WRAPPED IN A FLAG

You know, we Americans like to think of our political system as one that is immune to the extremes found elsewhere around the world and throughout history. There is some truth to that. For all the times we accused George W. Bush of being a "dictator" or having totalitarian ambitions, the American experience pales in comparison to a real totalitarian state (say, Myanmar or North Korea). This is partly a matter of semantics and partly reflective of our higher standards and expectations. It's sort of like saying "Man, I am really starving." Sure, you may not have eaten all day, but your statement would look pretty ridiculous if you said it next to someone who was actually starving.

I hope this is always true of the U.S., that even the lunatic extremes of our political spectrum fall short of subjecting the country to roving death squads, racial pogroms, government-controlled access to information, and so on. But if we can step outside of the comfort zone of our cushy life of contesting politics in the confines of a liberal democracy, an objective view of this country is pretty scary. I struggle to think of modern democratic state in which the conditions for the success of fascism would be better. I mean, we have it all: simmering racial hatred, extreme xenophobia, sharp class distinctions, a ravaged economy, and the grandiose belief in our own exceptionalism.

That thought is simultaneously paranoid and plausible. Watch a Teabagger rally and tell me those people would not fall in line behind the right charismatic fascist leader if given the opportunity. And I don't mean Tom Tancredo. I mean a real, honest-to-god, working from Hitler's playbook fascist. Because as the Ground Zero mosque story underscored in yesterday's post, most Americans don't believe in rights except for themselves. Sure, we talk about rights a lot, along with freedom, liberty, the Constitution, and all kinds of other high-minded concepts. But when the chips are down, we are willing to deny (other) people rights at the drop of a hat. The cry of the American right quickly changes from "Constitution! First Amendment rights! Freedom of religion!" to "Yeah, but I hate Muslims more than I love any of that stuff." I came across this interesting question on the 2008 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a large survey of over 30,000 adults during election years. The question asked respondents to indicate their support or opposition for a number of proposed election reforms:

Yeah, we don't so much understand that Constitution thing. We can turn into King George in a hurry when our prejudices so dictate.

Hannah Arendt may have written some of the most important political analysis of the 20th Century when she characterized the post-War analysis of Nazi Germany as "the banality of evil." The people seated on witness stands were not horned monsters or satanic comic book villains (even if they committed acts that we'd expect from Satan himself). They were your parents, your neighbors, and your dentist. Arendt concluded that just about any person was capable of committing Nazi-style atrocities under the right circumstances. How much urging do you think a crowd of Teabaggers would need to burn down a mosque or start rounding up brown people? It's like Bill Hicks said about alcoholics – anyone can become one. All it takes is the right bar, the right friends, and the wrong woman.

We've all seen Sinclair Lewis' quote that "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." (Unfortunately he never actually said that; the real quote is "When fascism comes to the United States it will be wrapped in the American flag and will claim the name of 100-percent Americanism." according to the Sinclair Lewis Society. Nothing about a cross. And there is evidence that he got the quote from – get your irony pants ready – Huey Long). We've all heard that because it gets brought up regularly, and it gets brought up regularly because, well, it's really, really plausible.

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43 Responses to “WRAPPED IN A FLAG”

  1. Edward Qubain Says:

    John Dean wrote a book several years ago, "Conservatives without a Conscience", which drew on research on authoritarian social movements to try to understand the Republicans today.

  2. Brandon Says:

    I think you raise a number of good points here, Ed. I've certainly been disgusted and somewhat alarmed at much of the rhetoric surrounding the immigration issue and the Ground Zero Mosque "controversy." And your point about the "banality of evil" is a good one. Nothing pisses me off more than people explaining the Holocaust, for example, by looking only at Hitler but not at German society. Or acting like the genocides in Bosnia or Rwanda are purely a reflection of "ancient hatreds" and the primitive conditions of those societies. That said, I think a statement like:

    "I struggle to think of modern democratic state in which the conditions for the success of fascism would be better. I mean, we have it all: simmering racial hatred, extreme xenophobia, sharp class distinctions, a ravaged economy, and the grandiose belief in our own exceptionalism"

    needs to be made with a bit more analytical rigor and comparative context. It's assumed that those factors you list as conducive to fascism are worse here than they are in other countries. Okay, maybe they are, maybe not. There certainly is a good share of simmering racial hatred here, but compared to what? And compared to when? And I don't think any discussion of the prospects of fascism can ignore the role of political institutions. Setting aside social and economic factors, I'd think the parliamentary systems in many European countries, which lack an institutional separation between the executive and legislative branches (and many of which also have unitary, rather than federal systems), would be more conducive to a takeover by a single party. I realize that a multi-country analysis of this sort is beyond the scale of a single post, but out of an otherwise excellent post, that particular claim struck me as excessive and overly generalizing.

