A few minutes ago, a breath of much-needed fresh air: the swearing into office of the 46th President of the United States, Joseph Robinett Biden, Jr.
And, the installation of the first woman Vice-President of the United States, who hails from a lineage of Africa and South Asia, Kamala Devi Harris.
Let’s hope we can finally work to beat the Covid-19 pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 400,000 of our compatriots in this country, and millions around the world, and begin to right our precariously listing ship of state.
OK, the innermost desires of the current occupant of the White House
are never secret too long. He has an innate inability to contain
himself in any manner whatsoever. Kind of like little boys in their
I recently heard someone use the word “Fascism”
and it reminded me that just like the word ‘racist’, it does have a
specific meaning, tho it has been prefixed to many modifiers in its
historically short, modern history.
(To be a racist, by the by,
is to also have the position and societal power to enact and enforce
your beliefs. Otherwise you are, simply, ‘prejudiced’. I dislike
pineapple on pizza is a prejudice, for example. If I wrote that I do not
like folks of the Caucasian persuasion that would be a prejudice, as
well: as a person of color I have no societal power over them. All I
could do is on a personal level, like not hiring them, not publishing
their photography, etc. As such, my actions would be prejudicial ones,
not racist ones.)
So, to fascism.
The great novelist and thinker in semiotics, Umberto Eco, was born into fascist Italy. To help clarify people’s thinking on just what the word means, he published an essay in 1995 for The New York Review of Books titled “Ur-Fascism“. While I am not certain his list is the last word, he offers 14 typical features that, like a tiny speck of atmospheric ice crystal that permits the formation of hail, allows fascism to coalesce into a state we can identify.
(via a refinment from someone named “Kottke” and then blogger Paul
Bausch) published these as the following comprehensible list:
1. The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of
every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The
Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult
2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the
Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this
sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
3. The cult of
action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be
taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form
4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical
spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In
modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way
to improve knowledge.”
5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal
of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the
intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
6. Appeal to
social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical
fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering
from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and
frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest
way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”
8. The enemy
is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus,
the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no
struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology,
heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the
cult of death.”
12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both
disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard
sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which
the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented
and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”
The Executive Branch current morphing of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security into what some other countries call their Interior Ministry has been, in a way, a no-brainer. Of the 80-odd federal law enforcement agencies in the United States, Customs and Border Protection Agents may be the most ‘physical’ with apprehended suspects as they conduct operations along a largely deserted southern border without the prying eyes of the greater public. They routinely hold people who they suspect are entering the country illegally without offering up specific charges. (Separate and incarcerate children apart from their parents? OK, no problem! They have also arrested U.S. citizens who leave gallon jugs of water in the desert for immigrants because such actions are seen as aiding those attempting to enter the U.S. without papers.)
In many countries
Interior Ministries are anything but people-friendly: these departments are not
populated by employees guiding their populace on ranger-led interpretive nature
hikes through spectacular natural scenery. They are heads-of-state directed agencies
who operate as a secret police, whose employees are feared by their own people
and rightly so. The tactics employed by such ministries include warrantless
search and seizures, arrests without stated cause, indeterminate detention,
torture and other popular acts of authoritarian governments. They are internal
police forces answering to the whims of the supreme leader, not the directives
of local officials. Portland was simply a warm-up exercise incorporating agents from Customs and Border Protection, the
Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, and Immigration and
Chicago is slated to be next as what we in the past called Gestapo Tactics is
rolled out across the country’s big cities using whatever federal manpower is
available. The Trump administration has learned another valuable lesson from
Russia’s playbook by customizing its own anonymous armed officers, our version
of the “Little Green Men” who invaded and occupied eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Yale historian Timothy Snyder (On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the
Twentieth Century. Tim Duggan Books; 2017) spoke with Michelle Goldberg
for her New York Times July 21st column, “This is a classic way that
violence happens in authoritarian regimes, whether it’s Franco’s Spain or
whether it’s the Russian Empire. The people who are getting used to committing
violence on the border are then brought in to commit violence against people in
the interior.” “
Typical of right-winger’s flip-flops, the National Rifle Association (NRA) was rabid in 1995 with a flip warning of the seizure of American’s guns under Congress’s ‘Assault Weapons Ban’: “In Clinton’s administration, if you have a badge, you have the government’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.” Now, however, the NRA endorses Trump for a second term (July 16 announcement) and, with a thudding flop, lauds his actions in Portland for “stand[ing] tall for the constitutional freedoms in which our members believe.” Where o’ where are my conservative friends who used to uphold the rights of individuals at all costs against Big Government? Perhaps they are all busy praising the powers of plutocracy and the all-controlling Spy State: all citizens are equal but some are more equal than others.
