GUEST COMMENTARY - Liberals and moderates complain endlessly about the awfulness of Trumpian Republifascists in their families, workplaces, and communities and of course in United States politics.
It’s understandable given the boundless vicious stupidity of the Trump era Amerikaners – the vast mass of MAGAts whose demented voices are so disproportionately over-represented in.US politics thanks to the right-tilted Minority Rule nature of the United States electoral and governance regime (see point # 5 below). Decent human beings have a legitimate need to vent about the monstrously mainstreamed far-right malignancy that stalks the land and controls one of its two viable political parties. Still, it’s tiresome to behold the nonstop eye-rolling and whining from liberals and moderates who commonly say little or nothing about the broader context within which Republi-fascism has arisen and who seem have to lack any real sense of how one might fight this deadly pathology beyond the passive resistance of bitching, mocking, and voting for nauseating, fascism-complicit corporate Democrats once every two and/or four years.
There are many intersecting streams feeding into the river of US-American fascitization. The overlapping and combining tributaries include the following:
+1. A capitalist system whose underlying tendency towards the ever-increasing concentration of wealth and hence power repeatedly humiliates, de-legitimizes, and discredits democracy in the eyes of masses, helping open the door to authoritarian “solutions.” This system’s inherent generation of ecological crises creates catastrophes certain to fuel late fascism.
+2. A capitalist “ruling class” too fractured, amoral, and parasitic to prevent fascist consolidation and containing considerable sectors and individuals more than happy to replace previously normative bourgeois democracy with more openly authoritarian rule. (The US capitalist class has not been given anything close to proper responsibility for Trump and Trumpism-fascism, which masquerades as “populist” and even “working-class” with help from intellectuals who should know better.)
+3. A “Weimar” Democratic Party of “inauthentic opposition” whose longstanding acquisition by corporate and financial elites militates against serious resistance to authoritarian rule.
+ 4. A government and political order captured by and working hand in glove with giant socio-pathological corporations and financial institutions whose only allegiance is to investor profit.
+5. A party and election system and governance order tilted far to the Minority Rule right of majority public opinion by an interconnected slew of horrific institutions and practices significantly inherited from late 18th Century slaveowners and other propertied elites for whom democracy was the ultimate nightmare: the Electoral College, the absurdly malapportioned Senate, the gerrymandered House, states’ rights, judicial review, strictly time-staggered winner- take-all two-capitalist-party-only elections plagued by unchecked big money control mandated corrupt and oligarchic campaign finance rules and practices.
+6. A media-politics culture that promotes an infantilizing cult of savagely time-staggered voting in a reactionary, right-tilted electoral regime that is wired to undermine, capture, and destroy popular solidarity and social movements. Howard Zinn captured the cult-like aspects of this disastrous addiction in March of 2008: “The election frenzy…seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us [by the ruling class – P.S.] . It is a multiple-choice test so narrow, so specious, that no self-respecting teacher would give it to students.” The criticism applies to a somewhat lesser degree in relation to mid-term election, between quadrennial electoral extravaganzas
(Just this morning, I heard an N“P”R report from Florida in which a nurse explained what she tells patients and others is “all they can do” for abortion rights and other key policy matters: “Two things- first, vote, second, get someone else to vote. That’s it.” Great advice under the killing confines of the regime described one point above!)
+7. A corporate commercial media whose main purpose beyond selling goods and services is to manufactures mass consent to class rule, empire and intimately related hierarchies of race, gender, and nationality. In its entertainment wing no less (if not more powerfully) than in its news formats, this dominant media sells sadistic, sexist, racist, and nationalist violence while propagating hyper-atomized individualism, consumerist one dimensionality, anti-intellectualism, and narrow identity politics. It relentlessly assaults masses’ cognitive and emotive capacity for reason, critical vision, empathy, and solidarity. It filters past and current events in ways that normalize and eternalize oppression. And of course, it relentlessly advances and normalizes the “vote”-addicted “election madness” (Zinn) described in the previous point.
+8. A massive police, surveillance, and incarceration state that imprisons a far greater (and disproportionately nonwhite) share of its population than any other nation Earth – a remarkable accomplishment for a county that calls itself the beacon freedom and democracy.
+9. Saturation of the nation with more than 440 million firearms, including at least 25 million military assault rifles, disproportionately in the hands of right-wing racists, sexists, nativists, and nationalists.
+ 10. A vast military Empire and military industrial complex that steals vast resources from the potential meeting of social needs while legitimating violent nationalism and global aggression (while transferring wealth and power into the hands of the capitalist oligarchy.
+11. An educational-industrial complex that inculcates passivity, conservativism, specialization, individualism, subordination, appeasement, hierarchy, oppression, identitarianism, and narrowness over rebellion, liberation, critical thinking, many-sidedness, solidarity, radical class analysis, active resistance, egalitarianism, and revolutionary vision. This bankrupt ideological structure has hatched a “chickenshit conformist” intelligentsia that lacks the courage and vision to tell people the full truth about the depth and degree of the authoritarian menace that stalks the land – and the rooting of that menace in the nation’s underlying and interrelated unelected dictatorships of capital and empire. It scoffs at and scandalously maligns and misrepresents the notion of popular revolution over and against those dictatorships.
