Apocalypse and the one-party system

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

My thoughts are drifting back to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (New York: Anchor, 1998), the story of an extremist fundamentalist Christian country, the Republic of Gilead, in which many women are no longer able to bear children, and those that are are–on the flimsiest pretexts–enslaved to produce children for couples that can’t. In Chapter 41, Atwood has her protagonist begin to tell the story of how the United States became that country, and when I first read this story, her account seemed entirely too plausible.

I think that most progressives would agree that, as president, George W. Bush was far more evil than Barack Obama. But it is on the latter’s watch that as a country, we have become a fascist country, propelled by fear and hatred, and that we have become a police state.

Certainly the economy has something to do with it. And that the Democratic Party has contemptibly failed to take action. As one college student told the New York Times, “Right now it seems like Republicans just care a lot more than Democrats.”

And all the Democratic Party apologists do in response is recite a mantra that it took years to get us into this mess and it will take us years to get out. But they didn’t say that when the banks needed to be bailed out. They only say this when people need help who can’t afford to be unemployed and whose homes are at risk. The banks are wildly profitable again, untamed by financial so-called reform.

The Democrats have demonstrated that they do not deserve to govern, and voters now seem set to return the House and, possibly, the Senate to Republicans whose political strategy appeared not so long ago not to be an electoral strategy but a coup strategy.

I am remembering someone who warned me that fascists would not come to power in this country at the point of a gun, but, if at all, as with the Nazis in Germany of the 1930s, through the ballot box. Right now, I’m thinking she’s right. And it was less than a year ago that I wrote,

If Gene Lyons is right, and there’s a good chance he is, a majority of the U.S. public recognizes much of the recent health care insanity for what it is. And while some of the furor is self-inflicted, it is pretty obvious that a lot of this is more about racism than health care.

So I’m trying to envision a scenario where Republican politicians who may exploit idiocy without necessarily being idiots themselves see an advantage in doing this. That they may fatally cripple Obama’s presidency is certainly a factor. But how does it work to do this if Republicans make themselves look worse?

It works if Republicans have reached a similar conclusion to the Center for American Progress that their long-term electoral hopes are dim. It works if Republicans want a vocal and potentially violent enough faction to frighten a majority already suffering a profound dissonance between their experience and their beliefs about the U.S. into acquiescence. It works when Democrats undermine their own mandate and preserve the status quo by doing everything possible to appease Republicans. It works if Republicans are moving towards a fascist future.

The racism I recognized then is now resurgent against Mexican migrants and against Muslims. People in this country are desperate for scapegoats. Scott Sernau, in Worlds Apart: Social Inequalities in a Global Economy, 2nd Edition, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 2006) was referring to the 1970s when he wrote,

At the same time, the loss of industrial jobs and declining incomes for the working class created new fears of competition and struggles between workers. Working-class whites felt abandoned by the loss of the progressive New Deal agenda. In particular, they directed their anger and frustration at welfare programs, which they believed rewarded people for not working, and at affirmative action programs, which they feared would limit their own opportunities (Faludi 1991). (p. 320)

It’s as true now as it was then. And it is also true that as much as the Democrats have moved to the right, to the extent that I no longer believed there was a significant difference between them and the Republicans, that the Republicans have nonetheless been more successful in persuading working-class whites to vote against their own interests.

But it is now hard to say that a vote for Democrats is a vote for working-class interests. Or for any interests other than those of the very rich. It is now possible to say that if we are to be governed by Republicans who label themselves as Democrats, we might as well vote for the real thing.

It was only last November that I wrote,

Events this year [2009] now force me to the realization that there is a difference between the two parties–which I have been referring to as factions to underline their similarity. Simply put, the Republicans now predominate only in the South. Their expression of their desire for power no longer entails electoral success. If we are to assume that they still seek power (and the alternative seems incomprehensible), then we must conclude that Republicans seek power through an uprising–presumably violent or through the threat of violence.

Even as the difference between Democrats and Republicans now appears to have been an illusion, the contest this November seems not to be between the two parties but between Republicans, including those who masquerade as Democrats, and the Tea Party.

Pundits are tracking and arguing over former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s success in endorsing candidates (see here, here, here, and here, just from a quick Google search). Given Palin’s apocalyptic version of Christianity, I suppose it’s little wonder that Margaret Atwood’s novel comes to mind.