Tag Archives: fascism

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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The Great Dictator

In 1940 Charlie Chaplin released his first all-talking picture, The Great chaplinDictator (13 years after The Jazz Singer had broken the sound barrier). In the early 30s many had remarked how much he looked like Adolph Hitler, particularly around the upper lip. Der Führer apparently never thought the comparison was funny. His propaganda machine targeted Chaplin as a “Jewish acrobat,” part of that Jewish conspiracy that he believed controlled the world. That’s when the silent comic thought of capitalizing on the likeness by making a film lampooning the fascist leader. He knew one thing dictators cannot stand is being laughed at, although Chaplin later admitted that he never would have attempted such a film if he had known the true depth of the atrocities of the concentration camps.

The film was a hit, two hours of slapstick gags and political satire, all poking fun at the most hated man in America. But at the end of the film, Chaplin did something shocking and risky. He got serious. He had spent almost 30 years building capital in the hearts of Americans, Britons, and people the world over. Now he was going to spend it. He was going to use the end of the film to speak his mind. And that’s exactly what he did– for 8 minutes, he appeals to all peoples to stop the madness. Though still essentially in the character of the Jewish barber who is mistaken for Der Fooey (Der Führer), Chaplin skewers everything from fascism and capitalism to modernism and technology run amok

“I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery…

“To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

“Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel! Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!

“Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!”

With the world at war, few could find fault with Chaplin’s sentiment at the time. But 7 years later, in the war’s aftermath, in a new Cold War, the filmmaker came under new scrutiny. Funny, there’s nothing like spouting off about freedom, peace, unity, and democracy to make people suspect you of communism. (Jesus would have fared no better.)

Listening to this speech today, in the context of the insanity that now passes for American politics, Chaplin’s words can give us both hope and courage.

(To read or watch the speech in its entirety, click here.)

 

 

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The Christian Right and the Rise of American Fascism

by Chris Hedges

(This article, originally published by theocracywatch.org in November 2004, seems all the more prescient today.)

Dr. James Luther Adams, my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School , told us that when we were his age, he was then close to 80, we would all be fighting the “Christian fascists.”

The warning, given to me 25 years ago, came at the moment Pat Robertson and other radio and televangelists began speaking about a new political religion that would direct its efforts at taking control of all institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government. Its stated goal was to use the United States to create a global, Christian empire. It was hard, at the time, to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously, especially given the buffoonish quality of those who expounded it. But Adams warned us against the blindness caused by intellectual snobbery. The Nazis, he said, were not going to return with swastikas and brown shirts. Their ideological inheritors had found a mask for fascism in the pages of the Bible.

He was not a man to use the word fascist lightly. He was in Germany in 1935 and 1936 and worked with the underground anti-Nazi church, known as The Confessing Church, led by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Adams was eventually detained and interrogated by the Gestapo, who suggested he might want to consider returning to the United States . It was a suggestion he followed. He left on a night train with framed portraits of Adolph Hitler placed over the contents inside his suitcase to hide the rolls of home movie film he took of the so-called German Christian Church, which was pro-Nazi, and the few individuals who defied them, including the theologians Karl Barth and Albert Schweitzer. The ruse worked when the border police lifted the top of the suitcases, saw the portraits of the Fuhrer and closed them up again. I watched hours of the grainy black and white films as he narrated in his apartment in Cambridge .

He saw in the Christian Right, long before we did, disturbing similarities with the German Christian Church and the Nazi Party, similarities that he said would, in the event of prolonged social instability or a national crisis, see American fascists, under the guise of religion, rise to dismantle the open society. He despaired of liberals, who he said, as in Nazi Germany, mouthed silly platitudes about dialogue and inclusiveness that made them ineffectual and impotent. Liberals, he said, did not understand the power and allure of evil nor the cold reality of how the world worked. The current hand wringing by Democrats in the wake of the election, with many asking how they can reach out to a movement whose leaders brand them “demonic” and “satanic,” would not have surprised Adams . Like Bonhoeffer, he did not believe that those who would fight effectively in coming times of turmoil, a fight that for him was an integral part of the Biblical message, would come from the church or the liberal, secular elite.

His critique of the prominent research universities, along with the media, was no less withering. These institutions, self-absorbed, compromised by their close relationship with government and corporations, given enough of the pie to be complacent, were unwilling to deal with the fundamental moral questions and inequities of the age. They had no stomach for a battle that might cost them their prestige and comfort. He told me that if the Nazis took over America “60 percent of the Harvard faculty would begin their lectures with the Nazi salute.” This too was not an abstraction. He had watched academics at the University of Heidelberg , including the philosopher Martin Heidegger, raise their arms stiffly to students before class.

Two decades later, even in the face of the growing reach of the Christian Right, his prediction seems apocalyptic. And yet the powerbrokers in the Christian Right have moved from the fringes of society to the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Christian fundamentalists now hold a majority of seats in 36 percent of all Republican Party state committees, or 18 of 50 states, along with large minorities in 81 percent of the rest of the states. Forty-five Senators and 186 members of the House of Representatives earned between an 80 to100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian Right advocacy groups – The Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum, and Family Resource Council. Tom Coburn, the new senator from Oklahoma , has included in his campaign to end abortion a call to impose the death penalty on doctors that carry out abortions once the ban goes into place. Another new senator, John Thune, believes in Creationism. Jim DeMint, the new senator elected from South Carolina , wants to ban single mothers from teaching in schools. The Election Day exit polls found that 22 percent of voters identified themselves as evangelical Christians and Bush won 77 percent of their vote. The polls found that a plurality of voters said that the most important issue in the campaign had been “moral values.”

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