  3. Tim Says:

    You start your argument by wrapping yourself in the flag of tolerance and immediately begin calling people with a different viewpoint by a name intended to be sexually derogatory. Do you want to win an argument or is it more important to hear the echo of your own voice dropping admittedly mislaid literary references? You could have made your case with Lewis's "It Can't Happen Here," FYI. Instead, your rather say conservatives will fall lock step behind a dictator. Humm, let's see… taking over major chunks of the financial sector, check, seizing controlling interest in an auto maker, checkity-check, ordering every American to buy healthcare, check, taking Executive control of the census, checkadellio. Yup, those darn Tea Party people are the only ones who will stand behind a President's gross violations of the spirit of the Constitution.

  4. Seth Says:

    Tim: I'll let slide for now the notion that accretion of power to the Executive Branch = facism, and that Congress approved several of the examples you list.

    More interesting is thinking about how fascism (as a specific form of government domination) works. Not all dictatorships are fascist. What distinguishes fascism is the concept of hegemony, that is, that the ruling cabal has garnered the consent of the governed (this is Antonio Gramsci's definition of hegemony, much simplified). When fascism works, it works because the people have given their assent to it.

    I take Ed's point about the Tea Partiers to be along those lines. They might gladly endorse, i.e., give consent to, a leader who might well ask them to do terrible things in the name of some high-flung abstractions. At the same time, the "movement," such as it is, discourages them from articulating their own motives in any detail, which is why such rampant racism can run amok at the same time individual Tea Partiers may not recognize or even believe their positions are racist.

  5. Alex Says:

    Yes we can! Just keep chanting it. It's totally different than the Tea Party.

  6. Ed Says:

    Yeah, I hear people chanting "Yes we can!" all the time. Eight to twelve hours per day on most days.

  7. Del Says:

    Just the other day I was musing on how Hitler didn't even have a 9/11 to hang his hat on. I think there are lots of American citizens right now who wouldn't mind at all if Muslims were rounded up into camps, and wouldn't much care what happened to them after that.

  8. waldo Says:

    America's precipitous decline under Reagan and the Bushes has been slow-motion torture to watch. That the duty of saving its ass has fallen to a black man still stuns my irony nerve.
    The 27% of real crazies are a worry but it's the Glenn Becks that are the dangerous ones.

  9. Edward Qubain Says:

    "Hitler didn't even have a 9/11 to hang his hat on."

    Actually, the Nazis had the Reichtag fire to hang their hat on. In fact, right after 9/11 several articles appeared comparing the event to the Reichtag fire. The Reichtag fire may have been engineered by the Nazis, which I think makes an interesting parallel with the fact that the Israelis were probably aware of the 9/11 plot and wanted it to succeed.

  10. oxus Says:

    ^ Del, this is silly hyperbole and gets us nowhere.

    Brandon's points are right on. Yes, there are disturbing things about the socio-politico situation in the US, but to claim that we are more prone to a fascist takeover than any other liberal democracy requires a great deal more analysis. While I would certainly agree that our level of economic inequality is exceptionally sharp, I need to see some solid empirical evidence before I believe that we are more intolerant than other liberal democracies.

    As counter examples: despite the rhetoric over the NYC mosque, I couldn't imagine a referendum banning the construction of minarets passing in this country as it did in Switzerland, or legislation banning burqas passing as it is in France. Besides, in the recent NY Times article describing anti-mosque protests in diverse locations across the US (such as TN), it mentioned that the pro-mosque counter demonstrators outnumbered the anti-mosque protesters…

  11. Grumpygradstudent Says:

    I just ran across a relatively recent book by the psychologist who ran the Stanford Prison Experiment. The book used both that experiment and Abu Ghraib to talk about the conditions under which people will do evil things. (He also gives some tips on how to resist, which are interesting).

