Posted 5 years ago on May 6, 2012, 1:13 p.m. EST by PeterKropotkin
from Oakland, CA
This content is user submitted and not an official statement
America has never been without fascist wannabes. Research by Political Research Associates estimates that, at any given time in our history, roughly 10-12 percent of the country's population has been bred-in-the-bone right-wing authoritarians -- the people who are hard-wired to think in terms of fascist control and order. Our latter-day Christian Dominionists, sexual fundamentalists and white nationalists are the descendants -- sometimes, the literal blood descendants -- of the same people who joined the KKK in the 1920s, followed Father Coughlin in the 1930s, backed Joe McCarthy in the early '50s, joined the John Birch society in the '60s, and signed up for the Moral Majority in the 1970s and the Christian Coalition in the 1990s.
Given its rather stunning durability, it's probably time to acknowledge that this proto-fascist strain is a permanent feature of the American body politic. Like ugly feet or ears that stick out, it's an unchanging piece of who we are. We are going to have to learn to live with it. But it's also true that this faction's influence on the larger American culture ebbs and flows broadly over time. Our parents and grandparents didn't have to deal with them much at all, because the far-right fringe was pushed back hard during the peak years of the New Deal. It broke out for just a few short years in the McCarthy era -- long enough to see the rise of the Birchers -- and then was firmly pushed back down into irrelevance again.
But the country's overall conservative drift since the Reagan years and the rise of the Internet (which enabled the right's network of regional and single-issue groups to crystallize into a single, unified, national right-wing culture over the course of the '90s and '00s) reenergized the extreme right as a political force. As a result, history may look back on George W. Bush's eight years as the "Peak Wingnut" era -- a high-water mark in radical right-wing influence and power in America.
Now, things are changing again. Every year or so for the past five years, I've written about the future prospects for America's would-be fascists on the far right. And it's time to take another look, because the political and cultural landscape they're working in now isn't at all the same one they were working in even three years ago. Fascist America: We Were Very Nearly There
The last time I visited this subject in 2010, progressives were reaching a point of maximum despair. In 2008, the GOP had taken its most thorough drubbing since the FDR years. But, just two years on, the far right had not only regrouped; it had taken full control of the Republican Party under the resurgent Tea Party banner -- and was getting set to elect some of the country's most extreme political, social and economic Neanderthals. In the process, it was also about to retake Congress, along with control of over half of the state governorships and legislatures.
And take over it did. In the wake of this victory, the far right's new electees shifted into overdrive, immediately introducing brutally aggressive legislation to bust unions, disenfranchise Democratic voters and roll back a century of progress on reproductive rights. The speed and power of the onslaught was breathtaking -- but it was also driven by desperation. What most pundits missed was the fact that the far right had no time to waste, because both the mood of the country and its basic demographic realities were changing under their feet. Polls over the past decade show that America is, at its core, a progressive nation in every way that matters, and that this trend is solidifying and expanding with time. As Nancy L. Cohen put it in Delirium: How The Sexual Counterrevolution Is Polarizing America: Cultural progressivism is the new American way....A majority of all Americans now supports same-sex marriage. Americans strongly upholding Roe v. Wade, and strongly oppose the position of the Republican Party. Fully 62 percent think that abortion should be legal in the first three months of pregnancy, in which 89 percent of abortions occur; only 15 percent favor outlawing abortion in all circumstances. Americans have become less religious and less culturally conservative over the past 40 years. Polling on birth control and sexual morality show that Americans unequivocally reject the sexual fundamentalists' attempt to take us back to a time when sex was stigmatized and only legitimate when confined within the traditional heterosexual marriage. The majority of Americans believe in the basic values underpinning a culturally progressive approach to matters of sex, gender, family, and culture: privacy, personal freedom, equality, and pluralism.
This progressive bent also extends to the country's attitudes on ending corporate dominance over our economy, supporting a robust middle class, and addressing climate change and other environmental crises.
The conservatives know that the demographic trends are not on their side, and that whatever limited advantages they enjoy now are receding with every election cycle that passes. Right-wing America is old, white, rural, and religious -- a cohort that's shrinking with every passing year, and is even now in the process of being swamped by a tide of voters who are younger, urban, ethnically diverse, and largely non-churchgoing. It was that tide, mobilized, that elected Obama -- the first time it's been heard from, but by no means the last. So these hard-and-fast grabs for power are a Hail Mary play. The far right sees that the clock is running out. It's rushing to consolidate its gains as fast as it can, in the hope of slamming America as far to the right as possible in the time it has left -- and also building big, ugly legal obstacles that will make it much harder to undo the damage when the younger, more progressive wave that's rolling in finally does assume full control.
The Race for the Future
My past assessments of the far fascist fringe's political prospects were mostly predicated on which side would win this race for the future.
Would the far right -- now mostly standing under the Tea Party banner -- manage to consolidate power fast enough to hijack our democracy entirely, and institute the fascist theocracy of its dreams? In 2010, the signs were strong that it was on track to move quickly toward that goal. Or, alternatively: would the basic decency, common sense and patriotism of the American people kick in in time to halt the fascist power grab and knock the country back toward its better, fairer and more democratic side? Despair was deep and time was growing short. There were few signs on the ground that this was even possible. In the past, I warned gravely that the first scenario was our default future unless something changed radically. Fascism creeps; and one of its hallmarks is that by the time you realize you're in it, it's too late to do anything about it. The legislative agendas being pursued in statehouses all over the country -- not to mention the stated willingness of congressional Tea Partiers to crash the American economy, tear up constitutional protections, enable theocracy, and bring our government to a standstill -- were clear warnings that our country was in the hands of radical revolutionaries who will stop at nothing, up to and including destroying the country, to get their way. More ominously: a political movement that's willing to take power through terrorist violence -- which the far right threatens constantly, and delivers on often enough for us to take that threat seriously -- doesn't need anything remotely like a majority to take over a country. When you're willing to use force, democracy becomes irrelevant. In the dark hours of 2010, it was hard to even imagine that the second scenario was possible. Americans were apathetic, disengaged and resigned. Everybody saw where things were going, but it was like watching a train wreck -- that slow-motion horror in your head, the disbelief, the sense that nobody can hear you screaming, and the sickening knowledge that there's nothing you can do to stop what you know is coming.
Pulling Ahead Now, from the vantage point of 2012, it's surprising how quickly the view changed. It's way too soon to call a winner in the race, but as it stands now, the second scenario has pulled into the more likely position, and the possibility of a fascist America is starting to fade back. The difference is the same simple signal I was hoping to see back when I started tracking this in 2006. Finally, after years of impotence, average Americans have done the one thing that will make all the difference: they woke up and got pissed. Wisconsin was the first sign. Then came Occupy. Now, this spring, it's sprouting up everywhere, to the point where our would-be fascists can't take a step anywhere without getting their feet tangled up by protestors determined to hold them to account. Mind you: our country's future still looks like that slow-motion train wreck. But, even though the train is still moving and the horror is still filling our heads, you can finally hear your own voice screaming. And so can everybody else. There's a gathering sense that even though there's still nothing we can do, we must do something. Standing on the sidelines and watching is no longer an option. We know the time has come to fight for our country's future -- and our own futures as well. This uprising of American decency and vision is the critical difference that switches tracks, and puts us onto an entirely new future. As long as this pushback continues, the fascist future that loomed so large in the front window through the years of Peak Wingnut will continue to belong to the receding past. The Timeline
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