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"The F Card" once more

RL, as usual, is not simply calling, but stamping its little feet and screaming, so this is going to be a post that is far shorter than the subject deserves. But I thought I'd run it up the flagpole, and see if anybody salutes, throw it against the wall and see if it sticks, throw it on the roof....

By "F", I don't mean "Fear" (see MsExPat's excellent post on playing The Fear Card, and Letsgetitdone's, too).* I mean "Fascism"; not "fear," but "fear of." How do we assess the claims by some that the Tea Partiers are the harbingers of an authentically Fascist moment? And if we accept those claims, doesn't that mean that supporting the Ds, no matter what, is a moral obligation?

As I said, this subject deserves a post in long form, and not in short form. (My assessment, with Joe Cannon's strong counter-argument, is here. A long-form post would counter Cannon's counter, but, as I said, RL is now not merely stamping its feet but tapping my shoulder. This subject also deserves a ton of linky goodness, but that's not going to happen, for the same reason.)

On the first question, How do we assess the claims by some that the Tea Partiers are the harbingers of an authentically Fascist moment? I'd argue that the problem here is that there's very little good evidence to be had. Certainly, as media critics, one important consideration is the provenance of the claims.** I grant that doesn't affect their validity, but it does provide the context for investigation. And as to provenance, a child of six can see that the claims of Fascism pre-date the Tea Party movement, and originate with the charges made against Sarah Palin by career "progressives" in the 2008 election.*** As with the racism, the instrumentalism of the claims made so polluted the discourse that a realistic assessment of Palin became impossible; bullshit all the way down, as it were. A child of six can also see that a D faction is using this argument to make sure that some D voters "come home" in 2012. ****

A second important consideration is the evidence for the thesis. Talk shows, The Mighty Wurlitzer, and the polling that acts as a positive feedback mechanism for the The Mighty Wurlitzer are all adduced. But The Mighty Wurlitzer is hardly a spontaneous uprising of popular sentiment; it's funded by, and serves the interests of, the MOTU, and the well-paid KAs that do the shilling. This may provide evidence of a Fascist Movement (as I wrote), but not necessarily of a Fascist Movement. Radio Rwanda is a fine example of what can be done using the tools the MOTU have adopted, but the United States is an empire of continental scale, and it's not clear to me that the same methods (both to achieve and more importantly to prevent) that worked there would work here. I prefer to regard the entire media system -- certainly its commanding heights -- as irretrievable polluted and tendentious on this point, and to look only at what I can see locally, on the ground. And I don't see it. One clear indication that the sound and fury sum to less than our worst fears is the size of Beck's rally. 87,000 is not a large number.

Finally, there are the lessons of history, with Germany under the Nazis, Spain under Franco, Italy under Mussolini as examples (although not, oddly, the South under the KKK. At least in the narrative to date). History teaches us that it is very hard to find the limits of the human ability to do evil, especially on the scale of nation states, but one can't help but contrast Germany, Spain, and Italy to Russia and China, where millions on millions where also slaughtered in the name of an abstraction. I draw the contrast not to argue that an outcome based on the 20th Century's experience with Communism is to be preferred to its experience with Fascism, but to raise a question of scale: If (as seems likely) a closed, Goebbels-like system of media control is necessary for Fascism to flourish, that is more likely to be achievable on a subcontinental scale (Germany, Spain, Italy, the Reconstruction South), than on the imperial, continental scale (Russia, China, and the United States). Not impossible, obviously, but less likely, slower, more contested, more opportunity to affect the outcome, and maybe different drivers, too. (It also seems likely that some terrible national humiliation is a requirement, as in a loss of a World War, takeover by another's empire, and so forth. We are very far from that, though naturally the 9/12 people are trying to gin up as much cheap emotion as they can.) Though one might look at the efforts of DHS, the Border Patrol, Intellectual Property regulation, and the destruction of net neutrality as an effort to meet this scaling requirement. Yes, I'm speculating freely. Do feel free to demolish!

