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Henry Wallace on “What Is a Fascist?”

In April, 1944 FDR’s Vice-President Henry Wallace wrote this op-ed (“The Dangers of American Fascism”) for The New York Times. In that year the U.S. was still fighting the Axis powers in Europe and the Pacific. But he might as well have been thinking of us today, since so much of it resonates startlingly like a prophecy from the past.

  1. On returning from my trip to the West in February, I received a request from The New York Times to write a piece answering the following questions:

    1. What is a fascist?
    2. How many fascists have we?
    3. How dangerous are they?
  2. A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends. The supreme god of a fascist, to which his ends are directed, may be money or power; may be a race or a class; may be a military, clique or an economic group; or may be a culture, religion, or a political party.

  3. The perfect type of fascist throughout recent centuries has been the Prussian Junker, who developed such hatred for other races and such allegiance to a military clique as to make him willing at all times to engage in any degree of deceit and violence necessary to place his culture and race astride the world. In every big nation of the world are at least a few people who have the fascist temperament. Every Jew-baiter, every Catholic hater, is a fascist at heart. The hoodlums who have been desecrating churches, cathedrals and synagogues in some of our larger cities are ripe material for fascist leadership.

  4. The obvious types of American fascists are dealt with on the air and in the press. These demagogues and stooges are fronts for others. Dangerous as these people may be, they are not so significant as thousands of other people who have never been mentioned. The really dangerous American fascists are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.

  5. If we define an American fascist as one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings, then there are undoubtedly several million fascists in the United States. There are probably several hundred thousand if we narrow the definition to include only those who in their search for money and power are ruthless and deceitful. Most American fascists are enthusiastically supporting the war effort. They are doing this even in those cases where they hope to have profitable connections with German chemical firms after the war ends. They are patriotic in time of war because it is to their interest to be so, but in time of peace they follow power and the dollar wherever they may lead.

  6. American fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information, and those who stand for the K.K.K. type of demagoguery…

  7. …Fascism is a worldwide disease. Its greatest threat to the United States will come after the war, either via Latin America or within the United States itself.

  8. Still another danger is represented by those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in their insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion. American fascists of this stamp were clandestinely aligned with their German counterparts before the war, and are even now preparing to resume where they left off, after “the present unpleasantness” ceases:

  9. The symptoms of fascist thinking are colored by environment and adapted to immediate circumstances. But always and everywhere they can be identified by their appeal to prejudice and by the desire to play upon the fears and vanities of different groups in order to gain power. It is no coincidence that the growth of modern tyrants has in every case been heralded by the growth of prejudice. It may be shocking to some people in this country to realize that, without meaning to do so, they hold views in common with Hitler when they preach discrimination against other religious, racial or economic groups. Likewise, many people whose patriotism is their proudest boast play Hitler’s game by retailing distrust of our Allies and by giving currency to snide suspicions without foundation in fact.

  10. The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism. They use every opportunity to impugn democracy. They use isolationism as a slogan to conceal their own selfish imperialism. They cultivate hate and distrust of both Britain and Russia. They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.

  11. Several leaders of industry in this country who have gained a new vision of the meaning of opportunity through co-operation with government have warned the public openly that there are some selfish groups in industry who are willing to jeopardize the structure of American liberty to gain some temporary advantage. We all know the part that the cartels played in bringing Hitler to power, and the rule the giant German trusts have played in Nazi conquests. Monopolists who fear competition and who distrust democracy because it stands for equal opportunity would like to secure their position against small and energetic enterprise. In an effort to eliminate the possibility of any rival growing up, some monopolists would sacrifice democracy itself.

  12. It has been claimed at times that our modern age of technology facilitates dictatorship. What we must understand is that the industries, processes, and inventions created by modern science can be used either to subjugate or liberate. The choice is up to us. The myth of fascist efficiency has deluded many people. It was Mussolini’s vaunted claim that he “made the trains run on time.” In the end, however, he brought to the Italian people impoverishment and defeat. It was Hitler’s claim that he eliminated all unemployment in Germany. Neither is there unemployment in a prison camp.

