Fascist America II: The Last Turnoff
In the previous post, I pointed out that the most insidious part of fascism is that by the time it's finally obvious to absolutely everyone that these people are dangerously out of control, it's too late to do anything about it. Early warnings are even more valuable here than they are in most domains. And since futurists are -- more than anything -- in the business of early warnings, it falls to me to step up there and point out that according to at least a few of the more reputable atlases in the glove box, this looks a lot like the last turn into the parking lot of downtown Fascist Hell.Fascist America III: Resistance for the Long Haul
The good news is: we're not yet parked and locked, let alone committed to entering the building. (Which is good, because the doors appear to be all one way, just like in the Hotel California.) We've still got a few minutes left to change our minds, back out of this, and go spend our future somewhere else. But we are now actively in the process of choosing, whether we're aware of it or not. There are things happening now that are setting us on a course that may prove impossible to change.
How do we turn back? A few basic principles:
First: The teabaggers must not win this one. Back in elementary school, most of us learned that when a bully learns that intimidation and threats work, he'll will keep doing more of it. In fact, the longer he goes without comeuppance, the bolder and badder he becomes, and the harder it is to make him stop. Every success teaches him something new about how to use terror for maximum effect, and tempts him to push the envelope and see what else he can get away with. Do nothing, and he'll soon take over the whole playground.
And it happens like this for bullies in groups, too. Living in a fascist regime is just living in a town dominated by the Mob, a street gang, the KKK, or a corrupt sheriff. It only takes a small handful of thugs to terrorize people into giving up their civil rights, abandoning democracy, and doing what they're told, just so they can keep their jobs, windows, and families intact. The main imperative in life becomes staying off the goons' radar. All the enforcers need to do is make an horrific example out of one or two troublemakers every now and then -- and the resulting fear will keep everybody else quietly in line.
Conservatives have tried to subdue other Americans this way for centuries, so there's nothing new going on here. And this is the way they've always done it: they used race (and yes, the birthers and anti-health care rioters are, at root, all about race) and economic calamity to whip up a posse of terrified, well-armed vigilantes, and then turned them loose on society to "enforce order." Given their colossal investment in organizing and indoctinating the teabaggers, we'd be stupid to believe that this is all going to go away when Congress returns to DC in September. Having had a taste of power and publicity, these newly-empowered mobs are very likely to stick around town and see what else they can do to keep the muck stirred up.
Our choice now is a stark one: knock them back while they're still new, small, and not yet entrenched; or deal with them later, when they've got some real power to fight back with, and the cost to all of us will be so much higher.MORE
How in the hell did we get here? And more to the point: how do we get back out?
The first question is depressingly easy. This is precisely where 40 years wandering in the right-wing moral, cultural, and economic wilderness has left us -- and, in fact, where it was always intended to lead us. A liberal democratic society is a complex system that's designed to be very resilient and self-correcting in the face of all kinds of extremism. But the health of that system -- especially its natural immunity to would-be attackers -- ultimately depends on just one factor. It cannot survive without people's ongoing confidence in a functioning political contract.
When it's working right, this contract guarantees the upper classes predictable, reliable wealth in return for their investments. It promises the middle class mobility, comfort, and security. It ensures the working classes fair reward for fair work, chances to move ahead, and protection against very real risk that they'll be forced into poverty if they can't work any more. Generally, as long as everybody gets their piece of this constantly re-negotiated deal, everybody stays invested in keeping the system going -- and a democratic society will remain upright, healthy, and moving mostly forward.
For the past four decades, conservatives have done everything in their power to dismantle that essential contract, and thus destroy our mutual confidence in the fundamental agreements that allow any democratic system to function. (None dare call it treason -- but a solid case could be made.) This isn't news: by now, most of us can recite the litany, chapter and verse, of the all the many ways they hacked away at America's essential ability to function as the Constitution intended.
But the biggest loser, as always, has been the working class -- the people whose only real power lies in their sweat and their numbers. Their faith in the promise of democratic self-government has been shattered through years of union-busting, farm foreclosures, factory exports, college grant cuts, subprime mortgage scams, and all manner of betrayal, treachery, neglect, and abuse. Over in the comments threads at Orcinus, we hear from these furious folks almost every day. The way they see it, representative democracy has repeatedly failed to deliver on anything it might have once promised them. At this point, the disgust runs so deep that anybody who's got other ideas -- theocracy, corporatocracy, anarchy, whaddaya got? -- has a fair shot at getting their attention.
Third: We need to get serious about investing in education. It's well understood now that our broken health care system is right on the bottom of the barrel among industrialized countries; but most of us don't realize that our schools are in the same comparatively wretched shape. Thomas Jefferson understood that liberal democracy is impossible without a literate, well-informed populace; and the endless parade of teabagger loonitude is precisely the kind of know-nothing nightmare he most feared.
Conservative "tax revolt" politics have been undermining American education since California's Proposition 13 passed in 1977 -- and we should draw a clear, bright line between decades of systematic defunding and the monumental failures of reason we're seeing all around us now. Don't know much about history -- so the Christian Right is busily rewriting it to argue that there's no such thing as a wall between church and state. Don't know much biology -- so fewer than half of all Americans think the theory of evolution explains our origins. Don't know much about the science book -- so we're ready to believe whatever junk science the corporate PR folks can conjure up. Don't know much about the French I took -- which has left the country insular, parochial, and unable to work and play well with others in a world it purports to lead.
But the worst failure is that we went through a decades-long patch where we didn't teach civics -- and still don't much, especially in states where it's not part of the standardized tests. Which means that there are tens of millions among us who have absolutely no idea what's in the Bill of Rights, or how a law gets made, or where the limits of state power lie. It's quite possible that if the conservatives hadn't undermined universal civics education, the right-wing talking heads would have never found an audience. Instead, what we have is a country where most people are getting their basic political education from Rush Limbaugh and FOX News.MORE
If we want our democracy back, that has to change.