The Consolidation of Fascism, American Style
Comments on the 2004 Election
By James Herod, November, 2004
1. First of all, the election was rigged.
A few weeks back I read an article by Bev Harris (of Black Box Voting) about the vote tabulating centers. There are a dozen or so in each state. These are the places where each precinct sends its vote tally. The computers in these centers are programmed by private corporations, secretly, beyond public scrutiny, and are completely open to fraud and manipulation. This was a new direction for her research. Until then she had focused on the possibilities of fraud from using touch screen voting machines which do not print out a paper ballot. In this new article she said that it really didn’t matter what kind of voting machines were used in the local precincts, because the vote tallies could be manipulated much more efficiently in the vote tabulating centers. I never saw any follow up to Bev Harris’ story about the vote tabulating centers, before the election.
For the past four years however there have been scores of reports about the stolen election of 2000, about vote suppression techniques, about the insecurity of the touch screen voting machines, and about the many inadequacies of the US voting system in general. These essays were all over the Internet, and the issue was periodically reviewed by such independent media outlets as Democracy Now, Flashpoints Radio, and Free Speech Television. Nothing happened. Well, something did happen: Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, with majority support from both parties, which effectively turned the vote count over to private corporations, practically eliminated paper ballots, failed to enact any of the many ideas for improving elections (like instant run-off voting, a national day off on election day, standardized procedures, or extension of the voting period), and did little else to correct the many problems of the US voting system. In other words, Congress voted to corrupt the system further rather than fix it.
Now reports and analyses of the 2004 election are coming fast and furious (on the Internet that is, not from corporate media or elected politicians). Bev Harris, Lynn Landes, Greg Palast, Louis Posner, Rebecca Mercuri, and dozens more investigative reporters are digging into the many anomalies of this election, like widespread voter suppression, the discrepancies between exit polls and the official vote count, lost or destroyed ballots, uncounted provisional ballots, discarded absentee ballots, impossible numerical results, insufficient voting machines in poor and democratic precincts, and so forth. Two substantive reviews of this research are already available: Alan Waldman, "How the Grinch Stole the White House ... Again," (http://www.onlinejournal.com/evoting/112004Waldman/112004waldman.html), and Ian Reed, "Election Fraud for Dummies," (http://www.reedandwrite.com/Dummies.htm). A web site has been established to follow these efforts (www.stolenelection2004.com). There are of course the two Black Box Voting web sites (blackboxvoting.com, and blackboxvoting.org). An initial bibliography of relevant research has been compiled by Michael Keefer, "Evidence of Electoral Fraud in the 2004 U.S. Election," and is available at: (http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/KEE411B.html). Democrats.com posts almost daily updates on the situation in Ohio.
So, a campaign is rapidly gaining strength to challenge the election. Whether it will succeed or not is another question. Although the election is not officially decided until December 12, with the selection of the electoral college, for all intents and purposes the election was decided on election night. After that it becomes a question of reversing an election already decided. An Administration that can cover up 9/11, remain unscathed through enormous scandals like Enron, invade another country under false pretenses and get away with it, suppress the knowledge that its president was a deserter from his military service, and lie about every piece of legislation it has ever passed, is not likely to be bothered by challenges to a stolen election.
An election in which the votes are counted by private corporations is ipso facto illegitimate. The actual count is irrelevant. If vote counting can be turned over to corporations, anything can. If there is anything which absolutely must remain in public hands, in a democracy, it is vote counting. The fact that this most public of all things has been, already, ‘privatized’, shows just how far advanced into fascism we really are. It shows just how thoroughly the neoliberal counter-revolution (which seeks to destroy everything public) has succeeded. It happened with hardly a beep from anyone, except a few intrepid researchers. I find it hard to believe that this fait accompli can ever be reversed, short of a revolution. Of course I hope that I am wrong.
Thus American pseudo-democracy is no longer even pseudo, although it still retains the appearance of democracy, in that people still go to the polls and vote. That the rulers have been able to institute fascism, while making it still appear to be democracy, testifies to the genius of the neo-fascists. But let us not delude ourselves that we have ever had real democracy in America. Even if this vote had been fair it would not have been fair, because the entire set up is unfair. The majority has never been a governing power in the United States. The ruling class has been firmly in control ever since 1789.
