John Whitehead's Commentary
Fascism, American Style
“If we define an American fascist as one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings, then there are undoubtedly several million fascists in the United States.” ― Henry A. Wallace, 33rd Vice President of the United States
This is an indictment of every politician who has ever sold us out for the sake of money and power, it is a condemnation of every politician who has ever lied to us in order to advance their careers, and it is a denunciation of every political shill who has sacrificed our freedoms on the altar of Corporate America.
They’re all fascists.
If Donald Trump is a fascist—as nearly half of Americans surveyed believe—then so is every other politician in office or running for office in America who has ever prioritized money and power over human beings.
Truly, apart from Trump’s virulently bombastic comments and his metaphorical willingness to spit in the wind in order to garner media coverage and notoriety, how is he any more of a fascist than Hillary Clinton and the millions she has amassed from the financial sector?
How is Trump any more of a fascist than Barack Obama, whose willingness to march in lockstep with the military industrial complex has resulted in endless wars, covert drone strikes that have killed hundreds of civilians abroad, and militarized police who have killed thousands of American citizens here at home?
How is Trump any more of a fascist than Congress, the majority of whom are millionaires and who are more inclined to do the bidding of their corporate sponsors and benefactors, all the while remaining deaf to their less affluent constituents?
For that matter, how is Trump any more of a fascist than the Supreme Court whose decisions in recent years have been characterized most often by an abject deference to government authority, military and corporate interests?
Writing for the New York Times in 1944, Vice President Henry A. Wallace noted that “American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism. They use every opportunity to impugn democracy. They use isolationism as a slogan to conceal their own selfish imperialism. They cultivate hate and distrust…”
As Wallace concluded, American fascists are not pro-Constitution:
“They are patriotic in time of war because it is to their interest to be so, but in time of peace they follow power and the dollar wherever they may lead… They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.
We are being played for fools. Again.
The United States of America, that dream of what a democratic republic ought to be, has become the Fascist States of America. We have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age. You can call it the age of authoritarianism. Or fascism. Or oligarchy. Or the American police state.
Whatever label you want to put on it, the end result is the same.
Driven by our fears, we have entered into a corporate-controlled, militaristic state where all citizens are suspects, security trumps freedom, and the U.S. government does not represent the majority of American citizens but instead is ruled by the rich and powerful.
Any semblance of constitutional government that we might still enjoy today is a mere shadow, a mockery of what the founders envisioned. Constitutional government today—much like the farcical circus that purports to be the presidential election—is a sham, a hoax, an elaborate ruse maintained by the powers-that-be to mollify us into believing that we still have a say in the workings of our government. We do not.
Shortly after World War II, historian William L. Shirer predicted that America may be the first country in which fascism comes to power through democratic elections.
Former presidential advisor Bertram Gross also warned that we would not recognize fascism when it took over:
Anyone looking for black shirts, mass parties, or men on horseback will miss the telltale clues of creeping fascism… In America, it would be supermodern and multi-ethnic—as American as Madison Avenue, executive luncheons, credit cards, and apple pie. It would be fascism with a smile. As a warning against its cosmetic facade, subtle manipulation, and velvet gloves, I call it friendly fascism. What scares me most is its subtle appeal.
They were both right.
However, what we failed to realize is that the fascist coup took place long ago. It was that subtle and that incremental.
We are now ruled by the velvet-gloved, technologically savvy, militarized iron fist of what Gross termed “friendly fascism” or fascism with a smile. Having studied Shirer and Gross, tracked the rise of fascism in past regimes, and assimilated the necessary ingredients for a fascist state, I can attest to the fact—as I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People—that the parallels to modern America are impossible to ignore.
Under fascism, the government:
- is managed by a powerful leader (even if he or she assumes office by way of the electoral process)
- assumes it is not restrained in its power (this is authoritarianism, which eventually evolves into totalitarianism)
- ostensibly operates under a capitalist system while being undergirded by an immense bureaucracy
- emits powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism through its politicians
- has an obsession with national security while constantly invoking terrifying internal and external enemies
- establishes a domestic and invasive surveillance system and develops a paramilitary force that is not answerable to the citizenry
- and its various agencies (federal, state, and local) develop an obsession with crime and punishment (this is overcriminalization)
- becomes increasingly centralized while aligning closely with corporate powers to control all aspects of the country’s social, economic, military, and governmental structures
- uses militarism as a center point of its economic and taxing structure
- and is increasingly imperialistic in order to maintain the military-industrial corporate forces.
