One’s outrage these days can feel like you’re trying to drain the ocean a cup at a time. You get very tired, but the ocean seems to take little notice. So I spend far less time riveted to what passes for news. It’s a self-care imperative.
But there is a belly-bug going around, one that begins with nausea that lasts for a full day and winds up with a couple days of abdominal cramps that break you out in sweats and curl you into a fetal position. It hit me three nights ago, and on day-two I said to hell with this and scrounged up an old bottle of Vicodin the doctor had prescribed last year for an inflamed gall bladder. Within about 20 minutes, my stomach being empty, the opoid started to turn down the volume on the belly pain, my muscles released the tension I had been unaware of, and I became a kind of flaccid, supine, passive receptor – perfect for tv. So I channel-surfed and popped Vicodin for two days until this morning.
I re-discovered two things: cable television is creepier than a Hieronymus Bosch painting of Hell, and the latent reactionary current of American politics is actively and effectively self-organizing. People will say I’m nuts – some already do – but if you haven’t been watching tv, especially that crap they call news, then you ought to start. It’s the semiotic conduit that is being used to energize this reactionary self-organization… even when it’s pretending to be highly critical.
During the Bush years, one could more easily and effectively point this out with little difficulty, even though this reaction is becoming far more well-organized now that it’s vanguard is out of power. Opposition to the war merged with Democratic Party political maneuvering, at the expense of the effort against the war, which has survived Bush and is shifting into an expanded and even more perilous Af-Pak theater. This put the Bush-Cheney reactionary vanguard that was in power on the defensive, whereupon they diluted their message and appeal. Being in power constrains and conservatizes, while being on the outside liberates our impulses. Note the difference between Democratic rhetoric before the elections and Democratic actions afterward. Warnings about the fascistic impulse were heeded and echoed by liberals when their target was Bush. They have fallen silent now that their party is in power.
I watched with fascination – perhaps amplified by the Vicodin – as blatant racial signaling between the racial-right, in their demonstration on the DC Mall, in the planned outburst by the political offspring of Strom Thurmond, in the continued din of birther-lunacy, and the dust-ups over aspects of the health care debate, are met by the White House with a studied refusal to name that racism. The Obama administration is thoroughly trapped in the Game; and the reactionary-right has been liberated to re-capture the initiative.
If I had been a right-wing strategist during the last primary season, I’d have been in hog-heaven. The economy had tanked. The war – a disaster – had become a finger-trap. The Democrats were surely about to take the White House (and the inevitable responsibility for the mess), and their field had been narrowed to a black guy and a pre-demonized woman.
I hesitate to draw direct parallels between the emergence of 20th Century European fascism and the current US; but some of the similarities are still pertinent: most particularly, in this context, the class, racial, and gendered contents of fascism’s appeal.
In October 2006, I published an article on this topic with Truthdig, entitled “Sowing the Seeds of Fascism in America.” In that article, I wrote:
In each of the European cases, the trigger bringing fascist demagogues to power was a profound economic crisis. This is a tendency buried within an ever-expanding regime of capital accumulation, because the “logic of capital” inevitably comes into conflict with the “territorial logic of power” (David Harvey, “The New Imperialism,” Oxford Press, 2003). The mobility of capital eventually liquidates or abandons all spaces, including living space, and this throws middle classes into both economic and psychological disorder. They can break both ways: embracing a progressive path of “going through to the other side” of the crisis by creating new social models, or embracing the (often idealized and mythical) past.
Giovanni Arrighi, writing in “Hegemony Unravelling” (New Left Review, March-April 2005), made the point that “[a]s Karl Polanyi pointed out long ago, with special reference to the overaccumulation crisis of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, devastations of this kind inevitably call forth the ‘self-protection of society’ in both progressive and reactionary political form….”
That hasn’t happened in the United States … yet. The anxiety has been building, along with an increasingly precarious social existence in the ‘burbs, where car infrastructure is running into record oil prices, pension funds are being wiped out in strategic bankruptcies, and the household debt overhang is beginning to resemble a plank suspended over a canyon with a couple of nails. Not coincidentally, militarization has been one of the processes that has postponed the inevitable.
Since then, the nails have worked loose and the plank dropped into the abyss a year ago this week.
Now, here is the abstract from “The Nazi Party and the German New Middle Class, 1925-1933,” by William Brustein of the University of Minnesota (American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 41, No. 9, 1237-1261, 1998)
In studies of the social origins of the German Nazi Party, the new middle class of white-collar employees and civil servants has received scant attention. This inattention is surprising given that the German new middle class was the fastest growing segment of the German population during Weimar. This article applies an interest-based model of political behavior to the German new middle class between 1925 and 1933 to assess the model’s ability to explain the appeal of the German Nazi Party to joiners from the new middle class. The data for this study come from the Brustein-Falter sample drawn from the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) master file of 42,004 individuals who joined the Nazi Party between 1925 and 1933.
There’s the class analysis, or at least some empirical data. I’ve hollered about this for several years now, the danger of a destabilized, suburbified middle-class. I have also been annoying people for some time about the gendered content of reaction (which gets blown off like a gnat by many even on the left). The racial stuff is coming into the open now.
I post this now to ask that anyone who is willing and able revisit the article of 2006, and hold that analysis up alongside the images of the reactionary gathering last week at DC, alongside the cultural ciphers of the Sotomayor nomination, and alongside the refusal of a still-marginal but not negligible right-wing that flatly refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of a black president. To me, at least, it appears that the fault lines are shifting, and the tension is palpably building.
Furthermore, the white-black, male-female, intra-class fault lines (the middle class usually breaks both ways in a crisis, more to the reactionary column) are creating the tremors under a group of people who seem tangential in the tv drama, but who are about to become the victims of a good-cop-bad-cop dynamic between Republicans and Democrats – immigrants, especially Hispano-Latina immigrants.
Put that in your cap, then take this challenge. Watch CNN tonight and check out Lou Dobbs, a preening self-important fascist demagogue of the first order who could make Fox commentators appear almost legitimate. Watch this nasty poseur, who is a fomrer Wall Street shill, and then consider this.
Liberalism sacralizes liberal law; and liberal law is obtuse. The system is revealed, unmasked; and we refuse to see.
I’ll stop there, so we can have a conversation.