Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A prescient look at American Fascism, by Kenneth Bernstein

Daily Kos blogger, Kenneth Bernstein, provides a sobering reflection on American fascism.

In 1944, the New York Times asked the sitting Vice President of the United States, Henry A. Wallace, to write a piece answering three questions:
  1. What is a fascist?
  2. How many fascists have we?
  3. How dangerous are they?
The end result was a piece entitled The Danger of American Fascism.
Yesterday, Henry Scott Wallace, a lawyer and grandson of the Vice President, looked back at what his grandfather wrote in a New York Times piece titled American Fascism, in 1944 and Today.
I am devoting this post to exploring the piece by the latter, whom I know as Scott, because like me he was a music major in the Class of ‘73 at Haverford College before we both went on to other endeavors.
I think both pieces are well worth reading.  To make things clear, I will refer to the VP as Henry and the author of the current piece as Scott.
Quite obviously, given what we have seen of Donald Trump during the campaign, the transition,and since he took office, there is a great deal of speculation as to what we are seeing represents in any way fascism.  There is no doubt of authoritarian trends.
While Scott thinks that Henry clearly predicted the rise of Trump, he himself does not view Trump as truly fascist, at least not in the sense where the term is also applied to Hitler. Bt we should remember that Mussolin’s version was what might fairly consider corporatism, so Scott thinks his father’s observation apply to Trump:
My grandfather warned about hucksters spouting populist themes but manipulating people and institutions to achieve the opposite. They pretend to be on the side of ordinary working people — “paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare,” he wrote. But at the same time, they “distrust democracy because it stands for equal opportunity.”
They invariably put “money and power ahead of human beings,” he continued. “They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest.” They also “claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.”
They bloviate about putting America first, but it’s just a cover. “They use isolationism as a slogan to conceal their own selfish imperialism.”
They need scapegoats and harbor “an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations.”
If in reading those words you found yourself catching your breath as you considered how applicable those words are to our time and our current President, that is precisely the point.
Let me offer another sample.  Henry Wallace was very well aware of the rise of authoritarians in Europe, and how it was different from what might happen in America.   In thinking of authoritarians, consider:
The American breed doesn’t need violence. Lying to the people is so much easier.
They “poison the channels of public information,” he wrote. Their “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 them more money or power.
In fact, they use lies strategically, to promote civic division, which then justifies authoritarian crackdowns. Through “deliberate perversion of truth and fact,” he said, “their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity.”
Think of all the attacks on journalists, of the repetition of the mantra of “fake news.”
Scott goes through many examples of the behavior by Trump he considers relevant, which in the unlikelihood of your having not noticed or forgotten them, he wants to repeat as the basis for then writing:
And what is the ultimate goal? “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.”
That sounds like Mussolini and his embrace of “corporatism” — the marriage of government and corporate power. And it also sounds like President Trump.
I am already pushing fair use.
Henry Wallace argued for the need for the “common man” and had already in a 1942 speech somewhat argued against the notion of American Exceptionalism in noting that Americans were no more a master race than were the Nazis.
Henry Wallace wanted to see a “century of the common man” which would have meant
ordinary people, standing up and fighting for their rights
rights that included unions, decent jobs, good public education, etc.
If this sounds like the platform of Resist, I do not think either Wallace would have objected.  In fact Scott, who received an award from as a Progressive Champion For The Common Person, is someone who strongly believes we have to take action and not depend upon institutions to protect themselves and us from the loss of our liberties.  He writes of his grandfather
Democracy, he said in his 1944 essay, must “put human beings first and dollars second.”
Scott’s conclusion is more than a reflection back on the words of his grandfather.   Here it is:
If there’s any comfort in his essay 73 years ago, it is that this struggle is not new. It wasn’t even new then. The main question today is how our democracy and our brash new generation of citizen activists deals with it.
citizen activists   Scott may talk about a a brash new generation which might seem to exclude those of us who are aging baby boomers, who had our own period of activism which helped with the Civil Rights Movement, which clearly helped power the opposition to Vietnam, the expansion of gay rights, and many other progressive advances.  But we are not excluded by age, and we must encourage, work with, and support that “brash new generation” if our country is going to survive Trumpism, however we may label it.
Read Scott’s op ed.  Then go read his grandfather’s 1944 piece.   You will be well served by doing so.

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