Friday, November 03, 2006

Dealing with muggers

[Editor's note: What follows is a piece I wrote for Adbusters this spring as a follow-up to my earlier piece on fascism for them. However, the editors who requested it shuffled on to other enterprises and this piece was lost in the shuffle, so it never appeared there. I decided to publish it here while it still had a modicum of currency. I submitted it back on May 8, and as you can see, it's still relatively relevant.]

One of the important ways that people become victims of violent crime is that they often set themselves up. They make themselves vulnerable because they are not prepared to deal with people who have pathological personalities -- those who are sociopaths, exhibiting antisocial or narcissistic personality disorders, or in some cases outright psychoses. They project their own normalcy onto these other people, and really cannot believe that someone else would act in a way substantially different from their own decent, sane base of operations.

Something similar is at work in the American body politic: The executive branch under President Bush is rapidly metastasizing into an all-devouring power that threatens to make Nixon's "imperial presidency" look like a hippie commune. Yet it seems that no one -- not the Beltway pundit class, nor traditional mainstream conservatives, nor even mainstream liberals -- is able to figure out that there is something seriously wrong afoot, for one main reason: They are projecting their own normalcy onto them. Even with the evidence staring them in the face, they refuse to perceive that these people are not operating within a framework guided by the boundaries of basic decency, the rules of fair play that constrain the rest of us.

Look at what has been revealed about the Bush regime in the past year alone: That it is conducting warrantless surveillance of American citizens under the aegeis of the National Security Administration. That the president and vice president both approved selective leaks to the media that resulted in the revelation of the identity of an undercover CIA operative working on weapons of mass destruction in Iran. That it chose to place itself outside the purview of 750 laws passed by Congress, while claiming extraordinary new powers for secrecy.

All these occurred as part of the most audacious claim, perhaps, in presidential history: That Bush, by virtue of the extraordinary powers of the executive branch, is empowered to ignore those laws that he chooses.

Being above the rule of law is the territory of dictators -- and though Bush has only begun claiming these powers in small, evidently innocuous ways, the very claiming of them is the act of a dictator. If these claims go uncontested, the precedent could prove to be profoundly dangerous for American democracy.

This is especially so in the context of the social milieu being created by conservatives -- one of increasing intolerance and open bigotry, as well as an embrace of vigilantism, as seen in the current immigration debate and the rise of the Minutemen. There has also been increase in eliminationist rhetoric aimed at liberals and administration critics, including journalists who uncover government misdeeds.

At the same time that Bush is acting more like a dictator, the American right is acting more and more thuggish, and may become more so at the prospect of losing power, amid Bush's and the GOP Congress' declining poll numbers. These are signs of a growing pathology, and it has a name: fascism.

Given the growing currency of past fascist themes -- the superiority of "instinctive" over intellectual leadership, the primacy of the national group, the belief in victimhood, the dread of decline and need for integration -- the rise of yet two more traits raises the real specter of a resurgence of fascism in America, well beyond its initial flowering in the 1920s under the guise of the Ku Klux Klan.

Whether fully fascist or not, movement conservatives are now political muggers out of control -- and as their rhetoric encourages both the figurative and physical elimination of liberals, they become ever more likely to actually tread into regions of real violence.

Yet, from the subdued reaction on the mainstream left and center, you'd never guess that any of this was happening: Sen. Russ Feingold's proposal for censure has gone unheeded, plans to filibuster Bush's appointment of anti-abortion radical Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court disintegrated, and no one can find the courage to muster an investigation of Bush's flouting of federal laws. Democrats remain in disarray, partly because so many of them refuse to admit what's occurring before their eyes.

There is still a chance for them to seize Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. But in the end, their success probably will depend on obtaining a clear and frank view of the pathological nature of their opposition. Without it, they'll likely winding up sitting on a sidewalk with lumps on their head, freshly bereft of their wallet. And they'll wonder why.

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