The elements of fascism

Because fascism is such an insidious thing, we must be vigilant and well-informed about how it looks in the early stages, before it’s too late.

[First published in November of 2016, this is pretty pertinent today, as the fascist elements released into our society by the Trump Effect are rampant, though seeming to lose much of their momentum lately. We need to remain vigilant.]

Fascism has been sneaking into our lives, into the hearts and minds of our countrymen, slipping into the national dialog in the guise of patriotism, strength, purity, religious piety, safety – all things that seem positive and non-threatening.

Trump and his appointees are pretty clearly leading us to an authoritarian state in the name of protecting us from “outsiders” and that’s why it’s problematic. From Dave Neiwert, a researcher on fascism who’s been following its rise for many years, here are a few of the characteristics that struck me as particularly noticeable in the current political climate:

— Attempted mass mobilization with militarization of political relationships and style and with the goal of a mass party militia
— Positive evaluation and use of, or willingness to use, violence
— Extreme stress on the masculine principle and male dominance, while espousing the organic view of society

— Specific tendency toward an authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of command, whether or not the command is to some degree initially elective. — [from Stanley Payne, in Fascism: Comparison and Definition]

— a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal constraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion. [from Robert Paxton’s definition of fascism]

From Paxton’s “mobilizing passions” of fascism:

— the belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against the group’s enemies, both internal and external;

— dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effect of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;

— the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny;

— the superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason;

From Roger Griffin: “Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and often presses for the destruction of elections, legislatures, and other elements of democracy.”

Neiwert’s entire essay is worth reading: http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2015/11/donald-trump-may-not-be-fascist-but-he.html

Latent cruelty

This has all been building up for a while, I know, but the last few weeks have seemed to be particularly offensive and painful to watch in America.

Reading John Pavlovitz’ latest blog post today seems to have crystalized in my mind a few things that have been bubbling around there for a while, too. He calls it The Trump Effect, and he lays out the development of it pretty clearly. It’s been remarked on before by others and I’ve certainly been thinking it since it began to surface during the T-thing’s administration, as racism and white supremacy began to be expressed in new and more open ways, violence increased and the quality of the national conversation began to decline daily. The slide away from truth and accuracy and decency in his daily rants had its effect.

There are lots of examples, and Pavlovitz relates some of the most egregious, but to me its in the essential failure of basic human compassion in the face of this raging pandemic that it is most clear.

How people can equate the simple discomfort and slight inconvenience of wearing a mask with putting other people–and other people’s children–at risk of serious, life-threatening disease has just been beyond me to understand. But seeing it as just another expression of the crass, stupid insensitivity to others that is at the heart of the Trump Effect helps me to understand it. It somehow makes these people feel empowered, self-righteous, justified in their own petty hatreds to be pretending that refusal to wear a mask or get vaccinated is somehow an exercise of their rights as an American.

So it’s not enough just to not do it, they have to proclaim their heroic stupidity and even harass others who are wearing masks and getting vaccinated. It’s so remiscinent of something…. what is it? Oh yeah. Nazi rallies. Book burnings. Klan rallies. Lynchings.

All these are of a piece. People venting their anger and fear and seeking justification in some kind of twisted version of “rightness.” Pavlovitz lays it clearly at the feet of Trump’s monstrous venom.

Though certainly not created then or by the man, for the first time in America’s history the latent ugliness in people was revealed and validated and celebrated by a sitting president—it was officially normalized. And what we’re experiencing now; this staggering, insensitive posturing in the face of so many people’s suffering, is the late-ripening fruit of something that has been set into the bedrock of half our nation. It is the malicious entitlement that MAGA was designed to nurture from the beginning.

JohnPavlovitz.com

If you’ve followed the rise of fascism in America over the past few decades, which has been documented by many including the guy on Orcinus, you know this strain of “americanism” has been festering under the surface, held in check by the sense of decency and fair play that is–at least I believe it is–a stronger, more truly American trait, but developing under cover of various rationalizations and facades. Trump’s legitimization of that strain is what has allowed the racism to swell along with all this other petty hatred. The whole development, of course, has been facilitated and exacerbated by the ease of vicious communication made possible by the internet and social media.

So now we are facing fascist America. Big Time. Trump’s America.

{Post script: My brother was one of the 599 people who died of of COVID in Florida yesterday, so this is all very personal to me. He was a victim of the anti-vax conspiracy theory wackos, didn’t get the shot, didn’t go to the hospital when he got sick. They kept him alive for weeks, but it ravaged him so that he eventually succumbed to a cardiac arrest.]

