Police State or Progressivism in 2007?
"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." - attributed to Benito Mussolini, Italian dictator
"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger." - Hermann Goering, Hitler's propaganda chief
It's not overstating the case to say that 2007 could be make or break for US democracy.
The Bush administration's cutbacks and rollbacks in 2006 were so frequent and so egregious that many Americans stopped paying attention, gave up hope or else failed to see the onslaught as part of a larger pattern.
Which brings up the f-word.
In 2003, Laurence W. Britt wrote a seminal article comparing fascist regimes, such as Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy, to life under Bush. While the term fascism has been widely overused (in August, Rumsfeld even accused war critics of "a new type of fascism") Britt's analysis eerily resonated back then and is worth a second look today.
This two-part series recaps Bush's record in 2006 under the framework of Britt's "fourteen common threads" of fascism and makes predictions for 2007.
***The examples below are more indicative than exhaustive; Project for an Old American Century has a comprehensive links page spanning Bush's presidency.
1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.
In July, Bush signed the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act so Americans could "express their patriotism here at home without burdensome restrictions."
What burdensome restrictions?
With similar fanfare, he issued a "proclamation" in October noting that patriotism "can help our children develop strength and character."
Less than two weeks later, he authorized the building of 700 miles of double-layered fencing along the US-Mexican border.
2. Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.
Bush started off 2006 by weakening a new law banning the torture of prisoners. Soon after, the Army shut down a probe into Iraqi prisoner abuse, despite the fact that no Americans involved had even been questioned. In June, the Pentagon decided to strip the US Army Field Manual of Geneva Convention protections which ban "humiliating and degrading treatment." A Brooklyn federal judge ruled that non-US-citizens could be detained and indefinitely held on "the basis of religion, race or national origin."
Bush finally admitted to the existence of secret CIA prisons across the world in September, simultaneously calling for a resumption of military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay.
In October, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, handing Bush the power to identify American citizens as "unlawful enemy combatants" and detain them indefinitely without charge. For good measure, the Act eliminated habeas corpus review for aliens and provided retroactive immunity in US courts for officials (such as Bush) who authorized the offending actions.
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people's attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice-relentless propaganda and disinformation-were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite "spontaneous" acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and "terrorists." Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labeled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.
In February, the United American Committee organized rallies across the country to fight so-called Islamofascism and to "unify all Americans behind a common goal and against an enemy that is seeking to destroy values we all hold dearly."
Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) stirred up anti-Muslim bigotry by writing his constituents: "I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped."
CNN host Glenn Beck got into the act by challenging Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress: "Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies." Rep. Goode also took a swipe at Ellison, by suggesting that without a tough stance on immigration "there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office." Goode failed to note that Ellison's ancestry in the US traces back over 260 years.
In December, the Inter Press News Agency reported: "Recent polls indicate that almost half of U.S. citizens have a negative perception of Islam and that one in four of those surveyed have 'extreme' anti-Muslim views ... a quarter of people here consistently believe stereotypes such as: 'Muslims value life less than other people' and 'The Muslim religion teaches violence and hatred.'"
4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism. Ruling elites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure that supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling elite.
The administration's war spending for FY 2007 is expected to reach $170 billion, with roughly $7 billion per month in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. That has meant cuts to domestic social and development programs.
Bush's proposed FY 2007 budget, for example, slashed funding for a full 141 programs, ranging from educational grants to maternal/child health services to rural fire assistance. The same budget requested $6.4 billion for nuclear "weapons activities."
The line between war and entertainment blurred further in 2006, with three separate military television channels (The Military Channel, the Military History Channel and the Pentagon Channel) beaming 24/7 into millions of Americans' homes. In August, the Army revealed plans to build a 125-acre military theme park, designed to help armchair warriors "command the latest M-1 tank, feel the rush of a paratrooper freefall, fly a Cobra Gunship or defend your B-17 as a waist gunner."
5. Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws that enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.
In January, the stridently anti-abortion Samuel Alito was confirmed to the US Supreme Court. Alito had previously argued that the strip-search of a mother and ten-year old girl without a warrant was constitutional.
The following month, the Supreme Court ended an injunction protecting abortion clinics across the country and agreed to reconsider a ban on certain abortion procedures.
In 2005, Bush appointed a veterinarian to handle women's health issues at the FDA, and in 2006, he tapped Eric Keroack for the Health and Human Services Department. Keroack opposes contraception, has described premarital sex as "modern germ warfare," and espouses the bizarre, unscientific belief that casual sex depletes "bonding" hormones, yet is now heading family planning programs for the whole nation.
The National Security Department revised its guidelines regarding access to classified government information in 2006 so that "sexual orientation of the individual" more strongly impacted the granting of security clearances. The Pentagon also admitted to spying on groups opposed to the ban on gays and lesbians in the military.
