Listening for goosesteps in a conservative backlash

For those of us who see the present political and economic order as unsustainable, it’s been a hell of a day.

Last night, Murray Dobbin posted an article on rabble.ca advising “Canadians to begin asking themselves is what do we do as American moves inexorably towards fascism?” Today, Chris Hedges asked on Truthdig, “Is America yearning for fascism?” Hedges wrote,

The Democrats and their liberal apologists are so oblivious to the profound personal and economic despair sweeping through this country that they think offering unemployed people the right to keep their unemployed children on their nonexistent health care policies is a step forward. They think that passing a jobs bill that will give tax credits to corporations is a rational response to an unemployment rate that is, in real terms, close to 20 percent. They think that making ordinary Americans, one in eight of whom depends on food stamps to eat, fork over trillions in taxpayer dollars to pay for the crimes of Wall Street and war is acceptable. They think that the refusal to save the estimated 2.4 million people who will be forced out of their homes by foreclosure this year is justified by the bloodless language of fiscal austerity. The message is clear. Laws do not apply to the power elite. Our government does not work. And the longer we stand by and do nothing, the longer we refuse to embrace and recognize the legitimate rage of the working class, the faster we will see our anemic democracy die.

For those who think Hedges might be over-reacting, the New York Times pointed out on Saturday how the Tea Party movement arises substantially from the ranks of the unemployed. And sociologists have observed for some time now how the white working class, perceiving itself burned by Democrats with affirmative action legislation, has tilted to the right. So we should not be surprised by what so many seem to be finding so alarming, in Dobbin’s words:

In the days before the recent [health care] vote, Democratic Congressmen were harassed, threatened and subjected to racist taunts. An American Press story stated: “Representative Andre Carson, an Indiana Democrat, told a reporter that as he left the Cannon House Office Building with Georgia Democratic Representative John Lewis, a leader of the civil rights era, some among the crowd chanted ‘the N-word, the N-word, 15 times.’ Both Mr. Carson and Mr. Lewis are black. It was like going into the time machine with John Lewis.”

It got worse after the vote – now Democrat’s offices are being vandalized and members of Congress are getting death threats over the phone. If you want a taste of these scary events take five minutes to listen the Rachel Maddow show. Republicans are not-so-subtly encouraging this behaviour and when confronted by their words, refuse to retract them – or to take any responsibility for the actions they foment.

Lewis and Carson were not alone. This was to be found in the introduction to a piece describing Utah as being governed by the Tea Party on TomDispatch:

Not that the Tea Partiers went down without a fight. Last weekend, they swarmed Capitol Hill in a last-gasp revolt, flags flying, chants ringing, placards held aloft, throwing everything in their arsenal at triumphant Democratic lawmakers. That included racist and homophobic slurs, leveled at Democrats like civil-rights icon Rep. James Lewis (D-GA), and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), a gay congressman and one of the most powerful figures on the Hill. An impromptu march of key Democrats to the Capitol to pass their bill took on the feel of a hate-riddled gauntlet, as the darker undercurrents of the Tea Party (egged on by some knucklehead Republican congressmen) rose to the surface. Someone even spit on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO). So it was that when the going got tough, the Tea Party got ugly.

They may have lost the Battle of Obamacare, but the weekend’s depravity foreshadowed the possible future of this loosely knit network of malcontents and rebels. Indeed, health care is only likely to embolden them; and behind them stands a nation in which, according to a recent Harris Poll, 24% of Republicans consider the president “the Antichrist,” 38% believe that he is “doing many of the things that Hitler did,” and 45% agree with the Birthers that he was “not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president.”

The Huffington Post described a gauntlet, and the lawmakers who braved it as fearless:

Preceding the president’s speech to a gathering of House Democrats, thousands of protesters descended around the Capitol to protest the passage of health care reform. The gathering quickly turned into abusive heckling, as members of Congress passing through Longworth House office building were subjected to epithets and even mild physical abuse.

A staffer for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) had been spat on by a protestor. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, was called a ‘ni–er.’ And Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was called a “faggot,” as protestors shouted at him with deliberately lisp-y screams. Frank, approached in the halls after the president’s speech, shrugged off the incident.

But Clyburn was downright incredulous, saying he had not witnessed such treatment since he was leading civil rights protests in South Carolina in the 1960s.

“It was absolutely shocking to me,” Clyburn said, in response to a question from the Huffington Post. “Last Monday, this past Monday, I stayed home to meet on the campus of Claflin University where fifty years ago as of last Monday… I led the first demonstrations in South Carolina, the sit ins… And quite frankly I heard some things today I have not heard since that day. I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus.”

