Friday, December 30, 2005


Organic Fascism Arrives

As more people catch onto the implications of the power grab by the Executive Branch, the screams are getting louder. Now, it seems, the Co-Presidents, the Dynamic Duo, Dick and Dubya, want to squelch any stories that might truly expose the actualities of the situation. We know that the government spies on people without warrants; that habeas corpus is being selectively silenced, and that police powers have been so broadly interpreted that anyone’s phone call can be monitored by the feds.

There’s something just a little bit scary about that, eh?

It Has Happened Here
The growth of executive power in this country has some disturbing precedents

by Alan Bisbort - December 29, 2005

The World This Week
It has happened here, "it" being fascism, American-style. Sinclair Lewis satirized this latent impulse in It Can´t Happen Here , a 1935 novel. When he wrote it, prominent Americans like Henry "History is Bunk" Ford, Charles Lindbergh and Father Coughlin -- the Richard Mellon Scaife, Ollie North and Pat Robertson of their day -- were smitten with Mussolini, Hitler and Franco and their fascism, European-style.

Before Der Fuhrer's goose-stepping act segued into global war and Holocaust, American businessmen like Ford, "patriots" like Lindbergh and Christian radio blowhards like Coughlin admired the idea of state cultural control, suppression of dissent, crushing of unions, secret arrests, torture, military muscle-flexing and nativist pageantry. They felt right at home in a world in which the playground bully called the shots.

Novelists are America's real truth-tellers. Maybe that's why so many, like Lewis, drink themselves to death. Take Norman Mailer. He has suggested that fascism might be the most natural governmental state for Homo sapiens, that democracy is unnatural and hard to maintain; it requires vigilance, participation and a shared sense of the public good. And, always, this fascist tendency keeps creeping in like a flu virus. In a series of lectures after his book was published -- called "It Has Happened Here" -- Lewis said, "We [Americans] are slaves to the concept and practice of salesmanship; indeed, the salesman is the equivalent of the dictator in fascist countries."

Indeed, today's homegrown fascists are the corporate string-pullers who've infiltrated every facet of our lives, from government (where electoral "choice" is between two corporate whores), schools (where corporations dictate our kids' health-ruining diet), media (where fascists are held in high esteem and dissenters are scum) and communities (where developers, realtors, bankers and big-box merchandisers dictate land-use policy). Having been brought up on Sam Adams' Sons of Liberty, Jefferson's Declaration, Patrick Henry, Nathan Hale, Betsy Ross, et al., I never wanted to believe Mailer or Lewis were anything more than storytellers.

That's out the window now.

Before you don your gay apparel, let me propose one instructive reading exercise. The book is I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941 , by Victor Klemperer. Klemperer was a German historian and Jew who, to ward off his fears during Hitler's rise to power, immersed himself in writing and teaching. Slowly, one by one, he lost his professorship, car, phone, house, typewriter and then family members and friends. His diary began: "Jan. 30: Hitler Chancellor. What, up to election, I called terror, was a mild prelude É I heard a part of Hitlers's speech É I understood only occasional words. But the tone! The unctuous bawling, truly bawling, of a priest."

Klemperer's diary is filled with such passages, which have what Edmund Wilson called "the shock of recognition." He documents the inexorable crawl toward fascism in Germany. By Christmas 1941, for example, the Nazi overlords have decreed a "curfew for all Jews from the morning of December 24 to January 1," so that good Christians could celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace without the "provocative behavior of a Jew in public."

Now we have a Bill O'Reilly-led demagogic campaign to rescue Christmas from "secularists" and non-Christians. His language is pure playground-bully fascism, singling out groups to imply their "provocative" existence.

Then there's Dick Cheney, who flew back from a "diplomatic trip" (there's an oxymoron!) to cast the tie-breaking vote on a bill to cut funds to the poor on the eve of Christmas. Not content with playing Scrooge, Cheney screamed for more power. "I believe in a strong, robust executive authority and I think that the world we live in demands it," he said, the drool dripping from his fangs.

Klemperer's book reminds us that fascism does not appear like Satan rearing up from a festering hole in the earth or arrive in full fiery regalia. It enters slowly, sometimes even comically. In a way, we're all Victor Klemperers now, bearing witness to this dark chapter in American history. If we survive it.

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