Naturally, it would be fabulous if this election could be rolled back and reversed. This would mean that Americans are not yet willing to live under fascism, and are still able to do something about it. After all, recent FCC rulings were stopped with a massive protest movement. Nevertheless, corporate control of the media is not even close to being broken. Fascists have already gained power, and have consolidated it further with this election, but can they hang on to it? Challenges to the election will eventually end up in the courts or in Congress, where they will be defeated, since these are already packed. Wouldn’t we have to break corporate control of Congress before we could break corporate control of the media or elections? And will Congress ever vote for campaign finance reform? Of course not. So wouldn’t all this practically take a revolution to achieve, which is of course what we should be working on.
Anyway, this is how you steal an election. Get control of the vote count, and then tweak the results just enough so that recounts won’t be called for. As an added precaution, get rid of paper ballots, so that even if a recount is demanded, it will be impossible to carry out. Then get a news blackout on challenges, and have the Congress and Administration act as if the challenges don’t exist.
It’s pretty clear, from the facts already available, that this election was outright stolen, certainly in Florida and Ohio, and probably in the other swing states as well, like New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Iowa. In addition, the Bush vote was undoubtedly enhanced throughout the country by tampering with the vote tallies in the tabulating centers. This is one way to account for the three and a half million victory margin for Bush in the popular vote.
2. Second, millions of Americans are brainwashed.
Another way to account for the vote is to recognize that millions of Americans are simply brainwashed. But all this means is that the propaganda system is incredibly effective. The extreme right has been working on spinning this cocoon, within which millions of people live, for forty years. They have think tanks and public relations firms working on it around the clock, year in and year out. The Republican Right set out forty years ago to build an infrastructure to influence public opinion. They succeeded. So this is another way to steal an election -- get people to vote the way you want them to so that you don’t even have to bother to change their votes fraudulently after they vote.
3. Third, millions of Americans actually are fascistic in outlook.
But the brainwashing thesis goes only so far. Even if they flipped the vote count by five or ten percent, enough to give Bush a comfortable margin of victory, that still leaves millions of people who voted for Bush. Most of these people are decent folk, I’m sure. But some are not so decent. I think we have to admit that a sizable number of these millions are in fact aware of what Bush has been doing and condone it. They want the borders sealed. They don’t care about those Iraqi deaths. They are often intolerant and mean. Some are bigoted and full of hate. Many are willfully and grossly ignorant, and think they have a monopoly on morality. They like empire and capitalism. Many are crooks and bullies themselves. They don’t prize liberty above all else. They don’t value democracy, but believe in authority and discipline. They don’t believe in ‘freedom and justice for all’, but in ‘family values’. They ridicule environmentalists, and scoff at attempts to save endangered species. They demonize liberals, considering them to be an enemy which has to be crushed, eliminated. They are in denial about global warming and peak oil. They like the death penalty. They are religious fanatics. They are militarists and national chauvinists. They hate queers. They hate hippies, single moms, blacks, foreigners, atheists, secular humanists. We ignore this dark stain on the American character at our peril.
Of course, these attitudes and behaviors could themselves still be the result of a sort of long term conditioning (manipulation, brainwashing). What kind of social order gives birth to and nurtures such degraded humans? It is important to know. But in the short run, it hardly matters, because after so many decades, this becomes how people really are.
4. Fourth, the Christian Right Played a Central Role in the Fascist Victory.
Christian fundamentalists have been correctly called Christo-Fascists. There can be no doubt that they delivered the victory to Bush. All our demonstrations, internet web sites, progressive periodicals, videos, books, and independent media, were nothing compared to the one hundred thousand or more Christian Fundamentalist Congregations. These people meet every week, in their churches, to listen to sermons. Many of them are in church several other times each week, for prayer meetings, scout meetings, social functions, and priesthood meetings. They don’t have to get organized, they already are. And they voted.
Most Christian Fundamentalists live in a kind of cocoon, and so cannot perceive what happens outside it. They have their congregations, so they are surrounded with people who believe like they do. They have their own bookstores now, their own novels, videos, textbooks, children’s books, radio stations, tv stations. They have Fox TV and Rush Limbaugh. They home school. It is a self-enclosed world, and a self-reinforcing belief system. They are impervious to outside influence and criticism. They live in a world unto themselves. They have all these little narratives they tell themselves, like a completely specious history of the Israel / Palestine conflict. They also make up grand narratives, like a history of Western Civilization they have written and which many of them use in home schooling, which is a pure fabrication and bears little resemblance to what actually happened. Forty years ago, Christian Fundamentalists saw themselves as living in the world but not of it. Now they want to own the world, and to change it to conform to their image of what it should be, which is a world of dogma and theocracy. They want to take us back to the Middle Ages, before the Renaissance and before the Enlightenment.