On the second question, If we accept those claims, doesn't that mean that supporting the Ds, no matter what, is a moral obligation? I don't see why. A child of six can see that it's not the Tea Partiers that are the danger, but the MOTU who fund them, and their KAs, who do their bidding. The Big O, both legacy parties, and the current administration being KAs, of course. See here for an interesting take on how Bush's warrantless surveillance was retroactively legalized. Who did it? Why, our friends, the extremely non-Fascist Ds, and our friends, the extremely non-Fascist career "progressives." And The Big O himself, who voted for it. So there you are.

A few caveats or prophylactics:

1. I'm not making the argument that "worse is better." I think "better is better." It's only a question of where better is to be found, and I think the opportunity costs of engaging with the legacy parties are too great. There is always, literally always, something better to do, and that include taking the measures that one's neighbors don't degrade themselves by buying into hate. (If one thinks for a moment, one can see the gay movement over the last generation as a hugely successful example of "Slow Politics" in action. Stonewall to court decisions in favor of gay marriage or against DADT.... Is that massive success, or what? Justice and love can trump hate.)

2. I'm not minimizing the dangers. I'm assessing them. Something that seems notably absent in most of the work on this topic, which boils down to "Look! Over there! Glenn Beck!" instead of "Look! Up there! The Border Patrol!" To take but one example.

NOTE * The mother of all "fear" quotes is probably the Good Doctor's "I think I'm getting The Fear".

NOTE ** Neiwert's wonderful 2003 post, The Political and The Personal, is especially poignant, looked at in this light. In 2003, Neiwert's friend regrets no longer being able to split their ticket; in 2010, many of can't vote the ticket at all. And for the very same reasons that Neiwert outlined in 2003.

NOTE *** In typically savvy fashion, the career "progressives" retooled the vile sexism and misognyny they used against Hillary Clinton, and then stirred class and cultural markers into the brew. How different matters might be today if they had used Palin to draw contrasts with the Rs on policy! As in jobs, health care, housing, and so forth. Or the restoration of Constitutional government. That they did not is what one might call a "tell" -- today, we see that they did not because they could not -- and that should make anyone skeptical of any claim that career "progressives" make about any subject today. When the party line comes down from Moscow, look to Moscow to understand the party line.

NOTE **** No doubt, since the Ds have nothing credible they can say on policy, with nominal disemployment at 10% (20% real), they have adopted the tactic. Sure, you don't have a job, a house, or health care, but what if people who aren't like you are running the country? In this way, we can see that, as so often, the Ds and the Rs are simple reflections of each other in the fun house mirror that is Versailles. Hate is the easiest thing in the world to deliver, especially as opposed to a delivering governance that actually provides for the general welfare, which the legacy parties have decided, in good bipartisan fashion, that they need no longer do.

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jeer9's picture
Submitted by jeer9 on

I think we're well on the way to fascism already with the help of the current Dems. I recently discovered Walter Karp and, while he's very cynical and conspiratorial in his view of the parties, it's difficult to point out where he errs and it's hard to see the sort of outsider we need arising from the duopoly in DC. I believe Obama is doing everything his corporate masters want him to do, which from a Karpian perspective means the Republicrats will probably allow a Tea Party loon to receive the nomination in order to be smacked down and restore to the public the illusion that the abyss has been averted. We'll then get a Mitch Daniels type in 2016 as the country becomes desperate for real change, although as we know by now change never really occurs. Right now, I have no enthusiasm for November (Whitman vs. Brown: there's a winner) other than hoping the marijuana initiative passes - though its support seems to be waning at the moment.

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

Whitman says she'll veto it if she wins (shudder). And the LA District Atty is shutting down as many dispensaries as possible, before Nov., just because prohibition has worked so well in the past.

basement angel's picture
Submitted by basement angel on

then that's the road we're on and I don't know how electing Democrats subverts that eventuality. The problem is our national discourse, which is completely and totally unhinged from reality and electing Democrats doesn't fix that problem. Until truth has some intrinsic value in our media, then we aren't going to have a sane discussion. As long as the discussion isn't sane, we're at risk of becoming fascist.

I guess I would want to know how we'll know when we're there. What would a fascist America look like? I'm not asking that to be glib. I'm betting that most people just kind of ignore the dysfunctional political systems that humans cook up - that is, until their own family members disappear.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

it's just not big enough yet such that most people are willing to call it that. let's see, just off the top of my head:

-the interests of large corporations are the only interest of the state and its functionaries: check.

