we have more cause for alarm than ever. The Republican Party, in addition to being one of the voices for Wall Street, along with the Democratic Party, has a fascist central core and publicity apparatus. This includes many current officeholders and defrocked former officeholders such as Dick Armey. Until recently, the main connection of these right-wingers with the public has been through the media, especially Fox News, Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh and their imitators around the country. Now, Armey’s army of thugs and followers have marched into town halls to carry out the anti-democratic orders of the big health care corporations.
We can learn lessons from history. German fascism grew in the fertile ground of a very deep depression after World War I. Our own depression is just getting started, say more and more economists. Even so, the Nazi Party might have been nothing more than a footnote in history books had not the cream of German capitalists met in 1931 and decided to back Hitler. After that the old right wing party (similar to the Republicans) aligned with the Nazis and the old center parties (similar to the Democrats) crumbled without offering any resistance. The left wing parties, particularly the Communists, were smashed by storm trooper violence. Hitler waltzed into power with only a minority of votes, but soon instituted his version of the Patriot Act and consolidated all power under the Nazi Party.
Big corporations and the wealthy are funding Armey’s FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips’ Americans for Prosperity according to the Washington Post. They include MetLife, Philip Morris and foundations controlled by the archconservative Richard Mellon Scaife family. Other health care corporations are conducing their own media campaigns and Whole Foods has jumped in to oppose health reform, causing demonstrations at its stores and calls for a boycott. Apparently even Obama’s mass centrist movement scared the hell out of the ruling class. Just think if he really was a socialist!
The whiff of fascism grows stronger every day. A possible scenario would be that they are able to defeat Obama’s legislation at every turn, then in the 2012 elections, a new “contract for America” sweeps into power a new, more fascist Republican majority, along with a “strong man” president who pledges to resolve the immigrant and homeless problems. Voila! Fascism is now in power.
Racism goes hand-in-hand with fascism. The election of an African-American President has not ended racism in America. Instead, it has infuriated many white racists, who now say that “their” country has been stolen from them. This has caused a silly rumor that Obama was born in Africa, not Hawaii, to become a full-blown fringe movement of the “Birthers.” Add hatred of Blacks to the hatred of immigrants, and even long-time Latino residents, and we have an important ingredient of fascism – hatred of the “other.”
However, the drift toward fascism is not preordained. It can be defeated by people coming to the defense of democracy, and by the Obama administration taking a strong, unwavering position for universal health care (with at-least a public option), and for expanded labor rights and civil rights. It would be folly to abandon the unemployed (now at 11.9 percent in California). Public jobs and a livable unemployment insurance payment could help prevent recruitment of the down-and-out by the extreme right.
America is an authoritarian country. If you don’t believe it, visit nearly any European or third-world country, and compare the relative freedom for average people in their everyday lives. Everything from traffic regulations to enjoying a beer or glass of wine is more highly controlled here. No where are there more police, federal agents, security guards and prisoners than in the good old USA. A total of seven and a half million people are under criminal supervision in this country. Put in one place, they would constitute a city just slightly smaller than New York. In a scene most likely repeated in ghettos and barrios across the continent, more than 200 LAPD cops and federal agents have descended on the Oakwood neighborhood in sweeps, twice in the last year and a half, that can be described as chilling and Gestapo-like.
Authoritarian countries want authoritarian leaders. Barack Obama is being too nice, too democratic to suit the masses who have grown used to Nixon, Reagan, two Bushes, and a host of petty officials who treat the public with contempt. Hence the calls for Obama to jawbone Congress and to lash out at his opponents on health care. Can’t we all just reason together? Probably not. Too many of our fellow citizens want a Supreme Leader who will play the tough guy with Kim Jong-il, and will rampage through Afghanistan even though Afghanis have done us no harm.
Will the whiff of fascism extend to our sheltered little community? It did in 1942 when Japanese-Venetians were rounded-up and carted off to a concentration camp. The demonizing of the homeless and RV dwellers can create an atmosphere where the weak minded among us think violence against them is acceptable. It isn’t. In the 1980s, a Venice homeless center was torched. Many activists think they know who did it, but there was no evidence for an indictment. It turned out to be an isolated act, but the hostility against those most in need of help has continued ever since.
The talk of putting the homeless in camps in a compound near the airport where guards can watch them is a step down a road we don’t want to go. And finally, Jane Harman’s office is being picketed by the “Tea Baggers” who are demanding she hold a town hall. If she decides to fly out from her home in Washington DC, what safer place to hold a town hall than Venice? If so, then everyone of us will have to make a decision to go or not. We’ll have to decide whether to stand up, not for Jane Harman, but for democracy and health reform. If Harman is a no show, it will be an indication that the “center” in U.S. politics is unwilling to take on the extreme right. Will progressive Democrats follow Barney Franks heroic stance, or will they be the next to cave?
We are probably closer to fascism than we have been since Hitler admirers were plotting a coup against Franklin Roosevelt in 1934. But this is not the time to rush for the airport and fly to safety is a more civilized country. It is the time when the apolitical must become political, when those who don’t go to meetings or rallies or write letters to Obama and the Congress, must do so. It is the time for good men and women to prevent the triumph of evil. If millions of Germans had stood up to Hitler, what a different world this might have been.