Thursday, June 2, 2016

Not So Friendly Fascism

"As I look at America today, I am not afraid to say I am afraid," wrote the late political scientist and Truman administration adviser Bertram Gross about the creeping threat that he called Friendly Fascism.

It is only with the rise of Donald Trump, who wears his totalitarian mindset on his sleeve and bellows out the hatred loud and clear through his big fat mouth, that even the mainstream media are finally daring to utter the dreaded F word, 35 years after Gross presciently spelled it all out for us.

Bertram Gross

Under Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama, the preferred labels have been "corporatism"  or "neoliberalism" -- a partnership between government and big business whose main purpose is rewarding the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. And it's all been effected through the free and fair elections of "participatory democracy."

American-style fascism has been around for decades. But until Trump came along to fill the democratic gap with his own brand of Unfriendly Fascism, most people preferred not to acknowledge the awful truth. It has helped immensely, of course, that each of our recent presidents has been blessed with a relatively warm and outgoing personality. Ronald Reagan made the world melt with his avuncular smile. Even George W. Bush was voted the most favorite guy you'd like to have a beer with, continuing right where  Bill  "I feel your pain" Clinton had left off, with his slick down-home campaign of "ending welfare as we know it," Wall Street deregulation and job-killing trade deals.

And even our great national Bush nightmare seemed short-lived, tempered by some surface pushback from the Democratic establishment and the dream election of dream candidate Barack Obama, who himself has presided over an ever-widening gap between rich and poor and an escalation of nuke manufacture and military adventurism. But he still talks a good populist game when he feels like it.

 How soon we forget that his administration spied on and ultimately tear-gassed the Occupy camps right out of existence before gaining his second term in office. How easily most Americans are able to gloss right over his war on journalists and whistleblowers, his drone assassinations of thousands of people (if they're not nameless "militants", then they're always the latest high-ranking Al Qaeda leader), his record deportations of thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing the violence and poverty of US-dependent and spawned fascisms in the Global South countries, and the loading of his administration with millionaires from the criminal enterprises known as banks. And then there's his championship of the various global corporate coups euphemized as "trade deals."

  Given his personality, intellectual prowess, and acting skills, it is still considered really bad taste to slap friendly Barack Obama (whose approval rating is again soaring above 50 percent) and even his cold hawkish pal Hillary Clinton with the fascist label. But Donald Trump is fair game. He doesn't pretend to be something that he is not. He wears his con artistry and his racism and his misogyny like badges of honor. If he's compared to Mussolini, if he is endorsed by North Korea and Russia, then he considers them to be compliments of the highest order. If he cheated some fairly well-to-do marks out of some of their cash in another get-rich-quick real estate scam cynically labeled "Trump University", that's his right as an American titan. Hucksterism is as American as Mom and apple pie and the flag.

Trump is what happens when, as Gross wrote, "the formal democratic machinery nourished by establishment promises -- too often rendered false -- of more human rights, more civil rights and civil liberties.... is contrasted with crass materialism and dog-eat-dog competition." In other words, the mixed messages we've received have rendered enough of us confused enough to embrace the simplistic solutions and aggrieved worldview of Donald Trump. We have been invited to channel our hopes and dreams, as well as our long-simmering resentments, against both plutocrats and our fellow les miserables, into the candidacy of one of the most famous crass materialists and competitors the world has ever known. We are only doing what we've subliminally been ordered to do all along by the purveyors of Friendly Fascism: love thy neighbor, sure, but don't ever hesitate to advance your own selfish selves at the same time. Be a winner!

  And now the purveyors are crying foul because they can't control the "charismacho" monster they've very deliberately created in their inhumane Laboratory of Neoliberalism.

Back in the Reagan years, when Gross published his book warning of creeping fascism, he listed 10 sources of optimism which he hoped would stem its tide. Read them and weep:
1. A vibrant anti-war movement, which pushed the Reagan administration into arms control negotiations with the still-extant Soviet Union.

2. An anti-nuclear power and environmental movement "that has been a decisive factor in stopping the growth of the nuclear energy industry in the U.S."

