It is a strong declaration, indeed, an in-your-face kind of utterance that affords no wiggle room and should never be bandied lightly about. Which begs the question: Have I been dropping the f-bomb too casually, verbiage that has been guaranteed to stop practically any conversation in America dead in its tracks for just about forever? Or have circumstances changed such in this country that it can now be spoken without shame (though regretfully), and that, instead of causing jaws to drop, heads to shake, and people to leave, the moment is upon us in which this once-spurned term may now be considered appropriate (an unfortunate necessity) for everyday conversation?
I assert the latter: it is time to acknowledge our democratic system of government has been replaced by fascism.
Strong? You bet. But true, saith I. Laurence W. Britt, in an article entitled "Fascism Anyone?" published in the Spring 2003 issue of Free Inquiry magazine, (see archives of duckdaotsu blog for this article as well) identifies what he says are 14 "basic characteristics" of fascism. Britt writes that he "consider[ed] the following regimes: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco's Spain, Salazar's Portugal, Papadopoulos's Greece, Pinochet's Chile, and Suharto's Indonesia," and says further, "To be sure, they constitute a mixed bag of national identities, cultures, developmental levels, and history. But they all followed the fascist or protofascist model in obtaining, expanding, and maintaining power."
(Note: Predating Britt, author Umberto Eco, in a piece for the June 22, 1995, New York Review of Books [pp. 12-15] and as excerpted in the November-December 1995 Utne Reader [pp. 57-59], also names and explores 14 "features that are typical of what [Eco] would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism"; though there is some overlap, the lists, to me, appear to be decidedly different, and I personally find Britt's more accessible. Please click here to view the excerpt, as presented by "Porta Ludovica," a website "dedicated to the works of Umberto Eco." It's also worth noting that Britt is often identified on the Internet where his article is reprinted as "Dr. Britt" and a "political scientist," though the original article carried neither assignation for Britt, nor could I locate corroboration for either on the 'Net. [Thanks to an e-mail in EchoWeekly for the lead.] Having said all this, I still think Britt's article is well worth examining.)
Okay, on with the show: I understand there may be some who feel I have finally gone too far in my appraisal of the George W. Bush administration's approach to, uh, democracy. Am I being too hard on them by claiming they deserve a spot amongst the dark bunch comprising Britt's roll of dishonor? Well, let's see. I've taken his list and compared actions that have occurred under the Bushies to each criterion he claims is typically indicative of a fascist regime:
"1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia."
I'd say American nationalism is running a little higher than usual these days; I believe I have seen an uncommonly high number of those patriotic-but-puzzling "America: Love It or Say Your Final Prayers, Atheist Scum" bumper stickers the last three years or so. And were I to turn on Fox News for some unknown reason (like, for example, if I had a loaded AK-47 pointed at my head and told to do it or else; hopefully, I wouldn't hesitate but it would be a tough choice), I'll bet I'd still see an electronic Old Glory waving in the background while the Bush administration cheerleaders—sorry, the Fox News teleprompter readers—invariably referred to U.S. troops as "we."
Regarding unity: Disdaining national group hugs, large packs of particularly vicious attack dogs, Republican jingoes, have repeatedly set upon those Americans who've not fallen in (goose) step behind Bush's bloody footprints, but the cheerless leader himself couldn't have done a better job of dividing the country than if he'd, say, had someone in his employ who'd deliberately set out to fabricate wedge issues for, oh, I don't know, political reasons, maybe.
Actually, one of the most venomous attacks on wayward Americans and their petulant insistence on rocking the national unity boat by, of all things, voting for the candidate of their choice, came not from a Republican, but a pseudo-Republican (who nonetheless displayed impressive veteran GOP form): Zell Miller, the former (alleged) Democratic senator from Georgia, who, during his speech at the Republican National Convention (rabid even by Old Yeller standards), ripped off this beauty:
"Today, at the same time young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief."
Many Americans, obviously rapt in their America-hating self-centered ways, had come to refer to this "manic obsession" every four years as a presidential election.
And xenophobia? How about agoraphobia? After all, remaining housebound seemed like the attractive alternative to showing one's face in semi-intelligent society after far too many of our fellow citizens (including Republican "leaders") thought it a sophisticated laugh riot, or something, to "rename" french fries. (Ironically, I'd bet these are the very same Americans who think Jerry Lewis is funny.)
"2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation."
Might torture, even when administered by well-meaning America in the name of democracy and ever-larger corporate profits, qualify as disdain for human rights? Just wonderin.'
