Voices from Russia

Monday, 12 February 2018

Why Didn’t Americans Take Fascism Seriously Until It Was Too Late?

Make no mistake, Hillary Clinton is as much of a fascist as Trump is… perhaps, more so. She cackled with glee at the wars against Federal Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, South Ossetia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and the Ukraine. She’s a soulless bloodthirsty wench with less control than Trump has… she’d have us embroiled in another war by now, perhaps, even with Russia and China, which’d be nothing but a thermonuclear Ragnarok, given her unstable, ruthless, and narcissistic personality. There are degrees of fascism… some are far worse than Trump is.

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A question’s been echoing in my head. One I think that history will ask. “Why didn’t Americans take fascism seriously until it was too late?” Perhaps, that sounds harsh, maybe even absurd to you. So let me qualify it a little. “Fascism”. Friends, when a head of state wants to hold military parades… and not clapping is treason… LOL… is there another word, idea, or concept that fits better? Isn’t it then a wilful denial of reality to say that such a watershed moment in a nation’s history is, if not an outright atrocity, at least not the glittering spark of fascist implosion? “Until it was too late”. There are many ways it can be “too late”. Until we can do nothing about it… or, at least, until the phenomenon itself occurred. Here, I mean the latter. At last, Americans didn’t take fascism seriously until it (quite literally) paraded itself before their very eyes and demanded they applaud on pain of treason. Sieg Heil! Maybe, they still don’t. How funny. How strange.

Now that you understand my question, perhaps, it seems a little less extreme. On the other hand, maybe it still does. Maybe, that reflects the times we live in. “Why didn’t Americans take the possibility of fascism seriously until it trumpeted down Constitution Avenue, letting the whole world know it had arrived?” Either way, let us try to derive an answer. The first way a nation might fail to take fascism seriously is trivial: there was no one left to warn of its dangers. However, in America, at least a few of its thinkers did. They were sidelined, blacklisted, and deliberately erased. Therefore, the question then becomes, “Why did it become a taboo to even discuss the rise of fascism as a remote possibility … if not a likely probability?” Every single major media outlet spent all of the election year publishing pieces warning us not to use words like “fascism”, “authoritarianism”, “Hitler”, and “Mussolini”… when they weren’t doing puff pieces on sympathetic Nazis. Therefore, there was a problem not of a lack of information in America, but of a strange, bizarre, glib kind of wilful ignorance. A nation made itself blind, and now the authoritarians march and demand applause.

Why was that? Well, staying blind, we can go on believing our myths, which comfort and console us… that’s exactly what the élites were doing when they said things like, “You can’t call it fascism! Such a thing will never rise here! We are the best!” However, ironically, here’s the point, it’s the overweening belief in great myths that makes societies most vulnerable to fascism. America has long had a culture of hierarchy, obedience, and overt unforgiving social control. Break a rule… go to prison. Go to work… obey the boss. Go to school … recite the Pledge. And so on. Why? These are ways to enforce a kind of conformity, aren’t they? Not just in thought, but also in appearance, in speech, in behaviour. In that way, they make true believers of national myths.

Now, there isn’t a nation in history whose myths don’t say something like, “We are wonderful and great and noble!” That’s the point of myths… to create a sense of confidence in a tribe. Then, a person can give themselves over to the tribe’s goals, purposes, and uses… you, be a soldier, you, a doctor, you, a ditch-digger. Still, some nations have more grandiose myths than others do, don’t they? Some say, “Well, we’re pretty good”, and some say, “We’re the best in the world!”, and others say, “We’re the best in history! The best there ever was or will be!”