6. A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes' excesses.
Tony Snow, an anchor from the slavishly pro-Bush Fox News, became White House Press Secretary. Fox continued featuring propagandist on-screen text, including:
"Attacking Capitalism: Have Dems Declared War on America?"
"Is the Democratic Party Soft on Terror?"
"Dems Helping the Enemy?"
"Is the Liberal Media Helping to Fuel Terror?"
ABC did its pro-Bush part by running a factually-inaccurate miniseries shifting blame for the 9/11 attacks towards Bill Clinton. Intriguingly, an ABC investigative journalist had reported months earlier that the Bush administration was tracking his phone calls to identify confidential sources.
In February 2006, the Government Accountability Office reported that the Bush administration was spending more than a billion dollars each year on PR to promote its dubious policies.
The FCC soon began investigating the administration's fake news reports, but that didn't stop the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works from issuing taxpayer-funded misinformation criticizing the global-warming film, An Inconvenient Truth.
In August, the US military offered a $20 million public relations contract to sanitize the carnage in Iraq. Months later, a Pentagon self-assessment unsurprisingly found that the military's propaganda program in Iraq was, in fact, legal.
Thanks to Bush's partisan appointments, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (mandated to prevent political interference in public broadcasting) is now run by: CEO Patricia S. Harrison, former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee; Chairperson Cheryl Halpern, a Republican fund-raiser; and Gay Hart Gaines, an interior designer "long active in Republican Party affairs ... a trustee of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, and a board member and president of the Palm Beach Republican Club."
A recently-declassified Pentagon document entitled "Information Operations Roadmap" states that the Defense Department will "'fight the net' as it would an enemy weapons system." The document also notes that US forces should be able to "disrupt or destroy the full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors, and weapons systems dependent on the electromagnetic spectrum."
Meanwhile, domestic net neutrality remains under threat.
7. Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting "national security," and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.
Congress renewed the US Patriot Act in March, after a well-timed nerve agent scare on Capitol Hill. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Harry Reid and other prominent Democrats spoke of civil liberties yet voted for Patriot II.
Federal agents without warrants continued eavesdropping on the electronic communications of US citizens.
While under investigation in the Plamegate CIA leak case, Presidential advisor Karl Rove promised to turn terror into a congressional campaign issue. Schools in many states began conducting terrorism lockdown drills.
In October, Bush signed the John W. Warner Defense Authorization Act, weakening the 200-year-old Insurrection Act and increasing the president's power to deploy troops domestically. According to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), the development "subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military's involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law."
The Senate finished up 2006 by unanimously voting for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA), an unwieldy bureaucracy charged with developing drugs and vaccines to deal with a domestic terrorist attack. BARDA is so secret it will be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.
Other pending "biodefense" legislation not only mandates that US citizens take recommended vaccines or drugs during a "public health emergency affecting national security" but also indemnifies both the US government and biodefense manufacturers against any resulting injuries.
8. Religion and ruling elite tied together. Unlike communist regimes, the fascist and protofascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling elite's behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling elites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the "godless." A perception was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion.
One perk of Bush's pandering to the religious right is the blind devotion he often receives in return. For example, the online Presidential Prayer Team had this "request" for December 28, 2006:
"Pray for President and Mrs. Bush as they spend the Christmas holiday at their Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, TX. Pray for the President as on December 28, he meets with the members of the National Security Council, including Vice President Cheney, Secretaries Rice and Gates, Gen. Peter Pace, Stephen Hadley, and J.D. Crouch ... As candidates continue to declare their intent to run for the presidency, pray for God's guiding of this process, asking Him for godly candidates and for a leader to be elected who will serve Him well."
Bush isn't above blurring the line between divine will and partisan politics himself. In proclaiming a National Day of Prayer this May, he noted: "May our Nation always have the humility to trust in the goodness of God's plans."
God's plans or Bush's plans?
The administration has also broken ground in providing government funding to religious groups - separation of church and state be damned. In FY 2005, for example, religious charities were awarded federal grants totaling $2.15 billion, a 7% increase over 2004. A full eleven federal agencies have now become part of Bush's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives program, most recently, the Homeland Security Department.
In February, the IRS reported widespread political activity violations by churches and charities, including using the pulpit to endorse candidates, distributing partisan material and making improper cash donations.
Look for the second half of "Bush and the F-word in 2006: Police State or Progressivism in 2007?"on Tuesday. Part II finishes reviewing Bush's record in 2006, makes predictions for 2007, and discusses how to ensure a more progressive future.
Heather Wokusch is the author of The Progressives' Handbook: Get the Facts and Make a Difference Now series (listen to Heather's recent interviews on the books with Talk Nation Radio's Dori Smith). Heather can be contacted via her site www.heatherwokusch.com.Note: Originally published: December 30, 2006