    Basically, most people will do evil shit under the right circumstances. The biggest one being, "that's what my boss told me to do." Our nice little illusion of our own moral decency is propped up by pretty meager circumstantial supports.

    That's one thing I like about Christianity (even though I'm not a Christian)…it begins with the premise that, as beings, we're just no damn good at all. The special-little-snowflake, modern secular world has trouble with that idea, I think.

  12. Ed Says:

    Yeah, Ox and Brandon are probably right. We may – although this is a big assumption – have enough "normal" folk to prevent a society-wide slide into the scary parts of human nature. But when you look back on 2002/2003 and how easy it was to talk those Reasonable People into Iraq, my confidence wanes.

  13. J. Dryden Says:

    "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." (Pretentious and facile of me, but obligatory.)

  14. Don Says:

    Tim, I read your comment – "wrapping yourself in the flag of tolerance and immediately begin calling people with a different viewpoint by a name intended to be sexually derogatory" – and was perplexed; I went back to the post and read through it a couple more times for names intended to be sexually derogatory, and finally guessed you might be referring to "teabaggers". I'd like to point out that the term, before being adopted by the amorphous collection of sexually panicked racists now calling themselves "tea partiers", was in no way considered sexually derogatory. It simply described a sexual "act" (more of a position, or byproduct of a position, really) that most people using the term would not find the least bit objectionable. I quite like it,myself, although I don't think I've ever actually thought of it as "teabagging" – it's really kind of archaic, and was probably always a little arch and comic in tone.

    The reason I still call the teabaggers by the name they initially (and loudly, and self-righteously) claimed for themselves isn't because the name is sexually derogatory. It's not. It's because in their stupidity, naivete, and inability to use the internet, they managed to pick a name for themselves that, when explained to them in tiny enough words, would throw their own ignorant homophobia and sexual panic into high relief. I really enjoy thinking of the teabaggers having to visualize themselves, however briefly, getting some fellow's balls slapped in their faces every time they have to say "Stop being disrespectful! It's called the Tea PARTY!" My own pleasure at having the right fellow's balls in my face only adds to the pleasure I get from their discomfort. I only wish "tea party" had the sexual-slang meaning of "methamphetamine-fueled weekend of nonstop man-on-man sex, lasting at least 2 days and nights, with at least 3 men who are strangers to each other, typically arranged through Craigslist casual-encounters." That would be hilarious.

  15. Brandon Says:

    "The Reichtag fire may have been engineered by the Nazis, which I think makes an interesting parallel with the fact that the Israelis were probably aware of the 9/11 plot and wanted it to succeed."

    Edward, please do enlighten us regarding your theories…

  16. John Says:

    @Tim: "seizing controlling interest in an auto maker"

    I keep hearing this and the bit about seizing control of banks coming from the political right, and it boggles my mind. How does one "seize control" of an entity that came to them, hat in hand, begging for billions of dollars?

    There's no seizing going on. Those entities are *asking* to be controlled, by virtue of the fact that they are asking for absurdly large sums of public money to prop up their failing businesses. "Government, Save us!" "Oh god, Government is here!"

    See also: Louisianna's govneror jumping on the "RAWR GOVERNMENT DESTROYS EVERYTHING IT TOUCHES" bandwagon, and then when GLORIOUS FREE ENTERPRISE™ completely wrecks his coast's shit, he immediately breaks out "RAWR WHY IS GOVERNMENT NOT HERE SAVING ME?!"

  17. Larry Signor Says:

    Whether or not the tendency toward fascism is greater in America than other sovereigns is highly irrelevant. The point is that the conditions for its birth are existent here. This is the repugnancy Ed is pointing out, with good cause. The only condition he overlooks is the ubiquitous intellectual cowardice that exists in America. This is the primary enabler of the self-righteous racism that drives fascism.

  18. AL Says:

    @ Tim: "ordering every American to buy healthcare"

    Are you suggesting that most Americans who do not have health care really don't want it? It seems you are suggesting that people are now being "ordered" against their will to buy health insurance, which seems generally out of line with reality.