Hey, we got yer red-hot (poker) demonizing right here, folks: Those Americans most likely to ditto Rush Lamebrain's characterization of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse as "people having a good time" are also typically fond of insisting that every Iraqi in that wretched hellhole deserved to be there, although the Red Cross reports that "Certain [Coalition Forces] military intelligence officers [said] that in their estimate between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake" and even the military itself (per Major General Antonio M. Taguba's executive summary of his investigation into the scandal in "Findings and Recommendations" [Part Two], paragraph 24) estimates that "more than 60 percent of the total detainee population . . . [was] no longer deemed a threat and clearly met the requirements for release." (I think I'm going with the Red Cross on this one.)
Lastly, the AMA (American Mendacity Association), after verifying that the Bushies present clearly debilitating symptoms of a previously undiagnosed malady, has reportedly christened the often-terminal affliction SDDD (Secrecy, Denial, and Disinformation Disorder). It's a tragically weird illness, though, in that it typically kills tens of thousands of others while leaving the carriers stronger and wealthier.
That word "secrecy," especially, seems a favorite of the Bushonian ones. From the real reasons for attacking Iraq, to the list of participants in Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force, to Environmental Protection Agency concerns about New York City's air quality after 9/11, to possible dangers posed by home insulation containing tremolite (a form of asbestos), to providing information about 9/11, to . . . well, you get the idea, or, well, you would, if the White House didn't insist it has a right to keep all of these things, and so many more, from the very people who (in our dreams) are their employers: you and me. (For a site that isn't secret but certainly identifies muchas cosas the administration wants to keep that way, go to BushSecrecy.org.)
"3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people's attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions The methods of choice—relentless propaganda and disinformation—were usually effective Often the regimes would incite 'spontaneous' acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and 'terrorists.' Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly."
Thank goodness no one's been scapegoated in America. Well, except, that is, for socialists, liberals, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies (don't forget the French), members of other religions (read: non-Christians), secularists, homosexuals, and "terrorists." (This last category apparently includes members of the country's largest teacher's union, the National Education Association, which, according to former Education Secretary Rod Paige, is a "terrorist organization.")
There are hardly any communists anymore (well, except for the ones in China, whom we like, and the ones in Cuba, whom we don't), so it's hard to scapegoat folks who don't exist, although if anyone is expert at dealing with phantom scapegoating, it's Bushco. (For phantom ballot experts, see Diebold.)
Jews, for once, have escaped state scapegoating, but certainly could find themselves mystified by misanthropes' misdeeds mistakenly justified by frustration with America's genuinely warped Palestinian/Israeli policy and the continued deadly fall-out of the unhealthy, underhanded co-mingling of American and Israeli policies. (For a prime example of the latter, see the 1996 report "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" prepared for Israel by, among others, current Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith and former Defense Policy Board chair and still-active "Prince of Darkness" Richard N. Perle, that Tom Barry, writing in antiwar.com, says was "organized by the Israel-based Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies," "urged scrapping the then-ongoing peace process" and "advised Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu 'to work closely with Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll back' regional threats, help overthrow [Saddam] Hussein, and strike 'Syrian military targets in Lebanon' and possibly in Syria proper.")
Feith and Perle, both rock-solid neoconservatives, are main players in the Iraq debacle and can often be found hanging out with similar vampire-like creatures at the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) bat(ty) cave. (For those unfamiliar with PNAC, do yourself an unsettling favor and check out its website, for the tragically hubristic dysfunction of the Bush administration all stems from this group of self-satisfied sickos.)
"4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism. Ruling elites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite."
(One four-letter word would cover this: Iraq. But there's so much more, of course . . . )
After displaying only occasional interest in wearing military garb while ostensibly a member of the Texas Air National Guard some three decades back, Dubya is so eager to don soldier duds these days . . . well, would you be shocked to learn he sleeps in a specially designed Dr. Dentons flight suit? Neither would I.
Under Bush, the yearly increase in the Department of Defense budget, plus supplementary "defense and other war on terror" outlays (excluding those in 2005 for which a figure is not yet available), has averaged an unfathomable $80 billion; this contrasts just a teeny-tiny bit with future massive "starve-the-beast" cuts to government social programs in an American society that is afflicted with problems that are so far beyond acute, they're downright ugly.