-the public declaration that the government can kill citizens at will, without trial or conviction: check

-the oppression of ethnic and religious minorities for no other reason than they are different from the majority, including detaining those minorities: check

-a media stream that lies, distorts, and give space only to right and far right voices, drums up support for illegal invasive wars and pushes a corporate agenda: check

-the conflation of faux patriotism and the majority religion: check

-reduction of public education and replacing it with brainwashing to produce illiterate drones who willingly accept their only career choices are in the military or in low paying jobs as corporate slaves: check

-meaningless "difference" between political parties who some how always end up passing policy that supports all of the above, no matter how loudly the electorate may express their desire to do the opposite: check

-security theatre at all points of entry and routes of transportation which does nothing to improve citizen safety but everything to remind them that the state is watching them at all times and those who do not conform will be treated as enemies: check

-domestic security forces who are able to beat and murder citizens for absolutely no reason and get away with it (taser deaths, drug war, etc): check


neofascism is different than the nazi kind. it's smarter, slicker, prettier (well, the nazis had better uniforms), and less obvious. i don't think we'll get to mass roundups and concentration camps really soon, but i do perceive how more and more groups are being constructed as "deserving" of such in the media stream, and when the next attack on our soil comes (be that from legitimate terrorists or blowback or some COINTELPRO like operation) i believe the rate of incarceration of people like us will increase rapidly and dramatically.

MsExPat's picture
Submitted by MsExPat on

I've used CD's points to try to enlighten my friends who are still stuck in The Fear. I ask them, "How, exactly, does voting for Democrats stop the creep of neo-fascism?"

That's when they get all up in a huff and say, "But we're not a fascist state! That's ridiculous! You're exaggerating!"

And then: "But if the Republicans get back into power, we could be!"

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

I hear the "its hard work" argument for Obama apologists more regularly these days. That's a good line for someone you wanna "love" who's screwing you over.

I've never lived in a fascist country so I don't know what a Fascist US will look like. One thing I'll point out is that the media often *under reports* some of the biggest neo-fascist state actions so that most people aren't that aware of them. My question is, if something like killing US citizens in the homeland and imprisoning bloggers at a 5,000 view a day blog became commonplace and people knew about it, would they be OK with that or would they push-back?

One thing I find common at left-leaning blogs is the desire to be exceptional, that they/we face the most distressing times in the history of the union. But is today any worse than the McCarthy communist witch hunts? (Remember, the military industrial complex was talked about even then, by Eisenhower.) Are the attempts to silence critics really any worse than they were in the build up to the Iraq war in 2003? (Remember the calls to uber patriotism, that if you weren't with the gung-ho warmongers you were a terrorist?)

The question I have on this topic, is how do our concerns today compare to concerns in the past? Is this an exceptional moment in US history or do lefty bloggers have some need to find something really scary to fight against? I lean toward the latter because I think that despite the media manipulation, the flow of information is much harder to stop these days than anytime in our past. You can't hide some things--just look at Katrina (and remember the universal compassionate response at the time?)

Joseph Cannon's picture
Submitted by Joseph Cannon on

You folks might want to visit this thing called a library. They have lots of books on fascism. If you are going to write about the F word, you had best do some research first.

(I used to have a whole floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with works on that subject, so don't anyone try to take me to school.)

I would compare the teabagger movement not to post-1933 Germany, but to Germany in the 1920s, when the movement was uncentralized and the freikorps were assassinating men like Rathenau -- and getting away with it.

No, Goebbels was NOT in charge of the press when fascism was on the rise. But you had plenty of lefties who were doing their best to help the Nazis subvert the Weimar republic. They honestly thought that nothing could be worse than Weimar.

Similarly, quite a few Girondists thought that there was just no way in hell that Citoyen Robespierre could turn out to be worse than the monarchy.

My reception here -- especially all the desperate, willful misreadings of everything I write -- reminds me of a close historic parallel: 2008. The Kossacks engaged in similar desperate, willful misreadings when I told them that the Lightbringer was a loathesome charlatan. Now, the Correntians react the same way when I tell them that there are far worse things than the current loathesome charlatanisms awaiting us.

