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Guest Columnist Steven Jonas, MD - OpEdNews
1. Introduction. Just because there are elections and an elected government, don’t think that there cannot be fascism. One needs only to look at the Nazi German example. For some years before the German President Paul von Hindenburg named Adolf Hitler Chancellor (Prime Minister) of Germany on January 30, 1933, the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party had simply been one of several major political parties in Germany. They usually received in the neighborhood of 1/3 of the vote in the then fairly frequent German elections. Hitler assured the aging President that despite his party’s tradition of violent rhetoric, he would rule in a Constitutional manner. And the non-Nazi Rightists, like ex-Chancellor Franz von Papen, assured Hindenburg that they would keep him “under control.” We all know what happened, beginning the very night of Hitler’s assumption of the Chancellorship with the rounding up and imprisonment without trial of Communists and Socialists. But he did come to power constitutionally. So it can happen.
2. The definition of fascism. There are a variety of them. Here is one of my relatively short definitions of the term, based on the 20th century experience with it:
“A politico-economic system in which there is: total executive branch control of both the legislative and administrative powers of government; no independent judiciary; no Constitution that embodies the Rule of Law standing above the people who control the government; no inherent personal rights or liberties; a single national ideology that first demonizes and then criminalizes all political, religious, and ideological opposition to it; the massive and regular use of hate, fear, racial and religious prejudice, the Big Lie technique, mob psychology, mob actions and ultimately individual and collective violence, to achieve political and economic ends; a capitalist/corporate economy, with the economic ruling class’ control of State power and thus, economic, fiscal, political, and regulatory policy and policies.”
As we move into the 21st century battle against the onslaught of fascism in the United States, I think that a shorter, more succinct, but accurate definition does need to be developed. I’m working on it. In the meantime, I use the one above.
It is important to note that “a single, charismatic leader,” often used in definitions based on the Italian/German experience, is not part of the above definition. That is because while certainly those two principal fascist powers of the 20th century did have one, many of the others did not. In terms of the functions and power of the State and the ruling class it served, Japan was a fascist country. However, leader of the government during World War II, Hideki Tojo, was only the Prime Minister in a cabinet government and was not particularly charismatic for the Japanese people. Since the Japanese Emperor, the Head of State, was considered to be a god, that would have been impossible in any case. In Spain, Francisco Franco was a brutal fascist authoritarian ruler in a governmental system that met most of the elements of the definition above. But he was hardly what could have been considered charismatic.
3. Fascism in the 21st Century United States: An Introduction. In times of change, fascism can be a system of government in process, not finally developed in the forms it took in 20th century. For the Americannder the Trumpite Republicans, a 21st century form of fascism is being developed functionally. And for them, it is the function, not the form, that counts. B) Currently, unlike the 20th century fascist states Japan and Spain, it does have a charismatic leader, charismatic for a certain segment of the population at least, as only a reality TV star can be. However, in terms of policy development and imposition, it can be seen that if the Trumpite Republicans can maintain their current control over the political organs of power, they don’t necessarily need one. In fact, the next in line for the Presidency, the Dominionist Mike Pence, while much more doctrinally sound than Trump for the Republicans, can hardly be considered to be “charismatic.”
What has to be realized is that when the fascist form of government has come into existence, it is imposed upon a country when the capitalist ruling class as a whole, or the dominant sector of it at the time of the fascist imposition, has come to the conclusion that it is necessary for it, the ruling class, to maintain power. In each of the major countries in which it arose in the 20th century, Italy, Germany, Japan, and Spain, there had been elected governments, with left-wing parties either in control of the State (Spain) or otherwise with a prominent presence in the political economy. With the exception of Spain, fascism was imposed, in the beginning, by constitutional means.
In the 21st century United States there are of course no left-wing parties participating in the electoral process. The two major parties both serve the interests of the ruling class. But they do have rather different approaches to the matter of keeping the ruling class in power. This reflects the ruling class split on the self-same issue, that has existed in this country going back to the two Roosevelts. For example, it is little known that when Teddy Roosevelt ran for the Presidency as the “Bull Moose” (3rd) Party candidate in 1912 (and received 26.7% of the vote), National Health Insurance was a major plank in his platform. It is also little-known that if it had not been for Watergate, the United States would have had National Health Insurance by the mid-1970s. For it was Richard Nixon who introduced such a bill to Congress in 1974, with none other than Senator Bob Dole making a brilliant introductory speech on its behalf.
But at this time, the Republican Party and the wing of the ruling class which it represents clearly see danger to their control on the horizon. The plight of the working class in this country is getting worse by the day. Trumpite mis-leading of the working class, founded as it is on racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and the appeal to religious authoritarianism (of which homophobia is only one expression), can work only just so long. Already, certain elements of the white working class “Trump base” are being turned off by major elements of Trumpism, and by his increasing number of broken promises to provide long-term assistance for them. They are also alarmed by the increasing militancy of the segments of the population that are historically against Republican policy.
And so, in my view a 21st century form of fascism is developing in this country, under the leadership of Donald J. Trump. Since he is, to quote his Secretary of State a “moron,” and, to quote his National Security Advisor, an “idiot,” he may well be not entirely conscious of what he is doing, in terms of the political economy. (The journalist Michael Wolff has informed us that bunches of Trump former and present White House staff regard him as functionally illiterate also.) But Trump clearly has a strong authoritarian streak within him, which, combined with the Republican policies he espouses, like the highly unpopular tax-cuts-for-the-rich, are propelling him in the direction of fascism, even if he doesn’t know it, even without the installation of an actual dictatorship.
