Is America a Fascist Nation?
Below is a transcript of the podcast from June 6, 2021
On last week’s podcast I provided some thoughts about Memorial Day, and I focused on my own experience of touring the American cemetery on the hill overlooking the beaches of Normandy. The experience of walking among all the tombstones in that sacred place was emotionally overwhelming, not because I had experienced it myself - I’m not that old - but because I have a son whom I love with all my heart, and it’s difficult to imagine losing him under any circumstance, especially in such a violent way so far from home. I felt deep empathy for the loved ones behind every tombstone; the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and in many cases, the wives and children. They are the ones that made the ultimate sacrifice.
So today, June 6, 2021 is exactly 77 years since the day of that landing. As I said last week, we Americans - along with our allies - fought a principled war; a war that forced us to ask ourselves what we, as a nation, really stand for. Or in the case of the war in Europe, what we stand against. The answer is fascism.
And it just happens that I’ve finished a book by Jason Stanley entitled, How Fascism Works - The Politics of Us and Them. I decided to read this book after finding a reference to it while perusing an article on American politics, and it’s just one of those books that once you start, it’s difficult to put it down. By the way, I was able to talk with the author’s agent; my intent was to have the author as a guest on this podcast. It turns out that Jason Stanley is a very busy person, so I’m not sure if we can put together an interview with him, but I remain hopeful.
Anyway, the book is fascinating to me because - as far as I can tell - it focuses on two parts of fascism; its history and, most importantly, its use of language to mobilize the masses. That last aspect - the use of language - is most compelling to me because I understand the power of the written word. In the words of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the pen is mightier than the sword.
Now you may disagree with me; after all, it’s difficult to severely injure someone by throwing pens at him, whereas a sword or - in more contemporary terms - an AR-15 can do a lot more damage. But consider that a sword or an AR-15 by itself is harmless. To do harm, you need someone to use it, and to motivate that person, you need to convince him or her to use it. And it is through words that you reach that person and motivate.
This is where the power of the pen comes into focus. For example, disagree with me if you will, but the words, “Weapons of Mass Destruction” were used to mobilize an entire nation to attack another nation based on false and - I believe - fraudulent information. All sorts of military hardware was used in that assault, and the violent reverberations are going to play on for at least another generation. All based on words.
So it is the study of words used as a means of mobilizing masses that becomes a worthy topic when discussing fascism. This is where the book comes into sharp focus in my mind. Information in the form of words structured as propaganda floods our communication channels every day. Social media has only exacerbated this phenomenon, allowing individuals to tune into channels that provide uninterrupted 24x7 messages of propaganda.
Am I overreacting by referring to words used to mobilize our nation to attack Iraq as fascist propaganda? Prior to “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” I might have believed that I am indeed overreacting. But since then, I’ve seen young people, fully indoctrinated in the belief of the fraud, go off to fight. Thank God, most of them came back alive and unscathed, but a fair number of them came back different. Some of them came back in boxes, but many more came back injured, either emotionally, physically or both. The final number of Iraqi deaths is disputed, but it ranges from 110 thousand confirmed deaths up to as much as a million deaths due to direct and indirect effects of the war.
And for all that trouble, we never found weapons of mass destruction. It turns out, it was all a lie. It was propaganda, window-dressed to look real by politicians that traded their credibility in service to a Military Industrial Complex that stood to gain by the machinery of death and destruction.
Indeed, as President Eisenhower famously warned us in his farewell speech in 1961:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
I admit that ginning up an excuse to invade Iraq to benefit the Military Industrial Complex sounds more like corporatism than fascism. Indeed, it is corporations that stand to benefit from war, and they will thus attempt to push our politicians toward bending the truth - and outright lying - to serve as a pretense to war.
Understand that corporatism is not fascism, because corporatism only serves the corporations’ economic agendas, often to the detriment of the common good. But it does not necessarily seek to destroy the underlying political structure.
Fascism, on the other hand, goes much further. Similar to corporatism, it serves to benefit corporations, but it also seeks to influence the will of the people in order to persuade them into supporting a small set of corporate elites or oligarchs as a matter of will.
A quick look at dictionary.com yields, in part, this definition of fascism: “. . . fascism is used to refer to any ideology or movement seen as authoritarian, nationalistic, and extremely right wing, especially when fundamentally opposed to democracy and liberalism.”
So it would seem that fascism at its heart seeks to destroy democracy and liberalism.
Digging further, in the epilog of the book How Fascism Works, Jason Stanley writes:
Those who employ fascist tactics for political gain have varying goals. Now at least it does not appear that they seek to mobilize populations for world domination, as for example Hitler intended. Instead, though the goals are varied, there are common aspects of fascist thought and politics working in synergy. Since I am an American, I must note that one goal appears to be to use fascist tactics hypocritically, waving the banner of nationalism in front of middle - and working - class white people in order to funnel the state’s spoils into the hands of oligarchs.
There’s a lot to unpack in that paragraph, but suffice it to say that the author’s intent throughout the book is to convince America that we’re slipping into a fascist nation, and he cites many cases where propaganda is used to push us closer toward that fate.
In the book, the author breaks down modern forms of propaganda into different categories, and he shows, using both historical and contemporary mechanisms, how propaganda is used to persuade people to support fascism without actually realizing it. The aspects of this book that I find of immediate concern in the United States include glorification of a mythic past, anti-intellectualism, lies presented as truth, victimhood and the need for law and order. There are several other aspects, but I find these as the most relevant.
I’ll do my best to summarize them at this time.
