Home 2019 Elections Revisiting My 2003 Piece, “Is America Drifting Towards Fascism?”

Revisiting My 2003 Piece, “Is America Drifting Towards Fascism?”

Unfortunately, it all seems more true today than 17 years ago.

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I wrote the following back in 2003, but thought it was worth reposting now, because – frighteningly – much of what the article talks about is even more true today than it was 17 years ago. Yes, some of us have feared for a LOOONG time that this crap was coming, but many (most?) people brushed it off as hyperbole, hysteria, etc. Except that, as we see with Trump’s musing about “vicious dogs,” his clearing protesters out with teargas so he could stand outside a church to hold a Bible, and with photos like this one, it really doesn’t appear to be hyperbole or hysteria at all. The question is, how many Americans continue to be in denial about what’s going on in this country? And what are we all going to do about it?

Is America Drifting Towards Fascism?

The past three years have not been particularly good ones for America, to put it mildly.  First, of course, was the highly controversial 2000 Presidential election in which the man with half a million more votes than his opponent somehow did not win.  Whether or not this election was actually “stolen” or not by George W. Bush and the Republicans from Al Gore and the Democrats most likely will never be proven definitively, but millions of people certainly think so.

Second, George W. Bush came into office and promptly moved not towards the political center, as most people had expected, but towards the far right, pushing an extreme agenda for which he had been granted absolutely no electoral mandate.

Third came the horrible terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and in their aftermath a series of significant infringements on American civil liberties: the Patriot Act; imprisonment of “enemy combatants” without constitutional authority, criminal charges, or access to a lawyer; establishment of a parallel legal system for terrorism “suspects;” establishment of an Orwellian “Total Information Awareness” program in the Pentagon; etc.

Fourth came the “War on Terror,” beginning in Afghanistan and later Iraq, and continuing onwards with no apparent end in sight.

Finally came warnings from the Bush Administration and its allies of another, even worse terrorist attack on the “homeland,” and the potentially dire consequences this might have on our constitution and way of life.  As I stated at the outset, the past three years have not been good ones for America.

Given all this, it is not surprising that many Americans are frightened and upset at the direction the country is headed.   Many people have expressed fears that the country could be drifting towards authoritarianism, single-party rule, or even some sort of fascism.  “Wait a minute,” you say, “that’s pure hysteria.  This country has withstood many crises in its history – the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War — without succumbing to any of those terrible things.  There’s no way it will now!”

And maybe you’re right.  We can only hope so.  But before we jump to such an optimistic conclusion, let’s step back for a minute, look at the main elements of — and preconditions for — authoritarianism and fascism, and determine whether or not they might exist in America today.

According to David Neiwert, whose coverage of domestic terrorism won the National Press Club Award for Distinguished Online Journalism in 2000, we are now living in a dangerous time for democracy and freedom in America. One of the most worrisome signs, in Neiwert’s view, is an increasing blurring of lines — beginning in the 1990s — between “mainstream” conservatism on the one hand and “extremist” Christian fundamentalism on the other. Neiwert argues that, today, “mainstream” conservatism and Christian fundamentalism have become strongly allied, almost indistinguishable in many ways. Both, for instance, share a black-and-white worldview — Neiwert calls it a “Manichean dualism” – and a “totalist mindset.”  According to Niewert:

 “This has the potential to make them, in many ways, ideal footsoldiers for a kind of Christo-fascism, one which backs theocratic impulses and right-wing extremism with actual political power. In the wake of a severe social disturbance like Sept. 11, this kind of dualism’s appeal is potent.”

Scary stuff, especially when we have a President who talks about the world in explicitly Manichean terms – black or white, for us or against us, good or evil, dead or alive — and has even talked privately in messianic terms about feeling “chosen by the grace of God to lead” America in the aftermath of 9/11.

It’s not just George W. Bush, unfortunately. We’ve also got Tom DeLay, the powerful right wing majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Among other things, DeLay has stated his belief that “only Christianity offers a way to live in response to the realities that we find in this world” and in fact that the reason he went into politics was to promote a “biblical worldview.”  Not surprisingly, DeLay has accused liberals, the media, and the “fashionable elite” (whatever that means) of despoiling “a set of values that binds us together as Americans” and of waging a “guerilla assault…on our nation’s founding principles.”  After the Columbine school shootings, DeLay held a press conference in which he blamed the tragedy on the fact that students were taught the theory of evolution. Finally, DeLay has expressed his opinion that the Democratic Party is the “appeasement party” for opposing the Iraq war and has attempted to redistrict Democrats out of existence in his home state of Texas.  New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has pointed out – correctly – that all this wouldn’t matter so much if DeLay were merely “some crazy guy,” but he’s not.  Unfortunately, in Krugman’s view, Tom DeLay is part of a powerful and extreme right-wing clique that poses a great threat to this country.

Besides Bush and DeLay, we’ve got high-ranking officials like Peter Kirsanow, a Bush-appointed member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, in the extreme right-wing clique that Krugman talks about.  Kirsanow has declared that, in the event of another terrorist attack on the US, “[N]ot too many people will be crying in their beer if there are more detentions, more stops, more profiling.”  Kirsanow added that, should terrorists carry out another attack on the U.S. homeland, “There will be a groundswell of public opinion to banish civil rights” and to support the detention of certain ethnic groups. What a pleasant thought.

