We are So Not Out of the Woods, and We Might Want to Take Our Heads out of the Sand

Photograph Source: Anika Malone – CC BY 2.0

A Childhood Memory

When I was a grade-schooler in the mid-late 1960s my parents used to rent a lake cottage in the Indiana Dunes for a month or so each summer. Somewhere in the woods behind the lakeshore there lived a bitter old white guy and property owner named, literally, Miser. Miser liked to patrol the beach with two German Shepherds and a shotgun, saying gruff, hard to understand things to people as his dogs ran menacingly off leash. He wore dark clothes, long black boots, and a gray overcoat in the summer heat.

I knew about this bastard from stories kids told. I remember his snarling animals running through the front yard of our cottage one early evening while he laughed in his pick-up truck.

Between his name, the ethnic affiliation of his dogs, and the sense of violence and hatred he projected, old Miser struck me as something related to the Nazis who were a ubiquitous presence on post-World War II American television and movie screens.

Miser and his dogs came around a distant dune one sunny day as I sat at a beach picnic with my liberal Democratic mother, some other vacationers, and our small family dog Tiger.

Conscious of Tiger’s penchant for running at other animals regardless of their size and fierceness, I begged my mother to let me take him back to the cottage or to put him at least briefly in a picnic basket.

“Oh, no, it’ll be fine,” my other said, forbidding me to undertake such rash action. “That’s just a neighbor coming by to say hello. He knows how to control his dogs.”

“No,” I said, “that’s Miser. He’s a Nazi.”

Miser laughed as one of his fearsome dogs dashed over and picked a squealing Tiger up in his mouth, shaking him around and spitting him back out.

I screamed in terror. Miser roared approval. Tiger survived and went through the rest of his life with teeth marks barely covered by newly whitened fur. He was never quite the same.

I emerged determined not to engage in the liberal underestimation of gun-toting fascist shitheads.

The Amerikaners Rally to Outlaw Teaching the History of Slavery, Roll Back Voting Rights, and Overthrow Marxism-Bidenism

What is it about bourgeois liberals and even many lefties who refuse to properly identify the evil staring them in the face? The fourth chapter of my next book is titled “The Anatomy of Fascism Denial.” It examines in painful detail the various absurd and pathetic ways in which liberal and left intellectuals and academics stuck their heads in the sand about Donald Trump and his backers – not just in 2016 but even through the white nationalist and pandemo-fascist Trump insanity of 2020 and the January 6th Attack on the Capitol, when Trump instigated lethal racial-nationalist violence in an attempt to nullify a bourgeois presidential election.

The denialism continues. Here we are just more than five months later after the failed Capitol Complex Putsch. The orange fascist reptile is back on the hate rally trail. He’s doubling and tripling down on his Big Stolen Election Lie, which is straight out of Hitler (a book of whose speeches the lizard kept by his bedside in the 1980s), adding the preposterous claim that he’s going to be “reinstated” in August.

Well more than half of the white nationalist Republican Party supports “the use of force to arrest the decline of the traditional American way of life.” Two thirds or more think Joe Biden’s win was illegitimate. Half believe the insane claim that “antifa was responsible for the attack on the Capitol.”

Red states are removing election officials who certified Biden’s victory, passing bills to roll back minority voting rights, advancing legislation to cancel the popular vote in the 2024 presidential election, enacting bills to criminalize and terrorize liberal and left protest, and criminalizing the teaching of the history of racism in America. They are also getting ready to draw state legislative and Congressional district maps gerrymandered to guarantee continued disproportionate minority white nationalist rule in state and federal government.

The fascist frau and Iowa governor Kim Reynolds has just signed a bill that “bans teaching about white privilege and racial equity in [Iowa’s] K-12 public schools and in public colleges and universities.” Read that again.

The white nationalist party has an absurd majority on the preposterously powerful U.S. Supreme Court. Many of its reactionary appointees hold down key positions on the absurdly appointed-for-life federal bench, including a U.S. district judge who recently justified shooting down California’s assault weapons ban by equating an AR-15 with a Swiss Army knife.