Election challenges

The Orange one’s fascist

project to challenge the election

A final nail in the coffin of the Orange one’s desperate attempt to convince the world that he was cheated out of his throne just came from a district court judge in Michigan.

We all know, at least those of us still capable of rational thought, that it was a massive scam and an international disgrace, but the judge does a great job of laying it out.

It probably won’t convince those who drank the Orange Jim Jones’ coolaid, but it is at least confirmation at the highest level that this is nothing short of an illegal insurrection.

According to the National Law Journal report (rerun on law.com‘s Daily Report Aug. 25), the judge censures a group of lawyers–one of whom is Georgia Attorney Lin Wood–for their actions in the election fraud challenges. The whole group has been referred to their licensing states for potential disbarment.

“U.S. District Judge Linda Parker issued the orders in response to motions for sanctions filed by lawyers for the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan over the quickly rejected election challenge.”

The Law Journal

Those sanctioned are part of conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell’s team. The judge says the group showed bad faith in trying to use the judicial process to frame a public narrative for which there was no evidentiary or legal support.

“This lawsuit represents a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process,” Law Journal quotes Parker from the opening to her opinion. “It is one thing to take on the charge of vindicating rights associated with an allegedly fraudulent election. It is another to take on the charge of deceiving a federal court and the American people into believing that rights were infringed, without regard to whether any laws or rights were in fact violated. This is what happened here.”

It’s a pretty strong condemnation of the whole effort.

Parker also said that the election challenge “was never about fraud—it was about undermining the people’s faith in our democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so.”

This is all so clearly a fascist project aimed at pushing such a big lie that people believe it simply because it’s normal to think that no one would say such outrageous things unless there was some basis in fact.

It’s a tactic borrowed from the playbook of Hitler and Mussolini and has no place in our national process. These people should be disbarred, humiliated and prosecuted. Everything they stand for should be exposed to the light of public scrutiny and revealed for exactly what it, and its inspiration, is: a deceitful attempt to grab power.

The judge continues:

“But when viewed collectively, they reveal an even more powerful truth: Once it appeared that their preferred political candidate’s grasp on the presidency was slipping away, plaintiffs’ counsel helped mold the predetermined narrative about election fraud by lodging this federal lawsuit based on evidence that they actively refused to investigate or question with the requisite level of professional skepticism—and this refusal was to ensure that the evidence conformed with the predetermined narrative (a narrative that has had dangerous and violent consequences),” Parker said.

She goes on to explicitly show that the free speech these charlatans have claimed in their defense is not the same as that offered on public forums, because they were presenting affidavits to a court, which are required to reflect the truth, not speculation, conjecture and guesswork.

She specifically notes that lawyers presenting a case in court are not the same as journalists and are held to a higher standard of truth.

The judge wrote:

“It is not acceptable to support a lawsuit with opinions, which counsel herself claims no reasonable person would accept as fact and which were ‘inexact,’ ‘exaggerate[ed],’ and ‘hyperbole. Nor is it acceptable to use the federal judiciary as a political forum to satisfy one’s political agenda. Such behavior by an attorney in a court of law has consequences. Although the First Amendment may allow plaintiffs’ counsel to say what they desire on social media, in press conferences, or on television, federal courts are reserved for hearing genuine legal disputes which are well-grounded in fact and law.”

Four other judges around the country have recently passed down similar decisions related to Powell and other lawyers involved in election lawsuit cases. I hope these judicial responses put this foolishness to rest at last.

Baldwin speaks

That summer, in any case, all the fears with which I had grown up, and which were now a part of me and control my vision of the world, rose up like a wall between the world and me…

–James Baldwin

[This is a repost of something from a few years ago that seems more relevant now than ever… the full post on Baldwin is on my War Journal blog.]

Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me sent me back to reread James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, which I had not read since 1999. And there, on page 27, is the quote above with its unattributed reference to the same line from Richard Wright which gave Coates his title.

Wright’s poem of the same name (Between the World and Me), from White Man Listen! (1957), says:

“And one morning while in the woods I stumbled suddenly upon the thing,/

Stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly oaks and elms/

And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves between the world and me….”

These lines have drawn me in to the many points of similarity in the two writers, and especially reminded me of how much power and depth there is in James Baldwin.

Coates has drawn much inspiration from Baldwin, and seems poised to fill Baldwin’s role as a leading intellectual and articulate voice for the inchoate rage now welling up among Black Americans and their friends. Coates and Baldwin both reject the church, the street, the schools, and all other forms of escape and denial as beneath us, distractions from the worthy goals of freedom and dignity.

