Don’t totalitarian takeovers capitalize on backward, miserable, abused or broken states?
Since when does fascism feast on the very top of the pyramid, especially flush with “free market” billionaires allergic to regulation, government or bureaucrats—and a military disdainful of the lead, exiled troublemaker? As weird as electing our first rank amateur president, demonstrably ineducable and deranged, imagine the historic novelty for fascism to infect a modern nation NOT deemed an outcast, oppressed by miseries galore, or full of justified grievances. Not that Trumpers haven’t shaken democratic assumptions by forever whining about freedom-sucking grievances (like masks, vaccines and distancing). Some outraged, revolutionary proletariat willing to risk all! Right, blue collar/middle class (billionaire-funded) insurgents-in-training, with enough free time and plane/hotel fare to visit upon our Capitol ferocious savagery.
Yet, compared to 20th century China, Russia, German, Italy or Spain—all infected by totalitarian or fascist mindsets—America boasts few huddled masses yearning to be free (or even move for work), with many not bereft of food, housing, jobs, big-screen T.V.s, second cars and garages packed with last year’s junk. Huddling is limited to COVID-rich Trump rallies or assaulting our (relatively) free elections and democratic rule. China and Russia had eons of insufferable times—wars, chaos, super-inflation, and basic shortages all capped by the 1930’s Great Depression. Catastrophic shortages delivered sufficient incentives for once-democratic powers to descend into abysmal dictatorships riveted with brutality, making Trump’s anti-immigration cruelty seem (only in contrast) downright tame. Sure, of late we endured big shortages, inciting near mass hysteria, because tissue paper, hand soap and germ-killers were hard to come by.
In short, while common lore has Sinclair Lewis a century ago pronouncing “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross,” that hardly proves that our nation’s least qualified politician (deserving a third impeachment for COVID BS, thus US deaths) will be the successful instrument for such a nightmare. From the Sinclair Lewis Society comes this suggestive, related commentary:
Other variants include one from James Waterman Wise, Jr. in the Christian Century (Feb.5, 1936) . . . “If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any “shirt” movement, nor with an “insignia,” but it will probably be “wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution” (245). Another version is from Halford E. Luccock, in Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938): “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism.'” Harrison Evans Salisbury in The Many Americas Shall Be One (1971) remarked “Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can’t Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling ‘The Star Spangled Banner’.”
Improbability be damned
Against such figures, I am hard-pressed to posit fascism can’t or won’t come to America, certainly not for lack of trying by today’s reckless propagandists. For now, they failed to overturn elections, sustain an insurrection, or escape felony indictments. But what comparable historic example shows an affluent, western democracy going fascist without good cause—mass poverty, not enough food, unsafe housing, paltry health care or economic calamities? America not only leads the world in conspicuous (bad taste) consumption. but is fast becoming the planetary model for insufferable assumptions God made us better than every other nation. Who else dares boast incomparable exceptionalism alongside limitless grievances? Either you got it—or you don’t. There’s no halfway “best in the world,” however “exceptional” our laughing stock ex-president.
On point, as the seat of modern capitalism (the world’s religion) and with higher total assets, we are the richest nation ever to exist. Our wasteful energy usage, for all of 5% of earthly population, is another kind of mortifying exceptionalism. True, we have imperial outposts across the globe, ready to dictate to natives, and haven’t lacked for leaders with monarchic yearnings: A. Jackson, A. Johnson, Joe McCarthy, W. R. Hearst, Father Coughlin, Nixon, Bush/Cheney and that noisy Florida, retiree has-been.
Indeed, with massive government spending the result of COVID mismanagement, more people have more money, childhood poverty has eased, wages are up, job openings bloom, the stock market soars, and a good part of the economy prospers. Not exactly the financial pits, directly opposite the five, fascist-prone listed above whose (over) reaction to powerlessness, primitive technology (China, Russia) and depressions were to embrace tyranny. And not without short-terms gains, trains running on time and all that, but also not without horrendous costs to human opportunity, dignity and life spans. Especially for minority “outsiders” punished for being different. One understands why desperate, often displaced multitudes without enough to eat and crying children, accept brutal hierarchy, if not virtual slavery. Unlike Europe, America doesn’t even have considerable foreign refugees except near the southern border.
Making history, for sure
In short, fascism would be a great historic anomaly—and where exactly are the geniuses to pull off this long shot? Bad conditions aren’t enough: predatory leadership, apt timing, a war disgrace, even natural disasters factor in. Instead, we have a fat-ass country, vast populations not in survival mode, and a blithering, Trumpated Republican Party that can’t even fabricate glimmers of voter fraud to substantiate its monotonous Big Lie. Has a year of ludicrous Trump gestures against the pristine 2020 election changed one tiny election total or proved an iota of (calculated, Democratic) vote stealing? Nada. What losers concoct such cockamamie frauds without doing prep-work so whoppers outlast one news cycle? No one with the least political competence, certainly not with fascist delusions of grandeur.
Ditto, who concocts (lacking sixth-grade planning skills) an insurrection already infamous not only for criminal audacity (appalling inaction, despite countless insider pleas) but as Keystone Kops street theater (despite injuries, damage and deaths)? Yes, Trumpers wave the flag and burnish the cross—diluted by absurd yearnings for what never was—but, now with stunted media ploys, where are the inexorable levers to corrupt this most prosperous world power? How can an unteachable blunderer—failing every presidential crisis, many self-created, pull off the most improbable, fascist lurch since the 19th century?
No doubt smarter fascists loom. But will they offer Trump’s special, hypnotic mix: one part charisma, one part zero political record, one part self-promotion, one-part stand-up freak show, and six parts insatiable lying? Pence, Cruz, Hawley, and McCarthy lie well enough but fall way short in the charisma/entertainment role—and their highly vulnerable records place them between improbable and laughable as triumphant national candidates. Perhaps a far less offensive, equally record-free, multi-billionaire emerges—one truly willing to squander his own treasure. But pulling off a fascist coup would take another presidential victory, greater public support for a foundational shift, and dubious alliances with highly offended military generals and skeptical billionaires no happier with Trump of late than granting full control to tinpot, centralized state economic commands. Make my day. Prove me wrong.