Saturday, June 10, 2017

American Fascism

Since Donald Trump became the 45th American president, we hear a lot of talk and hinting about Fascism in America. It is important for us to be as clear as possible about our current condition.
Fascism is a form of authoritarianism. The government's powers have no limit. Popular opinion carries no weight. All power is in the hands of a fascist party. There are no elections. What laws there are, are decreed by different government officials. Citizens may not appeal the orders of the government to an independent judiciary. Citizens do not have any protection against the government police power. If the government believes you to be a threat to its power, they can arrest you and if they so choose kill you. You may disappear and never be heard of again.
In a fascist society there are no rights to privacy. Any organization you may belong to, is organized and run by the government. With the rise of a facist government, labor unions are turned into branches of the government as are other previously voluntary organizations. Clubs of stamp collectors, clubs of genealogists, garden clubs-- all become official state-sponsored organizations.
Fascist governments tend to be paranoid. They have their spies everywhere. Families are disrupted when some members belong to the official fascist party and spy on other members of the family who may be less enamored with the new government. It is not safe to make negative comments about the government in your workplace; someone may report your jokes to the police and you may find yourself arrested in a concentration camp before you know what hit you. The government controls education. The government takes books off library shelves that it regards as hostile to its own mission. The government decides that certain kinds of art and music are unacceptable. They may not be performed in public. Private performances expose the performers to government suspicion. The government declares certain groups of the population to be no longer legitimate citizens. In extreme cases, such as Nazi Germany, these select groups consisting of Jews, of homosexuals, of communists were slaughtered in large numbers.
The government institutes a reign of terror. Citizens who are disaffected will be very careful not to voice their criticisms for fear of disappearing in prison camps. The new fascist party and its government are in complete control.
Fascist governments are wild eyed nationalists. They incline towards military adventures in order to expand the nation's territory and power. They do not tire to boast of the superiority of their nation and its culture over other neighboring nations.
Can Americans in 2017 recognize themselves in this portrait?
Yes and no. We may point to President Trump’s "America First" rhetoric. But we need to acknowledge that American nationalism has been in the ascendant for a long time. We have invaded and bombed foreign countries in order to promote our particular form of government which we call "democracy." The belief that our institutions are superior to those of other countries has dominated American foreign policy for at least a century.
But our politics, you say, is not dominated by one party. After all we have the Democrats and the Republicans and they are at each others’ throat quite regularly. But this two-party system does raise interesting questions that need a lot more reflection than is possible here: it often seems to many people that we really have only one political party – the party of the rich and that those of us who are not rich are not represented.
We do have, we think, an independent judiciary. There are constitutional protections of citizens against the government. The government cannot just make you disappear and even kill you if that's what they feel like—unless you are undocumented.
The government cannot freely censor literature and art. It is not free to determine what children will learn in school. It is not independent of popular opinion about schools or cultural matters. It cannot simply cleanse libraries of books it considers a threat to its own power.
We do have private organizations that are not arms of the government. The local kids sports or poetry organizations are not under government or fascist party control. It would be completely illegal for the government to try to take over those private groups.
Moves in the direction of fascism are always a threat. Since 9/11 Congress has allowed the government new forms of supervision of private communications by citizens. It has allowed government police forces such as the FBI or CIA to interfere with private citizens and their property in ways which are of dubious legality. The freedoms we brag about are much more precarious than we are willing to admit and their defense is a continuing effort – an effort that is not always successful.
But none of that makes the US a fascist country. For most of us fascism is a constant threat, but not a reality.
Fascism is a constant threat but not a reality if you are a middle-class white person, especially if you are a man. Your world is very different if you are a black youngster or even a black adult – man or woman.
In 2016, long before Pres. Trump got elected, more than 250 black persons were killed by police. 34% of unarmed people killed by police were black men. Black men constitute 6% of the population of our country. Very few of the police involved in these killings were indicted. Even fewer were convicted.
If you are black in America your government resembles a fascist government much more closely. You may be arrested and killed pretty much at the discretion of the police. You have no recourse to the court system to protect you.
The Constitution protects citizens very unevenly. White middle-class citizens live in a more or less constitutional democracy. The country in which black Americans live resembles fascism a lot more closely.
And God help you if you are undocumented.
Is America a fascist country? There is no unambiguous answer to that question. The answer you get depends a whole lot on whom you ask and who you are. Sadly, white citizens do not frequently enough recognize that Black citizens live in a very different America from that inhabited by Whites.