In 2018 fascism is one of those terms thrust into the heart of the American scheissgeist and Albright’s book on the subject Fascism: A Warning offers a historical overview of when conditions turn toward such tyranny. She personalizes her own family’s account of fleeing Czechoslovakia to stay one step ahead of the Third Reich. Today, the Republicans want to flip the script and paint liberals as the fascists. This is not without precedent, as fascism can come from both sides, as Albright covers Chavez’s antics in Venezuela (take your own HOA for example, a truly bipartisan evil). Conservative’s attempt to cast liberals in the role of the villains today is laughable. Rightwing media keeps harping on recent collegiate instances of safe space speech suppression (SS²). The Republican’s fear of Antifa is overblown, and their own capabilities in this area are greatly minimized. But false equivalencies have always been the conservative’s bread and Buchenwald. Whereas progressives in this country don’t seem to vote for their worst common denominators, conservatives seem hell bent on the practice. Albright’s work equates Fascism to a soup, a soup that requires certain societal ingredients before it starts to simmer. Is it Nazi soup yet in America? There’s certainly a foul odor coming from the Mar-a-Lago kitchen. Whether or not our republic has the time to add something a little more Progresso to the mix leaves to be seen.
The sterling historical examples of fascism are, of course, Hitler and Mussolini’s rise during the lead up to the second world war. Albright takes us through the societal tides that allowed each of these strongmen’s ascendency to power. The story starts with Italy’s Mussolini, who forced his way into the Prime Ministership by threatening a coup. Upon seizing power he quickly got to work damaging labor, undermining the free press, and eliminating his political opposition. He also partnered with the Vatican by closing the brothels and paying off the priests and the cardinals.
[‘Jesus is just alt-right with me’ joke removed by the editor.]
Once he consolidated power, Mussolini needed to keep his base peaked by adopting a more aggressive foreign policy. He accomplished this by invading and colonizing Ethiopia. Along with promising to make Italy “unfathomably rich,” Albright states:
“Mussolini was a poor listener who disliked hearing other people talk. He was loath to spend nights away from his own bed, and the time he allotted for meals—either alone or with family—averaged about three minutes,” and “He discouraged his cabinet from proposing any idea that might cause him to doubt his instincts, which were, he insisted, always right.” (pg 27)
He also liked to golf and often bragged about his own villa’s outstanding dessert menu. Fine, that’s not in the book, but it is implied. See what I did there? Albright avoids connecting the dots for most of her work and, instead, lets the reader draw their own conclusions. I tend to hit people over the head with things, like Negan on steroids, but Albright avoids this pitfall.
One of Hitler and Mussolini’s is another Trumpian moment:
“Mussolini tried to get by without an interpreter and so failed to understand much of what Hitler said. The next morning Mussolini showed up for a parade thirty minutes late, then made a speech at Piazza San Marco that barely acknowledged Hitler’s presence. Halfway through that evening’s reception, Mussolini walked out, and later, in a calculated leak to reporters, he compared his guest to Genghis Khan.” (pg 45)
Her book is a history lesson from Italy, to Germany, to Turkey and Venezuela, with no initial mention of President Ass-clown Hitler. In fact, I conducted a related search and she never uses the words ‘ass-clown’, even once. Kudos. Chavez aside, unchecked conservative hatred and fear of out-groups typically provides the fuel for fascism and the church provides the cover. This extreme ideology more easily aligns with a far right ideology. Why this is even up for debate is a testament to fascism’s perseverance. For the key aspects of fascism to really click, you need an ideology that harnesses the fundamental and even tribal mindsets.
In Germany things went down similarly. After the burning of the Reichstag, where the German parliament convened, Hitler talked Germany’s leaders into a short period of a Marshall type law, “just to protect Germany from its adversaries.” Who fell in line? The usual cast of characters, conservatives and the church. Only the social Democrats mounted any kind of resistance.
“Same as it ever was.”
One of my first articles here on The ‘Cord, many moons ago, shows the parallel of Bush’s actions after 9/11 and the creep of executive power. Fascism always strengthens under the watch of each Republican president, at least in my adult lifetime. Albright spends some time on this theme as well. I protested each incremental shift, while my blogvesary only took notice when Republican overreaches were further expanded by Democratic presidents. Sure Obama deepened the NSA and the drone program, but every other evil in this arena comes with a Republican price tag.
The harshness of the Treaty of Versailles wasn’t the biggest driver of Nazism. What I hadn’t realized is how the German economy was starting to recover from WWI, but the great depression ultimately caused Berlin to lose its moral footing again. Albright points out how this two punch turned Germany’s already disgruntled citizenry toward fascism.
There are a slew of theories as to why the Great Depression started in the U.S., but the only policy that contributed and exacerbated the worst economic period of the modern era was a tariff, the Smoot-Hawley Act. Yes, it was law started by two Republican representatives and signed into law by another Republican, Herbert Hoover. Over 1,000 economists predicted disaster and begged Hoover to overturn the tariffs. Remember my old trick, pick the problem to research and then find the corresponding root-cause Republican policy.
Similarly Republicans were the UK’s Brexit cheerleaders, here and abroad. The populism in the UK that led the Brexit charge was reaction to the further instability of the Middle East. George W. Bush championed the regime-change plans of seven countries, and what Dubya started the Arab Spring finished, well, mostly. The further destabilization of a volatile area caused millions of refugees to pour into Europe. This, in turn, created the populist rising. So if Republicans do well, they win and, if they break shit, they win. The game is rigged alt-right.