I was a couple of years ahead of the curve in 2008, and I'm three or four years ahead of the curve now.

Remember, during our last period of right-wing fever, how Ann Coulter talked about the need to kill a presumed lefty in order to "physically intimidate" liberals? Next time they are going to do it. That, and worse.

No, I'm not just talking about supporting the Democrats. I'm also talking about supporting anti-tea party Republicans. This, despite the fact that I am clearly on record as despising Republicans, even more than I despise what the ghastly current Democratic leadership has done to the party.

Yet worse exists.

Look in your history books, and you will see many precursors of this hopeless situation. When the armies of Caligula do battle against the barbarian hordes, which side deserves your rooting interest? Most of you will say "neither." If say that, you're being blind and foolish. There is no third choice. One side or the other will occupy your land and force you to live according to its rules.

I say that we can never -- ever -- accept the triumph of barbarism.

In modern terms, better "Versailles" at its most loathesome than the tea bagger alternative.

Lambert recently crowed about being on the receiving end of a (much needed) apology. Will he apologize to me in 2013 or 2014, when he belatedly discovers that there are worse things than the "legacy parties"?

We shall see.

Oh, and B.A -- we were never friends. I have no friends. I want no friends. A man with friends cannot tell the truth.

Submitted by lambert on

... why, exactly?

To expand:

On the strength of the tea partiers, I notice that you don't address the evidentiary concerns in the first section of the post, which was, after all, a high floater that you should have been able to hit out of the park. As a result, your analogy to Germany in the 1920s assumes exactly what it needs to prove; the snark on the presumably unlettered Correntians who don't know how to use a library distracts from, but does not conceal, this point. If such evidence exists, you should surely be able to produce it readily. After all, 87,000 on the mall is not a large number.

I also notice that you have no response to the denial, in the section part of the post, that there's a moral claim to support the Ds [or, now, it seems, the legacy party system as such]:

A child of six can see that it's not the Tea Partiers that are the danger, but the MOTU who fund them, and their KAs, who do their bidding.

Please explain to me why the opportunity costs of investing any time or energy in the Ds [and the nicer sort of Rs] are acceptable, given that (a) they are not the real danger and (b) have no intention of protecting us in any case.

Instead, you play different fear cards over and over again.* I assume you do not respond on point because you cannot.

NOTE * I should say that I'm with CD here. Notice how CD gives a very concrete list of evidence that shows the reason for her concern? As opposed to a rambling list of historical analogies whose relevance is to be assumed only because of your putative authority? I commend CD's methodology to your attention.

NOTE As for something that appears, for reasons I don't understand, very important to you: Sure, I'll admit error if I'm wrong; I have already done so, so why wouldn't I do it again?

UPDATE I also note the lack of motivation for your choice of Germany in the 1920s; it really isn't sufficient to run your finger along the spines of the books on your famously full shelves and read off the names of some countries in Europe. Why, for example, isn't the collapse of the sclerotic Soviet Union an appropriate analogy instead? [Or the collapse of the federated Yugoslavia?] [And see also gqm's questions here, as yet unaddressed]

[Changes, as I went along, in square brackets]

koan's picture
Submitted by koan on

Seriously, can you unpack that post a little? What is it about the teaparty right that you find so much more alarming than the Toby Keith right of ten years ago, when the hysteria was running so high they really were sending anthrax to congress, assassinating muslim cab drivers and Rupert Murdoch was sponsoring Dixie Chick album tractor smashes?

Is it just the concentrated flow of money and organization from the backers that you see as making that key difference? Is it just the added factor of the smashed economy? or are there so many more elements of parallel that you find the 1920s Weimar really predictive instead of just cautionary?

Im not disputing, Id like to hear more of your reasoning.

Submitted by lambert on

Here's the way I'd attack this issue, were I Joe.

My own initial response is that history is not "predictive." Repeat, not rhyme.

