Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Art critic and premature environmentalist John Ruskin said, "There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey." Today, fascism is rising all over the world, and, as with everything these days but pharmaceuticals, the US response is to offer the product a little cheaper and a little worse. Where fascism is concerned, "made in the USA" is the new "made in China."
After WWI, so many great European artists – poets, painters, filmmakers, playwrights – were disgusted to their deepest core by the pointless death and destruction that had taken place. They gave voice to multitudes who felt the same. But some pricks weren't satisfied. Germany was impoverished by bad treaty terms, no doubt, and the victors in Europe weren't treating the losers too well, but these unrepentant pricks would have felt the same way regardless. The poverty and embarrassment of nations was just an opportunity to them.
Today we call these pricks fascists, whether they adopted the name and the shirt or not. Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini were fascists. Stalin was an opportunist of similar stripe, and though for chronological, geographical and picayune decorative reasons we don't call him a fascist, he was a fascist, as were Mao and Jiang Qing and Chiang- kai Shek and Hirohito. And they had some fascist game. They were good at their jobs. Stalin alone murdered the equivalent of the entire population of greater Los Angeles and then some.
WWII was made by fascists. Even in the aftermath of a war most people judged an abhorrent, meaningless paroxysm of carnage, fascists wanted another war and got it. They didn't just talk the talk.
It took a pile of 40 million more corpses to feed the beast birthed by fascism, and so awful was it that even the leftover fascists and newly-aspiring fascists couldn't buck the anti-fascist, anti-war, anti-hatred trend that followed in its wake for a good thirty-five years. No, it took a lot of doing, a lot of lying, and a lot of killing before labor union victories and democratic socialism and investment in the public welfare could be turned into the perceived profanities they're treated as today, particularly in the United States.
It was pretty rough going for fascists for a while here in the USA. Corporations were far enough on the PR back foot, thanks to the crash of 1929 and the reported carnage of two world wars, that popular prosperity could be advocated for and achieved at levels unimaginable at any other time, particularly in a nation where the concept of liberty was synonymous with the freedom to exploit resources and human beings.
But a variety of forces contributed to the ebb of anti-fascist leanings in our representative democracy. We were much more successful outside our own borders, with our interventions in the Middle East, then in Korea, in Latin America and Indochina. Our first real steps backwards domestically were McCarthyism and its culmination in the ascent of Richard Milhouse Nixon to the presidency.
Yes, Nixon was a fascist, but an exceptionally weak one. He was a fascist with a limited enough following and within a ruling system with enough mutually antagonistic checks on power to prevent him from achieving his project of permanent dictatorial rule.
As a fascist, Nixon was not good for fascism in the short term. The nation reacted badly to Nixon. While fascist supporters became more numerous, antifascist sentiment was re-energized sufficiently at least to maintain its position. It took collusion between fascist-led oil producing nations and fascists in our own secret police industry to bring outright fascism to the dominance it enjoys in domestic US politics today. The moronically parochial populace who identified as conservatives or Republicans had no idea they were being played by these fascists.
Thatcher and Reagan, the twin pillars of the new Western fascism, came to power at roughly the same time, but I'd like to focus on the US and our special ignorance.
We're dolts. I don't believe W. Bush is aware even today that he was a fascist tool. There is no doubt, however, that Dick Cheney was, and remains, a self-aware and enthusiastic fascist, even if he would never call himself one. He knows what he is. There are few figures it would be safe to say this about, but there can be no doubt whatsoever that Dick Cheney would have felt perfectly at home in the Third Reich.
Thought experiments notwithstanding, however useful and accurate they may be in diagnosing and categorizing our homegrown fascists, our fascist leaders come in a variety of guises that keep us from recognizing them as such – and as such they keep fascism watered down from a PR standpoint. Yes, our new president elect, Donald Dump, would himself have been quite snug in the Nazi regime, but hypotheses of this sort, again, useful and informative and truth-bearing though they may be, distract us from a full appreciation of the particulars of our nation's special, stupid, effed-up, uniquely self-defeating fascism.
The fact is, despite our geographical and chronological distance from the horrors of the two World Wars, the US public doesn't seem to have much of a taste for war. There is a much greater taste, though, for repression, and there's a nice juicy fear among white people, feeling their numbers dwindle by comparison with the percentage of the population that is non-white. Coupled with their taking home a decreasing share of the wealth they help create, such fear is a recipe for violent xenophobia and reactionary feeling against humanist sentiment and the public welfare its philosophical tenets suggest. Solid fascism should be the natural response.