+12. A relentless, many-sided dumbing down of the population so savage that“more than half of Americans between the ages of 16 and 74 (54%) read below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level.”
+14. Disastrously high consumer and student debt and economic inequality that combines with a mass consumerist ethos and corporate oligopolistic pricing to keep masses on a seemingly endless treadmill of work, spend, and pay.
+15. A pathetic and decrepit “left” plagued by cringingly revisionist non- and even anti-revolutionary maladies: a soulless pseudo-workerist “what’s in for me?” economism; rampant egotism and narcissism; chronic sectarianism; “anarchist” and “anti-authoritarian” refusal to building lasting peoples’ movements and durable leadership; a hyper-identitiarian wokesterism.
+16. Mass indifference to and abhorrence of politics on the part of millions of decent, non-fascistic people.
This last problem has been weighing heavily on my mind in recent years. It is wonderful to find hundreds and sometimes even thousands of folks ready to confront authority and “the whole damn system” in the streets and public squares. Still, it is difficult to watch a much larger mass of individuals pass marches, rallies, banners, tables, and leaflets by, seemingly indifferent to atrocities – liked forced motherhood and the continuing racist murder of Black people by police – that they too-privately oppose.
“The best lack all conviction,” William Butler Yeats wrote, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” True to that line, I have often been struck at family and social gatherings by how much more interested Republi-fascists are in hearing my revolutionary views – and in discussing politics – than are the liberals and moderates. The FOX News-polluted Republikaner freaks might be mired in vicious and stupid beliefs but at least they give a f*#k in their own horrific way. They bring “passionate” if lethal and idiotic “intensity” to political topics.
The more civilized, cultured, and virtuous folks in the room are commonly far less animated to say the least. Their non-authoritarian views lack public conviction. To be sure, they typically vote Democratic once every two and/or four years. That’s enough disturbing “politics” for them. They often look away and absent themselves from the conversation when political topics come up. A few of these demure and honorable people speak language from the recovery and therapy cultures, rhetoric on how “it’s dysfunctional to concentrate on stuff you can’t change. Focus on something in your actual sphere of influence, like your career or your retirement plan.” Some of these thankfully non-fascist folks turn their repudiation of engagement almost into a pathology. They may not want an authoritarian, patriarchal, and white nationalist order but they have no interest in discussing how and why the nation sits at the brink of neofascistic rule and what could and must be done to prevent that from happening.
Which brings me to something Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, wrote in 1958: “He who passively accepts evil,” King said, “is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it. There comes a time,” King also remarked, “when silence is betrayal. In the end,” King added, “we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
King voiced similar sentiments five years later in his justly famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, where he worried that “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who…prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…Shallow understanding from people of goodwill,” King wrote, “is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
We desperately need less silence and more truth telling and activism from our friends, from the decent people. Politics is indeed an ugly game, especially in the US thanks in no small part to the factors I listed above. But retreating from engagement only makes it worse. It’s no mere accident that the capitalists and the right have long worked to make politics toxic: it’s an old strategy to discourage activism, passionate intensity, and conviction on the part of the people, the majority of whom do NOT share right-wing values.
But withdrawal and mere spectatorship if even that (I know “good people” who now refuse to even pay attention to the news “horror show”) just make the game worse, even calamitous. Dropping politics, policy, the placement of societal decisions into the category of The Serenity Prayer’s conception of “things beyond our sphere of influence” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Other and very dangerous people and forces do not feel the same way about things! They are quite actively using others’ withdrawal to turn the planet into a massive Hell of detention camps stewing in a planet being turned into a giant Greenhouse Gas chamber. The game has a way of leaping up off the court/field/pitch/rink and swallowing everything whole, including the crowd and everyone else outside the arena. The “negative peace” doesn’t last. It doesn’t work. It helps bring into being a positive Hell on Earth.
Never forget the counsel of the anti-Nazi German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller
‘First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.’
Words worth remembering as red zone school and library districts remove “controversial” books from shelves, including an illustrated version of The Diary of Ann Frank in suburban Fort Worth, Texas.
The Republifascists have come big time for women and girls in the hideous Dobbs decision. But make no mistake. The undoing of abortion rights is just the beginning, a pulling of the string meant to unravel the whole yarn ball of civil, social, and human rights that have been won through years dedicated popular struggle.
The absence of conviction and passionate intensity is not limited to liberals and moderates. Serious Marxist and radical thinkers I know deeply grasp and recognize the US Republi-fascist specter and its capitalist, racist, sexist, imperialist, Christian, bipartisan, and nationalist roots and dimensions but share little if any of my “wild-eyed” notion that anything much can or will be done to slay the authoritarian beast – certainly nothing like a revolution, which is all-knowingly proclaimed a pointless pursuit by armchair Marxists who have never lifted a finger to bring one about, much less given any serious consideration to what would be involved in making one built to last. The pessimism of their minds has negated the optimism of their wills (to use the fascism-incarcerated Antonio Gramsci’s terms). But that’s another topic for another day.
(Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022). Paul is a writer for Counter Punch where this article was published.)