The Republifascists of the U.S. Senate have blocked an independent commission to investigate the January 6 Attack on the Capitol. A recent bipartisan Senate committee report on the fascist rampage completely deleted Trump’s central role in instigating it.

QAnon Nazis are building support, raising money to fill Congress with more demented far-right zealots like Marjorie Taylor (Republifascist – GA), Mo Brooks (Republifascist – AL), Paul Gosar (Republifascist-AZ), Matt Gaetz (Republifascist-FL), and Lauren Boebert (Republifascist – CO) and Ron Johnson (Republifascist-WI)

Trump’s former National Security Advisor and pardon pet Michael Flynn has called for a Myanmar-style coup to reinstall his master. In early May, 124 retired U.S. generals and admirals including retired Vice Adm. John Poindexter of Iran-Contra infamy and retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, who is running for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire, signed a fascistic open letter repeating Trump’s big election lies and preposterously accusing the Biden administration of moving that nation toward a “Marxist form of tyrannical government.” Released under the banner of a group called “Flag Officers 4 America,” the letter absurdly claimed that “under a Democrat Congress and the Current Administration, our Country has taken a hard left turn toward Socialism… which must be countered now by electing congressional and presidential candidates who will always act to defend our Constitutional Republic.” Also signed by retired Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin, the letter warned against passage of the For the People Act, a liberal voting rights measure that the ex-generals and admirals ludicrously claimed would “destroy election fairness and allow Democrats to forever remain in power violating our Constitution and ending our Representative Republic.”

It seems distinctly possible that the White Nationalist Party will succeed in rigging the 2024 elections to take back the White House and Congress in 2025. All that will require is a closer election (likely) combined with enhanced Republican control of state legislatures and state election oversight positions (very likely) in key states as well as a Republican majority in the 2023 U.S. House (very likely). This is all very doable in the next few years, especially now that the despicable Demublicans Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have helped the New Jim Crow RepubliNazis block both a serious voter protection measure – the We the People Act (which would have outlawed racist voter suppression and gerrymandering at the state level) – and efforts to end the absurd racist filibuster, which requires 60 of 100 votes for a measure to pass the absurdly powerful upper body of Congress, where the nation’s most reactionary, rural, and white states and regions are drastically overrepresented.

A Liberal Political Scientist Asks: “Why do You Want the Power?”

But still liberals can’t call it what it is. In a recent interview with VOX’s Sean Illing, the liberal political scientist David Faris despairs over the self-satisfied calm of the Democrats (their failure to “play hardball”) in the face of the continuing right-wing onslaught. Faris says he is looking for other countries to live in after the Republicans take back power in 2024-25. He’s all flight, no fight.

Having pretty much given up on the dismal Dems, Faris says that our last hope is the conscience of Republicans. “One thing I would ask Republicans,” Faris says “If it goes [your] way, what is it that you think you will have won? What are we even fighting about at this point? You got your corporate tax cuts. You got the Supreme Court. What is the purpose of this? Why do you want the power if it means alienating half the country and potentially breaking it up? I guess I just hope that there will be some introspection among party leaders when we’re approaching that precipice.”

How professorially pathetic. Speak truth to power, doc – there’s a winning strategy!

On top of its cringing power-worship and cowardice, this comment was wonderfully emblematic of the fascism-denial that continues to be rife across the reigning bourgeois political, media, and intellectual culture. Faris doesn’t get it: tax cuts for Big Business and plutocratic control of the nation’s high court are not the only things the matter to the current day GOP. The Republican Party today is a neofascist, eco-cidal, white-supremacist, and patriarchal, post-parliamentary Amerikaner organization that views white nationalist power as a glorious “America First” goal in and of itself. It is perfectly happy to “alienate,” “break up,” and then repress “half the country” in defense and advance of white nationalist male power. It wants power for white supremacist power’s sake, professor. Hello?

