Guest Opinion by Matt Reedy*
August 10, 2014
It is not a law of nature that fascism must emerge from government. It can come in many forms. Sheldon S. Wolin warns that it will hide in the anonymity of the corporate state, something he calls Inverted Totalitarianism. George Carlin thought that when fascism came to America it would be wearing Nike shoes and smiley-shirts. Chris Hedges (whose book, Death of the Liberal Class inspired most of the ideas in this article) believes it will come to America clutching the Christian Cross and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I believe they’re all correct and I believe everything they predicted is happening now and it terrifies me.
In Czarist Russia, before Lenin; in the former Yugoslavia, before Karadzic, Milosevic or Tudman; and in Weimar Germany, before Hitler, there was a systemic breakdown that resulted in the majority of citizens being pushed to the fringes of society. They were forsaken by the powerful who were in a mad scramble to secure their own self-interests. In all three countries, the liberal class had abandoned its values and as a result, people turned to right-wing, charismatic demagogues who, instead of confronting reality and addressing the cause of collapse, scapegoated the weak and disenfranchised while promising moral renewal. These figures, who were initially dismissed as fools, found an audience as they articulated a popular rage. The liberal class, no longer able to function as a safety valve for popular dissent, forced a betrayed citizenry to find another outlet in right-wing populism. And in case you couldn’t tell, the same thing is happening here and now in America. But why?
First it’s important to recognize Obama is not a liberal. He, like Bush, is a corporate brand sold to the public. But unlike his predecessor, Obama was marketed to be loved by progressives and despised by conservatives. His dark skin, urban upbringing and Ivy League education might have replaced Bush’s folksy twang, country bumpkin, gut-instinct approach, but Obama carries out corporate bidding all the same. If you forgo the rhetoric and actually look at his policies you’ll find that, on paper, Obama is about as liberal as Ronald Reagan. Such a thought may cause the heads of fervent Obama supporters and denouncers to explode, but to those who can see through the false left-right paradigm, it is all too clear.
So with no liberal outlet working within the system, discontent has taken two forms: Occupy Wall St. and The Tea Party. Both popular movements address the fact that the majority of Americans have no voice within the current power structure. But while both have correctly identified the problem, their selected methods for treatment couldn’t be any different. Occupy correctly identifies the source of America’s downfall as corporate greed that values profit above all other costs while The Tea Party, like other movements that have invited fascist regimes, incorrectly holds accountable the weak and venerable.
But in today’s America we blame the victims, not the perpetrators. When corporations move the factories overseas to increase their already “dazzling” profits, those who join the unemployment line are seen as the problem. When unions trade high wages for better benefits, they are pejoratively referred to as Cadillac health and retirement plans and then dismantled. When an employee is injured on the job and denied workman’s comp, in embracing his only other option, to collect disability from the government, he is seen as a burden on society. Anyone who attempts to portray these unfortunate citizens in a positive light is instantly branded as anti-American, unpatriotic, a taker, a Communist or any other meaningless label that happens to be lying around.
Most fascist regimes gain a following by blaming weak scapegoats. In late Weimar Germany, the most famous case, it was the Jews, the Bolsheviks, the gypsies, the homosexuals and the disabled that were blamed for the woes the homeland. Here it is the unions, minorities, public servants, illegal aliens, the working poor, the unemployed and refugee children that we hold responsible for our current, dismal state while we are told the rich and powerful, who orchestrated the crisis, have noble qualities we should emulate. Wealth is to America what the Aryan race was to late Weimar Germany. Those who have more of it are seen as “purer” Americans while those who have less are seen as parasites feeding off a once great nation and who must be purged in order restore said nation to its former glory. Sound familiar?
Ironically, those who embrace the idea of greed as a virtue and blame the less fortunate have somehow tied the ideology to the Christian faith. Jesus, from what I can remember, preached the welcoming of strangers, helping the poor, service to others, the forsaking of riches, the decrying of possessions and warned that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Instead of abiding by the teachings of Christ, these heretics use his name to subjugate those with whom they disagree or simply do not like. It may seem odd at first, but to those who lost everything, reconciling contradictory beliefs is not difficult. Fritz Stern, a scholar on fascism, tells us those who have been betrayed “find deliverance in the ecstatic escape of unreason”.