  19. doug Says:

    Don, I come here for the rants. I stay for the comments! +10

    John, You could talk to the bond holders that were screwed in the quasi legal GM banktruptcy deal. There actually was some seizing that went on. The deal was unprecedented in several ways.

    Al, It is out of line of what you would expect to be reality, but in fact, people and employers may be forced to buy insurance.

    Ed, Live long and prosper and enjoy the new living situation. Thanks for all you do.

  20. Edward Qubain Says:

    Brandon,

    I assume you are asking for evidence for the two claims made in the citation? They are not "my" theories.

    The wikiperdia entree(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichstag_fire) for the Reichstag fire, for example, states

    "Historians disagree as to whether Van der Lubbe acted alone or if the Communists or Nazis were involved. The responsibility for the Reichstag fire remains an ongoing topic of debate and research."

    An article about the Israeli spy ring that was monitoring the 9/11 hijackers can be read here:

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article17260.htm

    Ketcham is interviewed about the article here:

    http://www.democracynow.org/2007/2/8/cheering_movers_and_art_student_spies

  21. AL Says:

    @doug

    I think you had a different interpretation of my post than I intended. Of course, many people are currently uninsured. Of course, any law requiring people to have insurance will "order" people to have insurance. But would you argue that most Americans who do not currently have health care are in that situation because they desire to not have health care?

  22. Myles SG Says:

    That's not quite so. Anti-Muslim hysteria and demagogy is far more widespread and pervasive in France today than it is in America.

    Remember the banlieu riots a couple years back? Car-be-ques?

  23. doug Says:

    Al,
    I want health care, not sure about health care insurance…..Seems to just profit middlemen(see lobbying expenses for healthcare industry)
    And this bill hands them more people to service(animal husbandry term).
    Other countries do it differently, we are currently very low rated in the world despite spending more that most. Not sure what is best, or even better. I am just here to piss and moan, not improve the planet.

  24. Monkey Business Says:

    I had a really long winded response typed out, but I can really sum it up like this: there are idiots in the world, and idiots band together; so long as there are smart and informed people willing to stand up against them, they will never triumph.

  25. Andrew Says:

    "I want health care, not sure about health care insurance…..Seems to just profit middlemen(see lobbying expenses for healthcare industry)"

    No; given the nature of how health care costs are accrued and paid out, there's no way to reasonably expect that quality health care can be acquired without some kind of pooled insurance system.

    Individual savings against the possibility of one's own medical needs simply isn't a feasible option. It simply ensures that when medical emergencies do arise, the persons suffering them go bankrupt, unless they're lucky enough to be very rich.

  26. Paul W. Luscher Says:

    We're a long way off from real fascism ( as I pointed out elsewhere, if we had real fascism, the wingnuts screaming "fascist Obama!" wouldn't be doing that–they'd be in a concentration camp, or in a ditch with a bullet in the head), but we seem to be getting there….

    The ugly nativism, the promoting of authoritarian values of "Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein Fuhrer!" wrapped in red, white, and blue, as True Americanism, the militaristic nature of our foreign policy, is heading us down a dark path. Our course, we've been down this road before–there were fears during the Depression that American might turn fascist. It was FDR that prevented this from happening. But whether Obama is any FDR remains to be seen….

    Interesting to see American values ( as enshrined in the Constitution) denounced as "un-American," and authoritarian ideals embraced as True Patriotism. And these people don't seem to realize what they're doing…

  27. John Says:

    @Paul:

    And that's the real horror of these recent issues. The beginning was already clear several years ago when anyone who dared to question the reasons behind the Iraq invasion was labelled as "Un-American".

    "Un-American" is a fascistic turn of phrase in and of itself. You cannot accuse someone of being "Un-American" without the inherent suggestion that they should give themselves or their reasoning to the state. That blind fealty to the state is more important than holding an individual position.

    This is much the same as when Ex-Half-Governor Moosehead opined about "Real America, the real Pro-America parts of this nation". Although the media let her off the hook with her transparant "I didn't imply anything by that" non-apology, the hard fact of the matter is that adjectives aren't just empty tack-ons. An adjective exists to distinguish the noun from others that might otherwise be covered by that noun. You cannot call a car a "junk car" without the inherent contrast to cars that are in better shape than it is. It is a "junk car" to distinguish it from all the other cars that are not "junk cars". And similarly, a part of America can only be "Real America" if there are other parts of America that are not "Real America". And it is pure, unadulterated fascism to say that there are parts of the country that do not give themselves over enough to the state, or at least the conservative ideals-based version of the state.

