Collapse, fascism, or progressive renewal?
The American political landscape has become so toxic that we can’t even pass simple legislation that is overwhelmingly supported not only by the majority of the populace but by the President whose party controls both houses of Congress.
While there’s apparently “nothing to see here” when it comes to conservative media outlets and even, in many ways, mainstream media, it’s worth asking the question: “How far down the road toward authoritarian oligarchy, or even outright fascism, have we gone?”
The answer to that question informs our understanding of how close in time we may be to some sort of “final” crisis, and to how easy or difficult it will be to pull back and preserve a functioning democratic republic.
We’ve already passed through several stages that it’s important to note, by way of orienting ourselves in time. And we must repeatedly check in on this to keep our bearings.
As a German college professor told reporter and author Milton Mayer just after World War II when Mayer essentially asked him, “How could you guys have let this happen?”:
“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.”
Back in the 1960s, my friend (in later years) Tom Hayden helped kick off Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) with his brilliant Port Huron Statement. It was before the Vietnam War, and SDS was committing itself to racial and gender justice and a world without the omnipresent threat of nuclear war.
“Our work is guided,” Hayden wrote, “by the sense that we may be the last generation in the experiment with living.”
My own experience in and with SDS was in the late 1960s as we were becoming a leader in the anti-Vietnam War movement, under attack by the media, the FBI, and local police trying to use everything from drug laws to the draft to tear us apart.
I remember the guy we later learned was a police informant constantly trying to get some of us to burn down the MSU ROTC Building; the crisis of the Ohio National Guard’s murders at Kent State; and our growing conviction that our nation’s government was growing more and more remote from the people it governed.
But President Johnson, who was prosecuting the war and sentencing my friends to death via the draft, had also formally and legally declared the beginning of the end of legal apartheid in America with his Civil Rights Act; expanded the nation’s social safety net with Medicare and Medicaid; and banned state governments from forbidding Black people and other minorities from voting.
Little did we realize what our government would do in the next 50 years.
As Hayden wrote, “Freedom and equality for each individual, government of, by, and for the people—these American values we found good, principles by which we could live as [citizens].”
But in this past 50 years:
- The Supreme Court explicitly legalized political bribery in decisions in 1976 and 1978, doubling down with Citizens United in 2010
- President Bush authorized extrajudicial murder, kidnapping and torture of non-citizens
- President Obama authorized and carried out the first “legal”assassination of an American citizen on foreign soil
- Both political parties followed Chile and the UK in a massive, 40-year experiment in Milton Friedman’s neoliberalism, throwing open our markets to foreign competition that closed over 60,000 American factories and destroyed millions of good-paying union jobs
- Repeated radical tax cuts shifted tens of trillions of dollars (in today’s money) from the working class to the top 1 percent, a shift so thorough that the top 1 percent today own more wealth than the entire American middle class
- The Electoral College loophole in our Constitution allowed two Republicans to become president even though they lost the elections of 2000 and 2016; they used that opportunity to stack our courts, particularly the Supreme Court, with hard-right cranks
- President Reagan ordered the DOJ and FTC to stop enforcing our anti-trust laws and Clinton signed a law allowing virtually unlimited consolidation of our media so today hard-right poison spills out of three cable television networks, over 200 TV stations, 1500 radio stations in English and an estimated 200 in Spanish (the fastest-growing part of the rightwing ecosystem that’s almost entirely unnoticed by the Democratic Party)
- Reversing Congress’ assertion in the 1930s that unions had legal protections, the Supreme Court and Ronald Reagan declared war on working-class people so effectively that today only about 6 percent of American workers in the non-government economy have such protections
- A movement of armed militias denying the authority of the US government has declared war on liberal democracy so completely that they led an assault on the US Capitol and were within minutes of assassinating the Vice President and Speaker of the House
- Our intelligence agencies launched a massive surveillance program that has caught us all up in its web, completing the toolkit that a genuine autocratic fascist would need to control the population should an intelligent one ever rise to the White House
- The Republican Party has, almost without exception, embraced the idea that elections can and should be rigged to their advantage, passing over 30 laws in 19 states to do just that
- Multiple Republican-controlled states have decriminalized killing people on our public streets by driving cars into crowds of protestors
- Voting rights legislation is being blocked not only by every single Republican in the Senate but two bought-off Democrats as well
- An entire generation of students are saddled with crippling debt never before seen in American history
- Over 40 percent of Medicare has been privatized through the “Medicare Advantage”scam while an estimated one million American families will go bankrupt this year just because somebody in their family got sick
- Fewer than a quarter of all high school graduates have taken even a single civics class, leaving two generations since Reagan unaware of how a democratic republic is supposed to function
- Donald Trump nakedly and brazenly lied to the American people literally every day off his presidency and continues to do so with impunity
- Multiple members of Congress participate in an open act of sedition and, so far, their only consequence has been re-election and media stardom
- In an eerie echo of how Hitler used the widow of a man killed by police when they tried to overthrow the government of Bavaria in 1923, Trump is now turning a woman killed by police during the 1/6 coup attempt into a martyr
- The Republican Party has embraced dictatorial foreign governments manipulating our electorate, presidents making millions of their office, and oligarchy in the USA
- A 37-year-old billionaire singlehandedly controls the world’s largest single source of news and information while, a whistleblower asserts, subordinating human rights, democracy and common decency to profit
- The planet has warmed over a full degree Celsius, provoking massive climate emergencies worldwide while the fossil fuel industry continues to buy off politicians and spill science denial into social and mainstream media
- The US Supreme Court initiated a historic constitutional crisis by allowing the Texas vigilante abortion law to stand in defiance of its own Roe v Wade decision
This is, of course, just a partial list but the American political landscape has become so toxic that we can’t even pass simple legislation that is overwhelmingly supported not only by the majority of the populace but by the President whose party controls both houses of Congress.
We are close to either a collapse or a renewal, and increasingly the bets are going for collapse as two Democratic senators preserve the filibuster and, through it, the Republican Party’s control over our electoral and legislative processes…even though Republicans in the Senate represent 41 million fewer Americans than do the Democrats who are theoretically in power.
As Tom Hayden reminded an earlier generation, if ever there was a time for us to jump into political involvement with everything we have, this is it. The rightwing billionaires and their shills are already all-in: now it’s up to genuinely patriotic Americans to save this nation from the traitors within.