“It doesn’t make me nervous as all,” the congressman said, when asked how the mob-like atmosphere made him feel. “In fact, as I said to one heckler, I am the hardest person in the world to intimidate, so they better go somewhere else.”

Particularly with Sarah Palin as one of its leading lights, the Tea Party seems irresistible fodder for mainstream and alternative journalists and bloggers alike. But then came word of an FBI bust targeting a Christian militia group. According to the Los Angeles Times, “The indictment said the Hutaree, which describes itself as a ‘Christian warrior’ group, viewed all law enforcement as the enemy. It said members planned a violent act to get the attention of the police, possibly by killing an officer at a traffic stop, then attacking the funeral procession with explosives.”

Juan Cole made the connection as he compared the Hutaree to the Mahdi Army in Iraq:

Both groups are victims of a neoliberal world order that uses and discards working people, while protecting and cushioning the super-wealthy. Instead of a rational analysis of exploitation, however, they are responding with emotion and symbol, projecting their economic and political alienation on other religious or ethnic groups (the Mahdi Army ethnically cleansed tens of thousands of Sunni Muslims from Baghdad in the name of anti-imperialism.)

Wow. Some of us must feel a bit bemused. Joe Conason (in It Can Happen Here) and Naomi Wolf (in The End of America) have both written of the United States’ slide towards fascism, but did so with a view of elite actions that have progressively constrained civil liberties. I worried about the Tea Party before it was even called that, worried about a Republican-inspired rise of fascism, worried about the violence that could erupt, and become so alarmed about the direction the political system is headed, and about the deep cultural divide that drives it, that I have advocated an end to the two-party paradigm and a break-up of the United States.

A risk I hoped was receding, that we may be headed for a right wing insurrection appears to have reawakened, very much on the wrong side of the bed. I doubt the Hutaree will be the principal instigators. Indeed Michael Vanderboegh, described by the Los Angeles Times as “a former militia member and leading voice of the constitutionalist militia movement,” called Hutaree ideology “so far around the bend I can’t see that bend from here.” But they are apparently not so far out to a number of right wing voices, as a FireDogLake posting cites a number of them sniffing political opportunism, conspiracy, betrayal, and a round up of political opponents.

Sara Robinson wrote last August that,

[Robert] Paxton wrote that succeeding at the second stage “depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of a liberal state, whose inadequacies condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner.” He further noted that Hitler and Mussolini both took power under these same circumstances: “deadlock of constitutional government (produced in part by the polarization that the fascists abetted); conservative leaders who felt threatened by the loss of their capacity to keep the population under control at a moment of massive popular mobilization; an advancing Left; and conservative leaders who refused to work with that Left and who felt unable to continue to govern against the Left without further reinforcement.”

And more ominously: “The most important variables…are the conservative elites’ willingness to work with the fascists (along with a reciprocal flexibility on the part of the fascist leaders) and the depth of the crisis that induces them to cooperate.”

That description sounds eerily like the dire straits our Congressional Republicans find themselves in right now. Though the GOP has been humiliated, rejected, and reduced to rump status by a series of epic national catastrophes mostly of its own making, its leadership can’t even imagine governing cooperatively with the newly mobilized and ascendant Democrats. Lacking legitimate routes back to power, their last hope is to invest the hardcore remainder of their base with an undeserved legitimacy, recruit them as shock troops, and overthrow American democracy by force. If they can’t win elections or policy fights, they’re more than willing to take it to the streets, and seize power by bullying Americans into silence and complicity.

That’s why I found it so alarming when Republican South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint said, “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.” In this, DeMint effectively declared that conservative Republican or–though it may be hard to tell the difference–Tea Party political strategy is not an electoral strategy.

The connections may be coming together. And while it is far too soon to say how, really, this will play out, this country has been headed in a very dangerous direction for quite some time. It will not be enough for, as Dobbin recommends, Canadians to consider the possibility of a fascist southern neighbor with whom their country shares a long border. The world must now consider the possibility that its nuclear-armed only remaining global superpower will turn fascist.

Author: benfell

David Benfell holds a Ph.D. in Human Science from Saybrook University. He earned a M.A. in Speech Communication from CSU East Bay in 2009 and has studied at California Institute of Integral Studies. He is an anarchist, a vegetarian ecofeminist, a naturist, and a Taoist.

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