    The wholly remarkable part, however, is just how thoroughly the American public is willing to delude itself as to the non-existence of this. Jerry Klein's radio hoax *SHOULD* have shocked the entire nation upright, and made the populace begin introspecting about how dangerous the national political discourse had become. But of course, no one really took notice for more than a couple of days, and it has passed into relative obscurity. Few people really appreciate what Jerry Klein did.

    Because all he did was take the rhetoric and plan of Nazi Germany, and replace "Jew" with "Muslim". And there were plenty of people who called into his radio show to publicly agree with him.

  28. va Says:

    Whatever else is true about the state of the republic, the right-wing uproar over the financial district muslim community center has felt different than teatard shit and W. administration lawbreaking somehow. It's the first rightwing freakshow that has really seemed grassroots and genuine, and people seem to be buying it. And, it's obviously, nakedly full of fascist feeling.

  29. acer Says:

    @Tim,
    Re: "teabaggers." It's funny to me how quickly the hearty, "un-PC" right can start policing the language when it suits them. Did somebody hurt your feelings? Why are they so mean to precious little figurines like Barracuda Palin?

    You know what? FUCK YOU.

    I can't help but notice that anti-government types tend to be at once preoccupied with old-school maniless and very sensitive on the subject of homosexuality. It's hard not to mash that button when it keeps flashing like that. And it's hard to feel too guilty when you're picking on people whose sole rhetorical tool is ham-fisted bullying; whining, spoiled children who deserve to be spanked and put to bed. From the Democrats' inane attempts at "compromise" to the "liberal media's" timid, respectful coverage of your little get-togethers and selfish ideology, the reality-based community has been entirely too patient with y'all. Don't be too shocked when, after the word "liberal" itself has become a hateful pejorative, some of us get tired of being called "socialists," "traitors" and worse and start hitting back. John Dolan makes the point better than I could:

    http://www.alternet.org/media/80507

  30. acer Says:

    I dearly wish that there was some Dickensian way to see what would have happened if the PaulTards had prevailed against W's bank bailout and the US financial system had been allowed to collapse. Sadly, as usual, the far right is spared from confronting how utterly full of shit it is.

  31. The Man, The Myth Says:

    acer – this is foolish to say, but i have the same wish about 2000-2001 with al gore. why not fight it???

  32. jazzbumpa Says:

    Tim –

    You seem to have fallen for the "liberal fascism" meme, and are also batting .000 on facts.

    Humm, let's see… taking over major chunks of the financial sector, check,
    Uncheck. They got bailed out by Bush before they got bailed out by BHO, so don't rewrite history. And the execs of these companies, which were never taken over or controlled by the gov't anyway, continued to give themselves fat bonuses. Looks like capitalism to me.

    seizing controlling interest in an auto maker, checkity-check,
    Unchekity-check. First, what John said. Then, you might have missed the clearly stated fact that the gov't participation was temporary, and they would get back out ASAP, just as you evidently missed the GM IPO announcement.

    ordering every American to buy healthcare, check,
    Uncheck. Didn't happen, did it? Won't EVER happen, will it?

    Really, if you want anyone besides your mother to take you seriously, you need to stop making shit up.

    taking Executive control of the census, checkadellio.
    In all honesty, I have no idea what the hell this is supposed to mean. But I don't follow the wild, wild world of manufactured right wing talking points.

    I think right wingers wouldn't get abused here if they talked sense and attempted to engage in rational debate, instead of spewing nonsense. Sometimes you do get what you deserve.

    Cheers!
    JzB

  33. sm Says:

    What Hitler had:

    hyperinflation
    traditional anti-Semitism
    the "stab-in-the-back" theory
    the loss of longtime German provinces
    AND the horrors of WW I

  34. BillCinSD Says:

    Hitler and hyperinflation ended with the Beer Hall Putsch. Stresemann had Germany going adequately then he died and the depression hit causing quite a bit of polarization of the electorate.

