Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Some notes on fascism, note 1
Don't panic yet, but do be ready to make panicy noises

I promised some thoughts on my friend David Neiwert's series on fascism. David did an excellent job of discussing what it is and identifying some fascist trends in current political discourse. From my perspective, the most important part of his series were those parts that examined how ideas can migrate inward from a previously isolated fringe to be given reputability nearer the center. In part, this process is carried out through a marriage of convenience whereby groups on the fringe mutually exploit each other. This is not always a bad thing. Just because groups are relegated to the fringe does not always mean their ideas are bad. The fringe is often the incubator of new ideas (universal adult suffrage, abolition of slavery, and social security all started as dangerous extremist ideas).

Just so this doesn't get too abstract, let's be clear that we are talking about the Republican Party and the far right (although the same model works for the Democrats and the far left off and on from the 1890's to the 1970's). Since the Southern Strategy of the sixties, the Republican Party has played wink and nod with the far right to get their votes. The unplanned for result is that as these people vote and move into the party they have slowly become a more important part of it. As liberal Republicans ceased to exist and moderate Republicans have become an endangered species it has become a whole new party.

The party has absorbed racists, supply-siders, and fundamentalists. It has now moved far enough right that it is in direct contact with a potentially violent antidemocratic and xenophobic crowd. By most definitions, the Republicans are now rather openly flirting with fascists. They are, however, not themselves fascists (though a few individuals may as close as makes no difference).

The danger to our republic is that the far right is now offering to perform street-thug services for the administration. Right now it is all in a wink and nod spirit of plausibly denied "kidding" from talk radio hosts. That may change if the war goes really bad (today the Army started getting us ready for large casualties as we move to besiege Baghdad). When their exhortations to their listeners to break a few liberal heads escalate to serious violence, the administration could move to criminalize dissent in the name of public safety. This administration has shown itself eager to have us trade our freedoms for security. Already various laws have been proposed and hinted at that could do just that (Patriot II and the Oregon law to call blocking traffic an act of terrorism).

Are we just weeks away from a martial law, cancelled elections, and an overtly fascist dictatorship? Probably not. But we are on a very ugly trajectory and need have some sort of national dialog on what our country will be in this century. Already the international order has been irreparably changed in a cloud of spin and misdirection. We may be becoming an empire with all of the burdens and costs that that entails. Our representatives let themselves be stampeded into passing the first Patriot act in some cases without even reading it. Despite the damage that it did to the Bill of Rights, it was not enough for the administration. They hold numerous prisoners without observing any legal niceties-even citizens-and they want an expanded Patriot act to give them even more arbitrary power. We've seen that their ideal judge has some very scary ideas on the nature of sovereignty and rights.

It would be nice if the Democratic candidates took up the burden of conducting this dialog. It's not enough to hope that they will reverse everything after January 20, 2005. They need to use the bully pulpit of the election circuit to force the administration to defend its direction. The press needs to ask hard questions and shine some very bright lights on the working of this administration.

I'm not sure the candidates or the press are inclined to conduct this dialog without some pushing from below. I guess this is where we come in.

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