Both maintain that the same forces that have driven black people into slavery have created the degraded forms of life now ruling the ghettos and the suburbs alike, and promise to destroy all that is lovable in human life as well as threaten the very biosphere – at least the parts of it that we depend on. Baldwin sees our only salvation in “transcendence of the realities of color, of nations, and of altars.” [p. 81]

In The Fire Next Time, Baldwin lays down the philosophical basis that informs much of Coates work, the idea that white people – or people who “think they are white” as he says in the essay “On Being White… And Other Lies” – are harmed as much by racism as are black people, and that it is in order to maintain their very grasp on reality, their sense of themselves, that white people today cling to racism so tenaciously.

“White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this – which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never – the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” [p. 21]

Baldwin is profound in his understanding of the realities of life, and warns against retribution: “I am also concerned for their dignity, for the health of their souls, and must oppose any attempt that Negroes may make to do to others what has been done to them. I think I know – we see it around us every day – the spiritual wasteland to which that road leads. It is so simple a fact and one that is so hard, apparently, to grasp: Whoever debases others is debasing himself.”

His deep spiritual understanding of life is reflected also in these incredibly beautiful, perceptive and sensitive lines:

“Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.” [p. 90-91]

He doesn’t shrink from the horrors of the American system or the cruelty of the situation, but he finds, as does Coates, some light of hope for our future. He says, ”…the white man himself is in sore need of new standards, which will release him from his confusion and place him once again in fruitful communion with the depths of his own being. And I repeat: The price of the liberation of the white people is the liberation of the blacks – the total liberation, in the cities, in the towns, before the law, and in the mind. … In short, we, the black and the white, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation – if we are really, that is, to achieve our identity, our maturity, as men and women.”

For me, the implications, the social and political messages, in the work of both Coates and Baldwin are very clear, even stark.

Baldwin lays it out: “Now, there is simply no possibility of a real change in the Negro’s situation without the most radical and far-reaching changes in the American political and social structure.”

Coates’ characterization of “The Dream” as the deathbed of us all should make it clear enough that the “American Dream” – right down to the white picket fences – must die. Which, in light of all the Confederate flag rallies in the wake of Charleston, may mean that a cultural revolution of sorts is necessary.

What that revolution is and how it proceeds is hard to say. As Coates says, we Dreamers must learn to struggle with the same dignity and “great spiritual resilience” with which those we have oppressed for so long struggle.

And it seems to me that this is beginning. Many are beginning to realize that the oppression of black people, of indigenous, of women, of GLBT – of all America’s “Others” – is of a piece. Identifying ourselves with that oppression is not so hard, really, if one just opens one’s eyes and looks around. As Colin Farrell’s character “Ray” (in the “True Detectives” series) says in response to his partner’s complaint that he doesn’t know how to be out in the world, “Hey, look out that window, look at me, nobody does.”

It’s a world that’s not making a place for most of us, and slowly, slowly, people are beginning to realize this must change. Coates cites the need for a “new story” – an idea advanced also by high-profile writers and speakers like Charles Eisenstein, Russell Brand and others which is gaining traction among a wide variety of groups in our society. People are understanding that nothing less than re-invention of society at its fundamental levels is going to make any difference. To change anything, we must change everything. Of course, the corollary to that is: To change everything, we must change something. Beginning with how we view the world.

I think both Coates and Baldwin would agree with that assessment. And the gift they have for the world is an open-eyed, fearless willingness to see the world as it is. Baldwin says, “That man who is forced each day to snatch his manhood, his identity, out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it knows… something about himself and human life that no school on earth – and indeed, no church – can teach. He achieves his own authority, and that is unshakeable. This is because, in order to save his life, he is forced to look beneath appearances, to take nothing for granted, to hear the meaning behind the words.”

This perspective is what these black writers bring to us. Maybe, if we can see how their experience is our own experience, we can be as strong, as durable, as brilliant as they and do our part in bringing about the changes that this world must see for whatever time we humans have left on the planet to be a time of love and dignity.

 

The link to the essay on Collective Liberation:

https://collectiveliberation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Baldwin_On_Being_White.pdf

A Threat to Global Democracy: How Facebook & Surveillance Capitalism Empower Authoritarianism | Democracy Now!

A Threat to Global Democracy: How Facebook & Surveillance Capitalism Empower Authoritarianism | Democracy Now!

This is chilling. I’m deleting my account.
— Read on www.democracynow.org/2018/8/1/a_threat_to_global_democracy_how

“So the very act of arguing against the crazy amplifies the crazy. It’s one of the reasons that Facebook is a terrible place to deliberate about the world.”

