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Fascism Comes to America Chris Hedges

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The Last Piggy Bank – by Mr. Fish

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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.”

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.

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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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WATCH: ‘This Is My First Rodeo’ | Ben Meets America Ben Kawaller

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In the latest stop on his cross-country quest to understand America, Ben Kawaller watches men hurl cows to the ground.

Last month I attended The American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, a city of around 400,000 souls situated between Dallas and Fort Worth. This was my first rodeo, and it did not take me long after entering its host venue, the gargantuan Globe Life Field, to realize that I did not know what a rodeo was. If you’d asked me six weeks ago to define the term, I would have said something like, “It’s when you watch someone career around an enclosed pen on an animal.” 

Which is actually not too far off. But what I hadn’t realized is that a rodeo is actually a sporting event. 

You see, some people are especially good at bending these animals to their will, and if you are one of those people, you can win competitions for things like making the animals run very fast, or tying the animals up very quickly, or not dying while trying to sit on one of the animals.

Of course, I wasn’t really there for the games; I was there to talk to the crowd about what makes our society so divided. If you’re tuning in for the first time to my new series—“Ben Meets America”—I was born and raised in progressive Brooklyn, I now live in West Hollywood, and I will admit to being soft in some fundamental way. Suffice it to say I get a more transcendent high from watching a torch song than I do from watching a man hurl a small cow to the ground.

But, in fact, theater and rodeo have their similarities. If you’ve been to a play in recent years, you will have suffered the degradation of a “land acknowledgement.” This is when the audience is told before the show—either in an announcement or in the program notes—that they’ve gathered on land stolen from whatever Native American tribe existed there years ago. My sense is that some of this is rooted in the idea that America itself is fundamentally illegitimate. Whatever’s behind it, the inclusion of a land acknowledgement has become de rigueur.

I did not think conservatives did land acknowledgements, so I was surprised when the Native American actor Mo Brings Plenty appeared before the start of one of the competitions and performed a minute or two of indigenous wailing. I believe the intent of this was to, well, acknowledge the fact that Native American bloodshed was central to the expansion of the American West. What I did not expect was the incongruence of what came after. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. I’m still puzzling over its significance.

In the end, however, I decided I prefer the conservative version of a land acknowledgement. Unlike the inane liberal sacrament, it appears to be capable of expressing two truths at once: that oceans of indigenous blood were spilled in the creation of this country, and that we live in one of the greatest nations on earth.

Even if one of our favorite spectator sports is man versus cow.

Only paid subscribers can see Ben’s video on The American Rodeo. Become one today and scroll down to watch.

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April 14, 2024 Garamond

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Senate spotlight: A Trump Republican’s China problem Judd Legum

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November’s election will not only determine which party controls the White House but also the United States Senate. Currently, the Democratic caucus holds a narrow 51-49 advantage. Control of the chamber will come down to a handful of competitive races. This is the first installment in a series that takes a deep dive into the issues shaping these campaigns. 

In Ohio, businessman Bernie Moreno (R) is attempting to unseat Senator Sherrod Brown (D). Ohio, once a swing state, has been trending Republican. Moreno’s campaign strategy is to attach himself at the hip to Donald Trump. He refers to himself as the “Trump endorsed Republican nominee for US Senate from Ohio.” This helped him easily win the Republican primary against a field of more politically experienced opponents.  

In a potential second term, Trump is vowing to declare economic war on China, promising to “tax China to build America up.” Trump’s plan is to revoke China’s most favored nation trading status and impose a tariff on Chinese goods of up to 60%. (The policy would cost the typical American household thousands of dollars annually and increase inflation.) Imports of “essential goods” from China, including electronics, steel, and pharmaceuticals, would be completely banned

Moreno has taken a similar approach, saying he is running for Senate to “Beat Communist China.” To bolster his anti-China credentials, Moreno claims to have a history of combating Chinese power. These stories, however, don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Moreno made his fortune through buying and selling car dealerships. As his wealth increased, so did his interest in Republican politics. In 2011, former Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) appointed him to the board of trustees at Cleveland State, one of Ohio’s public universities. Moreno served as chairman of the Cleveland State board from 2016 to 2018.

Confucius Institutes, which offer “Chinese language and culture programs,” were established at numerous U.S. universities beginning in 2005. They were partially funded by the Chinese government. Over time, there were bipartisan concerns that Confucius Institutes were being used to promote Chinese government propaganda or even to facilitate espionage. On the campaign trail, Moreno has repeatedly claimed that, in his role as chair of Cleveland State’s Board of Trustees, he eliminated the university’s Confucius Institute.

Here is how Moreno described his role in a March 2023 campaign event:

I chaired the board of trustees at Cleveland State University, and I’m very proud of the fact that when I was there, we got rid of our Confucius Institute. We made certain that we focused everybody on student achievement, and we respected free speech on campus.

He made a nearly identical claim in October 2023. But it is a lie.

Moreno’s service on the board ended in May 2018. Cleveland State did not shut down its Confucius Institute until 2021. The truth is, while Moreno was on the board, he repeatedly approved funding for Cleveland State’s Confucius Institute. In 2016, when Moreno was still vice chairman, he voted to approve $38,000 in funding for the school’s Confucius Institute. The following year, as chairman, Moreno voted to re-up the funding. Minutes from these meetings show that Moreno did not express any concerns about the Confucius Institute

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Moreno told the Columbus Dispatch that he deserves credit for the elimination of the Confucius Institute at Cleveland State because of “his role in the hiring of Harlan Sands, who was Cleveland State’s president when the institute closed.” There are a couple of issues with this response. First, this is not what Moreno said previously. He clearly said that the board “got rid” of the Confucius Institute while he was chair. Second, Cleveland State did not eliminate the Confucius Institute because of the initiative of President Sands. Cleveland State, along with nearly all other universities, closed its Confucius Institute after Congress passed legislation in 2018 and 2020 limiting federal funding for universities that maintained the Confucius Institutes. From 2019 to 2023, the number of Confucius Institutes operating in the United States went from about 100 to fewer than 5.

The truth about Moreno and Chinese-made SUVs

“When I was a General Motors dealer, I sold Buicks. The Buick Envision was made in China. I told General Motors I wouldn’t sell one of them, don’t even ship it to me,” Moreno said during a February 10, 2024 radio interview. “They threatened me and sent me all kinds of nasty notes… we have to actually take this stand…”

That story, which Moreno also told during his brief run for Senate in 2021, is a lie. 

In reality, Moreno sold the Buick Envision at his dealership for at least five years — from 2014 to 2019 — and promoted the vehicle repeatedly on its social media channels, an investigation by NY1 revealed

A December 13, 2016 video published on the “Bernie Moreno Companies” YouTube page begins with this testimonial: “My name is Kayla McCullough. I purchased a 2017 Buick Envision from Buick GMC of Beachwood… I highly recommend you visit the team at Buick GMC of Beachwood, a Bernie Moreno company.”

Moreno’s campaign “acknowledged to Spectrum News that his dealership did sell the Chinese-made SUVs.” It claimed that “in response to the closure of the Lordstown Plant here in Ohio [in March 2019],  Bernie made a decision to stop any new inventory of Envision’s from being sold at his dealership. After he sold off the inventory he already had on the lot, he refused to take orders for more Envisions.” This explanation, however, makes little sense as the Envision was also produced in China and never at Ohio’s Lordstown Plant. Moreno’s dealerships also continued to advertise for the Envision months after the closure of the plant. 

 

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