Reposted from Medium
There’s a simple fact that I don’t think Americans are reckoning with. That Americans are maybe even capable of reckoning with. It’s this. They’re living in what’s becoming a fascist society. And that fact raises the simple question: how do you live in a fascist society?
Yes, really. There’s little doubt that America’s becoming a fascist society by now. It’s developing all the institutions, norms, and values of one. Concentration camps? Check. Kids tortured in them? Check. Gestapos checking papers and detaining citizens? Check, check. Demagogue as head of state? Check. Dehumanization and demonization? Check. Expropriation and the denial of personhood? A supine, appeasing opposition? Check, check, check.
America has all the budding institutions, norms, and values of a fascist society now, and they grow in power, size, and strength by the day. That’s a fact — not an opinion. The UN recently noted, for example, that America has the largest number of kids in the world in concentration camps. The last living Nuremberg Prosecutor has called that a crime against humanity. None of that is ever reported on the nightly news, and it’s not part of impeachment — both are forms of appeasement. The average American simply shrugs and looks away politely — that’s normalization. I could go on endlessly with eerie, shocking, disturbing parallels to history’s darkest moments. But if you don’t get it by now — you’ll never get it.
That’s the first way to live in a fascist society. In denial. That’s where the good Americans are, mostly. It’s much, much easier to deny such a terrible truth than it is to face it. Than to allow the shame and guilt and anxiety it would involve. Who’s in that kind of denial? Who isn’t? There are the usual suspects — the junior members of America’s patriarchy: Chris Hayes and Ezra Klein and Nate Silver and so forth. They’re good guys. They’re good guys who can’t say the word fascism. They’re good guys who’ve failed the test of the moment. How many Americans are like them? The vast majority, it seems to me.
Denial, as easy as it is to understand psychologically, is still a kind of cowardice. And that is where the good American is. “My God!”, he or she cries, day after day, “What even is this? Why are they doing?” — the same old rhetorical question. Yet the answers couldn’t be more obvious. This is fascism, and they are fascists. They are bona fide fascists, from the advisors who dreamed up policies of “family separation”, to the minions who enforce them. What else is history going to call them? What else do you think the world calls them? The good American is displaying in a kind of profound cowardice — what Arendt called the banality of evil, shrugging it away — and that’s the first way to live in a fascist society. To never the say the words you’re not supposed to say — so they don’t come after you, too. To LOL at it. To make it a joke. To quip about it on Twitter. Yet Arendt’s banality rules that way. Wait — isn’t that the good American, almost exactly?
But cowardice verges on complicity. And that’s the second way to live in a fascist society: to be complicit, either through silence, or appeasement . I make fun of Morning Joe — that useful dope — on Twitter a lot. The reason is that he supported Trump all election long. And he hasn’t really owned up to the moral horror of it. That, my friends, is complicity. Complicity doesn’t just mean that around the dinner table you say: “My God! They’re fascists, aren’t they!” — and then in public, you go on in the polite social pretense that all is well. Complicity is exactly failing the test of using what power one has to fight fascism.
We all have different levels of power. I can write. I have “an audience”, as they say. So I do. Morning Joe has a bigger audience. Ezra Klein and Chris Hayes and whatnot do, too. But they fail the test of using their power not just responsibly — but in the way that it’s necessary to use it. To first point out that this is fascism, and then to remind people how dangerous and repugnant it really is. Cowardice verges on complicity. The junior pundits of America’s intellectual class are cowards — who remain silent. The senior members, though, I think are all too often genuinely complicit. They enabled these horrors — and still do. Take impeachment, for example. Why isn’t the Prez being impeached for…crimes against humanity? Because the Democrats are appeasing fascism. That’s not my opinion — at this point, it’s more or less an objective fact, that the world is aghast at.
Complicity’s a nice way to live, though. When you’re complicit in a fascist society, you don’t lose what power you have. So complicity is a kind of strategy to keep your power, by toeing the line. Hence, Morning Joe still has his dopey show, and so do the rest of the MSNBC gang. They’ve got their million dollar salaries and their adoring fans and whatnot. And yet…
Why is it that all the 20th century’s great thinkers were vehement anti-fascists? Have you ever wondered? From Einstein to Orwell to Camus to Sartre. Every single one knew fascism was the most repugnant attitude, thought, action, idea, in modern history. That is because they understood that for a human being to dehumanize another is the truest moral crime of all. Once that happens — then anything is possible. Our thinkers are not great thinkers. They are not even thinkers at all, really. What they are, mostly — if we are frank — is cowards and appeasers, who have chosen the comfort of complicity over the discomfort of telling or knowing life and history’s difficult truths.
