“They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesman for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”
Sound like anyone you know?
The quote is actually from FDR’s Vice President, Henry Wallace — in 1944. He was talking about the rising tide of fascism in America.
Fascism was defined most succinctly in the 1983 American Heritage Dictionary as: “a system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism.”
It’s no accident that this all has the ring of vague familiarity. The parallels between recent events in the U.S. and the international rise of fascism that led to the Second World War are inescapable.
People will likely accuse me of stepping too far, as we Americans seem to abide by an unwritten law that forbids any analogy between the state of our politics and those of Nazi Germany. But while I wouldn’t equate for a nanosecond any comparison between the horrors of the Holocaust and anything occurring in 21st Century America, I am compelled to shine a light on the similarity of events and sound a warning about the threat of fascism in America today.
The fact of the matter is that Hitler came to power in Germany without winning the majority vote. He was appointed, not elected. Shortly after taking control, he used the burning of the German parliament building, allegedly by a Dutch communist, to declare a “war on terrorism.” Within two weeks of the terrorist attack, a prison for terrorists was constructed; within 4 weeks he pushed through legislation that, in the name of fighting terror, suspended constitutional guarantees of free speech, privacy and habeas corpus, and allowed police to access personal mail, wiretap, and imprison suspected terrorists without warrants.
Hitler then focused on a debt-financed military buildup that nearly sent the German economy into bankruptcy. He continued his buildup against stringent opposition but gained increased power by consistently casting all opponents as weak against the communist terrorists. He eventually managed to crush all opposition through aggressive attacks on trade unions, and then claimed for himself total power by disregarding the constitutional requirement to elect a new president when Hindenburg died and instead declaring himself Fuhrer.
As Fuhrer, Hitler became commander-in-chief of the military. He positioned himself as the protector of Germany and the German people’s savior from communism, Judeo-Bolshevism, and other undesirable minorities. He then launched an unrelenting campaign of German exceptionalism that would lead to a war that would drain the country’s economy and end in complete collapse.
I’ll leave it to you to decide what American president this may sound like, but regardless of that particular comparison, it’s impossible to dismiss the parallels between the march to fascist rule in Germany and what’s going on in America today.
As described in Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous statement, “First they came . . . ,” the rise to fascist power came by dividing the people and attacking them group-by-group. In Germany it was first the communists, and then the unions and finally the Jews. In the good old U.S., it’s Muslims, anyone who can possibly be cast as a socialist, and now —public employees. Henry Wallace warned of fascists, that “always and everywhere they can be identified by their appeal to prejudice and by the desire to play upon the fears and vanities of different groups in order to gain power.”
Make no mistake about it, as Pastor Niemoller’s statement concluded, the rise of fascism will spare nobody. It’s public employees who are under attack today. They’ve been demonized as the cause of the current economic woes that were actually created by the thieves on Wall St. and the multinational corporations who shipped millions of jobs overseas. Teachers, police, nurses, janitors, firefighters — they’re all being cast as fat-cats, as the “haves,” the “others” with whom other working Americans should take issue.
But public employees are just a stepping stone for the neo-fascists. The wave of Republican governors elected to office in 2010 is engaged in a full frontal attack on working Americans of all stripes. From Rick Scott in Florida to John Kasich in Ohio, from Rick Snyder in Michigan to Scott Walker in Wisconsin, backed by newly elected right-wing legislatures, these wannabe tyrants are all talking about “shared sacrifice” while cutting taxes for the wealthy and then attempting to balance their budgets with spending cuts that impact everyone else.
Rick Scott’s attempts at unilateral action have been so drastic that he’s even run afoul of Florida Republicans. John Kasich’s battle against the working class has succeeded in crippling collective bargaining in Ohio. These men are fascists. They care not about America or Americans. They are the people of whom Henry Wallace spoke when warning that “another danger is represented by those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in their insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion.”
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin too is a fascist. He may not identify himself as such, but the record of his tactics and objectives leave him without defense. Aligned perfectly with Wallace’s description of American fascists, where they “are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact,” Walker claimed not to be a union buster and then presided over the corrupt action of Wisconsin Republicans to end collective bargaining. In order to side-step the requirement that Democrats be present to form a quorum on any legislation with fiscal impact, the Senate Republicans split off the portion of their “budget repair” bill that ended collective bargaining and passed it alone. It never had anything to do with balancing the budget and was always about the fascist drive to strike a death blow to unions.
Unions are anathema to fascists. Fascists believe in authoritarian rule and place the value of money and power far above the welfare of human beings. They are all corporatists who readily accept the illegitimate doctrine of corporate personhood, and resoundingly reject any and all egalitarian values. Fascism is dedicated to establishing a ruling class by devaluing that which all people have to contribute — their labor — and instead concentrating all wealth and power within a small economic elite.
Because American fascists must convince large numbers of Americans to vote against their own best interests, they all must follow a playbook of deceit. Again, writing about fascists in the 1940s, Wallace described them this way: “His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.”
Fascism is a disease that’s spreading with increased speed in America, and the only known antidote is public awareness. Fortunately, the symptoms are pretty easy to detect — if politicians complain of budget deficits but argue to cut taxes on the rich, if they fight to break unions, even after all economic concessions have been accepted, if they advocate for harsh penalties on crime but strive to protect fraudulent bankers from prosecution, if they argue that corporations should have the same rights as real people, if all of their arguments are heavy on hyperbole and devoid of substance, if they always seek to divide instead of unite the people — you have a very good bet that they’re also likely fascist.
There’s nothing really new here. We fought a World War to end the spread of fascism across the globe. And FDR, Henry Wallace and many other patriotic Americans struggled to ensure that fascism was snubbed out here at home. The fascist’s bag of tricks is the same as it was 70 years ago. All we have to do is learn from history, otherwise, as they say, we are doomed to repeat it.