Commentary: Recognize now the drift toward fascism in America

By Rick Steiner

For The Cordova Times

Someone once warned that “when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

Through history people have failed to recognize the rise of fascism until it was too late.

Today, after years of the President Donald Trump’s administration, a Republican Congress and the growing power of financial elites and religious fanaticism, America seems to be drifting closer than ever toward fascism. We should heed the signs.

The opposite of democracy, fascism is an authoritarian, right wing, hyper-nationalistic form of government suppressing opposition and dissent, with regimented economic systems run by financial elites.

Political scientist Lawrence Britt analyzed the 20th-century fascist regimes of Adolf Hitler (Germany). Benito Mussolini (Italy), Francisco Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), Antonio de Oliveira Salazar (Portugal), Georgios Papadopoulos (Greece), and Augusto Pinochet (Chile), and concluded these regimes had the following 14 elements in common (“Fascism Anyone?” Free Inquiry, Spring 2003).

Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism:

Widespread use of flags, patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs and other propaganda; suspicion of all things foreign. 

Disdain for the importance of human rights:

Human rights are suppressed or ignored; minorities are marginalized and demonized; use of secrecy, denial and disinformation is rampart.

Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause:

Scapegoating is used to distract citizens from real problems and divert criticism, targeting minorities, liberals, socialists, other religions, secularists, dissenters, etc.

Supremacy of the military/avid militarism:

Military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, while domestic needs are neglected; military is glorified as patriotic nationalism, used to intimidate other nations, and to maintain power of the ruling elite.

Rampant sexism:

Fascist governments are male-dominated, and women viewed as second-class citizens; they are adamantly homophobic and endorsed by the dominant religion of the country. 

A controlled mass media:

Media is controlled directly by government, or indirectly through regulation, licensing, access to regime officials, appeals to patriotism, propaganda, and implied threats; the public remains unaware of the regime’s illicit excesses. 

Obsession with national security:

National security is used as an instrument of oppression, fear, and secrecy, under control of the ruling elite; questioning the regime’s security activities is portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous. 

Religion and the ruling elite are tied together:

Fascist governments attach themselves to the dominant religion of the country and portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion; that the ruling elite’s behavior is incompatible with the precepts of the religion is ignored.

Power of corporations is protected:

While personal life of ordinary citizens is subverted, corporations operate with freedom and impunity, with minimal regulations and maximum access to ruling elites.

Power of labor is suppressed or eliminated:

As organized labor is the main threat to a fascist government and industrial elites, it is crushed or rendered powerless. 

Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts:

Intellectuals and freedom of ideas and expression are considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal; universities are tightly controlled; dissenting faculty are harassed or eliminated; unorthodox ideas and dissent are strongly attacked or silenced; art and literature must either serve the national interest or be suppressed.

Obsession with crime and punishment:

Police are given almost limitless power; criminal charges are often fabricated, particularly against adversaries; prison populations grow.

Rampant cronyism and corruption:

Government officials receive financial rewards from industry, which in turn receives favoritism from government; government and industry use government to enrich themselves, while public interest suffers.

Fraudulent elections:

Elections in fascist regimes are often bogus; opposition candidates are intimidated (or worse); voter suppression, disinformation, and the judiciary are used to manipulate electoral process.

Today, these fascist elements are evident not only in Russia, China, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and North Korea, among others, but also here in the United States. Such tendencies betray the foundations of our democracy and our Constitution, and are worthy of vigilant resistance, regardless of one’s political or religious affiliation.

A good start would be passing the democracy reform bill (H.R. 1) being introduced by the newly seated, Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, to empower voters, reduce big money in politics, and crack down on corruption.

One of our 2019 New Year’s resolutions should be to revive America’s ailing democracy.

Rick Steiner is a conservation biologist in Anchorage. A former professor at the University of Alaska, he resigned in protest of restrictions on his academic freedom.