And I wonder if the following words from Bush's 2nd coronation—uh, inauguration—address might have sounded a little intimidating to citizens of countries left off America's not-to-invade list, 'cause Dubya does have that, you know, tendency, to "lash out" with invasions and stuff at countries he (or more accurately, Cheney) doesn't like:
"America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time. So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary."
Nah . . . probably not.
"5. Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses."
Any progress during Bush II Term I on closing the U.S. gender pay gap? In September 2004, Robert Longley of About.com writes: "Women make only 75.5 cents for every dollar that men earn, according to a new release by the U.S. Census Bureau . . . The 1.4 percent decrease in the gender wage ratio [from 2002 to 2003] is the largest backslide in 12 years (since 1991). The 2003 Census data also show the first decline in women's real earnings since 1995."
Second-class citizens news: The National Womenﾒs Law Center released a report in March 2004 entitled "Slip-Sliding Away: The Erosion of Hard-Won Gains for Women Under the Bush Administration and an Agenda for Moving Forward." In addition to capturing the prize for "Longest Report Name of the Year" (also known as the "Longie") at last year's American Report Title Awards, it also, as you may have surmised if you made it to the titular end, is not very complimentary of the Bushies' demonstrated disregard of women's concerns. Here are but three tidbits from SSATEOHWGFWUTBAAAAFMF's 14-page Introduction and Executive Summary (which itself copped a special achievement award for "Most Lengthy Report Introduction, Including Executive Summary"):
"Within weeks of taking office, the Administration closed the White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach, which had monitored policy initiatives within [federal] departments and agencies for their impact on women and served as a liaison to outside organizations concerned about policies affecting women" (page 11).
"The Administration ended the Equal Pay [Matters] Initiative and removed all materials on narrowing the wage gap [from] the Department of Labor's website" (page 2). (Personally, after searching for a corroborating link for at least an hour, I think the Bushies may have removed all information regarding the initiative's actual elimination, too. The closest "official" mention I could find is in a January 3, 2002, press release from U.S. Representative Rosa L. DeLauro [D-CT]. I once would've classified such a suspicion as paranoid; now I consider it "experienced.")
"Scientific information is being distorted to serve an anti-abortion and anti-family planning agenda; for example, the National Cancer Institute posted information on its website that falsely suggested there may be a link between abortion and breast cancer" (page 3).
Speaking of the a-word: Calling today's Republicans "adamantly anti-abortion" would actually be downgrading their fervor a couple of notches. Abortion is a tough issue, no doubt, but why do the folks who clamor for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, insisting on the unborn child's right to life, irreconcilably seem to have little regard for the right of the pregnant woman's? The Alan Guttmacher Institute's January 2003 report "Trends in Abortion in the United States, 1973-2000" (page 3) shows abortion-related deaths declined from a ghastly (approximately) 200,000 in 1965 to about 6,000 in 1997 (still far too many but a decided decrease, nonetheless, since the Supreme Court ruled abortion legal in 1973).
Concerning Britt's mention of homophobia: I'd respectfully submit proposing to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage could somehow manage to be shoehorned into the "homophobic" category. (By the way, that floated amendment thingie? Dropped, like so much yesterday's (s)election news.) Queers have indisputably and cynically been designated by the administration as acceptable targets for drawing diversionary and sometimes deadly fire from Bush's hateful extremist base; in America 2005, today's gays are the new Jews.
"6. A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes' excesses."
The Fourth Estate would these days be more aptly named For The State since American corporate media, little better than government house shills, almost make the old Soviet Pravda look like a model of honest reporting. But because most Americans mistakenly believe the First Amendment somehow guarantees the press will keep the government honest, the constant propaganda shoveled their way is subtle and, thus, much more insidious; at least in the USSR, most people knew they were being lied to.
In a July 2004 article for The American Prospect, Robert W. McChesney writes that U.S. media companies "receive (for free) one or more of: scarce monopoly licenses to radio and television channels, monopoly franchises to cable- and satellite-TV systems, or copyright protection for their content. When the government sets up a firm with one of these monopoly licenses, it is virtually impossible to fail."
"Scarce" is right: Media Reform Information Center reports that "[Ben] Bagdikian's revised and expanded book, The New Media Monopoly, shows that only 5 huge corporations—Time Warner, Disney, [Rupert] Murdoch's News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS)—now control most of the media industry in the U.S. General Electric's NBC is a close sixth."