Aside from our high-ranking government officials, let’s not forget such popular right wing commentators like Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, and Rush Limbaugh. Coulter, of course, is the famous author of best-selling books that, among other things, accuse liberals of “treason” and of aiming to “destroy America from the inside with their relentless attacks on morality and the truth.”  Coulter also is famed for her helpful suggestion right after 9/11 that, with regard to the terrorists, “we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

Moving on, we’ve got Michael Savage, author of the popular screed, “The Savage Nation: Saving America From the Liberal Assault on Our Borders, Language and Culture.”  The stated purpose of Savage’s subtly named book (“tell us how you really feel, Michael!”) is to save a “homosexualized, feminized America” from a liberal assault that is “unraveling the very fabric of this great nation.” And Limbaugh, of course, is the “Big Fat Idiot” (thank you Al Franken) who pours forth anti-liberal venom each day to 15 million devoted “dittoheads.”

Then there are the right-wing military types like General Tommy Franks and Lt. Gen William Boykin, who, respectively, fantasize about a military dictatorship and brag about how their God is bigger and badder than the other guy’s God. Franks, of course, is (in)famous for his November 2003 interview with Cigar Aficionado magazine, in which he states that if another terrorist attack occurs in the United States “the Constitution will likely be discarded in favor of a military form of government”  Tellingly, Franks describes George W. Bush as “a very thoughtful man,” someone who “we’ll [probably] think of him in years to come as an American hero.”  Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, is well known for giving a speech to a Christian prayer group in June 2003 in which he stated that radical Muslims hate the United States “because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and roots are Judeo-Christian and the enemy is a guy named Satan.” Boykin added that, in dealing with a Somali warlord during the U.S. military operation there in 1993, “I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.” To date, Boykin remains in his position, despite a few protests at the time his comments were made public.

Finally, there are the civilian fundamentalist Christian religious leaders – and big supporters of the Republican Party — like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Randall Terry (founder of the radical anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue). Reverends Falwell and Robertson, of course, are famous for their comments shortly after the 9/11 attacks, which blamed “the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America.”  Randall Terry is (in)famous for his statement:

“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…. If a Christian voted for Clinton, he sinned against God. It’s that simple…. Our goal is a Christian Nation… we have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want Pluralism. We want theocracy. Theocracy means God rules.”

Meanwhile, according to a November 23, 2003 column by William Arkin, a military analyst writing in the Los Angeles Times, “American armed forces are assuming major new domestic policing and surveillance roles.” Arkin specifically examines the U.S. military’s new Northern Command, which controls all U.S. armed forces within the continental United States, Canada and Alaska. According to Arkin, the Northern Command is “already working under the far-reaching authority that goes with ‘extraordinary operations,” including intelligence gathering and collection of an “urban data inventory…down to the house level” that could be used either for surveillance or military targeting.  Arkin concludes:

“Outside the view of most of the public, the government is daily expanding military operations into areas of local government and law enforcement that historically have been off-limits. And it doesn’t seem far-fetched to imagine that those charged with assembling ‘actionable intelligence’ will slowly start combining databases of known terrorists with seemingly innocuous lists of contributors to charities or causes, that membership lists for activist organizations will be folded in, that names and personal data of anti-globalization protesters will be run through the ‘data mine.’”

OK, so there are some wack jobs out there and some disturbing signs as well, but so what?  That doesn’t mean the country is going “Christo-fascist” or “authoritarian.” Or does it?  Here is a checklist of key fascist and authoritarian characteristics, and a judgment as to whether or not they exist in the United States – or at least in the Republican Party — at this time:

  • Nationalism, super-patriotism, and aggressive militarism – check (“Bush Doctrine”)
  • Perpetuation of a permanent or long-term state of war – check (“War on Terrorism”)
  • Anti-modern and anti-liberal attitudes – check (amongst Republicans and fundamentalist Christians)
  • Violation of treaties and international law – check (too numerous to mention)
  • A pervasive climate of fear and hysteria – check (Code Orange!)
  • Single party rule – check (Republicans control all three branches of government)
  • Labeling of political opponents as traitors – check (see Ann Coulter)
  • An absolute faith by the leader that he is “right” – check (see George W. Bush)
  • Consolidation and control of mass media – check (see Rupert Murdoch)
  • Extra-legal or parallel legal mechanisms – check (see Camp X-Ray)
  • Crony capitalism run amok – check (who wrote that Energy Bill again?)
  • Attacks on other religions or races – check (see General Boykin)
  • Punitive attitudes toward deviants, minorities and outsiders – check (see Falwell, Robertson, DeLay, etc.)
  • Theocratic leanings at the expense of pluralism or church-state separation – check (ditto)
  • Apocalypticism and evangelism (see George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, many others)
  • Identification of enemies/scapegoats – check (see just about any right-wing commentator for a constant demonization of liberals, gays, etc.)
  • Suppression of organized labor – check (Republican/big business policy for many years now – see WalMart)
  • Fraudulent or rigged elections – check (see Jeb Bush, Katherine Harris, and the Supreme Court)

Had enough? Still feeling optimistic about our country’s future?  Or are you like me, starting to get an uneasy feeling that this country really might be drifting towards authoritarianism – or even Fascism?  If the latter, there’s only one course of action: we need to fight for our country and our values.  Because if we don’t fight, we can be sure that the authoritarians and fascists amongst us will do so, and they’ll win.  At that point, we may all be getting to know each other really well in Camp X-Ray.