  13. Democracy to crush fascism internally must demonstrate its capacity to “make the trains run on time.” It must develop the ability to keep people fully employed and at the same time balance the budget. It must put human beings first and dollars second. It must appeal to reason and decency and not to violence and deceit. We must not tolerate oppressive government or industrial oligarchy in the form of monopolies and cartels. As long as scientific research and inventive ingenuity outrun our ability to devise social mechanisms to raise the living standards of the people, we may expect the liberal potential of the United States to increase. If this liberal potential is properly channeled, we may expect the area of freedom of the United States to increase. The problem is to spend up our rate of social invention in the service of the welfare of all the people.

  14. The worldwide, agelong struggle between fascism and democracy will not stop when the fighting ends in Germany and Japan. Democracy can win the peace only if it does two things:

    1. Speeds up the rate of political and economic inventions so that both production and, especially, distribution can match in their power and practical effect on the daily life of the common man the immense and growing volume of scientific research, mechanical invention and management technique.
    2. Vivifies with the greatest intensity the spiritual processes which are both the foundation and the very essence of democracy.
  15. The moral and spiritual aspects of both personal and international relationships have a practical bearing which so-called practical men deny. This dullness of vision regarding the importance of the general welfare to the individual is the measure of the failure of our schools and churches to teach the spiritual significance of genuine democracy. Until democracy in effective enthusiastic action fills the vacuum created by the power of modern inventions, we may expect the fascists to increase in power after the war both in the United States and in the world.

  16. Fascism in the postwar inevitably will push steadily for Anglo-Saxon imperialism and eventually for war with Russia. Already American fascists are talking and writing about this conflict and using it as an excuse for their internal hatreds and intolerances toward certain races, creeds and classes.

  17. It should also be evident that exhibitions of the native brand of fascism are not confined to any single section, class or religion. Happily, it can be said that as yet fascism has not captured a predominant place in the outlook of any American section, class or religion. It may be encountered in Wall Street, Main Street or Tobacco Road. Some even suspect that they can detect incipient traces of it along the Potomac. It is an infectious disease, and we must all be on our guard against intolerance, bigotry and the pretension of invidious distinction. But if we put our trust in the common sense of common men and “with malice toward none and charity for all” go forward on the great adventure of making political, economic and social democracy a practical reality, we shall not fail.

 

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How Fascism Works

Good meaty interview with Yale professor Jason Stanley about his new book How Fascism Works. The son of Holocaust survivors, he talks about the 10 Pillars of Fascism: including a mythic past, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, unreality, hierarchy, victimhood, law & order, Sodom & Gomorrah, arbeit macht frei.

This is real, folks, so take a good look at these. It’s already at work here.

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Fanatical Christians

As a Christian and a believer in the sanctity of human life—all life, not just that in the womb– I am deeply troubled when I hear my fellow evangelicals justifying their support for the current administration and Judge Kavanaugh by claiming, “But we have to overturn Roe v. Wade!”

A fanatic is someone who is willing to sacrifice anything (and anyone) to achieve some end, even a good one. Jesus never expected his disciples to behave in such a way. Yet in their zeal to assure the overturn of Roe v. Wade, many of my fellow believers seem willing to throw everything (country, conscience, Constitution, communities of color, immigrants, the poor, even common decency and biblical standards of behavior) under the bus.

The best available data reveal clearly that poverty and economic insecurity are the most common factors in fueling abortion rates. Therefore, would it not also make sense to address the problem at the root? I think rational people on both sides of the issue could agree that abortion is a traumatizing ordeal and that making it as rare as possible is a worthwhile goal. We might even also agree that poverty is a bad thing. Instead of anathematizing each other and tearing the country apart, couldn’t we join hands and agree to start there, at the root?

Jesus never commanded his followers to establish a theocratic state. Instead, he told them to spread the gospel to all nations, including healing the sick and helping the poor.

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Creeping Fascism

Paul Street’s article in TruthDig helps to explain the disconnect between reality and Trump’s conservative base.

Evidence is easily devalued in a faith-based nation in which magical thinking (a critical component of authoritarianism and hardly limited to religious and metaphysical matters) is rife.

The more they have invested in and even lost from false beliefs, the more they will respond to contrary evidence by actually intensifying their attachment to those untrue notions.