A current example of the glorification of a mythic past can be best described in four words: “Make America Great Again.” This was the slogan for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and continues to be a popular slogan today. The idea here is to provide some concept of something precious that was recently lost due to the rising voices of a participatory and liberal democracy. The message of loss was directed at white people; a group that Trump not so transparently appealed to in his campaign. Now in order to maintain the myth, inconvenient facts, such as what are highlighted in Critical Race Theory, must be suppressed. The slogan among the extreme right today is that Critical Race Theory teaches Americans to hate America. But the reality is that Critical Race Theory runs counter to the narrative of a glorified mythic past. By the way, to set the record straight, Jason Stanley’s book doesn’t talk about Critical Race Theory - the book was written when Donald Trump was still president and before Covid and before the controversy over Critical Race Theory exploded on the national scene. So the clash between the attempt to construct a mythic past and Critical Race Theory is my own observation, though I feel it isn’t inconsistent with the book’s intent.
Regarding anti-intellectualism, Jason Stanley’s book makes a bold statement: “When education, expertise, and linguistic distinctions are undermined, there remains only power and tribal identity.” In other words, get rid of rational thought and replace it with instinctive thought. The book emphasizes the idea that true intellectualism is liberal in nature, because it discovers truths without prejudice. It seeks a sense of reasoned arguments as opposed to forcing something to be right using raw brutality. But fascism prefers raw brutality.
My own take is that the response to Covid is a classic example. Scientists were - and continue to be - harassed and humiliated, simply because they seek to be honest with the public and, in doing so, undermine the authority and credibility of those in charge.
On a side-note, I find it interesting that Covid was labeled a hoax by Trump and his administration as well as their cohorts in the media. It was referred to as a plot by the competing political party - the Democrats - to undermine Trump’s authority. Yet these days, many of those same extreme right individuals criticize the Biden administration for not punishing China for the virus. So, which is it? Is Covid a hoax or is it real?
This brings to mind the next point of the book; to present lies as truth. The author presents this concept using the word, “Unreality.” People that are fully indoctrinated in the propaganda won’t see the problem with lies being told as truth. This allows them to see Covid as both a hoax and as something by which we should punish China. It’s an Orwellian concept: doublethink - the acceptance of or mental capacity to accept contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time, especially as a result of political indoctrination.
The bottom line is that in a fascist nation, the supreme leader is allowed to present anything as truth, even if it conflicts with what was said just prior. People indoctrinated into this fascist mindset are expected to believe the lies without question, and ultimately fight and die for them.
Wild conspiracy theories are perhaps the most well-known vehicle being used to present lies as truth. That’s not to say that every conspiracy theory is wrong; many turn out to be verified and accepted as truth eventually; but only after taking them in their proper context and subjecting them to critical thought and intelligent challenges.
These days, QAnon presents a seemingly endless fountain of conspiracy theories, and many people believe these theories without subjecting them to critical thought and challenges. Why? Well, I propose that the tendency toward anti-intellectualism severely diminishes this critical process, and as a result, people do not challenge conspiracy theories; rather, they take them at face value. And they fight and die for them.
Regarding victimhood: The concept of victimhood is used to provide a sense of justification for any lack of empathy. When your enemy is attacking you or anyone in your tribe, you are fully justified to use any and all means to destroy them. So, for example, if a fascist leader can convince Christians that their religion is the most persecuted religion in the world, it becomes natural for any Christian to forsake his or her beliefs in the infinite generosity of Jesus for the want of defending him or herself from raiding hordes of unchristian mobs. I’m reminded of the Central American migrant caravans of people who, in all reality, were fleeing persecution and looking for better economic conditions, but were portrayed by President Trump as unholy, dirty, diseased, MS13 criminals about to penetrate our borders. The portrayal was, of course, a lie. The reality is that true Christians would be happy to help those in need, as Jesus himself showed endless compassion for those less fortunate. Yet, these very Christian ideals were set aside, because of the belief that we were under attack.
And how do you protect yourselves from those enemies already within our borders? Law and order, of course. Black Americans are especially vulnerable to this one. As Jacob Stanley writes in his book, “By describing black Americans as a threat to law and order, demagogues in the United States have been able to create a strong sense of white national identity that requires protection from the nonwhite ‘threat.’”
He goes on to say that the rhetoric used to describe black Americans often includes words like “Criminal.” This stigmatizes black Americans, by labeling them with permanent negative traits, but at the same time, elevates the demagogues to the role of our protectors.
I could go on and talk about this more a lot more, but I think you get the point. My chief concern is that we have already become a fascist nation in many ways. The rules that govern a healthy democracy and regulate businesses to guarantee a fair and level playing field have been set aside. State houses across the nation target minorities under the lie that they’re trying to protect our democracy by eliminating voter fraud. When Black Lives Matter conducts a protest, it’s called a riot, but when white mobs storm the Capitol, it’s called a tourist event. When educators try to teach the true history of our country, they are shouted down by state legislators who pass laws forcing our educators to teach a white-washed and mythically glorified past. The Civil War, for example, is commonly portrayed as a conflict over states’ rights, versus the true reality that it was a fight over slavery.
If we buy into a glorified mythic past; if we buy into anti-intellectualism; if we’re willing to set aside our ability to critically think and instead accept lies presented as truth; if white people accept victimhood as an acceptable vehicle to forsake empathy; if we look toward law and order to maintain racial unbalance in our society, then we become willing participants in the infestation of fascism in our country.
This being the 77th anniversary of D-Day, I thought it is important to point out fascist tendencies in our nation. We fought fascism on principled grounds 77 years ago. We now need to take a long look at ourselves and ask whether we need to continue this principled fight.
If I’ve managed to pique your curiosity, get the book by Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works - The Politics of Us and Them, and launch your own inquiry into this deadly serious topic.