It's still not enough, of course. Ron Orol, in a January 2005 piece for The Deal.com, says: "The U.S. Supreme Court is expected later this year to consider [currently frozen] rules passed by the Federal Communications Commission [FCC] that would ease mergers among newspaper, radio and TV companies . . . Media companies already have asked the justices to hear the case, and the U.S. solicitor general is expected to make a similar request this month." Orol writes that if the Supreme Court reinstates the regulations, any subsequent congressional "proposals to roll back FCC ownership rules would have a tough time gaining passage because of opposition from the White House, House GOP leaders and some conservative Republican senators." Fancy that.
Of course, being capitalists to the core, the 'merican mega-media moguls won't be satisfied 'til they have the fruit, the whole fruit, and nothing but the fruit, and thus aren't about to do anything to upset the Bushco applecart whence it comes. This explains why, from their uncritical parroting of bogus Iraq war rationalizations to refusing to investigate any of the Bushies' unending scandalous activities to unquestioningly accepting outright bribes for dishing disinformation (see: Armstrong Williams), the corporate media are all-too eager accomplices in keeping the masses distracted and dumb enough to continue ignoring (and thus financing) the administration's insane, death-dealing, America-as-empire agenda.
"7. Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting 'national security,' and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous."
A recent piece by Barton Gellman of the Washington Post reports: "The Pentagon . . . has created a new espionage arm and is reinterpreting U.S. law to give Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld broad authority over clandestine operations abroad . . . The previously undisclosed organization, called the Strategic Support Branch, arose from Rumsfeld's written order . . . ," is "designed to operate without detection . . . under the defense secretary's direct control . . ." and "has been operating in secret for two years . . ."
True, the SSB (good thing they threw that "B" in there), as reported, is not a domestic agency, but don't worry: stealth "homeland" oppression is already in fine working order. About 30 minutes after 9/11, Congress was handed, and slavishly approved, the 342-page USA PATRIOT Act (someone should check Orwell's grave for a whirring sound) that holds lots of freedom-squelching goodies of its own, including green-lighting the feds to engage in secret "sneak-and-peek" searches and procure personal records without any notification whatsoever. Even worse is Bush's so-far unchecked assertion that he can deem any American citizen an "enemy combatant" (as he has done with Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi) and deprive them of any and all rights.
There's that "secrecy" thing again, which, really, should be the administration's middle name. (Although, technically, an administration actually can't have a middle name, because it's not a person but rather more like a thing, and a thing, of course, can't have a middle name, unless maybe you're talking about Thing on the old The Addams Family TV show, and then I'm not even sure he had a middle or even a last name, for that matter, because I don't recall anyone ever referring to him as "Thing Addams," but, then again, even though I watched most of the shows, I didn't see them all, so I guess it is possible . . . umm, hold on . . . I think this might be what some people would call a "digression," or, "not funny.")
Anyway, what I meant to say before I got distracted by myself is that "Within the heavily guarded perimeters of the Defense Department's much-discussed Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, the CIA has maintained a detention facility for valuable al Qaeda captives that has never been mentioned in public, according to military officials and several current and former intelligence officers . . . The facility has housed detainees from Pakistan, West Africa, Yemen and other countries under the strictest secrecy . . ." (per Dana Priest and Scott Higham in the December 17, 2004, Washington Post).
And: "The United States government, in conjunction with key allies, is running an 'invisible' network of prisons and detention centres into which thousands of suspects have disappeared without trace since the 'war on terror' began . . . The ghost prison network stretches around the globe. The biggest American-run facilities are at the Bagram airbase, north of Kabul in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, where around 400 men are held, and in Iraq, where tens of thousands of detainees are held" (as reported by Jason Burke on June 13, 2004, Guardian Unlimited).
If I had a nickel for every time I've heard the administration justify something in the name of "national security" or the "war on terror," I might even have enough dough, if I were so inclined, to properly fund security for the Warren County, Ohio, administration building so it wouldn't have to be locked down during future "elections."
And, of course, as anyone who has ever dared criticize the Bushies for any of their myriad insanity knows, someone can always be counted on to shout "Traitor!" in reply. In December 2001, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft offered this opinion of those possessing the temerity to question the constitutionality of the administration's post-9/11 actions:
"To those who pit Americans against immigrants, citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil."
Wonder if old Long Gone John would consider the American who uttered the following to be conjuring terrorist-aiding "phantoms":
"What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?"
Those inflammatory words are from a troublemaker in 1787 who went by the name of Thomas Jefferson.
(To be continued . . . )
Copyright © 2004 Mark Drolette. All rights reserved.
Mark Drolette is a political satirist/commentator who lives in Sacramento, California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Online Journal Contributing Writer