It was pointed out that this definition, and similar ones used by other authorities, is based primarily on what fascism looked like in the 20thcentury, in particular in Nazi German fascist Italy, Spain and Japan. The analysis then went on to the use of the concept of functional fascism, for the 21stcentury, for the United States. That is, there are certain features of classical fascism that do not exist, at least not yet, in the U.S. The Executive Branch does not have full control of all governmental functions. There is an independent judiciary. There is still a Constitution. There are still inherent personal rights and liberties. There is still not a single national ideology that criminalizes all opposition to it.
BUT, the political party currently in power, and in particular its representative occupying the Office of the Presidency, certainly has made it clear that the reality concerning these features is in a state of flux. Trump has made it clear that he would like to have much more control of various governmental functions, particularly those of the Department of Justice, than he presently does have. He is forever issuing scathing, personal, attacks on judges and courts that make decisions that he doesn’t like. The judges that he is appointing to the Federal Courts are selected and confirmed for their long-time adherence to the right-wing ideology of the private association which plays a major role in nominating them, the Federalist Society. This practice will play a major role down the road in limiting the Federal and state functions in the economic and environmental arenas, as well as in civil liberties and in such matters as the freedom of choice in the outcome of pregnancy. This President has shown that he is very much in favor of imposing upon large areas of civil society an ideology based on Christian Fundamentalism. And this particular President clearly reveals on a regular basis his predilection for authoritarian government.
As the Federal judiciary changes in nature, going evermore rightward in its politics (and oh yes, the judiciary is always a political animal), it will less and less function as it currently does, as a limit on the fascist aggrandizement of power by this President and the party he leads. The other major limiting factor on the progression towards outright fascism is the free press. One need look no further than this fact to understand the constant attacks on the “fake media” and “fake news” by the President, his allies in the Congress, Fox”News” (otherwise known as “Trump TV” or the Republican Propaganda Channel), right-wing talk radio, and right-wing on-line/social media (like Breitbart and The Daily Stormer). If the Republican/Trumpites are able to destroy or severely limit the activities of the anti-Trumpite media, the road to absolute power for them, that is the classical fascist state, will be much easier for them.
As to the use of the Big Lie technique, the Trumpites don’t use it so much as they do what might be called the “Little Lie Technique.” There are not just a few Big, totally not-connected-to-reality lies that they tell over and over again, like the Nazis’ “the Jews are the cause of all of Germany’s problems” that appear in major speeches by the leadership. There are rather the little lies, told over-and-over again on a daily basis, constantly rolling off the lips of Kelly Ann Conway, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin and so on and so forth about everything from what is really in the tax “reform” legislation to what the “Russia” investigation is really about. As for the President, as is well known, he is “the king of the liars, Big and Little.
As to the features of fascism that already exist, this president regularly uses the appeals that got him to the White House in the first place: those to hate, fear, racial and religious prejudice, xenophobia, and misogyny. But most importantly for this fascism-in-process/functional-fascism is that with the Congressional Republican Party, Trump is absolutely serving the interests of the economically dominant sector of the U.S. ruling class (manufacturing; fossil fuels; agriculture/food; pharma/health services; retail; communications/entertainment; transportation; banking/investment/financial services) in the realms of economic, fiscal, political, and regulatory policy and policies.”
Thus, the Elements of Republican/Trumpite 21st century Functional Fascism in the United States, either already achieved or set forth as goals to be achieved are:
1. The use of the law to promote racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny.
2. The criminalization of certain religious/non-religious beliefs, as in, for example, LGBY rights, freedom of choice in the outcome of pregnancy. This is facilitated by the use of “God’s Word” to justify oppression, hatred, and, ultimately, “Dominionism”. Indeed, for the United States, Dominionism is the hand-maiden of fascism, as were Catholicism in Spain and Italy and Shintoism in Japan.
3. The repression, then criminalization, of dissent.
4. The tolerance for, and in certain quarters the promotion of the Doctrine of White Supremacy.
5. The gradual suppression of the free vote, especially among minorities, the young, and the poor, by the use of gerrymandering, voter-suppression, vote/hacking.
6. The assault on and the distortion of the use of data, of all kinds.
7. The evermore widespread use of the Roy Cohn/Lee Atwater doctrine: “Always attack; never defend.” A variant of it is the old maxim for defense lawyers: “If you don’t have the law, argue the facts; if you don’t have the facts, argue the law; if you have neither the facts nor the law, argue ad hominem. (Of course, you don’t have to be a lawyer to use this one. The Right-Wing propagandists from Hannity and Conway on down (or up, depending upon your point of view) use it all the time.
8. The solidification of the control of the State apparatus.
This Doctrine of Functional Fascism finds a very happy home in the modern Republican Party. It is of course the outcome to date of the “Republican Rightward Imperative” which has controlled the direction of the Party since the time of Goldwater.
In the next and final Part of this series, some thoughts on the very difficult question of how to resist, the Republican/fascist onslaught shall be presented.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books. In addition to his position on OpEdNews as a “Trusted Author,” he is a Deputy Editor, Politics and a “Witness to History,” for The Greanville Post.
Dr. Jonas’ latest book is Ending the ‘Drug War’; Solving the Drug Problem: The Public Health Approach, Punto Press Publishing, Brewster, NY, 2016, (available on Kindle and hardcover from Amazon). His most recent book on US politics is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel (Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, Brewster, NY), also available on Amazon. This book is currently being serialized on OpEdNews, a project that will likely continue into the 2017 calendar year.