Here's the counter-argument, rather in "Boot stamping on human face, forever" mode. History would be "predictive" if the neo-fascist playbook was sufficiently effective. One would generalize Gore's observations about polling in his last book (forget name, rushed in RL). Gore was amazed and appalled to see that when he paid money to political consultants, and they said "Let's do this" and then did it, that the numbers rose as they predicted they would. OK, suppose that's not "political campaigns" but "political economy." That would make history "predictive" alright. Not that I'm foily. Perhaps as soon as you think of Nazi Germany as a set of data points and intellectual resources, as opposed to a chilling example of human evil (or, which comes to the same thing, the genocidal myth of origin for a nation-state), everything would fall into place.

Now, I personally would regard that as good news, not bad. "Know your enemies and know yourself." And in regard to the latter point, knowing yourself, that's why it's important to detach yourself from as many systems as possible that prevent you from doing that. Starting with the teebee....

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

go very well together in my life. really. i have many friends, friends who love me, and among them i am known for my honesty, even honestly about my self, and the ugly parts about me and my ideas. email me; no man is an island and i'd be willing to teach you about how to be a truthful friend if you'd like.

here's one way in which i have both friends and truth in my life: i can easily and publicly admit i want to be wrong! i hope you're right and i'm not! really! i'll bake a big fluffy crow pie and post a video of me eating every single bite if i am! really. i've said so here before on other issues and when i've been proven so, i step up and have my helping. for these and other reasons, i read everything you (and everyone i can find the time for) write here. and thank you for being brave enough to dissent at a place like this, your views are very welcome, always.

now, i think you're pulling a bit of a Goodwin's Law on this thread. Lambert isn't wrong; do you assert that anything that i wrote in my previous comment is untrue? Gitmo, immigrant detention centers, the prisons filled with drug warriors, mercenaries in place of an honorable military, "law for thee but not for me" MOTU types... i left those off my list and if i worked on it i could come up with more. there is a reason i use the term neofascism. it's not "just like the Nazis" right now, it's different, in all the ways that support the phrase "history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

something i'd love to explore more is just how neofascism really is different than the original model. a good example to me would be video games. unlike brownshirt training rallies of the late 20s and 30s, in which fat drunks actually had to stand up straight and march around for hours before they could go to the beer hall, military video games make lazy people happy! they also often reinforce all the values progressives are taught to abhor (killing for sport, misogyny, racism, worship of the military, etc). i'm not trying to piss off our gaming readers, whom i'm sure are decent people who don't believe in those things. but if the nazis had had this way to pre-train the brownshirts to be numbed to the notion that mass slaughter is a bad thing, i certainly can't think of a better one and that the nazis would've put WoW in every brownshirt home for free. it's no accident, imho, that we're fighting a video-controlled drone bombing war against "the taliban" in afghanistan, manned by young people who were raised on video games that do exactly the same thing. cf the very bad but still interesting robin williams film "Toys," iirc.

and Joseph, i will certainly grant you the possibility that "there is no third choice," albeit for different reasons than i think you believe. i have never asserted that finding a true "third way" would be easy or even possible. but to quote my grrl trinity: "we have to try." you go ahead and try with your democrats, i'm going to try something else. we're liberals, right? so that whole lockstep thingee isn't supposed to be for us. and yes: if lambert is wrong, he will apologize. he's done it before, and he'll do it again. because what matters to him isn't being proven fucking right, but instead doing the right thing. that's sort of the uberpoint to conversations like these, no?

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

i'm working hard on trying not to insult people who are at least marginally on my side, and that's you. so let me say that comments like "go to the library" are unhelpful. i've spent more time in libraries, reading about this history of fascism and totalitarianism and right wing ideologies than most people in this country, and i have the sheepskin to prove it. it's possible for two people to read, and even memorize, the same history books and come to different, and legitimate conclusions. there's no need to be snide and insulting, and mostly, being so never changes minds, yo. just food for your thought and commenting style.

Submitted by lambert on

Basically, I'm tit for tat on snark. I mean, at this point, I don't have a whole lot to learn about how to do it or how to engage in it, so I try to restrain myself to irony and the light touch. But if I put up with it, it's going to keep happening and escalate. So, every "you folks might want to visit this thing called a library," earns a "it really isn't sufficient to run your finger along the spines of the books on your famously full shelves and read off the names of some countries in Europe," which I think is funnier, personally, but then I'm invested in it. The price of moderation is the odd flareup, and no doubt there are some spectators who enjoy it. For me, it's just another form of work.