In an article in today’s The
Atlantic magazine David A. Graham writes, “Chad Wolf, the [acting head
of] DHS amid the crackdown, is also accountable only to the president: Trump,
who loves circumventing the Constitution’s requirement of Senate confirmation
for some positions, has often chosen to leave acting heads in charge of
agencies so that they are more pliable and dependent on him.”
As if anonymous federal police throwing people into unmarked rental cars is not enough, Trump has bought in John Yoo, seeking advice from the lawyer who wrote Bush 43’s 2002 legal justification for Guantanamo ‘enhanced interrogations’, the so-called ‘torture memos’. Yoo has publicly confirmed he’s helping the Trump administration find ways to skirt Congress and impose his (Trump’s) own policies without congressional approval, even if such policies violate laws – that is, the democratic principles of citizen protection upon which this country was founded.
Yoo’s thinking on this was detailed in an article in the magazine National Review (June 22) arguing the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) provides a back door to implement policies by the Chief Executive without regard to legality: the ruling “makes it easy for presidents to violate the law, but reversing such violations difficult — especially for their successors.” In Yoo’s recent interview with the British newspaper The Guardian he says, “And why can’t the Trump administration do something similar with immigration – create its own … program, but it could do it in areas beyond that, like healthcare, tax policy, criminal justice, inner city policy. I talked to them a fair amount about cities, because of the disorder.” And with regard to Portland’s unidentified, masked agents: “It has to be really reasonably related to protecting federal buildings … If it’s just graffiti, that’s not enough. It really depends on what the facts are.”
But… facts, of
course, never get in the way of life in Trump-ville.
I am again and again struck by our country’s
Founders who were so often uncannily prescient in setting up roadblocks for
undesirable outcomes and on-ramps for desirable ones. They could not possibly
plan for every exigency but certainly covered a lot of ground in their attempt.
For all its social faults the Age of Enlightenment bred people – men and women
– of brilliance and forethought to whom expertise, science and knowledge were
things of beauty to combat ignorance, popular befuddlement and the rule of the
I end here with a small quote from the transcript of the James Madison
Debates of the Constitutional Convention, delivered by the man himself, on
Friday, June 29, 1787. As was usual, the written record contains abbreviations
commonly used in such recorded work in the 18th century (the italics are mine).
“In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of war, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people. It is perhaps questionable, whether the best concerted system of absolute power in Europe cd. maintain itself, in a situation, where no alarms of external danger cd. tame the people to the domestic yoke.” Further, “He [Madison] entreated the gentlemen representing the small States to renounce a principle [the rank of the States as political societies, for example] wch. was confessedly unjust, which cd. never be admitted, & if admitted must infuse mortality into a Constitution which we wished to last forever.”
“Mary Ann Vecchio [a 14-year old runaway, as the world later learned] gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student, Jeffrey Miller, lying face down on the campus of Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio. On publication, the image was retouched to remove the fence post above Vecchio’s head.” The protest was against President Nixon’s illegal bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Reacting to mass demonstrations on May 1st, Nixon he had called anti-war protestors ‘bums’.
Four students were killed and 9 wounded by the 67 shots fired by the Ohio National Guard that day. Two of the four killed were bystanders and none of the four was closer to the Guard than about a football field in distance. The Guard had been dispatched to Kent State by Governor James Rhodes, at the request of the town of Kent’s mayor, after an arson attack burned down the ROTC building on May 2.
Four million students (college and high school) went out on strike after the news of the shootings became public.
In New Mexico, where I now live, eleven people were bayonetted at the University of New Mexico by the New Mexico National Guard in a confrontation with student protesters on May 8th. The demonstrations in Washington, DC were so combative that Nixon was removed to Camp David for his safety and the 82nd Airborne was lodged in the basement of the Executive Office Building next to the White House. At Jackson State University, a historically black college, in Jackson, Mississippi, two students were killed (and 12 wounded) by police during a demonstration on May 14 – an event that did not receive the same attention as the shootings at Kent State.
I was in high school in Ohio and vividly remember those times – especially when my Draft Number turned out to be 99. For many years thereafter I never ate at Wendy’s because Ohio Governor Big Jim Rhodes (“part P.T. Barnum, part Elmer Gantry, part Norman Vincent Peale” – Dayton Daily News) was one of Wendy’s investors. There are memorial events at Kent State on May 4th every year and I have managed to make it to one (the 30th, I believe.)
There are still unanswered questions about the timing and personnel involved in the Kent State massacre. A prominent one involves the university- and FBI-informant Terrence Brooks Norman (no relation!), a student who appeared to be the only non-Guardsman individual who was armed at the demonstration.