Are Progressives and Liberals Fascists? Or Are Conservatives The Real Fascists?

Our country is at war. To anyone who has read a headline or watched a news promo, it should come as no surprise. No, I’m not speaking of the war on terror or the war in Iraq or Libya or any other foreign country. This war is taking place right on our own soil. I’m not talking about the war on drugs. I’m not even talking about the fact that the war on poverty has turned into a war on the poor. We are in a war of words…a war of soundbites, and we are losing.

Conservatives in general and tea partiers in specific love to throw words at us. One day we are socialists or communists, the next we are fascists. Sometimes, we are all three at the same time. Though poorly articulated, their arguments defend a vague idea of freedom against a principle of totalitarianism.

This is where the ideas generally end. To the American extreme right (which is most of the current Republican party), freedom seems to mean the freedom to hire their own cops and firefighters. Freedom to the left means an agreement that there is a public good, that if our neighbor’s house catches on fire, a fire department will make sure that ours isn’t ignited by a spark, that if there’s an epidemic, everyone can afford to go to the doctor so it doesn’t spread further. Freedom means the ability to achieve greatness because there is a safety net that makes a fall slightly less painful.

Like many progressives, it doesn’t bother me when I am called ‘socialist.’ In fact, I wear the badge with honor. A socialist is against oppression. A socialist is for rule by the people, not by a dictator or by for profit corporations. A socialist believes in democracy in its purest form. As with any system, when the people put the wrong government in place, totalitarianism can be the result, but totalitarianism is no more inherent in socialism than in democracy.

If the right really wants to call us totalitarian, they are on the right track with the word ‘fascism,’ or are they? Are they really just projecting?

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In 2004, Dr. Laurence Britt, a political scientist, studied the fascist regimes of: Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile). He compiled a list called “The 14 Points of Fascism.” Next time Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh trots out the word ‘fascism’ in reference to President Obama or the progressive movement, perhaps they should consult the following:

1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism

From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.

This one speaks for itself. As an American, there is no greater sin than to criticize the symbols of America.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights

The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.

Denial of basic human rights is typically hidden in code. These code phrases can be, “playing the race card”, “asking for special rights”, “playing the victim,” “states rights” and “property rights.” While these phrases might sound innocuous, they are all protecting privilege, not rights.

3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause

The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice—relentless propaganda and disinformation—were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite “spontaneous” acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and “terrorists.” Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.

Muslims, gays, women, the poor, Mexicans, etc.

4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism

Ruling elites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.

Despite a frenzy to cut the budget, almost no one, especially on the right, dares touch the sanctity of the military.

5. Rampant sexism

Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.

Sexism is becoming slightly less prevalent, but it is still rampant. The growing anti-choice movement is anti-woman. The traditional white male is still trying to hold on to his last vestiges of power. Rush Limbaugh is the perfect example.

6. A controlled mass media

Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes’ excesses.

Despite the accusation of the left-wing media, the vast majority of news outlets are owned by right leaning, large, for profit corporations. Companies like Comcast are being handed the ability to control what is seen in a viewer’s home as well as what is seen on the internet.

7. Obsession with national security

Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting “national security,” and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.

Patriot Act, anyone?

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together

Unlike communist regimes, the fascist and protofascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling elite’s behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling elites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the “godless.” A perception was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion.

Is there one conservative in power who doesn’t call him or herself a Christian conservative?

9. Power of corporations protected

Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. The ruling elite saw the corporate structure as a way to not only ensure military production (in developed states), but also as an additional means of social control. Members of the economic elite were often pampered by the political elite to ensure a continued mutuality of interests, especially in the repression of “have-not” citizens.

This is the Republican platform in a nutshell.

10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated

Since organized labor was seen as the one power center that could challenge the political hegemony of the ruling elite and its corporate allies, it was inevitably crushed or made powerless. The poor formed an underclass, viewed with suspicion or outright contempt. Under some regimes, being poor was considered akin to a vice.

Need I say more?

11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts

Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or expressions of dissent were strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed. To these regimes, art and literature should serve the national interest or they had no right to exist.

Today’s attacks are on education in general and specifically on intellectualism. People of “faith” are demanding proof of near universally accepted scientific facts such as as global climate change and evolution.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment

Most of these regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked power, leading to rampant abuse. “Normal” and political crime were often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and sometimes used against political opponents of the regime. Fear, and hatred, of criminals or “traitors” was often promoted among the population as an excuse for more police power.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption

Those in business circles and close to the power elite often used their position to enrich themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power elite would receive financial gifts and property from the economic elite, who in turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power elite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources. With the national security apparatus under control and the media muzzled, this corruption was largely unconstrained and not well understood by the general population.

Cronyism can mean anything from no-bid contracts for companies like Blackwater and Halliburton to the hiring of unqualified people to head up important agencies such as the CIA and FEMA, as was done during the Bush administration. Mitt Romney’s Utah Olympics were rampant with crony capitalism, on the taxpayer dime. 

14. Fraudulent elections

Elections in the form of plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections with candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power elite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power elite.

Elections are not stolen through isolated incidents of voter fraud. They are stolen through voter suppression tactics, such as ID laws.

Unfortunately, a fascist future is not unforeseeable. But these ideals are not progressive ideals. They are the ideals of the corporatists. They are the ideals of the Supreme Court who declares personhood for corporations and in turn, fraction of personhood for those who are not blessed with billions. They are the ideals of those who would bless the highest bidder with the power to control our most basic needs. These are the ideals of those who would require a religious purity test to serve office. They are the ideals of those who would blame those less fortunate for their own hardships. They are the ideals of those who respect power over humanity. They are the ideals of rigid ideologues. While some Democrats admittedly adhere to some these ideals, they are the ideals of today’s Republican party.

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