December 12, 2018

America At War With Itself: The Sandstorm

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America At War With Itself: The Sandstorm
By Henry Giroux

“And the shadow of fear again has darkly lengthened across the world.”~President Dwight David Eisenhower

“In white America’s collective psyche, and in its traditional narratives of historical memory, authoritarianism is always viewed as existing elsewhere. Seen as an alien and demagogic political system, it is primarily understood as a mode of governance associated with the dictatorships in Latin America in the 1970s and, of course, in its most vile extremes, with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Benito Mussolini’s fascist Italy in the 1930s and 1940s. Both societies glorified war, soldiers, nationalism, militarism, fallen warriors, racial cleansing, and a dogmatic allegiance to the homeland. These were states in which society became armed, security became the raison d’être of both the citizen and state, and fear became a pretext for giving up one’s liberty. Education and the media were the indoctrination tools of authoritarianism, merging fascist and religious symbols with the language of God, family, and country. These cultural systems were used as weapons to achieve servility and conformity among the populace, something many are seeing re-emerge in our current political moment.

In its earlier forms, the language of authoritarianism relied upon the discourse of command and courted mass hysteria, one that produced totalizing world views, punished dissent, disseminated hate-filled propaganda steeped in the vocabulary of ultra-nationalism and racial purity, and emptied language of any substance, reducing it to a ritualized performance. This script is well known to the American public; it has been fully commercialized and marketed in the form of countless products: from films, television series, video games, and works of fiction, to museums and other cultural apparatuses. As a result, the public has been conditioned to perceive totalitarian modes of governance as dead relics from a bygone era rather than as part of a historical narrative with living legacies at play in the present.

Hannah Arendt and Sheldon Wolin, the great theorists of totalitarianism, believed that the fluctuating elements of fascism are still with us and that they would crystalize in different forms. Far from being a thing of the past, they both believed, totalitarianism “heralds . . . a possible model for the future.” Wolin, in particular, was keenly aware that the corporatization of the state and civil society, the destruction of public goods and commons, the commercial control of the media, and the rise of an economic survival-of-the-fittest ethos posed a serious threat to American democracy. According to Arendt, the culture of traditionalism, the dismantling of civil and political rights, the ongoing militarization of society, the “religionization of politics,”6 the attack on labor, the obsession with national security, the perpetration of human rights abuses, the emergence of a police state, entrenched racism, and the attempts by demagogues to undermine education as a foundation for producing critical citizenry were all at work in American society. For Arendt, these anti-democratic elements in U.S. society constituted what she called the “sand storm”–a metaphor for totalitarianism.
[…]
Historical conjunctures produce different forms of authoritarianism, though they all share an intolerance for democracy, dissent, diversity, and human rights. It is too easy to believe in a simplistic binary logic that strictly categorizes a country as either authoritarian or democratic and leaves no room for entertaining the possibility of a competing mixture of both forces. American politics today suggests different forms of authoritarianism. The possibility of white America becoming a fascist nation has a long legacy in American fiction that includes Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. For Native Americans who were exterminated, descendants of Africans who were dehumanized, trafficked, and enslaved by whites, Japanese Americans subjected to concentration camps, and people of color who have been degraded by violence, coercion, and various forms of apartheid for generations, questions of freedom and fascism are quite different from those historically faced by whites, who never feared racist cops, lynch mobs, or burning crosses.

Nevertheless, following World War II, the shadow of fascism was never far from U.S. shores. It is worth remembering Huey Long’s response to the question of whether America could ever become fascist: “Yes, but we will call it anti-fascist.” Long’s reply indicates that fascism is not an ideological apparatus frozen in a particular historical period, but, as Arendt and Wolin have suggested, a complex and often shifting theoretical and political register for understanding how democracy can be subverted, if not destroyed, from within.

The notion of soft fascism was articulated in 1985 in Bertram Gross’s book Friendly Fascism, in which he argued that if fascism came to the United States it would not embody the same characteristics associated with fascist forms of the past. There would be no Nuremberg rallies, overt doctrines of racial superiority, government-sanctioned book burnings, death camps, genocidal purges, or abrogation of the U.S. Constitution. In short, fascism would not resemble the way it has been packaged, marketed, and sold to us as commercial entertainment, nor would it take the form of a previous ideological grid simply downloaded into our political moment. Gross believed that fascism was an ongoing danger and had the ability to become relevant under new conditions, taking on familiar forms of thought that resonate with nativist traditions, experiences, and political relations. Similarly, in his Anatomy of Fascism, Robert O. Paxton argued that the texture of North American fascism would not mimic traditional European forms but would be rooted in the language, symbols, and culture of everyday life in America. According to Paxton:

No swastikas in an American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.
It is worth noting that Umberto Eco’s discussion of “eternal fascism” also argues that any updated version of fascism would not openly assume the mantle of historical fascism; rather, new forms of authoritarianism would appropriate some of its elements, making it virtually unrecognizable from preceding forms. Eco contended that fascism will, if it manifests in America, have a different guise, although it will be no less destructive to democracy. Instead of an all-powerful supreme leader, the government is now controlled by the anonymous and largely remote hands of corporate power and finance capital. More recently, in the face of what Paxton has called an “alarming willingness” on the part of some Republican Party candidates to “use fascist themes and styles,” he has updated his own view of fascism as “a mass nationalist movement intended to restore a country that’s been damaged or is in decline, by expansion, by violent attacks on enemies, internal as well as external enemies, and measures of authority, the replacement of democracy by an authoritarian dictatorship.”12 Rather than cancel each other out, all of these theorists offer up elements that bear traces of old and new forms of authoritarianism. However, the 2016 candidacy of Donald Trump–embraced by white supremacist groups as their “Glorious Leader”–illustrates how the two forms of authoritarianism may now be advanced in one political package.”

http://www.opednews.com/articles/America-At-War-With-Itself-by-Henry-Giroux-Authoritarianism_Peace_War_Violence-War-160924-854.html

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