3. "A neighborhood movement that has brought millions of ordinary people, conservatives included, into responsible activism against corporate and bureaucratic exploitation."

4. Labor unions "that are likely to be radicalized by the pressure of a rank-and-file indignant over rising unemployment, provocative anti-union federal policies and intense corporate efforts to roll back earlier wage and workplace victories."

5. Government employees who have collectively been joining labor unions in larger numbers and "who have often been willing to blow the whistle in public" about Reagan's racist and pro-plutocrat policies.

6. Civil liberties and civil rights organizations... are "fighting back militantly against almost every one of the Reaganite assaults on the Bill of Rights."

7. "Organizations of older people that have already proved their mettle by beating back one after another of the Reaganite attacks on social security entitlements... and in the case of the Gray Panthers, playing a key role in nursing the embryonic full employment movement."

8. "The small beginnings of a more serious socialist presence with the merger of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and the New American movement into the New Democratic Socialists of America (D.S.A.)"

9. "Continuing progress, despite the regressive forces of sexism and homophobia, in the extending the liberating values of the women's movements and the civil and human rights of lesbians and gay men."

10. "In the words of Kusum Singh, a warm current of 'bottom-sideways communication' among people who are fed up with the elitism, snobbery and hierarchy of most private and public democracies and are inventing democratic leadership styles that escape 'charismacho.'

Well, at least part of Gross's Number Nine dream has come true. And Number Ten is alive and kicking, despite the charismacho campaign of Trump. Whether his brand of nasty fascism can be wholly emasculated is unlikely, given that the consolidated media, led by some of the highest-paid CEOs in America, just can't quit the mega-bucks he is bringing them. Even an empty Trump podium has more value for them and their sponsors than either a boring technocratic speech by Hillary Clinton or a plutocracy-threatening barn burner of a Bernie Sanders rally. And if the CEOs can instigate and document the growing police state violence outside the Trump venues, it's all the more titillating and remunerative for them. What do they care? Their pampered hides are protected by their own private security details and gated communities, and their obscene wads of cash are protected in both off-shore accounts and domestic LLCs.

Bombast at Comcast: The Consolidated Media Candidate

Friendly Fascism is so yesterday for these people. "Bring on the noise, bring on the Trump" has replaced the Fairness Doctrine, which federally mandated broadcasting in the public interest. And in true friendly fascist fashion (say three times fast) the New York Times has portrayed the modern Frankensteins as "struggling" valiantly to contain their creation. "The television news industry is wrestling with how to balance fairness, credibility and the temptations of sky-high ratings as it prepares for a presidential matchup like none other," the Gray Lady simpered. "Still, the presence of Mr. Trump can be irresistible, especially in an election in which viewership and advertising rates have soared, generating tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue for an industry threatened by digital competition."

Oh, what a quandary for the hyper-rich media moguls, so threatened by the digital competition. Forget the threat to democracy itself in the person of Trump. This is a threat to dog-eat-dog capitalism and endless growth, so who cares if the cancer dies right along with the host?

And despite all his own made for TV pearl-clutching over Trump and the media circus, Barack Obama isn't at all interested in bringing back the Fairness Doctrine. The public interest is not only the least of the Establishment's worries, it is antithetical to their own interest: money begetting power begetting more money begetting more power in an endless, toxic closed feedback loop of greed.

Look again at Numbers One Through Eight of Bertram Gross's Wish List. They make Bernie Sanders's "radical agenda" look downright reasonable and moderate in comparison. And yet to the Neoliberal Thought Collective, the senator from Vermont is the reanimation of the Red Menace.

Fascism is here, it's entrenched, and it's anything but friendly despite the sober-sided smiley-face propagandists pretending to do battle with the Trumpmonster. So how about we all get together and beat up all the bullies in all their various and extra-Trumpian forms? The Sanders campaign has been a nudge in the right direction. A neighborhood movement (see #3) made up of millions of people from across the ideological spectrum is just the kind of solidarity that will make the reptile people quake in their Ferragamo Python loafers (list price, $985).