Back to Alt-right *cough* Albright:
“The bewildering rush of globalism prompted many to find solace in the familiar rhythm in nations, culture, and faith; and everyone seemed to be on the look out for leaders who claimed to have simple and satisfying answers to modernity’s tangled questions.” (Pg 56)
Simple messages work for simple peeps. Joseph Goebbels knew this, just as Rupert Murdoch does today. This is why there’s usually only a few main Fox News talking points each week, disseminated throughout their programming and eventually regurgitated at every dinner table across America. Hitler knew that political issues were complicated so he served up some simplicity on a bun. Let’s focus on Chavez as the poster boy for liberal socialism and fascism and ignore every other rightwing tyrant of our time. By all accounts Brexit is going poorly for the UK, here, but with this catastrophic misstep comes a political swing even further toward nationalism. The more the right screws up the stronger their base becomes.
So what’s still missing in our fascist soup, Zano?
Times are good, and that simply won’t do. People with a roof over their heads and food in their bellies are much less likely to join the populist wave. We recovered from Dubya, albeit barely, just in time for Trump to rollback the last of the Wall Street regs, ramp up the next unnecessary war (Iran), blowup the deficits, squeeze the middle class, coalesce all of the monopolies, and start a trade war with China. Regardless of the rest of the horrors, we will never recover from Trump’s dismantling of consumer protections to better serve scheisters like himself.
One possibility is how, amidst the abysmal aftermath of Drumpf, enough Americans will acquiesce to the next strongman. This is an aspect of my long prediction from 2004. Even if Republicans hold all three houses during the next collapse, they always find a simple foil: Barney Frank, Benghazi, we pulled the troops too soon, Dems had the House at the time, Nancy Pelosi, Omarosa; it doesn’t matter, because the Trump base doesn’t quibble over the particulars; they simply need a place to direct their anger.
Madam Secretary covers the fascism of Erodgan in Turkey and Chavez and Peron in South America. Erdogan, much like Turkey itself, straddles two worlds and several levels of consciousness. Will the Islamists or the pragmatic politicians win in the end, only time will tell. Meanwhile, South American tyrants are Fox’s poster boys for why socialism doesn’t work. They tend to skip over every other free industrialized country on the planet. Chavez came from a place of reform, but when such tyrants fail they tend to get a little Machiavellian in an attempt to maintain their power. Rightwing tyrants set out to control for control’s sake. Even a huge swath of the U.S.’s own Republican voters are looking for a strongman. Yes, the constitution-minded freedom people have ads in the paper for a Hitler wannabe. It’s crazy. I have covered the profound cognitive dissonance of the GOP for many, many years. It’s not getting any better and it’s not going to. The left is angry and that will trigger some bad behavior, but for the widespread embracing of the kind of hatred inherent in a true fascism, you need a Republican mindset.
“It’s not conservative. It sure isn’t normal. It’s radical.”
Albright observes how Americans, laugh more often “at each other” than “with each other,” and she conveys dismay at how our two political factions can live in the same country, yet hail from “different galaxies”. Let’s call them Maddow Colony V and Hannity Cluster F. These differences were created through propaganda, which the left is now emulating on MSNBC and the like. Albright isn’t as critical toward Republicana as she should be, but even she concedes the journey toward mending this country’s political divide will be Grapes of Wrath arduous.
She discusses how another shift toward fascism occurs when we stop asking, “What do we think?” in favor of “Where should we march?” Look no further than the protests this year against Trump; no two liberal protestors seemed to agree on why they were there (as Fox News anchors often exploit), and yet the good people in Charlottesville tend to stick to the script, don’t they? Their simple yet erroneous counter-narrative is holding. Despite electing two of the most ignorant presidents in American history, consecutively, there remains no discernible chink in The GOP’s armor. The next Republican could be a table lamp, which would actually be an improvement, yet they all remain ready to march anywhere the Alex Joneses and Sean Hannitys of the world point. McCarthyism at its finest.
Albright does eventually get around to The Donald, who obviously inspired her little project. She relays holocaust-survivor Primo Levi’s view on the tipping point of fascism:
“Not just through the terror of police intimidation, but by denying or distorting information, by undermining systems of justice, by paralyzing the education system and by spreading in a myriad of subtle ways nostalgia for a world where order reigned.”
Of course this quote is prominently displayed in the Trump chapter, but Madam Secretary doesn’t go far enough. The next sentence should be: in 2018 that above quote is a summary of the GOP’s mission statement.
Conservatives today are not as savvy as the 1930s German citizenry—nor do they have the Treaty of Versailles or the Great Depression to blame for their hate-filled, shortsighted worldviews—but, if handed power, they could prove just as dangerous to our future. Republicans drove the liberals into their safe spaces and the rise of a liberal fascism is repudiation of the hatred, greed and ignorance inherent in rightwing politics. Do I condone it? No. Is it the real problem? Of course not. It’s a reaction, one that may well end badly for us all.
Albright does spend a page or so on Hollywood backed liberal fascism, but let’s stop with the false equivalencies: Jane Fonda wasn’t the problem in the 70s and Angela Jolie is not the problem today. For a purer form of fascism you need a turn toward isolationism and a Republican strongman, backed by the church, and riding a wave of the shittier aspects of populism. Cue the next heartland rally and post the next presidential tweet. “Forward the right brigade!” Hannity’s America is pointing directly at authoritarianism and these fools will embrace the next tyrant in the name of freedom.
Albright doesn’t think it’s Nazi soup yet in America, but this is where we disagree. Everyone is afraid to call this what it is, because the Nazi analogy is so tired, but if Twain is right and “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes”, well, then let’s call our president Adolt Shitler.