In the midst of the economic meltdown, the poor, who are by now used to paying for crimes of the rich, could not foot the bill on their own this time. As a result, the rich were forced to call upon white-working class Americans to pick up the rest of the check. The financial crisis’ effect on middle-America, coupled with the two-terms of a half-black president that followed, has caused white Americans to now see themselves as a persecuted race. But they don’t blame the rich who abused them, stole from them, promised them fortune and fame if they worked hard and then discarded them. Instead they blame the weak and powerless who the system had abandoned years ago. According to the 2012 government tax receipt, an American worker making $50,000 a year pays $6.96 to the entire welfare system but over $4,000 in corporate subsidies. Yet, white, working-class Americans are convinced the poor are the parasites who abuse the system, not the super-rich. Why?
Because the liberal class has failed. Since Bill Clinton convinced his party to take corporate money and do corporate bidding the democrats, like the republicans before them, have forsaken the working class. And the liberals in the media are too beholden to their corporate overlords to address the real problems. Instead, they speak in half-measures and devote days of coverage to trivial, partisan abuses like bridge scandals while true power remains unchecked. Institutional liberals have offered no answers and when there are no answers, but something is obviously wrong, people like Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachman start to make sense no matter who or they blame or why. White middle-class Americans have been betrayed. They want and deserve answers. According to Fritz Stern, “In Germany, before fascism was invented, there was a yearning for fascism.” This is the yearning.
That is the irony of a fascist America. The very people who are fighting the hardest to prevent it are ensuring its arrival. Thanks to Mussolini and Hitler, fascism is associated with the overthrow of a decaying structure and replacement by a new tyrannical authority. Because of this precedent, the right-wing has focused on government and specifically Obama as the main threats to democracy. However, the real threat to democracy is not the government or its current figurehead, but rather their mutual master: the corporation. Corporations are massive systems of private power that have corrupted our government. They are unelected, undemocratic and unaccountable to the public. They are totalitarian institutions whose legal obligation is to maximize profit at all costs.
And this is where the danger lies. The Tea Party and the republicans want to dismantle government, the only buffer (and I agree it’s a terrible buffer) between the U.S. citizenry and corporations, thus allowing these undemocratic, tyrannical authorities to rule us directly. They don’t realize the reason the government no longer functions in the first place is because corporations have bought off politicians to shape public policy in their interest. Now The Tea Party and right-wing republicans want to eliminate restrictions on corporations; lift regulations and relax laws in order to grant more rights and power to these totalitarian structures.
The failure of the left to address these very real grievances has white, middle-class Americans so baffled and angry that they are calling for their own enslavement. If fascism does take hold in America it will be in the name of Jesus Christ and the free market. With the poor already squeezed dry, the assault on the middle-class will continue until it too is destroyed. Corporations and the people who occupy high positions in them will be showered with riches while the rest of us will see our wages plummet, our collective bargaining nullified, our safety net torn, our retirement stolen and our benefits vanquished. Small businesses will be crushed, competition will be wiped out and the monopoly on goods and services will cause prices to skyrocket. Starting from the bottom up, this new, unregulated capitalism will exploit each subsequent income level and then discard them all until only richest of rich are left standing. America will then be reconfigured into a state of corporate neo-feudalism where the richest 1% will be the lords and the other 99% the serfs. We attempted this once before; to live in a society that was ruled by a rich and religious minority. We refer to those years as the Dark Ages for a reason.
*Matt Reedy grew up in central Pennsylvania where he attended college at Penn State University. In 2005 he moved to New York City and began working in the film & television industry where he joined the D.G.A. (Directors Guild of America). Matt is a member of the Unitarian Church whose community and congregation are actively dedicated to matters of social justice. He currently lives in North Jersey with his wife, their daughter and their two dogs.