As much as I'd like to just hide out - politically, anyway - for the entire month of August, I feel like I can't just leave the "anger wave" issue alone; especially since, in the space of a week, we went from some mild concern about protests to lots of slinging of "fascism" back and forth.
In a word... Oy.
There's nothing to be gained, I think, from a lot of the talk - on both sides - about how we're all headed toward a dangerous fascism where the other side would be in control; it's the usual "all about what they did" argument that is about 2 inches away from the "he started it" defenses of one's childhood. It also, more subtly, smacks of a lack of confidence in the appeal of one's own ideas - that angry, powerful mob will get their way... and there's nothing we can do to stop it. It's funny, really, how American debate has become a simplistic "us vs. them" where "they" hold all the cards... perhaps the real indication of a successful fascist is when the one with the cards... is you... not "them."
Almost as funny as the way any suggestion of extensive government action on the issues we face is somehow feared for what it might take away from us, rather than considering any benefit that might accrue. And again, perhaps the real indication of a successful fascist is the one who makes ever increasing government look like the good thing, rather than scary.
Still, it seems as though one ought, semi-seriously, to ponder this "fear of fascism" thing - how did we get here? And why can't we seem to put it aside and get on with debating things that we actually face and are actually likely to occur? How did the healthcare reform debate drift away from any talk at all about our health, as a nation and as individuals... and into figuring out who will be in charge of the storm troopers?
Lost in all this fascism talk is one kind of obvious point - it's easy to throw around the term "fascist" because it is generally at once poorly defined and at the same time calls up a specific image of Nazis and Hitler. In fact, HItler's movement was "National Socialism" - fascism is more accurately the term used in Mussolini's Italy, and even then, it lacked a certain specificity.
The dictionary is actually less helpful; here's just one of three definitions:
- often Fascism
- A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.
- A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government.
- Oppressive, dictatorial control.
It's basically that fascism, and calling others fascist, is a handy, catch-anyone-you-dislike term that suggests rigid authoritarianism and stifling of dissent; I suspect we wound up here because the other terms we used to throw around - "communist" and "Red" - turned out, as the Soviet empire fizzled, to be less successfully rigid and controlling than the pre World War 2 fascists (and PS, you've got, essentially, three and only three to point to: Hitler, Mussolini and Francisco Franco of Spain).
One could also suggest this is Godwin's Law going mainstream: it's not just online discussions that will eventually devolve into charges of Nazism and comparisons to Hitler... it's everywhere.
The absurdity is that now everyone feels justified in doing it: as Jonah Goldberg showed with Liberal Fascism, you can rework the ideas and examples of fascism to prove almost anything - and as I keep trying to point out, the problem with Goldberg's lazy, admittedly well selling, tome isn't how fascism is defined, but what Goldberg calls "liberal." Similarly, as progressives have moved in the last week to call the healthcare "protests" an example of creeping fascist appeals on the right, the problem has been less what's being called "fascist" than what's being called "right wing". Just because people don't like the healthcare proposals under discussion - even that they respond with incoherent appeals to mob opposition... doesn't make them fascists. But you rarely see assertions of creeping fascism showing any interest in useful distinctions.
Distinctions like... "this isn't Weimar Germany in the thirties." The rise of fascism, such as it was, in Europe can be traced to specific historical precedents and social unrest that simply doesn't parallel anything in modern American culture. Moreover, even the vague definitions of what comprise a fascist state, I would argue, are largely antithetical to how many Americans think of their society or their government. We don't think of "Good Americans" like the notion of "Good Germans" that helped Hitler to power. And to the extent that anyone does - i.e. the familiar neo-Nazi, white supremacist fringe - they've been marginalized, generally dismissed, and there's no indication that their extreme views can ever find anything close to mass appeal.
Americans, really, are too self-indulgent, too self interested, indeed too apolitical to ever find mass meaning in a political movement. To the extent that even Obama found himself so massively worshipped, it spoke more to the power of celebrity and the generalized, vague concepts he spoke to - hope, change, and self improvement as a means to national improvement. As I and others often suspected during the campaign, when it comes to specifics of policies and politics... the Obama nation tends to lose a lot of interest.
I'm not trying to minimize the real concerns we should all have about the way some individuals have taken to angry mob tactics as a way to stifle dissent; or that, as well, we shouldn't have some concern about an elite aligment of corporate and government interests that are not necessarily positive developments for us economically. But none of that is fascism, it's not the rise of fascism, and the people pursuing those goals are not fascists. And really, I suspect, what all these cries of fascism in the summer heat suggest is that we have, simply, run out of names to call one another, and ways to make the actions of others seem sinister. And maybe, the point is, when the "fascism" thing runs out of steam... we'll actually, you know, have to talk about our actual problems, and look at actual solutions to them.
If the robot overlords let us.