Pearl said...

“Subject: Hillary Clinton, losing her way to winning the Democratic nomination


Pearl said...

I think the reason I feel equal disdain for Trump and Hillary is that I fear what
Donald says but fear equally what Hillary doesn't say.
And I feel the damage either one can inflict may be different, but equally dangerous which does not allow us real choice.

Gross's list that names organizations to keep Friendly Fascism away, no longer represent the same goals now that they did in the past making it more complicated to clarify how and whom to rely on to create change. This should alert us to what friendly fascism involves at different times and places and whether such confusion is deliberate or evolving. Creeping is a good word to describe the phenomenon of any kind of fascism which attaches and disguises itself among other political movements making it difficult to expose its agenda.

But those of us with progressive antenna smell it a mile away and the odor I was exposed to during McCarthyism has never dissipated - just grown stronger and more dangerous.

Karen, your column was indeed food for thought. Have you ever thought about writing a book along these lines to warn the children of the future? Of course that takes a lot of time to do but would be very very useful for all of us and you could include some of our comments to help if possible.

Anonymous said...

I second Pearl's suggestion. If the internets go down, it would be great if your ideas were in print.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Yes, yes, yes. Such insight. The mainstream press (think NY Times) can't stop reviling Donald Trump in both its straight news (cough) pages and the opinion pages. It's nice to see alternative news sites, like Sardonicky, turning to the light. I must agree, Trump takes us to a moment of truth in American politics. Unlike 2008, what you see is what you're gonna get in 2016. So, welcome the scowling face under that cloud of golden hair. Trump is America; America is Trump.

Up to now, cognitive dissonance, not injustice, is what has been ailing us. What has been so troublesome in the American psyche since at least 1993 is bad guys making believe they are good guys saying nice things they don't mean and proposing reforms that are really hideous. You know: lies dressed up like goodness, wars as peacekeeping, austerity as fiscal responsibility, and theft as banking––the Orwell 1984 thing all over again. Very confusing. Well, that is about to change. We are about to see a much better fit in the White House: a bad guy who carries on like a bad guy, openly and without apology.

That will be refreshing, like a bucket of cold water replacing the snooze button. No more hypocrisy, no more half-truths, no more kabuki politics in high places. What's your pleasure: truth or a continuation down the path of lies? Truth in packaging or another Trojan Horse liberal? Look, if you're going to do evil––and that's what a lot of the alternative press charges the US with––why select for a head of state someone who pulls punches, who only qualifies as the lesser-of-two-evils? The greater-of-two-evils deserves to represent the US, and the US deserves to be represented by the greater-of-two-evils.

Trump is the GOTE. A vote for Trump is a vote for the unvarnished truth about America.

voice-in-wilderness said...

A very good, but little noticed book, is Naomi Wolf's "End of America," 2007. She is not noted for writing on politics, but does an excellent, succinct job of listing 10 steps on the road to totalitarianism/fascism. If you Google you will find it is available as a downloadable PDF file.

Jay–Ottawa said...

What ever happened to Bernie Sanders? Well, he's making an impressive fuss over at the DNC, now that they've grudgingly given him five slots on that big board of deciders. Seriously, I'm impressed at the five people he appointed to his team (e.g., Bill McKibben, Cornel West) leading up to the Democratic convention. Sanders and his representatives are also calling out frauds like Barney Frank, a Clinton surrogate on the same planning committee for the convention. This is the kind of gloves-off fight I wanted to see in Bernie from the start. Details here:

Pearl said...


Sanders comment to Clinton about criticism of Trump.

Clueless It Seems said...

There's no doubt that Trump is a fascist. Perhaps he will die in a bunker - or in one of those casinos or hotels with his name on the side. But not without first marrying some under-age sycophant.

Will said...

Rest in power, champ.

Ste-vo said...

"Yes, America is gigantic, but a gigantic mistake." ~ Sigmund Freud

Pearl said...

That was a great comment,Karen, to Krugman's latest column. Do print it on our web site. Many other interesting comments from readers.