Feelings trump facts all the time in the U.S. This is true on both sides of the major-party aisle. Talking in 2007 and 2008 to highly educated campus-town liberal Democrats, including plenty of doctorate holders and religious skeptics, I consistently found that facts were of little use in trying to dent their deeply entrenched and utterly false view that Barack Obama was a people’s champion of peace, democracy and social justice. To paraphrase the Beatles, they had “a feeling [about Obama]–a feeling deep inside, oh yeah.”

Trump’s disproportionately Caucasian base is fused by an embattled white racial identity. This Trumpian “make America white again” heart- and mind-set holds that whites are becoming a minority targeted by discrimination and “politically correct” liberal and leftists have been turning the nation’s politics and policies against white values, culture, needs, rights and prerogatives. This curious “reverse discrimination” victim whiteness (devoid of evidence for its claims) informs the Trump base’s understanding of the meaning of the word “corruption” in ways the liberal writer Peter Beinart recently captured in the Atlantic. For Trump’s base, Beinart writes, the idea of corruption isn’t so much about politics and the law as it is about racial and gender purity
But, of course, it’s not about racism, nativism, sexism or authoritarianism when it comes to understanding Trump’s base. White racial and gender identity and authoritarianism have long merged with and cross-fertilized each other. Last May, political scientists Steven V. Miller and Nicholas T. Davis released a working paper titled “White Outgroup Intolerance and Declining Support for American Democracy.” Their study found a strong correlation between white Americans’ racial intolerance and support for authoritarian rule. “When racially intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people of color,” NBC News reported, citing the Miller and Davis paper, “they abandon their commitment to democracy.”

In an article published in Critical Sociology last March, Smith and Hanley found the white Trump base was differentiated from white non-Trump voters not by class or other “demographic” factors (including income, age, gender and the alleged class identifier of education) but by eight key attitudes and values: identification as “conservative”; support for “domineering leaders”; Christian fundamentalism; prejudice against immigrants; prejudice against blacks; prejudice against Muslims; prejudice against women, and a sense of pessimism about the economy.

Strong Trump supporters scored particularly high on support for domineering leaders, fundamentalism, opposition to immigrants and economic pessimism. They were particularly prone to support authoritarian leaders who promised to respond punitively to minorities perceived as “line-cutters”—“undeserving” others who were allegedly getting ahead of traditional white Americans in the procurement of jobs and government benefits—and to the supposed liberal “rotten apples” who were purportedly allowing these “line-cutters” to advance ahead of traditional white American males.

 

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Truth Dig‘s Maj. Danny Sjursen (former asst. professor of history at West Point) has written a series of fascinating articles about the little known and sometimes seamier side of American history. His most recent covers the Andrew Jackson administration (1829-1837). Comparisons with our current President are unavoidable and a little uncanny. Just as interesting are Sjursen’s earlier articles about the War of 1812, and the Adams and Jefferson administrations. The entire series is definitely worth a read, since it demonstrates with great accuracy and clarity how our current political struggles are rooted in our national past. We may think this nation has never been so divided along partisan lines, but a peek at the political landscape of 200 years ago might contradict that assumption. Racism, white supremacy, fake news, populism, partisan violence, corruption, demagoguery– all the key players on the contemporary political stage have their counterparts in early 19th century history. In the end, history may give us hope that our republic has survived similar if not worse crises. (On the other hand, the early partisan divide did eventually lead us into a bloody civil war. So history may also serve as a warning.)

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Hard-hitting article in HuffPo: “White Evangelicals Will Never Make America Great Again.” The title says it all, but here are a few quotable passages…

This “great” America ostracizes the marginalized, seeks profits over people on a global scale and uses inflammatory rhetoric to justify its violence. It is a version of America where Muslims are not allowed entry, where buying a wedding cake cannot be a free act for LGBTQ people, where children are separated from their parents and put in cages and all the while a real-estate investor-leader of the free world threatens his nuclear power with impunity…

It seems that the more immoral Trump’s behavior, the more evangelicals scramble to his defense, throwing the Bible at his scandals to defend their political savior. From defending the caging of children at the border by quoting Romans, to using the Scriptures to smooth over an affair with a porn star, white evangelical politicians are maintaining that into order to make America great again, we must in effect make America Christian, leaning on the myths that the United States was ever good, virtuous and committed to the teachings of Jesus.

