Monday, March 7, 2016

On the Threshold of a Scream

Sinclair Lewis wrote that when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.  Pictures of supporters of Donald Trump, their right hands raised in response to his surprising request that they swear to support him, tend to bring fascism to mind.  And references to the fact that it can happen here are being made in the media, some pundits also echoing Lewis in doing so.

I suppose that it's inevitable that fascism be contemplated during this freakish presidential election.  The electorate of our Great Republic seems determined to raise hell this time around, and is doing so with considerable success.  It's hard not to be disappointed and frustrated given the venality and dullness of our political elite, but there are signs that more than disgust in our politics is involved.  Anger, hatred and fear are pervasive, and on such things demagogues--and fascists--have thrived.

It's difficult to say whether fears of fascism are justified.  It's understandable to fear the worst when the worst of us is so much on display.  If what we see is or will develop into fascism, I doubt it will be of the ostensibly militaristic kind which thrived in the 20th century.   I doubt the U.S. will engage in wars of conquest.  We're already involved in military action around the world in any case.  Wars of retribution would be more likely, but those wars would probably only involve an increase in the actions we're already taking; more bombings, more drones, perhaps more "boots on the ground" but no great military actions.

Lewis' prediction of what fascism would look like here is more likely.  Americanism and naive Christianity, certainly.  But the factors of money and race will be involved as well, I hazard to guess.  Money simply because it's needed to accomplish anything, race because the America that many and the supporters of Trump particularly envision is very white (like his supporters, I suppose).  No peculiar peoples live there, or if they do they're quiet, undemanding and certainly not as well off as white folks.  They pose no threat, in other words, to those white.

The American form of fascism may not be racist strictly speaking, however.  I think the long struggle against racism here has had such success that it will be difficult for government to openly prefer one race to another on a national scale.  The whiteness of it would be more cultural than racist.  People would for the most part like the same sort of things, do the same sort of things, and those who do not would not be welcome.  People would learn American English and use it exclusively, go to church, be patriotic in a righteous and simple way, mind there own business, distrust foreigners, not ask questions about the American Way of Life.

Still, though the Republican Party may be descending into chaos, I don't think our nation is quite as chaotic as I think would be necessary in order for fascism to prevail.  Nor do I think we've reached the point where a person or group would be able to make the unilateral decisions required to dominate the federal government or the states.  We have something of a commitment to democracy here; certainly more of a commitment than Germany had before Hitler, or Italy had before Mussolini.  Also, we're jealous of our rights.  We hate to see others share them, of course, but also hate to see them restricted.

We've probably become too diverse too accept even a culture of whiteness on a large scale, however, if we define that as WASP or working-class whiteness. 

Unless fear overwhelms us and we're willing to waive our rights and the law for the sake of security, we should be safe from fascism of the 20th century variety.  Perhaps a kinder, gentler fascism might take hold, gradually.  Just what that would be is unclear. 

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