By this time next year, America could very well be a fascist nation. Having studied political science, I agree with Jimmy Carter that we are already a nationalistic oligarchy. That’s one step, one leader, away from being fascist. So it wouldn’t be surprising given who appears to be rising to the top in this election cycle that we will take the next step. What might be surprising is that it may not matter who gets elected. I’m not sure any leader at this point can stop the American people from the trajectory we are on.
When getting my humanities and writing degrees so long ago, we learned about America’s flirtations with fascism. Our system, which mixes staunch capitalism with malleable representation democracy, is susceptible to deviances to the harsh right. Each time it has happened, writers emerged to bring us back toward the center. Whether it was Hawthorne, Twain, and a host of others in the 1800s pulling us away from the hard line south; or Thomas Wolfe, Faulkner and many others in the 1920s-40s keeping us honest as fascism rose in Germany; or a host of writers in the 1950s-60s opposing McCarthyism type tactics; it seems we’ve turned around those dalliances with fascism via independent writers. Will corporate control of the media and political system kill all chances of that this time around?
How does fascism develop? There’s a couple things that need to happen to a representational democracy to shift it right. Among them, independent thinkers and writers need to be suppressed. This isn’t necessarily accomplished by heavy-handed government. It can happen gradually over a period of time. First, removing arts and rhetoric education from schools shifts the nature of writing from being an expressive art to an entertainment service for people caught up in working too much.
Big money serves to drive the creativity out of writing, and the writer ends up pulled two different directions. They either need to play into the corporate entertainment media where they often feel like they’ve lost control of their message and their creative freedom, or they get pulled into marketing (becoming madmen and women) creating the messages that live alongside the corporate-controlled content. Either way they end up feeling more like a jester in king’s court than a storyteller connected to the common people.
Another thing that needs to develop for fascism to happen is turning politicians into celebrities with an air of being divinely connected. Writers also play a role in this. From jesters in a king’s court they become kingmakers, creating stories that galvanize the public to feverishly follow the person who espouses their views. Writers accomplish this with a clever mix of creative truth-stretching and marketing acumen. While the perception of fascism is that it comes from the top down with a Hitler-like dictator, it actually comes from a small group of people who get their way over everyone else. All four of the main presidential candidates for 2016 have followers that border on fanatical and totalitarian for their candidate, yet each candidate has some fatal flaws their followers seem unable to see.
While the Trump connection to fascism seems obvious (because it echoes Hitler’s), the other candidates might be just as bad or even worse. Hitler moved mostly in the shadows at first. Ted Cruz had the support of evangelicals and had the religious ideas that could lead to fascism. Hillary seems the status quo candidate to keep us as an oligarchy, but oligarchies aren’t stable and tend to move one direction or the other. Even Sanders, who seems opposite of fascism with socialism, carries a certain totalitarian feel among many of his followers. (Free college or public-funded indoctrination?) Democracy works best when there is a healthy skepticism of what politicians and government can accomplish.
So next year, if your candidate won and you believe the ‘happy days are here again’ rhetoric, perhaps it’s just because you fail to see America for what it has really become. There is no way to turn things around in the short term. Rebuilding the education system and weaning Americans off the instant gratification treadmill will take a lot of work and at least a decade. It’s also gonna take some writers not caught up in the corporate fantasy of big money game-of-throne-making. I, for one, don’t see that happening from within. I remember learning, way back when, that world war three would be a mostly free and democratic world against a neofascist America. Maybe we are arriving at that moment.