In seeking to be the light of the world through moral control, Christians have succeeded only in giving power to the whites of the world while perpetuating darkness for people of color and other marginalized identities.

It’s become clear that the way and teachings of Jesus are inferior and disposable when political power is on the table. Evangelicals have exchanged the way of Jesus for a mythical past greatness where America was Christian. They live to reach backward to a time of greatness as fictional as Narnia, seeking a magical land where they are given power by God to dominate all others instead of simply admitting that they have created and perpetuated that power all by themselves…

They have ignored present demographics that prove that “American” does not mean “white,” because if they acknowledged the full humanity of people of color, they would have to reckon with historical slavery and genocide, and the present-day caging of children and police brutality.

They have ignored the calls of Jesus to make ourselves humble and small, to love our enemies and to choose the non-violent way because if they were to acknowledge these teachings, they would have to reject the militarism (and its subsequent budget), their obsession with guns and make reparations for our historical globalized violence.

A group that cannot decide between God and country will always inevitably choose the country that blesses them with tangible and violent power, and they will settle with attributing that to God. The power that Jesus offers seems to be much less politically sexy. Jesus asks us to rely on the power of gentleness, and inclusion, and reject the fear of the “other” in the spirit of greater life for all, not the protection of power and authority of some.

Jesus never asked Christians to make a Christian nation. On the contrary, He asked them to pledge their allegiance to His kingdom. The notion of prioritizing country is inherently unChristian and it has become exceedingly clear that while evangelicals claim to want greatness in the name of God, that they will settle for creating a pseudo-theocracy in the image and name of President Trump.

Evangelicals continuously use the Bible in order to oppress others and have called it greatness. This community will never make America great because it cannot see its own hypocrisy. Evangelicals will sacrifice every word of Jesus in order to see their political ends met.

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Where the Devil Sits

A few weeks ago I went for a routine blood test. As normally happens, the phlebotomist looked at the long list of tests ordered by my physician and whistled. I suppose it was to distract myself from counting the number of tubes she was extracting from the drawer that I asked how she was “surviving the Age of Trump.” She is African-American; I’m white. Over the past year and a half we’ve had a few good heart-to-heart conversations about what is happening to our country. Like me, she’s in her late fifties, a committed Christian, active in her church body. I shared with her some of the struggles we’ve had, as parents of a biracial child, finding a church here in the Bible Belt.  I told her a few stories of the subtle racism that we’ve encountered. She had grown up in the South, had attended church all her life, so I knew what I shared wouldn’t surprise her, as it has me. She just nodded her head sympathetically. Then, when I was done, she looked at me, sighed, put her hand on mine and said something succinctly profound: “Honey, when it comes to racism, the church is where the devil sits.”

I’ve just endured my daily scanning of the headlines, read the transcript of another creepy press conference from hell in which Sarah Huckabee Sanders (à la Jeff Sessions) defended the separation of immigrant children from their parents, citing the Bible. I can only feel pity for someone who is clearly a shipwrecked soul. One could say, when you mix religion and politics, you get politics. Yet the twisted sophistries that come from her mouth have an old and familiar ring.

The racist policies of this administration, which seem daily to out-Herod Herod, are deeply rooted in a cruel and cultic brand of white-European Protestant Christianity that centuries ago allied itself with colonialism (which was also an outgrowth of capitalism). It has had various manifestations, justifying genocide, slavery, manifest destiny, Jim Crow, white supremacy, the re-education of Native American children. We thought it was dead, or at least dying. In reality, it was just waiting in the corner doing push-ups, getting ready for the last battle, waiting for a champion.

Let’s face it. When it comes to racism, the church (55 years after Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech) is still where the devil has his seat. We thought we had evolved beyond this, that we could solve this through education alone. But racism is also a demonic principality that must be pulled down, through repentance, prayer, and the word of God. Racism is not powerful merely because of what it is, but also because of where it sits, cockily ruling over the hearts and minds of those who call themselves “God’s people.” Unless pastors wake up and start attacking this dragon from the pulpit, unless we repent, disenthrall ourselves, and start praying, we will still be fighting this battle a century from now.

 

 

 

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