Friday, September 08, 2017

Fascists And Republicans Have Colluded Before––Are They The Same?

I keep asking: when are the stories about the Russian attack on our election and infiltration of our politics going to make the necessary comparison with the German American Bund, a fascist infiltration run by and from a foreign enemy, designed to turn America into a lesser power unlikely to challenge the Nazis' global ambitions?

The Nazis organized the Bund to neutralize America’s traditional friendship with Britain and other European democracies, to make America neutral and isolationist. Russia used Trump to neutralize and isolate American power in the world, to split up the western alliance, NATO, and similar alliances we had around the world, to bust up trade agreements, to sow discord within the United States itself. They achieved this goal far beyond any rational expectation. Trump, by his appointments to key posts and non-appointments, has also achieved a overall degradation of our democratic institutions and systems of government: the State Department, the EPA, the FCC (the agency that is supposed to keep foreign bots and trolls from dominating our public communications), the various bureaus and departments tasked with making our systems function properly and fairly. The Trump/Putin win in this election has also turned the Department of Justice from a department focused on protecting Americans’ rights into a tool for white supremacy and white minority rule, a deportation machine, a device for making America less attractive and less admired in the world.

The German goals with the Bund dovetailed neatly with Republican goals in the 1930s, so there were two machines working to derail FDR’s New Deal and America’s alliance with Europe’s democracies. As this short BBC documentary describes, in 1933 and 34, just after FDR began his first term, groups funded by Wall Street began organizing a coup. The coup failed, but the movement continued, calling itself The Liberty League, championing corporate power and opposing workers’ rights and efforts to rebuild our infrastructure by putting Americans back to work with government spending. So this neat alliance between foreign fascists and American Republicans is not new.

The new Russian strategy sold via bots and trolls and agent provocateurs fits neatly with decades-old Republican strategies of divide and rule. Divide white workers from black and Latino workers. Divide men from women. Divide by religious belief. Divide the religious from the non-religious. Divide regions against each other (note how Republicans opposed relief after Hurricane Sandy…of course they now demand relief for their own disasters.) The motives and sentiments expressed by the Russians in their global mischief probably appeared very familiar to Republicans who were targeted. So familiar it didn’t seem foreign or wrong. It fit previous Republican instructions. Ingredients in the Russian playbook include race resentment, global grievances and feelings of unjust decline in status, hatred of more successful and prosperous countries and groups, fierce religious prejudices, and overall an almost medieval tribalism. So it may be hard to sort the con game from a free choice made by Republicans and independents susceptible to the Russian/Republican pitches.

Bill Moyers has this helpful, factual, timeline of the Trump/Putin relationship and how the Republicans were cool with it.

This reporting from McClatchy and the New York Times explores how the Russians did it and might help explain why Republicans were so comfortable going along with it.

The Steele Dossier, which is being proven out in many of its concerns and suspicions, reminds us of how the Russians also used political blackmail to enforce Trump's compliance with their plan.

If a majority chooses fascism in an election is it still democracy? Remember: Hitler was elected in a democracy, which enabled him to close it down and install a fascist autocracy.

Were Republicans duped or were they willing collaborators? You might point out that the Russians were spreading lies and fake news. It was a trick. The Trump answer to that is to say the news networks were fake news too. When it’s all lies the public tends to choose sides, revert to tribal loyalties.

There has been another Republican defense that says “All politicians lie.” This is a vast expansion of the fact that no politician is ever able to fulfill all of his or her promises. And political oppositions force compromises to achieve anything. Are compromises a lie? This is another familiar totalitarian smear against democracies, but Republicans have run on it for decades. The goal among antidemocratic politicians has been to degrade confidence in our system and our democratic norms, to degrade our institutions to make Americans frustrated and distrustful of them, to make Americans long for a strong man, a dictator. Dictators are so much more efficient because they order something and it gets done. The problem is totalitarians make decisions that benefit themselves, letting lesser benefits trickle down… and that pathetic promise is also familiar. It counts on Americans being so busy fighting amongst themselves for the diminished benefits that they don’t organize against the power that has diminished, actually stolen, those benefits.

In our recent fight over “entitlements” and prosperity the Republican strategy has been to say “some other group” has stolen your prosperity or feels falsely entitled to what you are legitimately entitled to, while the Republican machinery has actually been taking that prosperity and redistributing it upward. They’ve also distributed the tax burden downward, off of the wealthy classes and onto the working class. The enemy isn’t taxes, which pay for roads and schools and hospitals, it’s their redistribution. The dysfunction this unfair redistribution has caused has dried up the revenue that keeps our infrastructure functioning. There is another similarity here between Russia (a kleptocracy) and the Republican juggernaut. In Russia wealthy tax evaders have been laundering their stolen wealth abroad, apparently through people like Donald Trump and Paul Manafort and others, impoverishing their country, hollowing it out, lowering its GDP disastrously and lowering life expectancy dramatically. Will similar kleptocratic behaviors by the Republicans and their clients do the same here?

When the news becomes bad nobody wants to believe it. People tend to blame it on others. When systems fail we blame the people who have tried to keep those systems working, we don’t tend to blame the political party that degraded the tax revenue that kept the systems operative, that updated safeguards and installed backups. For three decades, if you listen to the Republican rhetoric, you can see how much they agree with the Russians: they want to hollow out America the same way Russia’s leadership and oligarchy has hollowed out Russia. The Republicans want a lower paid, obedient, servile working class, which is a basic fascist goal. They know this is unattractive, but they know that when things stop functioning that Americans will long for a strongman to make it run again, doing so by good old corporate dictatorial powers.

Strong men get into power by promising what they have no intention of delivering. Democrats, both small-d and capital-D, actually mean to deliver on their promises, sometimes they fail or succeed only partially. An unfulfilled promise is not a lie when the politician persists in trying to achieve what he or she promised. In a democracy, compromises are not lies, they are how democracy works. I suppose you could also say Trump was telling the truth when he promised to do harm to millions of Americans; he meant to do these things and will still try to do them if he can. He promised to shut down whole departments of government. Not a lie: he has installed department heads dedicated to making poisons flow into our water and air again, to re-accelerate climate change, to put the internet firmly into the hands of corporations and restrict its use by the rest of us, to keep poverty wages below the poverty line, to re-accelerate health insurance rate hikes and make it harder for sick people to get care. He’s honest about the things he plans to do, but he lies about how those things will affect us. He promises we will get tired of winning when he intends to restrict the winning to himself and his class of rich people, powerful people, the kinds of people his prosperity gospel preachers say are blessed by God because they are rich. Is that a lie? Most con games are lies sold with partial truths. The way the Nazis “persuaded" the German people. The way Putin manipulated his way into dictatorship. It’s a con game and one political party in America seems very adept at it and very comfortable with it. It’s exactly what the Republicans want. It's a con game. This is why they nominated a con man to run it for them.

No political party or movement or figure has lied so massively and so constantly as this Republican president and this Republican Party. It’s as if the Russians had grafted their fascist DNA onto the Republican Party, along with their aggressive use of lies and wholehearted willingness to believe lies and rationalize them. As Republican Duncan Hunter said about Trump: “He’s an asshole but he’s our asshole.” This is tribalism. This is an absence of values. This is what Orwell wrote about in 1984, a system turned upside down and inside out. This is what Sinclair Lewis wrote about in It Can’t Happen Here. It didn’t happen in the 1930s, but it appears to have succeeded in this decade.

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