I’ve been wandering around in a funk these past couple of days, and it’s hard to put my finger on it—hormonal? the heat? lack of loving attention from a cat that has only just gotten over the compost tea/bath incident? struggling with losing a few pounds when it’s too hot to want to move my body?—and now I’m feeling it lift somewhat. Is it the Willie Nelson record I’m listening to? Possibly. But it might also be that Sara Robinson has finally addressed a yearning need in me to understand something about the increasingly aggressive, violent right wing presence at town hall events across the nation. My usual reaction to most political trends is to at least have a general understanding of what’s going on, even if I don’t always feel compelled to blog about it. But this entire situation has left me unnerved, because I just don’t get it. I mean, I get it, but I didn’t quite get it. There was something about it that felt different, harder to understand than most right wing nonsense. It feels different than when the thugs shut down the Florida vote-counting, because there was an objective goal in sight. This time, it seems like it’s just an outpouring of anger.
Not that I’m not familiar with it, in the sense that I focus so much on women’s rights and am all too familiar with the fact that anti-choice protesters are a mob that’s often on the verge of violence, and occasionally and tragically they spill over into violence. The turn that the right has taken seems to be in the direction that the anti-choicers took long ago: violently angry, projecting all their personal failures outwards, and paranoid. Above all, they wandered off the farm a long time ago, and now in that particular subculture, it’s usually believed that abortion providers eat fetuses and that Planned Parenthood is part of a child sex ring. The mainstreaming of this birther thing is definitely a tug in the crazy direction, but it took Sara’s piece to really get me where I could all this more clearly. Warning: she’s writing about the 5 stages of fascism, and where the American right wing falls in the time line, so you need to read carefully before leaping to judgment.
All through the Bush years, progressive right-wing watchers refused to call it “fascism” because, though we kept looking, we never saw clear signs of a deliberate, committed institutional partnership forming between America’s conservative elites and its emerging homegrown brownshirt horde. We caught tantalizing signs of brief flirtations — passing political alliances, money passing hands, far-right moonbat talking points flying out of the mouths of “mainstream” conservative leaders. But it was all circumstantial, and fairly transitory. The two sides kept a discreet distance from each other, at least in public. What went on behind closed doors, we could only guess. They certainly didn’t act like a married couple.
Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips’ Americans for Prosperity, with massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas — the kind of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of the National Enquirer — being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We’ve seen Armey’s own professionally-produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process — and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We’ve seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to “a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress.”
This is the sign we were waiting for — the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America’s conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country’s legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America’s streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won’t do their political or economic bidding.
I think my general lack of concern over this was due to the fact that the majority of the public thinks this shit is stupid. They don’t like the disruptions, and the more that the right acts like a bunch of thugs, the more they’re bound to turn off swing voters. But of course, fascists see cheating as a perfectly acceptable way to power. Cheating and violence. And of course, the swing voter is quite likely to be sympathetic to fascist claims, once they’re getting power and able to come across as more respectable.
Sara brings up a couple of things that are of great concern. She’s leaning heavily on the observations of historian Robert Paxton, and this is how he defines fascism:
Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline……
a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
As much as it’s fun to make fun of birthers, their particular obsession is straight out of the Fascism 101 handbook. Paxton argues that American fascism would almost surely be pious and anti-black. In fact, the KKK really represented the American version of fascism, and they did in fact rise to political power as a political party in some places in the early 20th century before their popularity waned. The general politics of the KKK are something to understand to really get what an American fascism would look like: they are anti-black, and super proud of their Christian piety. They’re obsessed with “purity”, and the birther thing is exactly the sort of conspiracy theory that you’d think, if it wasn’t getting mainstreamed, would be something that only the KKK would buy into. The ascendancy of Barack Obama as President, putting successful middle class black people into the public eye in a way unseen before in this country, is creating similar resentment structures such as Nazis had against Jews. If I understand my history correctly, European Jews were hardly some great overclass, but in the feverish imagination of Nazi rhetoric, the very existence of some successful, professional Jews proved that they were. What Jews actually were was an oppressed minority, as are black people in our society, but in the fever imaginations of conservatives, we’re under some great Obama-led takeover to relegate white people….to the position that was previously occupied by racial minorities.
That’s what the birther crap is all about, and that it is a household word while thugs are breaking up town halls and making Democratic politicians fear for their own safety, I fear that some line may have been crossed. And I fear that Sara may be right about what it is.