That brings me to the third way to live in a fascist society: enthusiastically. Relatively speaking, though, the Morning Joes and Ezra Kleins and Nancy Pelosis aren’t the bad guys. They’re just cowards who can’t stand up to bullies. There’s worse. The Megyn Kellys and the Bill O’Reillys and so on. The Faux News gang, the Trumpists who are their zombie fascist army, and so on. Their strategy isn’t just complicity. It’s participation.
I think that many Americans are effectively fascists — only they don’t know it. Oh no! Am I allowed to say that? LOL. Imagine a person who thinks all the following things aren’t just grudgingly OK — but good and proper and just and noble:
- Concentration camps
- Kids in cages in them
- Gestapos separating them from their parents
- States who make it all happen
- Demagogues who dream these horrors up
If that’s not the precise definition of a fascist…then what is? Surely a person doesn’t need to be a member of the Nazi Party to be a genuine and enthusiastic fascist. One just needs to endorse the idea that some people are humans, and others are subhumans, and the role of the state is to eliminate the subhumans, and elevate the humans. Yet surely being a member of the Republican Party these days is something very, very close to the razor’s edge of being a member of the Nazi Party. Why do I say that?
America isn’t at the stage of full-blown fascism yet. It’s more like Nazi Germany in the early to mid 1930s. The time when the infrastructure for true horror was built. When the new laws were passed. When the Gestapos and SS’s were populated with eager young things. When the government was reshaped. When the Jews were terrorized. When the good German began to learn how to look the other way.
Do you see the parallel? In the early to mid 1930s, Weimar Germany became Nazi Germany proper. The institutions of a truly fascist society were built. Social institutions, like teaching the good German never to cross the Nazis, obedience, punishment, conformity, surveillance. Government institutions — like the law becoming a weapon. Economic institutions — like good and fine jobs for party members. Military institutions — all those new paramilitaries with strange and now all too familiar names, like Gestapo. And soon.
That is exactly the stage America is at now: the stage where fascists institutions are built, solidified, invested in, made real. Hence, a network of concentration camps that grows by the day. Hence, increasing surveillance. Hence, hate becoming normalized, and the state increasingly becoming an arbiter of violence, not justice.
That brings me to the fourth way to live in a fascist society. You don’t. You go into exile. Either of the body, or the mind. You resist — genuinely. Of the body: you leave. Of the mind: you resist with your moral core, with your ideas, with your social power, with your network, what resources and means you have. Maybe you see all the above coming. Where it’s going. What it points to. And you decide this can’t happen — and you write, act, speak, organize, whatever. Or you get the hell out before it’s too late. I know many people who are making that choice. Many of them are women and minorities.
I myself made that choice — both ways — long ago. I went into a kind of self-imposed exile in Europe, knowing with a kind of utter certainty that a fascist collapse was coming in America. That was simply by reading the economic tea leaves — middle class implosion, next stop, fascism. And I began to write about it, which cost me my career in America — I was never published in America again, the precise second I crossed that line.
In those days, there was a poem by Brecht — that great chronicler of Germany’s fascist implosion — that haunted me, especially. It was about the grief he felt, and the anger he felt at himself for feeling even that grief, because he’d gone into exile, and it had made him feel lost and alienated from his own country, people, history, society. I’d read it, over and over again, crying. I was baffled at myself. I didn’t know why this little poem seemed to see straight into my heartbreak, when no one and nothing else could.
Now I do. I was a lost and lonely boy becoming a man in exile. In exile from fascism. Just like Brecht. He was telling me about my future. About what it feels like to be the kind of person who can’t live in a fascist society. Who must refuse. And turn his back on it. Even if doing so means not being a part of your society at all, ever again. I was haunted by a memory of what was to come to pass.
I knew what was coming then. I’d see it every night, sometimes. Concentration camps and kids and mothers torn apart spinning through my head. That was a decade ago. Would you like to know what spins through my head now? Don’t ask, my friend, don’t ask.
I know what’s coming next, too. You do, too. Or at least I do if nothing much changes. Not because I’m a genius. But because it’s obvious. America is Nazi Germany in the early to mid 1930s right now. In eerie, precise, exacting ways. No, the death camps haven’t been built. But the concentration camps have. But the Gestapos are. But the papers are being checked. But the intellectuals pretend none of that’s happening. But the opposition appeases it and lets it happen. But the good American is learning to look the other way.
America is becoming a fascist society. So how do you live in one? Ah, my friend. In denial. In cowardice. In complicity. With cheerful enthusiasm. Or you don’t, because you can’t live with yourself that way at all. You resist, in exile. Whether the exile of the body, or the mind, or both — but it will cost you everything.
Those are your choices. There are no others.
I say that gently, with love. Not to condemn you. But to help you make the difficult decisions that lie ahead, for each and every one of us, in this lost and wounded nation that once used to be an idea called America.