Democracies are dying – follow up to ‘Friendly Fascism’ discussion | Column

A column by local political activist Roger Ledbetter.

By Roger Ledbetter

Special to the Record

All around the world democracies are dying. In Hungary, Philippines, Turkey, Russia, Austria, Brazil, Venezuela and elsewhere autocrats are gaining power.

In other countries neo-fascist parties like “Alternative for Germany” and “National Rally” in France are growing. With the possible exception of Venezuela, these are right-wing nationalist movements. Once in power, authoritarians go about dismantling democratic institutions.

Listing these dying democracies, it appears the threat to democracy comes more from the far-right than the far-left. Although, as previously discussed in my article “Friendly Fascism,” there is no practical difference between right-wing or left-wing dictatorships. Both concentrate power with state and industrial elites.

In the United States, since the 1980s, wealth and power have concentrated in the hands of an economic-aristocracy. Remember, fascism’s essence is the “marriage” of state and corporate power. Corporatist Supreme Court judges define money as speech and corporations as people.

A few years ago, I asked progressive Thom Hartmann why he did not use “fascism” to describe the concentration of power in corporations and the uber-rich. He suggested “oligarchy” and “corporatism” as alternative terms that didn’t turn people off. I read him Lawrence Britt’s list of 14 characteristics of fascism, and Hartmann agreed all were present. Across our nation, patriots, conservatives and liberals alike, are warning democracy is in danger.

After WWII, Milton Mayer traveled to Germany, interviewing everyday working people to discover how Nazi tyranny replaced democracy. In his book, “They Thought They Were Free,” he reports democracy had died by a thousand cuts. The descent into dictatorship was imperceptible. Those who think “it can’t happen here” should remember Germany was an advanced and well-educated country.

Following are Britt’s (2003) list of 14 characteristics of fascism. Retaining Britt’s titles in bold, some supporting facts are added.

Powerful nationalism: Nationalists take national-interests to the extreme. Trump tweeted (2013) “I still can’t believe we left Iraq without the oil.” He said (2016), “It’s not stealing, we’re reimbursing ourselves.” He told Matt Laurer (2016) “It used to be, to the victor belongs the spoils.”

Disdain for human rights: Fear of enemies/immigrants allows fascist regimes to ignore human rights. Trump said not only would he torture terrorists, but murder their families too, according to national media reports. S.A. recently pulled out of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council.

Identifying enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause: Immigrants, Muslims and political opponents are vilified.

Supremacy of the military: Military budgets are bloated while domestic needs ignored. Trump wanted a glorifying military parade.

Rampant sexism: Trump suggested punishing women for abortion, but not men who impregnate them. When Megan Kelly asked about his bankruptcies, he suggested she was menstruating.

Controlled mass media: Recently journalist Jane Meyer described Fox News as akin to state TV. Trump supported Sinclair News acquisition of Tribune Media to dominate local stations with “pro-Trump” news. The press is attacked as “enemy of the people.”

Obsession with national security: Trump uses fear and his wall to rally his base.

Religion and government are intertwined: To win over authoritarian Christians, Trump claimed to be an evangelical and selected Vice-President Mike Pence.

Corporate power is protected: The industrial/business aristocracy places government leaders in power, resulting in mutually profitable relationships.

Labor power is suppressed: Organized labor is the only viable challenge to fascism. Unions have been under attack for 30 years. Membership is down. Union busting “right-to-work” laws are common.

Disdain for intellectuals and the arts: Higher education was once affordable. Now it isn’t. Uneducated people are easier to manipulate.

Obsession with crime and punishment: Police abuses are overlooked. Trump encourages police and border guards to get rough.

Rampant cronyism and corruption: Fascist regimes appoint friends/family to government positions, protecting themselves from accountability. Son-in-Law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump get high positions without qualifying for security clearances. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin refuses to submit Trump’s taxes to Congress. Attorney General William Barr withholds and whitewashes the “Mueller Report.”

Fraudulent elections: Evidence suggests Georgia governorship was stolen from candidate Stacy Abrams. In North Carolina, a Republican congressional candidate hires a felon to commit election fraud. Criminal Russian election interference helped elect Trump. Twenty-five (25) Republican controlled states passed voter suppression laws.

When Trump says he is a “nationalist,” says neo-Nazis are “fine” people, says he would take Iraq’s oil, when he uses the 1930 fascist slogan “America First,” when he stokes fear, when he scapegoats, when he declares an “emergency” to bypass Congress, when he disdains human rights, when he encourages police violence, when he calls journalists “enemy of the people,” when he admires dictators, when he encourages chants of “lock them up,” when he calls it treason to investigate him, when he lies daily, when he invites foreign governments to help his election, when he cages children to punish their parents, when he fills his cabinet with corrupt corporate-cronies, when he dismisses Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, when he says he is above the law, when he claims (like Italian dictator Benito Mussolini) he is the “only one who can fix it,” when he suggests his followers will demand he stay in office forever, Trump is telling you something.

Roger Ledbetter is a politically-active resident of the Valley.Contact Roger Ledbetter through the editor: