Friday, March 18, 2016

The "Melting-Pot" is Boiling Over. . . .

There has, understandably, been much talk recently about the potential decline of the US into genuine fascism. Strict discourse on such matters depends, of course, on how one defines the political ideology of fascism. Dr. Lawrence Britt, offers us a fairly straightforward definition of fascism here. There is little doubt in my mind that even sticking with such strict definitions, the US is currently edging toward genuine fascism.

At the very least, the US is falling toward a difficult and dangerous situation in which outright violence (that is to say, not simply systemic violence) committed by civilians in the name of a perceived nationalism, is taking the place of 'normal' political discourse. Not only has Trump begun to encourage and justify violence by his supporters, his supporters have upped the ante and begun to talk about carrying guns at rallies and voting booths, and killing opponents as a matter of course. As routine as violence has become in a country like the US, even those inured to such matters should be sweating a little more nervously of late.

The great American writer Sinclair Lewis once wrote a novel "It Can't Happen Here," in which he attempted to remind his fellow citizens how easy the slide toward fascism can occur and how vulnerable American was to this potential slide. Regardless of what happens from here, political historians will talk for a long time about the events we are seeing unfold. They give us a strange sense of unreality as we watch, much like we had here in Canada as Harper slowly attempted to pervert the history of this country gradually and from the inside. But, as they often are, events in the US are more intense and radical than they are in Canada, and this is like the Harper revolution on crack.

Daniel Marans and Ryan Grim have written an interesting article on how the Trump phenomenon could fall into traditional fascist violence. "Extreme political movements like Trump's" they say, "often go hand-in-hand with street violence. But organized militias like Hitler's Brown Shirts and Benito Mussolini's Black Shirts don't spring up overnight. They evolve."

And, in retrospect, we have seen that evolution over the past fifty years in America. As the demographics have changed, we have seen diversity become the norm in American society and many whites have resented this process as they see their traditional entitlement and power slipping away. I think that there is an irony in this fact because I think that it has evolved directly from the US notion of a social 'melting pot.' Many white Americans had a vision that diversity would mix society together such that they would still live in the same society they had always known, just simply one that had people of colour still "towing the line" of traditional "white values." Ironic too is the way conservatives here in Canada have maligned and attacked policies of "multi-culturalism," because I suspect it has been such policies that have actually prevented the white population from feeling too entitled and waking up suddenly, as many have done in the US, feeling as though they have been "taken over." In other words, while many Canadians have grown gradually accustomed to a diverse society, many white Americans have been "taken by surprise" by what they perceive to be a suddenly changing demographic. I understand this process empirically because when I grew up in the US, it was clear to me that immigrants and "non-whites" were simply expected to "integrate" into US society. When I came to Canada still in my youth, I experienced a very different attitude. Though racism was still evident, I saw that there was a much greater expectation that there was strength and enrichment in diversity and that we could celebrate different cultural aspects and still unite together. This issue is exactly why, when Harper and his minions tried to stoke the flames of racism as a way of getting reelected, they were considerably less successful than someone like Trump could be.

What happens in the next few months and years in the US is anyone's guess. Fascism doesn't happen with a sudden coup or the election of an autocrat. It begins years before when a nation lets its anger, bigotry, and hate take over its political discourse, a tendency which inevitably slides into violence.


Owen Gray said...

I agree, Kirby. Nations slip into fascism. They don't suddenly chose it as the best option.

Lorne said...

A perceptive analysis, Kirby. While I agree with you assertion that a policy of multiculturalism has made us far more accepting than Americans, I suppose one could argue that policy is also an outward expression of our more liberal and outward-looking values.

I also think of the Turner thesis, which you are likely quite familiar with. Unlike the U.S. experience in the opening of its frontier, ours was preceded by the establishment of legal institutions that prevented the kind of 'wild west' mentality that seems to plague Americans to this day.

The Mound of Sound said...

I have reluctantly come to believe that liberal democracy, if undefended, succumbs first to illiberal democracy and then on to more extreme forms of authoritarian rule. We were somehow brought up to believe that liberal democracy was so superior, so naturally dominant, that, once achieved it would be self-perpetuating. It was enough that we turned out to vote to ensure its continuation.

Neoliberalism, it turns out, is incompatible with liberal democracy. It is the foundational basis for globalism and political capture. This is most obviously evidenced in America's "bought and paid for" Congress that routinely operates in defiance of the public will at the behest of monied interests that it relies upon. Rome, in its dying years, evolved a similar "transactional democracy."

We have been lax in defending liberal democracy although not nearly to the extent as our American cousins. Electoral reform will go a long way to buttressing our democratic freedoms but we can't assume that will be enough in its own right. We have to be vigilant in keeping tabs on the restoration of our democracy which was more extensively mauled during the Harper era than most Canadians appreciate.

A critical step that no one save the Greens advocates is restoring press freedom by breaking up the corporate media cartel. New voting procedures are wonderful but the quality of the vote inevitably depends on having a genuinely informed electorate. This demands that the public have ready access to the broadest range of political opinion and reporting, from the far left to the far right and everything in between. That cannot be achieved while the media languishes under corporate concentration of ownership and cross-ownership. People today are hearing a narrow, corporate voice which manifests in messaging disguised as information. We've seen in the States how rightwing corporate media have accommodated the rise of fascist elements. Let's not fall into that same trap in Canada.

Kirby Evans said...

@ Lorne - You are right, it is a sort of chicken vs egg question. But no matter where one comes down on the issue, there is little question that the Americans are reaping what they have sown.

@ Mound, Yes it is clear that 'liberal democracy' is far too fragile to be depended upon. It is going to take constant vigilance to avoid a disastrous, fascist future.

Anonymous said...

Last year, former US president Jimmy Carter called the US "an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery." It's not far from there to outright fascism, whether you define that as you did or as Upton Sinclair did when he called it simply "capitalism plus murder."