This “Hyperbole…Isn’t Entirely Misplaced”

Even the leftish sorts who criticize the Democrats for excessive complacency seems oddly complacent in their discussion of the menace on the pseudo-conservative right. Listen to this little pearl of wisdom from a warning on the Democrats’ failure to take the right-wing authoritarian menace seriously enough – an alarm penned by Jacobin’s Luke Savage, who is granted access to The Atlantic:

“[Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer] went as far as warning that ‘if we don’t stop these vicious and often racist actions, Third World autocracy will be on its way.’ Schumer hasn’t been shy about naming an antagonist, either, citing a ‘concerted, nationwide effort to limit the rights of citizens to vote” and even declaring that “we won’t let [Republican-controlled legislatures] create a dictatorship in America.’ Granting some room for hyperbole, these dire pronouncements aren’t entirely misplaced…. Suffice it to say, a concerted right-wing effort really is under way to limit popular democracy and suppress votes. So what are Democrats doing about it?” 

As the left political scientist Anthony DiMaggio wrote me:

“’Hyperbole’ and ‘Aren’t entirely misplaced…’ That’s what Savage calls warnings about authoritarianism when one of the two parties is angling to nullify upcoming elections? Really? I mean I know Biden didn’t mention Republicans nullifying popular and electoral slates. But neither did the Jacobin writer, who is talking about warnings of slipping into dictatorship as ‘hyperbole.’ You have denialism all around, among Dems and progressive lefties. It’s just a question of the degree… ‘limit popular democracy’ is the understatement of the year.”

“I Hoped the Republican Party Might Embrace Small ‘d’ Democratic Politics”

One of my favorite recent bits of head-in-the sand denialism comes from the Barnard political scientist Sheri Berman, who figures prominently in my fascism-denialism chapter. Get a load of this recent passage from a Business Insider article titled “The GOP Has Proven to be an Even ‘Greater Threat’ to Democracy than Trump in 2021, Experts Warn”:

“Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Barnard College and author of Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Régime to the Present Day, told Insider she’s become even ‘more pessimistic’ about the future of American democracy in 2021. ‘With Trump gone, I hoped the Republican party might recalibrate, moving away from his illiberal, anti-democratic and irrational behavior and embracing a conservative, but firmly reality-based and small ‘d’ democratic politics,’ Berman said. ‘That the Republican party has proven to be a greater threat than Trump — a single individual — bodes poorly for the health of American democracy.’”

Hello? Why in the name of God and/or recent political history would any serious analyst have expected any such thing from the Republican Party?! The party threw in with the Tangerine Antichrist so thoroughly that it didn’t even bother to have a policy platform in 2020: it just said that it “supported Donald Trump’s America First Agenda.” Eight years ago, the Republican American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman Ornstein co-authored an essay in which he accurately described the GOP as a post-parliamentary and anti-constitutional “radical insurgency—ideologically extreme, scornful of facts and compromise, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” The GOP’s turn to fascistic white nationalism goes back decades. It was evident during the 1990s. Why on Earth would Berman think Trump’s removal from power would lead this “radical [right] insurgency” back to “small ‘d’ democratic politics.” If anything, Trump’s exile has predictably fueled an expansion of the paranoid and racist authoritarianism that defines this fascist (sorry) outfit today, consistent with Republican pundit David Brooks’ recent observation that “the GOP is getting even worse” after Trump’s departure.

And to what “American democracy” does Berman refer? It is well understood that the United States is in practical terms a de facto bourgeois class dictatorship and formally a minority rule republic in which the nation’s most reactionary, white, and rural regions and states are absurdly over-represented in all three branches of state and federal government.

99 Percent of the Way”

Oh, but the power elite will save us, right? Fears of Trump’s fascism were overblown, I was told by a Noam Chomsky-quoting graduate student three months ago, because Trump never won the allegiance of all but a small fraction of the nation’s corporate and financial ruling class, which turned decisively against him after the January 6 Attack on the Capitol.