Now, what happens the more grandiose a myth gets? There’s less room left for dissent, for difference, for reflection, for thought at all. There isn’t even any room left for reason, empirical reality, or humanity… but those are harder things. Therefore, in this way, a society as dependent on myths as grandiose as America’s is always at risk of plunging into little fascisms. The dark side of “We’re the best!” is “Those filthy subhumans! They’re stopping us from attaining our God-given destiny! We must cleanse ourselves of them to be the best!” So what do a nation’s myths protect it from? They protect it from reality… from its very real shortcomings, flaws, mistakes, and catastrophes. They mythologise them away… they rationalise them away (“We had to do it!!”), they economise them away (“The benefits were greater than the costs!”), they erase them away (“That really happened?! It couldn’t have been as bad as that!”). The more grandiose its myths are the more detached from reality a nation can get.

What are such mistakes in American history? It’d be an error to label this as the only fascist moment in American history. There have been many such as anti-Chinese laws, Japanese internment, Italian discrimination, and anti-Semitism. Of course, that’s not to mention the many horrors of slavery, segregation, and native genocide, too. Those points make a trend; a leaning towards collapses into fascism, which might seem small relative to Nazi Germany, but assuredly weren’t to those living through them. There’s a distinct fascist tendency in American history that isn’t present elsewhere. This moment in American history isn’t an anomaly. Still, this moment feels special, doesn’t it? Why’s that? Because it isn’t just minorities at risk of fascism’s depredations, but the majority is, too. Do you see how a society that depends on myths can’t learn from its mistakes? Do you see how the societies that rely most on grandiose myths as forms of social control and cohesion are the most vulnerable to fascist implosions?

The more grandiose a nation’s myths, the more vulnerable it is to fascism … that’s why America’s history has been marked by fascist implosions. The more grandiose a nation’s myths, the more harsh and exploitative it must be too, just like any narcissist, who needs to defend his sense of specialness and destiny at any price. The more grandiose a nation’s myths, the less it can ever admit its mistakes. Therefore, the vicious cycle just goes on. Fascist implosions never stop. Progress slows to a halt. Life stops improving. Tribal takes hold. Cruelty becomes a way of life. Sound familiar, yet? So all this is, and I admit it’s hard to understand, come to grips with, get a feel for, the problem that America must face, in a deeper way. It’s reliance on grandiose national myths of greatness and exceptionalism shielded and protected it for too long from at least three aspects of reality. First, history… its tendency to implode into fascism. Second, economics… the failure to write a working social contract that all the above implies. Third, modernity… its inability to keep up with the rest of the advanced world in terms of basic quality of life since the 1970s or so. Unless it faces those three aspects, then, I think that America will be as vulnerable to fascist collapses as it has ever been.

Only America’s fascist collapses are likely to grow worse. Why is that? We have established that it’s now the majority at risk of fascism’s harms, not only the minority. What does that really mean? It means that America never built a working social contract. It was always necessary to exploit, enslave, or turn on someone for the economy to grind away. It’s true to say that much was true for every colonial empire, but it was distinctly not true after the waves of reform that swept the rest of the world from the late 1900s onwards, and established, for example, the NHS and BBC. Instead, America was too busy looking for the next group to exploit… once it had chewed up the last, natives, blacks, Asians, Latinos. Until, at last, there was no one left but poor whites themselves.

One can hardly blame them for turning to fascism, then. It’s much easier to believe in myths of especial greatness and nobility and destiny at the precise moment that they’re exploiting you than to ask yourself to see a terrible truth… they’ve failed you, just as they failed all those around. No one was special, above anyone else, or singular. All were victims of a broken way of life. Myths might liberate us in one way as they allow us to live lives filled with pride and belief, but they subjugate us in others. Pride soon enough becomes hubris and belief soon enough becomes ignorance. Therefore, the more grandiose a myth is, the harder the fall. Americans most need liberation from subjugation to hubris and ignorance. If that sounds harsh to you, I can only say this much… I mean it in a gentle way because the work of freeing one’s self is always difficult. Sometimes, too difficult to bear… especially, when there are pleasant fairy tales of your very own specialness and preciousness to be told, heard, and kept safe and pure. That’s why Americans didn’t see fascism coming until it was too late. They never do.

7 February 2018

Umair Haque

Eudaimonia

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