How did this strange alliance between fascists and fundamentalists come about? Here is what happened, as I now understand it. Not long after the revolts of the 1960s were crushed, the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party realized that it could never come to power without a mass base. And they could never get a mass base while operating openly as the party of big business. So they set out deliberately to woo the Christian Right. They decided to go to bat for the Christian Right’s social agenda (even though they themselves couldn’t care less about these issues, their only loyalty being to corporate power and profit-taking). In other words, they started supporting Christian Fundamentalists on school prayer, abortion, homosexuality, ending the separation of church and state, curbing immigration, supporting faith-based welfare, fighting drugs, and so forth, across several more emotionally charged issues dear to Fundamentalists. It was a small price for them to pay to gain a mass base of support for their party. This was only part of the Right’s counter offensive of course, although it was a large part. In addition, the Right set up numerous think tanks, organized the Federalist Society, got into talk radio in a big way, published books and magazines, funded Republican groups and newspapers on the nation’s campuses, and eventually, in the 1990s, even set up their own television station, Fox News.
As it happened, this tactic of theirs coincided with a change of orientation on the part of Christian Fundamentalists. Two or three decades ago, Fundamentalists decided that they were no longer content to simply enjoy the religious freedom they had in this country to believe whatever they pleased. They decided to go political and to capture the government in order to establish a Christian Nation. They set up radio and tv stations, did massive organizing in the thousands of fundamentalist churches, got their people elected to all levels of government, and launched the culture war against liberals and secular humanists. It was a determined campaign.
Both campaigns were wildly successful, and culminated in the stolen election of 2000, and now, more ominously, in the stolen election of 2004. Basically, Fundamentalists made a ‘pact with the devil’, that is, with Republican Fascists. Because of this unholy alliance, our freedoms are gone, and we have all fallen into the grip of fascism.
One thing has always puzzled me about Christian Fundamentalists, namely, how they can blithely ignore what the United States is doing overseas. Here are people who claim to be moral and to care about others, yet they turn a blind eye to enormous suffering and death in other lands caused by their own government. Just a few months ago, the US government overthrew a democratically elected President in Haiti. The coup was planned, financed, supplied, and organized by the US. And now the puppet regime they installed is systematically killing the leaders and supporters of the popular movement there which has been fighting for democracy and resisting US domination of their country. Hundreds of lives are being lost in a sustained, ruthless slaughter. Do we hear an outcry from Christian Fundamentalists? No. I guess as long as they get school prayers back, and get homosexuality outlawed, and get abortion stopped, they don’t care how many lives are lost in foreign lands. In this sense, and in spite of their claim that their movement is based on ‘moral values’, Christian Fundamentalists must be judged to be highly immoral people.
I listened to a two-hour post-election wrap-up on Democracy Now on Wednesday. Only two of the dozen or so speakers, Leslie Cagan and Danny Schecter, referred, in an off-handed almost parenthetical way, to the Christian Right. The majority of these progressive commentators live in the Northeast. They are seriously out of touch with the rest of the country. (There was some discussion of the Christian Right however the following day on Democracy Now.) In a discussion I had a few weeks ago an acquaintance claimed that the Christian Right was no longer much of a factor in national politics. I wonder if he has changed his mind now.
And so on Tuesday we witnessed fascists in America consolidating power, the culmination of the their forty year struggle, beginning at least with the assassination of John Kennedy in 1963, to seize the government. They now control the Presidency, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Federal Courts, the Media, most Governorships, and most State Legislatures. There will be no going back now to a liberal democracy. The Neocons will be able to stay in power indefinitely. It’s not only that they now have the ability to steal elections. They have locked up the system in other ways as well, as for example through the scientific gerrymandering of congressional districts.
Many argue that it is an exaggeration to say that the United States has already become a fascist country. They might agree that it is proto-fascist, or semi-fascist, but not yet the real thing. I think they are wrong. We now have a regime which truly hates democracy, and which deliberately set out to destroy it. It has all the main characteristics of fascism. It has a mobilized mass base. It flows out of an abandoned democracy (that is, a population that is willing to give up its democratic institutions out of fear, in exchange, they think, for security). It operates completely outside the law, both domestic and international. It is characterized by the tight merger of corporations with the government, a melding with religion, extreme nationalism and militarism, glorified patriotism, fear mongering, assassinations, aggressive foreign wars, suppression of domestic dissent, the corruption of science, the torture and murder of prisoners, corruption and outright criminality at the highest levels of government, destruction of unions, a monolithic propaganda machine, vicious attacks on the left, and a host of other similarities with classical fascism.