This is a problematic narrative. Some relevant and deep pockets sections of the ruling class (especially in the fossil fuel and other polluting industries) did in fact back Trump. And many of those corporate and financial elites who didn’t want the demented monster in the White House in 2017 were perfectly happy to leave him there for a full first term thanks to his tax cuts and neoliberal de-regulation policies. “Those who hold the levers of the private power that dominates the society and political system,” Chomsky observed in the wake of the Attack on the Capitol, “never liked Trump’s behavior, which harmed the image they project as humanists dedicated to the common good. But they were willing to tolerate the vulgar performance as long as Trump and his accomplices delivered the goods, lining their pockets by robbing the public.” Indeed, as Doug Henwood recently reflected in Jacobin:

Trump was not the bourgeoisie’s favorite candidate. He had support from provincial plutocrats but not from the executive suite at Goldman Sachs. When he took office and immediately began ransacking, one wondered if the deep state would rein him in. Maybe the CIA would even arrange a malfunction in Air Force One’s fuel line. But it was not to be. Tax cuts and deregulation made capital forget all their reservations about Trump, and the stock market made 128 fresh daily highs — on average, one every six days — between inauguration and the onset of the coronavirus crisis. It took the encouragement of an attack on the U.S. Capitol for the big bourgeoisie to complain [about Trump’s extremism] openly – 99 percent of the way through his time in office! (emphasis and exclamation mark added).

The delusional fascist in the White House was good for the bottom-line interests of big capital, which waited to go public with its disgust at his conduct until he tried to not just legally and politically subvert and nullify a presidential election but to physically overthrow that election.

At the same time, a respectable wealth and power elite that seriously wanted the malignant Neanderthal out of the world’s most powerful office could have tried to pull the plug well before the fall and winter of 2020-21. Trump’s fascist essence was fully evident after the summer 2017 events in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the very least. But this “deep state” coup never took place.

If Trump had gotten a second term (as he likely would have but for COVID-19), many corporate and financial chieftains not on board would have accommodated or re-accommodated to his power. A future fascistic presidential candidate and president who knows how to ruffle fewer ruling class feathers can expect to do much better with the nation’s wealth and power elite. And make no mistake: most of the American corporate and financial elite would have backed Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections had the Democrats run Bernie Sanders, the leftish contender who campaigned in accord with majority progressive public opinion and called himself a socialist. The America ruling class will pick fascism over even mild social democracy every time. And how much do we really want to make about the fact that “those who own the country” (Chomsky’s apt phrase) finally “turned against Trump,” whose noxious rule they certainly would have accommodated had he won a second term (and who they certainly would have backed over and against Bernie Sanders had the senator from Vermont won the Democratic nomination)? Chomsky seems less than impressed by the corporate repudiation:

Polychroniou: Do you believe that Trump is finished as a political figure? Or, to put the question slightly differently, was the Washington putsch of January 6, 2021, the beginning the end of the rise of Trumpism?

Chomsky: Far from it. Whether Trump will survive the error of judgment that turned major power centers against him is unclear. He may well do so. The voting base of the Party seems to remain loyal, maybe with even greater fervor after this attack on their hero by the “deep state.” Local officials too. He was cheered on his visit to the Republican National Committee the day after the Capitol riot. He has other resources. Whatever the fate of the individual, Trumpism will not be so easily contained…We are not out of the woods, by far.

Indeed. As Chomsky might have added, Trump’s dedicated army of small donors may be sufficient along with the vast eliminationist right wing media machine, to win him or some other noxious white nationalist/neofascist the 2024 Republican nomination and presidential election regardless of who the nation’s big money owners choose to back.

“No Easy or Lasting Solutions”

We are not out of the woods. And what woods would those be? The woods, among other things of that practically unmentionable and supposedly reckless, excessive, radical, and juvenile word: fascism, “the F-word” – a word but can’t be properly said or understood in its 21st century American context even by many who seem aware that our Nazi dogs would like to bite all the way down to the bones of this old bourgeois terrier we call (bourgeois) “democracy.” Not fascism alone, of course. America’s fake, oxymoronic “capitalist democracy” is a paper tiger atop a de facto ruling class dictatorship – the chaotic reign of soulless capital and commodity production – that permits no real or lasting solutions to the ever more grave, overlapping, and interrelated problems of our time, all of which are intimately linked to the bourgeoisie’s half-millennium rule: racism, inequality, patriarchy, xenophobia, militarism, imperialism, nationalism, police-statism, poverty, insecurity, pandemicide, fascism, and, last but not least, ecocide. As the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) rightly noted last April, the ruling class is all out of solutions to all of this:

For the masses of people, and ultimately for humanity as a whole, there is no future, or no future worth living, under this system… caught up in crisis and conflicts for which it has no easy or lasting solutions. Throughout this country the workings of this system have given rise to deep divisions which cannot be resolved under this system. Society is being ripped apart. Those who rule are locked in a bitter fight among themselves, and they cannot hold things together in the way they have in the past. … There is a way to a world and a future that is worth living and is worth fighting for right now: revolution—a real revolution, not playing around with a few changes that leave this system in place and in power, while benefitting only a small number. A revolution means a force of millions, drawn from many different parts of society and organized for an all-out fight to overthrow this system and replace it with a radically different and much better economic and political system, a socialist system, based on meeting the needs of the people and carrying forward the fight for a communist world where there will finally be an end, everywhere, to the exploitation, oppression, and destruction of the environment that is built into this system of capitalism-imperialism. Anything less than this revolution will completely fail to deal with the root of all the problems or lead to the actual solution.

Don’t want to hear this from the RCP? Oh, sorry. Take it from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing near the end of his life on the historical eve of this reactionary disaster, Dr. King reflected on how “the Black revolution” was forcing the United States “to face all its interrelated flaws – racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that the radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.” That was an elegant way of calling for revolution over and against what King called “the triple evils that are interrelated:” racism, capitalism, and military imperialism. (Were he alive today, King would have to add patriarchy, nativism, and ecocide.). The alternative, King felt, in the wake of two straight summers of racial bloodshed, was continuing violence and “a rightwing takeover and a fascist state that will destroy the soul of the nation.”

The crisis, which will only deepen under the ever-deepening ecological catastrophe, itself intimately related to the likely now permanent pandemic crisis, can be meaningfully met only with radical solutions. It’s (a) barbarism/tribalism/authoritarianism/fascism leading to extinction or (b) popular revolution and socialism on the path to communist liberation and survival. We must make our choice.

What Matters to the Hollow Resistance Democrats

If you think the corporate and imperial Democratic Party of “inauthentic opposition” (Sheldon Wolin) and Hollow Resistance (please think again about buying my book of that title now that we are seeing more clearly the predictable extreme limits of what electing Biden and a slim Democratic Congressional majority can deliver when it comes to improving and fascism-proofing America under the U.S. capitalist and constitutional order) offer any serious and defensible path away of this choice you are engaging in magical thinking. The Democrats are a neo-Weimar party of neoliberal/neofascist appeasement.

Listen to what Democratic US Senators recently told POLITICO: “Biden can win Joe Manchin over when it matters.” Translation: the working class’s right to organize unions (passed by the US House and dead in the U.S Senate) doesn’t matter to the reigning corporate-imperial Democrats. Protecting and advancing minority voting rights (dead in the Senate) doesn’t really matter to the reigning corporate-imperial Democrats. Rolling back the racist police and mass arrest and incarceration state doesn’t really matter to the reigning corporate-imperial Democrats. Ending the scourge of mass shootings and gun violence doesn’t really matter to the reigning corporate-imperial Democrats. Reducing the campaign finance power of the wealthy Few doesn’t really matter to the reigning corporate-imperial Democrats. Saving livable ecology doesn’t really matter to the reigning corporate-imperial Democrats. Ending the nation’s hostage-like captivity to the authoritarian minority rule of a Republican Party that has gone neofascist doesn’t really matter to the reigning corporate-imperial Democrats. Passing a minimally adequate semi-Keynesian stimulus measure that stops far short of the assistance millions needed – that matters to the dismal, dollar-drenched Dems because it is required to prop up the parasitic capitalist imperialist order. Getting people vaccinated to as to resume profitable labor exploitation and sales matters. Passing a giant New Cold War measure to confront Chinese economic and military power matters to the reigning corporate imperial Dems. So does passing a giant military-industrial Pentagon budget that steals hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars from the potential meeting of social, environmental, and public health needs. We the People don’t matter to them. The wealthy Few and their parasitic capitalist-imperialist order do matter to them. It’s that simple.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).