Compare that to America today where, as economist Jeffrey Tucker rightly observes, “every industry is regulated. Every profession is classified and organized. Every good or service is taxed. Endless debt accumulation is preserved. Immense doesn’t begin to describe the bureaucracy. Military preparedness never stops, and war with some evil foreign foe, remains a daily prospect.”
Fascism thrives by hiding behind the entertainment spectacle that is partisan politics. As Tucker points out, “It’s incorrect to call fascism either right wing or left wing. It is both and neither… fascism does not seek to overthrow institutions like commercial establishments, family, religious centers, and civic traditions. It seeks to control them… it preserves most of what people hold dear but promises to improve economic, social, and cultural life through unifying their operations under government control.”
In this way, American-style fascism is deceptively appealing.
It appears friendly.
The news media covers the entertainment and political trivia. The basic forms of government remain intact. The legislators remain in session. There are elections.
Consent of the governed, however, no longer applies. Actual control has finally passed to the oligarchic elite controlling the government behind the scenes.
Yet the most crucial ingredient for fascism to succeed in America is that the majority of the people would have to agree that it’s not only expedient but necessary for the government to assume greater powers in order to keep them safe and secure, whether it’s by militarizing the police, stripping them of basic constitutional rights, criminalizing virtually every form of behavior, or spying on their communications, movements and transactions.
When you really drill down to what the various presidential candidates believe about the issues that will impact the future of our freedoms long-term—war, surveillance, civil liberties—you’ll find that most of them support the government’s position, which conveniently enough, profits the corporate sector.
This is not freedom.
It is despotism, which Gross refers to as “faceless oligarchs [who] sit at command posts of a corporate-government complex that has been slowly evolving over many decades.” Gross explains:
In efforts to enlarge their own powers and privileges, they are willing to have others suffer the intended or unintended consequences of their institutional or personal greed. For Americans, these consequences include chronic inflation, recurring recession, open and hidden unemployment, the poisoning of air, water, soil and bodies, and, more important, the subversion of our constitution. More broadly, consequences include widespread intervention in international politics through economic manipulation, covert action, or military invasion...
It is, in Gross’ words, “pretended patriots who desecrate the American flag by waving it while waiving the law”:
I see at present members of the Establishment or people on its fringes who, in the name of Americanism, betray the interests of most Americans by fomenting militarism, applauding rat-race individualism, protecting undeserved privilege, or stirring up nationalistic and ethnic hatreds.
It is, concludes Gross, Big Business and Big Government in bed together:
In this present, many highly intelligent people look with but one eye and see only one part of the emerging Leviathan. From the right, we are warned against the danger of state capitalism or state socialism, in which Big Business is dominated by Big Government. From the left, we hear that the future danger (or present reality) is monopoly capitalism, with finance capitalists dominating the state. I am prepared to offer a cheer and a half for each view; together, they make enough sense for a full three cheers. Big Business and Big Government have been learning how to live in bed together and despite arguments between them, enjoy the cohabitation. Who may be on top at any particular moment is a minor matter-and in any case can be determined only by those with privileged access to a well-positioned keyhole.
When the votes have all been counted, “we the people” will be the losers.
The joke will be on us. Whether we ever realize it not, the enemy is not across party lines, as they would have us believe. It has us surrounded on all sides.
Even so, we’re not yet defeated.
We could still overcome our oppressors if we cared enough to join forces and launch a militant nonviolent revolution—a people’s revolution that starts locally and trickles upwards—but that will take some doing.
It will mean turning our backs on the political jousting contests taking place on the national stage and rejecting their appointed jesters as false prophets. It will mean not allowing ourselves to be corralled like cattle and branded with political labels that have no meaning anymore. It will mean recognizing that all the evils that surround us today—endless wars, drone strikes, invasive surveillance, militarized police, poverty, asset forfeiture schemes, overcriminalization, etc.—were not of our making but came about as a way to control and profit from us.
It will mean “voting with our feet” through sustained, mass civil disobedience. As journalist Chris Hedges points out, “There were once radicals in America, people who held fast to moral imperatives. They fought for the oppressed because it was right, not because it was easy or practical. They were willing to accept the state persecution that comes with open defiance. They had the courage of their convictions. They were not afraid.”
Ultimately, it will mean refusing to be divided, one against each other, as Democrats versus Republicans, and instead uniting behind the only distinction that has ever mattered: “we the people” against tyranny.