  35. Edward Qubain Says:

    On hyperinflation:

    You wait until the dollar ceases to be the world's reserve currency and you will definitely see hyperinflation. Economist Paul Craig Roberts discusses the problem here:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/roberts08162010.html

  36. Tim Says:

    Del: Hitler had a 9/11. Ever heard of the Rhineland? The Treaty of Versailles?

    Al: I have healthcare and no health insurance – I pay for everything out of pocket with three chronic medical conditions and I spend ANNUALLY what most people pay for two months of coverage. Healthcare insurance is nice way of MILKING hard-working people with fear.

    And hey acer: nice way to stereotype. Personally, I think Palin is a moron who can't string three words together out of one sentence. She supported a windfall profits tax on oil companies in Alaska. Oh, she's so conservative I masturbate to pictures of her hourly, you're so right… PS ace-old-boy, whoever said teabagging is an exclusively homosexual activity?

    FYI also I'm not a member of nor have I attended any of the "Tea Parties." I think Rush Limbaugh is a big fat fraud, Glenn Beck is a opera singer waiting for pancake make up, and you don't want to hear what I think of the rest of the "right-wing media establishment."

    I won't identify myself with the Libertarian party, but I lean that direction. I support Gay Marriage (as long as we take marriage entirely out of the hands of the state – it's religion, people), a woman's right to choose (hey, fetuses can't vote), and a hundred other causes you'd guess I'm against because I defended one group from a clearly baseless and ad hominem assertion that they're stupid Nazi robots.

  37. mothra Says:

    Remember the banlieu riots a couple years back? Car-be-ques?

    Erm…the banlieu riots involved mainly disaffected Muslim youth living in those awful HLM buildings in the banlieus–not people rioting against Muslims. Or maybe you mean that the Muslim youth rioted because of the Anti-Muslim rhetoric/behavior in France? Which is correct.

  38. mothra Says:

    As counter examples: despite the rhetoric over the NYC mosque, I couldn't imagine a referendum banning the construction of minarets passing in this country as it did in Switzerland, or legislation banning burqas passing as it is in France.

    You're much more positive than I. I can completely see a referendum banning minarets passing our Congress. The Repugs seem to see a green flag to let their prejudice hang out because the Dems turn over and give up at the drop of a hat anymore. Just let one Repug screech "Democrats love Terrorists!" and see the Democrats vote wholeheartedly for such a ban.

  39. Don Says:

    Alex: in re “yes we can, just keep chanting it, no different than the tea party..” Please. I live in Oakland CA, which went about 260% for Obama in 2008. Should be prime territory for the Obamabots of your imagination. It’s not. We’re mostly chanting “WTF” instead. Usually through our tears.

    Tim: allow me to quote you misunderstanding Acer: “PS ace-old-boy, whoever said teabagging is an exclusively homosexual activity?” S/he didn’t say that. S/he said homosexual panic was at the root of teabagger indignity over being called the name they stupidly chose for themselves. And it is. The sexual acts occasionally leading to an instance of teabaggery can be practiced by any two people, as long as one of them has balls, but it took gay men to invent a term for it. When the teabaggers started their tedious round on the Republican vaudeville circuit, it was the homos in the audience who started laughing themselves into the aisles first. And as with “cocksucker”, its implications when used or heard as a sexual epithet necessarily include homophobia, or to be more precise, fear of being thought to be homosexual. If teabaggers had picked a name that meant “cunnilingus” in some hypothetical straight demi-monde, they would have been embarrassed when we made fun of them, but not outraged, and not with all the defensive moral fervor of people who’d just spent years imagining (or nervously pretending) that the GannonFoleyCraigSchrockAllenCurtisWestHaggard scandals were just crazy anomalies and not a great big clue from the Get A Clue store with “HERE’S A CLUE FOR YOU” in bright red letters on the gift tag.

    Doug: thanks! If I get +20 do I win a vacuum cleaner?

  40. comrade x Says:

    I am definitely expecting a more authoritarian state to evolve within the next decade or so, but like our brand of liberal democracy, it will have its own unique American stamp. The marching stormtroopers in the streets are passe- instead citizens can be intimidated by faceless hordes sitting behind computers and launching punative strikes on dissidents from their office desks.