Events in the Ukraine had me wondering about fascism, and I remembered your essay on Bush. I went back to it, and read through nearly all of Neiwert’s essay you linked. It’s interesting to read material a decade on from those events leading up to the invasion of Iraq. It was a different time.
Both your piece and Neiwert’s extended essay haven’t aged very well, no offense. We know Bush fizzled out as Iraq devolved into genocidal bloodletting and he lost serious alignment with the far right wing before the end of his second term. Frankly, coming from the extreme right background I have, I was never very worried about a Bush dictatorship. I guess my reasoning was something like, all my childhood I’d heard horror stories of how Clinton was going to hold onto office, and now as a much more liberal adult, I couldn’t put any weight to the liberal fears of a similar thing happening with Bush.
Anyway, we know Bush let his hubris and idiocy destroy the right tidal wave. But how do you view the danger of right-wing American fascism today?
It’s been 6 years of increasingly bizarre conservative extremism. It’s been easy to pass off as racists and old people, but Neiwert’s essay in particular has me wondering if this is mistaken. Certainly, it’s hard to downplay the real world successes of the extreme fringe, and the rightward track of the Republican Party is hard to ignore. And the fact that Tea Partiers and militia men are still around suggest to me that this isn’t as fringe as we on the liberal side of things would like to believe.
The question of marginalization is seemingly obvious, but by 2016 there will have been 8 years of contentious Democratic rule, an economy that hasn’t fully recovered, potentially unpopular wars in Syria and Iraq, a devolving (and increasingly fascist) climate in Europe, and the potential for a Clinton candidacy. These are all things which could push the electorate towards the GOP.
Is that GOP more likely to move further along Paxton’s five steps of fascist movements than with Bush? Violence was the missing piece for both you and Neiwert, and that hasn’t exactly changed, but a lot else seemingly has.
I think you’ve put your finger on a paradox: the right has become crazier and crazier, and yet the threat to democracy seems less. There were some worrying moments in 2009— wingnuts fantasizing about military coups or assassinations. But they turned their attention to winning the House in 2010.
So, the basic answer to why they haven’t turned to violence is that they haven’t needed to. They have the House and a good chance at picking up the Sentate this year. They have 29 Republican state governors, 28 state legislatures, and 5 of 9 Supreme Court justices. They can’t get everything they want, but they can bust unions, shut down abortion clinics, punish the electorate with austerity measures, stop gun laws, restrict voting rights, and obstruct a liberal agenda in Congress.
As you say, times change— ten years ago they not only held the whole federal government, but it seemed (to them and to their enemies) as if they might be settling in for a long haul of governing. But the demographics, and their own zealotry, makes that seem less and less likely. Their message is out of date and they’ve systematically outraged every constituency but straight, old, white, Christian males. And yet there’s nothing pushing them to change in the short term. I don’t see how they can continue on this path for twenty more years… but they can easily keep going as they are for five or ten years.
I’m not too worried about the other things you mention. I don’t think Obama has any intention of restarting the war in Iraq. European politics never affects the US. And though a Clinton presidency looked in 2008 like it would be horribly contentious, well, that’s business as usual today.
But 2016 will be interesting. The GOP generally nominates the most centrist guy they can find— though they hate themselves for doing it. But do they have any non-crazies left?
Edit: Forgot to add that though the vehemence of the extreme right always seems surprising, actually it’s been that way forever. You can easily recognize the Tea Party and the birthers in Richard Hofstadter’s 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics“.
Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated—if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.
The enemy list changes over time, but the style remains.