Since high school, I have wanted to understand the Holocaust and fascism.
In 1981, Bertrand Gross’s book “Friendly Fascism” impacted my understanding. Much to the amusement of my friends, I began warning of creeping fascism.
But six months into Donald Trump’s presidency, one friend said, “For years, you’ve warned about fascism. You saw this coming.”
I thought, “No, I didn’t — it’s not friendly anymore.”
Two weeks later, right-wing extremists (white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis; in short, assorted fascists) marched in Charlottesville, Va., to “Unite the Right.” One white nationalist assaulted counter-protesters with his car, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 28. Among the marchers, some shouting “Jews will not replace us,” was the president of the Young Republicans at Washington State University. Trump courted and comforted the marchers saying many were “…fine people…”
Writing this warning has long been on my mind. Attempting it in March, I abandoned it, fearing it would be taken as divisive name calling. But the duty to warn outweighs the risk of being misunderstood.
I want to be clear that I’m not calling everyone who voted for Donald Trump a fascist. Seeing no danger, decent people voted for Trump. Moreover, the country has been trending toward a ruling class for more than 30 years.
Hitting the nail on the head in “Friendly Fascism,” Gross explains fascism is government and big-business in cahoots together. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who coined the word, said, “Fascism should be called corporatism, because it is the marriage of state and corporate power.” That’s fascism’s essence.
Liberals rarely speak of fascism because people wrongly think Nazism and stop listening. It’s difficult to define, because it isn’t the same everywhere. In her book “Fascism,” Madeline Albright avoids defining it, writing “…buckets of ink have been spilled…” trying. She basically equates fascism with tyranny.
The Nazis were fascists, but their extreme racism was not shared by the other fascist countries of WWII. While fascists are often racists, you don’t have to be a racist to be a fascist. Both fascist Spain and Italy resisted deporting Italian jews to the Nazis.
Friendly fascism lacks the racism and scapegoating of classic fascism. It doesn’t create a common enemy to unite followers. Absent is enslaving people in concentration camps. Citizens vote, but only for corporate candidates who are bought with big campaign donations. Monied-aristocrats dominate government. The fox guards the hen-house. Congresspersons retire, becoming lobbyists. Regulators are hired by the industries they once regulated. CEOs are appointed to Cabinet positions overseeing their industries. Money is property, but is dishonestly defined as “speech.” Billionaires have 99 percent of the speech. Corporations are defined as “people,” receiving human rights. Labor unions are attacked. Money buys power, and the system concentrates both in a tiny percentage of citizens. Inheritance taxes, which protect democracy from a hereditary ruling class, are called “death taxes.”
Friendly fascism lacks a state-controlled media. Instead giant corporations monopolize the media spinning out big-business friendly news. And the ends justify the means, so suppressing the vote of liberal-leaning citizens becomes a method of maintaining corporate dominance.
“Unite the Right” organizers correctly identified fascism as a right-wing political philosophy, but there is a monumental paradox here. Conventional thinking wrongly sees the political spectrum as linear, left to right. We should think of it as an oval. Go too far left or right, and the lines curve back becoming one thing — tyranny.
When government and big-business are in bed together, Gross says it makes little difference which is on top. In the 1930s, Hitler (fascist) and Stalin (communist), used different propaganda, but to millions of victims tortured, executed and starved to death, reality was the same. Ironically, fascists and communists hate each other, while both hate liberals.
In George Orwell’s brilliant book “Animal Farm,” the humans (fascists) enslave the farm animals, but are overthrown by the farm animals led by the “Pigs” (communists). The “Pigs,” in turn, exploit the working animals. Orwell’s book ends with this line: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
The problem with friendly fascism is it concentrates power and doesn’t stay friendly for long. In a following article, I’ll explore the warning signs that friendly fascism is currently becoming something more sinister.
Roger Ledbetter is a politically-active resident of the Valley. He and his family have lived in Snoqualmie since 1979. Contact Roger Ledbetter through the editor by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.