By Chris Hedges / Original to ScheerPost
The parting gift, I expect, of the bankrupt liberalism of the Democratic Party will be a Christianized fascist state. The liberal class, a creature of corporate power, captive to the war industry and the security state, unable or unwilling to ameliorate the prolonged economic insecurity and misery of the working class, blinded by a self-righteous woke ideology that reeks of hypocrisy and disingenuousness and bereft of any political vision, is the bedrock on which the Christian fascists, who have coalesced in cult-like mobs around Donald Trump, have built their terrifying movement.
Trump, as the writer Jeff Sharlet points out, has morphed from the Elmer Gantry huckster of politics — holding out the illusion that we can all get rich like him — to the peddler of dark conspiracies about the deep state and pedophiles running the Democratic Party, to full blown fascism. If he comes back to power the nihilistic violence that plagues the country, with over 500 mass shootings this year alone, will explode. Conspiracy theorists will threaten and murder “enemies” and “traitors” with impunity. The judiciary, law enforcement and legislative bodies — currently in a state of paralysis — will be transformed into organs of personal and political vengeance. The censorship by stealth practiced by Silicon Valley and the Democrats will become crude, overt and pervasive. The military, already infested with commissar-like Christian fascist chaplains, will be led by true believers such as retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn. It can happen here, as Sinclair Lewis predicted.
Blaming Russia, or third party candidates who never poll in significant numbers for the election of Trump and the rise of Christian fascism, is infantile. The Libertarian Party received 1.2 percent of the vote in the last presidential election. The Greens, 0.26 percent. The death blow to democracy is not those who vote for fringe parties, but apathy. Eighty million eligible voters did not vote in the last presidential election, no doubt because they did not expect much to change in their lives whoever was in office. And they were probably right.
The root cause of our political distress lies with a liberal class that places corporate and personal profit above the common good. Liberals have conspired, since the presidency of Bill Clinton, to strip the country of manufacturing, and with it, jobs that sustained the working class. They have been partners in the transformation of democratic institutions into tools to consolidate the power and wealth of corporations and the ruling oligarchs. They forgot the fundamental lesson of fascism. Fascism is always the bastard child of bankrupt liberalism. This was true in Weimar Germany. It was true in Italy. It was true in the former Yugoslavia with its warring ethnic factions. And it is true in the United States.
And now we will all pay.
“Our time more closely resembles the 1930s than it does the 1990s,” Benjamin Carter Hett writes in the introduction to his book “The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic.”
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The billionaires and corporations, whose sole obsession is the greater accumulation of wealth and power, will accommodate themselves to the Christian fascists, as the German industrialists did to the Nazi Party. Fascism, after all, is a faux populism. It is an efficient mechanism for abolishing labor unions and using fear and coercion, including violence, to prevent rival mass movements. Trump, back in power, will demand that he, his family and inner circle, profit from power. The billionaire class and corporations will shower him and his buffoonish court with wealth in exchange for the ability to exploit with impunity and demolish government regulations and oversight. Fascist leaders, including Trump, have nothing but contempt for their followers. They share this trait with the titans of business.
We were warned. The seeds of fascism, like the climate emergency, were apparent decades ago. The leading scholars of fascism told us that unless American society halted its slide to ever greater levels of social inequality and returned democratic power to a betrayed populace, fascism would metastasize and consume the state. The ruling class, blinded by greed, a lust for power and willful ignorance, was as deaf to these warnings as they were to those of climate scientists.
Robert O. Paxton, who taught European history at Columbia Unhiversity, in 2004 wrote “The Anatomy of Fascism.” He explained that “the language and symbols of authentic American fascism” would “have little to do with the original European models. They would have to be familiar and reassuring to loyal Americans as the language and symbols of the original fascism were familiar and reassuring to many Italians and Germans, as Orwell suggested.”
Fascist leaders always appropriate national and religious language, symbols and myths. Germany’s fascism was rooted in Teutonic legends. Italy’s fascism was grounded in the ancient Roman Empire. Francisco Franco’s fascism was fused with the Catholic Church. Fascists do not seek to be exotic. They seek to be familiar.
“No swastikas in an American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses,” Paxton writes. “No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the pledge of allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.”
Fritz Stern, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany and a leading scholar of German fascism, warned a year later in 2005 of the looming danger posed by a Christian fascism when he was awarded a prize by the Leo Baeck Institute.