“If we really want to limit the damage that Facebook has done, we have to invest our time and our money in institutions that help us think, that help us think clearly, that can certify truth, that can host debate—right?—institutions like journalism, institutions like universities, public libraries, schools, other forms of public forums, town halls. We need to put our time and our energy into face-to-face politics, so we can look our opponents in the eye and recognize them as humans, and perhaps achieve some sort of rapprochement or mutual understanding and respect. Without that, we have no hope. If we’re engaging with people only through the smallest of screens, we have no ability to recognize the humanity in each other and no ability to think clearly. We cannot think collectively. We cannot think truthfully. We can’t think. We need to build—rebuild, if we ever had it, our ability to think.”

– from the interview.

 

Loneliness is the common ground of terror and extremism | Aeon Essays

As Hannah Arendt argued, there is one common thread which connects individuals drawn to all kinds of extremist ideologies — This essay provides a deep look into the personal aspects of totalitarianism. Drawn from Arendt’s writing on the origins of totalitarianism, it makes the case that a profound loneliness– a disconnection from our common humanity– is what draws people to support these desperate philosophies.

She says the inability to countenance internal dialogue and see things from more than one point of view characterizes the true believers of this ilk. Longing for one single total answer to all of life’s dualities and struggles leads these people to seize upon a totalitarian system.

It’s a long but rewarding essay!

— Read on aeon.co/essays/loneliness-is-the-common-ground-of-terror-and-extremism

Prison as intersection

The Florida prison strike, dubbed #operationPUSH by its organizers, is bringing a level of national attention to conditions in our prisons that I haven’t seen in a long time.

People who generally don’t give a thought to the issue are becoming aware that people in jails and prisons live under truly inhumane conditions. The practice of using prison labor to do work both public and private is being recognized for what it is: slavery.

Some people are even beginning to be willing to consider that we as a society should discuss ways to better solve the issues of poverty, crime and violence. As it becomes clear that most of our jails and prisons actually increase all those things, we are beginning to see that incarceration is not a positive element in society or even a “necessary evil” — the position most people tend to retreat to when faced with the facts about how horrible prison really is.

Intersections

The prison strike itself is bringing some clarity to my mind about a lot of these issues — issues I’ve been concerned about for a long time — because it’s helping me see the intersectionality of the issues. The question of using incarcerated people to do public work, from cleaning up roadsides to building facilities, is one thing (though I’d argue even that is a form of slave labor), but when it comes to leasing prisoners out to private interests, the moral ground is clear. We are enslaving them.

So I begin to see that when you step into a prison, you step into a place where many — perhaps most? — of the crucial issues of American society intersect. As with the original feminist idea of intersectionality, which describes how “people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression: their race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers,” as a discussion on YW Boston  frames it, the incarcerated are often at the crossing of many vectors that keep them pinned down, locked up, and caught in a cycle of poverty and crime that they can’t break out of.

This “convergence of oppression” can be acute for an incarcerated  individual.

Toxic Prisons

Prison, and the system that creates, supports, staffs and fills it with inmates, is likewise a point where we can observe many of the toxic factors in our society coming together to create an environment that is soul-destroying and life-wrecking for its individual victims and ultimately corrupting for the society at large.

In brief form, this is what we do: we take people who the economy — which is itself racist, classist, sexist, ableist, etc. — has forced into criminality in order to survive, run them through a legal system that is biased in every way against them and dooms them with its confrontational model, lock them up for being poor, of color, and under-educated, and them put them to work for either the state that did this to them or private interests that are the reason the state and its enforcement apparatus exist.

So in this system, this process, we can see all the racist, sexist, ableist, classist elements of society come together to make it nearly impossible for an individual with several strikes against them to avoid getting caught up in this web. Those individuals who do avoid it usually have some unusual element, some person, some stroke of luck, some quirk of character, that sets them apart and provides the impetus that propels them beyond entanglement in its sticky strands.

Almost all of the current social and political issues are involved in one way or another in the operation of this system. By looking deeply into how it works in general and how it may impact any particular person, we begin to illuminate all of the issues that our society must deal with in some reasonable time frame, else it will descend into some kind of dark, near-feudal social order that gradually abandons all the ideals of an egalitarian, humane society.

Slavery By Another Name

I’m beginning to read a book I’ve had for some years that is helping me see and understand the origins of this system.

Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery By Another Name is a detailed historical account of how the system of laws, law enforcement and incarceration we now take as normal arose in the South after the Civil War to deal with two things: the economic chaos that white folk found themselves in after the freeing of the slaves deprived them of cheap labor, and the fear of these freed slaves taking over the government and economy of the South.

As I read this book and think about what’s going on around me, I plan to write further on the subject. It helps me to grasp it all, to make sense of it. I hope it may help others to understand what we have done, what we are doing, and most importantly, what we must now do to rectify the sins of the fathers.