First of what will hopefully be recurring blog postings.
Unite against Fascism
Occasional blog by Gene Anderson, Riverside, CA
The United States now has an incoming government that is genuinely and totally fascist. No such government has ever taken power, anywhere in the world, without trying to institute a dictatorship and commit genocide. Almost all have succeeded. All those known to me that were as extreme as the Trump administration have succeeded. We can stop dictatorship and genocide only by unity in fighting it. This will require absolute unity—standing together—among everyone in America who is not fascist. We can survive only by the big-tent strategy: everyone from far left to moderate right working together. History reveals that there is simply no other way. Fascists always try to set their foes against each other—the divide-and-rule strategy—and they almost always win. They are masters of disunion.
Unfortunately, the liberals and moderates are now playing into their hands. The blame game is all too predictably well under way. Thomas Frank is the most visible of several people, right and left, blaming the sophisticated urban liberals—the same people the Republicans most love to hate. Apparently they are so out of touch that they had no idea how to appeal to anybody except each other. Others are blaming racism, sexism, right-wing Christianity, better Republican organization, and so on.
I have already mentioned on this blog that the 2016 rout of the Democrats has several causes. Starting with the most trivial and immediate, it is now clear that the Republicans massively hid or “disappeared” votes, on top of much more massive voter suppression, gerrymandering, closing 868 polling places in poor and largely nonwhite neighborhoods, and so on. At the other extreme, the entire world has been shifting sharply rightward for years, as shown by recent votes from England and Poland to Turkey and India. Repressive regimes are getting more repressive, from China to Venezuela. Liberal democracy is on the wane. As Ana Friedman (2016) put it after traveling in Europe recently, “popular support for liberal dermocracies around the world is on the decline—and support for autocratic alternatives is rising, even in many stable Western nations long thought to be beacons of freedom.” What causes this certainly includes dissatisfaction with globalization, but there is obviously much more to it. Increasing devotion to extremist ideologies, from Chinese Communism to violent right-wing Islam and Narendra Modi’s reactionary Hinduism, is clearly involved. Interesting is that any extremist ideology seems to do.
Conservatism has been rising in the US since 1968 (the election of Richard Nixon) and especially since 1980, when Reagan was elected. More to the point, conservatism has been morphing into fascism. The two are not the same (see earlier posting). Today, the Republican Party has apparently abandoned conservatism completely, and gone entirely fascist, though a few old-timers like John McCain still hold out. Conservatives got blanked into invisibility in the 2016 Republican primaries, leaving the purest fascists—Trump and Ted Cruz—to take the overwhelming majority of votes. The choice is clear: big government used to crush minorities and women, with minimal concern for the economy, opposed to small government and economic priorities (see e.g. Michael 2016).
The reasons are clear: conservatism goes with a traditional, hierarchic society, with a nobility (as in England) or a world of small and medium-sized businesses that dislike big government (as in the US). Fascism is the natural result of a world of increasingly dominant giant firms that live more and more on government subsidies, favors, and patronage. The latter have coopted public discourse, especially since Reagan and above all since the rise of Fox News. They have turned the general view from the old idea of government as protector of ordinary people from business, to a view of business as a protector of ordinary people from government.
The most extreme Trump support was among evangelical Christians, who voted 81% for him. He won heavily among whites in general, but breaking it down by age, one finds that he won older whites but not younger ones. In fact, the young vote across the country was overwhelmingly Democrat, and if they had turned out in numbers comparable to their elders, Clinton would be President.
Next after the evangelicals were the rural and small-town Americans, who went about 3-1 for Trump. The Democrats have become an urban party over the last 40 years, getting less and less concerned with rural people. This is clearly a mistake; rural America is declining, but has an extremely disproportionate share of electoral power, because of gerrymandering, electoral college votes, and other built-in factors. In any case, ignoring them is as immoral as ignoring any other share of voters, especially since rural America—outside of giant agribusiness and oil firms—has been in deepening economic trouble for years.
Working-class whites are often in similarly bad shape, and though they have not been so neglected by Democrats, they respond badly to elitism and banker-dominated politics. The rural and working-class white voters clearly voted their hate, not their self-interest. Even the least intelligent of them could have seen what Trump would do, if they had looked. The farmers who depend on illegal Mexican labor and voted for a man who promised to ban it, the workers who depend on social programs and voted for a party that pledged to eliminate them, the women who voted for a party that pledged to eliminate women’s basic rights, and indeed all the Trump blocs except the super-rich, were clearly voting hate rather than rationality. This is ominous. Cognitive dissonance theory predicts that when their rational concerns are betrayed—and they are already being betrayed—they will double down on the hate, and go against minorities and women even more.