And yet, as much as so many of us love our fascism, we've never produced strongmen-types of the European variety, modeling avant-garde military fashion and leather accoutrements and doofusy arm gestures and stark, jagged flag designs. We have carnival barkers instead, or greedy inventors who electrocute elephants, or oil men with boater hats giving away dimes, or minor actors unable to tell their former roles in Westerns from reality, or cigar-chomping populists who differ from gangsters only in where their offices are located and the opiates they push. And of course there's this ridiculous disaster we have now, this self-important entitled aged frat-boy real estate salesman. He's the Goldschlager of fascists, not that fascists are ever anything but tacky, and not that a truly sophisticated fascist would be any better.
We are simply forced to grow a very special fascism and a very special fascist here in the USA. There's freedom woven into our every political statement, even into our fascism, like a talisman. The word has actual meaning, and the fascist must employ it, and each time he does it must mean something akin to what even the benighted masses understand it to mean. Neither Stalin nor Hitler came to power on the promise of freedom, except perhaps from the yoke of the Jew or the connivings of the enemies of the revolution. Trump trumpets a return to greatness, but if that greatness starts to resemble a police state too obviously, there'll be hell to pay even from the most confirmed Klansman.
It's a fine line the US federal fascist has to walk, and Dump doesn't seem like he can walk a straight line even on a good day, let alone a fine one. Yet he did get elected, you have to give him that. He said what the anti-anti-fascists wanted to hear, and it was a deceptively complex message. Considering how little Dump seems to care about preparation, he's either the luckiest asshole in the world or he's an evil genius. He's looking more lucky than smart at this point.
Is he an integral part of the regression we see in the rest of world, the sliding away from anti-fascism? The Golden Dawn, the Northern League, Marine Le Pen, Putin, the rebuilding of the Japanese military? Certainly he's part of the trend away from public welfare and unions and equitable distribution of wealth. But most likely he is more symptom than contributor. He didn't transform his modus operandi to suit the times, rather the times were right for his natural inclinations. Of course, one of the reasons for capitalism's stability is that it seems a reflection of nature.
In Jean Renoir's "The Grande Illusion," we see WWI through the picaresque eyes of men of good will pitted against one another by a situation that benefits none of them. This was the humanist dream of pre-WWII Europe in the 1930s: that the aristocracy had outlived their usefulness, and that mutual affection among the rank- and-file of humanity, regardless of their ethnic or nationalist differences, would prevent another world war. That was the true grand illusion, it turned out.
Supposedly, the aristocracy that lost its place in the world after WWI had as its analogue in WWII populist nationalism: fascism. But fascism lingered after the war, and, as I've said, is now on the upswing, by all indications. Even so, there's also less and less tolerance for the excessive hoarding of wealth by the 1%, or the 2%, or the 10%, classes we only came up with a simple name for in the past eight years. It's not entirely clear we need the capitalist to propel technological innovation anymore, if we ever did. And one wonders if, after the colossal disasters already in the offing under fascist rule, assuming we survive, and I’m not betting on it, maybe the pendulum will swing so far as to render the capitalist himself an anachronism in the popular imagination.
More likely, though, the disaster won't be widespread or catastrophic enough to bring the pendulum back farther than a brief resurgence in public spending or something. And this is an instance where Donald Dump disappoints me. He's not ideologically organized enough to lead the fascists to do anything significantly worse to us than we're already suffering. The bluster is there, but I just don't see the ability.
I'm not one of those who hopes for public suffering in order to spur public backlash, although I suppose what I just said might indicate I am. But I’m not. I don't. I'm aware that human lives are at stake. I want these cowards to fear public pressure enough to do what's right simply out of the impulse for self-preservation. Already, with their clumsy attempts to even discuss repealing the Affordable Care Act, it's clear they're intimidated by the prospect of a negative public response. The idea that public response matters at all, and that the reality of losing medical coverage might outweigh the baffling BS of fascist rhetoric, is heartening. Voting might not work right now. But people getting pissed off seems to be a threat to the lilly-livered fascists in Congress.
And that is what dissatisfies me most about Dump. I'm not convinced he can perceive the dissatisfaction of others as a threat. To him it's just an insult and a challenge to be more of a prick. Inside himself he's a perpetual fascist motion machine, but it's fascism purely for the sake of his self-image.
We're in the waning days of political anti-fascism, for now. Nobody knows if these things go in cycles or not. Anti-fascist art and thought are as powerful as ever, though. Economic justice seems to be the agreed-upon remedy for humanity's ills, and possibly the ills the planet suffers because of humanity, and this consensus even holds among those who espouse idiocies like capitalist libertarianism. The opposing forces of elitist fascism and sustainable egalitarianism are strong and obvious and arrayed for contention.
If we're not in a cycle or on a pendulum, then maybe we're on the brink of a momentous conflict. The only thing clear is that nothing is clear, yet the choices between privatized fragmentation and public unity, equality and unfairness, combustion and renewal, truth and lies, seem to get more obvious every day. The hope, as ever, is that these conflicts play themselves out without destroying too much of what makes life worth living . Considering the crop of second-rate fascists we're producing here in the States, we might just have a chance.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!