“Twenty years ago, I wrote an essay called ‘National Socialism as Temptation,’ about what it was that induced so many Germans to embrace the terrifying specter,” Stern told his audience. “There were many reasons, but at the top ranked Adolf Hitler himself, a brilliant populist manipulator who insisted and probably believed that Providence had chosen him as Germany’s savior, a leader charged with executing a divine mission. God had been drafted into national politics before, but Hitler’s success in fusing racial dogma with Germanic Christianity was an immensely powerful element in his electoral campaigns. Some people recognized the moral perils of mixing religion and politics, but many more were seduced by it. It was the pseudo religious transfiguration of politics that largely ensured his success, notably in Protestant areas.”
Stern, who wrote “”The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology” and was university professor emeritus at Columbia University, devoted his career to analyzing how German fascism was made possible. He intimately grasped from his experience growing up in Nazi Germany, and his scholarship, how democracies disintegrated. He saw the deadly warning signs. He knew the seduction fascism held for the disenfranchised.
“There was a longing in Europe for fascism before the name was ever invented,” he told me in an interview in 2005 for The New York Times. “There was a longing for a new authoritarianism with some kind of religious orientation and above all a greater communal belongingness. There are some similarities in the mood then and the mood now, although also significant differences.”
Stern, who died in 2016, said fascist movements were fertilized by widespread despair, feelings of exclusion, worthlessness, powerlessness and economic deprivation. Those who felt abandoned were easy targets for demagogues who peddled magical thinking and who had refined the art of the “mass manipulation of public opinion, often mixed with mendacity and forms of intimidation.”
Noam Chomsky, in an interview I did with him in 2010, also saw the ominous route we were traveling.
“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Chomsky told me when I called him at his office in Cambridge, Mass. “The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”
Jeff Sharlet, who has reported for two decades on the far-right, makes the same point about the Americanized face of fascism in his book “The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War.”
Sharlet notes that “the purification project of the old fascism has also ‘been proved’ too extreme to be practical for a nation in which the Rightest ascendancy can contend for the loyalty of a third of Latinx voters. The time, White supremacy welcomes all. Or, at least, a sufficient veneer of ‘all’ to reassure its more timid adherents that border walls and ‘Muslim bans’ and ‘kung flu’ and ‘Black crime’ and ‘replacement theory’ somehow do not add up to the dreaded r-word, which anyway these days, in the new authoritarian imagination, only happens in ‘reverse,’ against White people.”
And how do fascists define the internal enemy?
The internal enemy, Paxton writes, is accused of seeking to revoke “the First Amendment, separation of Church and State (creches on the lawns, prayers in schools), efforts to place controls on gun ownership, desecrations of the flag, unassimilated minorities, artistic license, dissent and unusual behavior of all sorts that could be labeled antinational or decadent.”
Fascist movements derive their justification for indiscrimiant violence from the blood of martyrs. Ashli Babbitt, who was shot dead during protests on January 6, by a Black Capitol Hill police officer, is an updated version of the Nazi’s first holy martyr, Horst Wessel. Trump, on trial for fraud is, in the eyes of his supporters, being martyred by the courts.
“It is the first death which infects everyone with the feeling of being threatened,” Elias Canetti writes in “Crowds and Power”. “It is impossible to overrate the part played by the first dead man in the kindling of wars. Rulers who want to unleash war know very well that they must procure or invent a first victim. It need not be anyone of particular importance, and can even be someone quite unknown. Nothing matters except his death; and it must be believed that the enemy is responsible for this. Every possible cause of his death is suppressed except one; his membership of the group to which one belongs oneself.”
When I finished two years of reporting across the country in 2006 for my book “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” I was convinced Christian nationalism was fascist and an existential threat to our democracy. The liberal church, rather than call the Christian fascists out as heretical, foolishly embraced dialogue, giving the Christian fascists a religious legitimacy. It was a disastrous mistake. This failure, coupled with the refusal by the ruling class to address the dislocation and financial distress of workers and their families who flocked to the megachurches, ensured the ascendancy of our homegrown fascism. We would either reintegrate the working class into society, which meant well-paying stable jobs and a halt to the mercenary exploitation by corporations, I wrote then, or continue down the road to fascism. Now, here we are.
“The radical Christian Right calls for exclusion, cruelty and intolerance in the name of God,” I wrote in the final chapter of American Fascists. “Its members do not commit evil for evil’s sake. They commit evil to make a better world. To attain this better world, they believe, some must suffer and be silenced, and at the end of time those who oppose them must be destroyed. The worst suffering in human history has been carried out by those who preach such grand utopian visions, those who seek to implant by force their narrow, particular version of goodness.”
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Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report.
He was a member of the team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for The New York Times coverage of global terrorism, and he received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. Hedges, who holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, is the author of the bestsellers American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle and was a National Book Critics Circle finalist for his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. He writes an online column for the website ScheerPost. He has taught at Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University and the University of Toronto.