So Trump won because the far right and the evangelicals enthusiastically supported him; because other Republicans got on board, rather reluctantly, but Trump seemed better than Clinton; and because rather more than half of working-class whites supported him. Also, Democrats and minorities did not turn out as enthusiastically as right-wingers. Also, there was clearly some genuine cooking of the votes (Palast 2016).
There are thus many causes of Trump’s victory, and blaming Hillary is not much help when worldwide currents at the largest scale, and local vote theft and suppression at the local one, are at fault. Still, one could argue that the Democrats’ loss of the rural and blue-collar votes was critical, not only because it lost the election but because it shows sharply and clearly that the Democratic Party has somewhat betrayed its former core constituency. The DNC has to change or die. I think it will change. Those seeing no hope for the Democrats are simply giving the US to Trump and his neo-Nazis.
The economic drive behind fascism is critically important. The most reactionary of the giant corporations are always the real architects and backers of it. In the US, that means especially big oil. “The big oil companies made over $135 billion in profits last year. Why are we giving them at least $10 billion in subsidies while we are closing public schools?” (Storm Is Coming, Nov. 30, 2016). The Koch brothers, oilmen at heart though Koch Industries is diversified, have been the most consistent and important leaders of the fascist movement. Other oil, coal, and chemical corporations are on board, as well as the shadiest financial and gambling interests. Bernie Sanders revealed on his Facebook page that the top 25 hedge-fund CEO’s made 11.6 billion last year, while the total pay of all the kindergarten teachers in the US was 8.5 billion. Priorities.
We are thus up against a lot of money—but not really very many people. The number of rich corporate fascists is very small; most of the “1%” are not on board with this. The number of extremist right-wingers in the US is no more than 10%, with another 10% fairly consistently voting with them. (That was revealed by the vote turnout for earlier extreme candidates like Strom Thurmond, Orval Faubus, and George Wallace.) If we can get the other 80% on board, we will win—we’ll be home clear.
That means not falling for the divisive tactics of the far right (and far left, for that matter, though they are numerically insignificant in the US). We need to devote ourselves to solidarity and as much harmony as possible.
Friedman, Ana. 2016. “It’s Not Funny Any More.” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 2, A17.
Michael, George. 2016. “The Right-wing Movement behind Trump Isn’t Just Breitbart and the White Nationalists—It’s Way Worse.” Daily Progressive, Nov. 30. https://dailyprogressive.org/2016/11/right-wing-movement-behind-trump-isnt-just-breitbart-white-nationalists-way-worse/
Palast, Greg. 2016. “The No-BS Inside Guide to the Presidential Vote Recount.” Truthout, Nov. 30, https://dailyprogressive.org/2016/11/right-wing-movement-behind-trump-isnt-just-breitbart-white-nationalists-way-worse/
Storm Is Coming. 2016. “The Big Oil Companies….” Nov. 30, https://www.facebook.com/StormIsComingSoon/photos/a.278989962233337.1073741829.263803127085354/919552068177120/?type=3&theater
Appendix: course materials from Prof. Jeff Colgan, Brown University.
In General: Some warning signs of democratic breakdown (not in chronological order) are:
- Media intimidation and restrictions
- Identification of crises or political paralysis to justify emergency measures
- Attacks on minorities; scapegoating foreigners
- Closing of space for civil society (especially funding restrictions, legal cases, raids and arrests, etc.)
- Rhetorical rejection of current political system; discourse shift
- Expanding the size of courts or other bodies to stack it with partisan judges/officials
- Modifying rules to impose or eliminate term limits on officials, esp. election officials
- Weakening of the legislature / intimidation of legislators
- Silencing of political opposition
- Significant increase in the internal security forces
But the key point to keep in mind: if there were good, reliable signs of democratic breakdown, the breakdown itself would be unlikely to happen. Breakdown mostly happens when it is unanticipated and supporters of democracy fail to mobilize.
Still, an expert (Prof Michael Miller, GWU) suggests a general pattern from previous cases: “The key initial steps: violations of free press, cronyism, using political power to starve the opposition of resources, building up the internal security apparatus, and chipping away at horizontal constraints. This is all excused by hyping emergencies and security problems, increasing polarization and us vs. them rhetoric, and hyping nationalism and blaming foreigners. In many cases, this is accompanied by violent civil society or paramilitary forces aligned with the government. It’s hard to see that happening [in the US] on a large scale, but that’s the pattern.”