We have to realize though that it is a new, American style, fascism. It is much more sophisticated, by many levels, than Hitler’s or Mussolini’s fascism. Its propaganda machine is incredibly more powerful than the Nazi’s. Moreover, American fascists are not facing, as German and Italian fascists did, massive and powerful working class cultures and movements of socialism, communism, and anarchism. I doubt if we’ll see a jack-booted fascism (although who can forget the pictures of demonstrators being thrown to the ground by police and held there by a boot on the neck). I wouldn’t want to call it a ‘friendly fascism’ though as Bertram Gross did twenty years ago.
The fact is that they don’t need to get violent, on a regular basis, like the Nazis did (at least with the majority of middle income white Americans; they are plenty violent towards African and Native Americans, and the poor). They can get what they want without this overt violence. Their system of control is that much better. They can plunder the national treasury at will, go to war, destroy unions, suppress dissent, eliminate opponents, increase exploitation, imprison millions, break every law on the books, at will, without killing anyone (hardly). They can do all this while appearing to be legitimate, as has been proved just now by this 2004 election they engineered.
When they do need to get violent, they don’t hesitate, like in Iraq, or Haiti, or Columbia, or like with the (very probable) assassinations of Wellstone and Callahan (in keeping with their tradition of murdering prominent liberal leaders, like John and Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Walter Reuther), or like with the suppression of the Miami demonstrations against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. Democracy Now, Indymedia, Free Speech TV, and Infoshop.org can be tolerated because they are not serious threats to the ruling class. If they ever do become serious threats, they will be smashed. They may even be smashed during Bush’s second term anyway, even though they pose no threat, just because it can be done. Who knows, maybe the fascists already do feel threatened, and now that they have solidified their power, will move aggressively to suppress dissent across the board. After all, historically, the first order of business for fascist regimes after gaining power has been to destroy their left opposition. In the US, the fascist structures of repression are now firmly in place, and have already been used on targeted populations.
The neocon fascists and the christo fascists, between them, have big plans for the United States. They intend to roll back the twentieth century. The neocons want to take the country back to the days of the Robber Barons and before, to the days of unfettered capitalism. They want to get rid of every last regulation which constrains business. They want to destroy everything public, so that all needs will have to be met through corporations, which will charge whatever they please. They want to reverse the New Deal, abolish all taxes on the rich and corporations, eliminate the income tax, and steal the Social Security fund by ‘privatizing’ it (and eventually abolish it altogether). They will use the government only to grease the military-industrial complex, bail out failed corporations, transfer wealth from the poor to the rich, fight imperialist wars, and suppress any opposition to these policies, while eliminating any role for government in helping ordinary people. They have no problem at all with ‘big government’, in spite of their claims, as long as it serves empire and capital, not the average joe and jane. The christo fascists want to reverse the sexual, gender, and feminist revolutions, and reestablish the patriarchal family. They hate feminists almost as much as they hate homosexuals. They seek to establish biblical law as the law of the land, and to set up a theocratic state (a Christian Nation).
In one election postmortem I read, the author, Michael Albert, recalled the election of 1972, in which the liberal candidate George McGovern lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon. McGovern carried only one state, Massachusetts. So Albert concluded that this 2004 election didn’t mean that we have entered into some kind of fascism, because the same thing happened way back then, in an even more extreme way. I disagree. The situations are very different.
In 1972, the more liberal wing of the sixties New Left, those interested in electoral politics, had taken over the Democratic party and the Democratic Convention, and nominated an anti-war and anti-empire (a little bit) candidate. (I should clarify that McGovern was endorsed only by the liberal wing of the anti-war movement, not by New Left radicals and revolutionaries.) He was probably the most progressive candidate since Roosevelt. But he became the symbol, on the national electoral level, of the revolts of the sixties. The vast majority of Americans hated the radicals of the sixties. Their response to the end of the American Dream (which shattered irrevocably on November 22, 1963, with Kennedy’s murder), was to turn their anger on the sixties revolutionaries. So they rejected McGovern, resoundingly, in a sort of spontaneous outrage.
I think my own personal experience in this was in fact typical. I lived in New York City throughout the sixties. My parents lived in Missouri. They were absolutely horrified by my behavior, and I don’t think it was entirely because of our being badmouthed by the media (we had of course gotten bad press from the outset). They were genuinely appalled. I had turned against everything they believed in, or so they thought.
But the situation now is rather different. This right wing victory was carefully engineered, and was the culmination of a forty year drive to seize power. They used the opportunity they gained from the stolen election of 2000 to dig in, strengthen their institutions across the board, and pull off a real, decisive victory this time around, in the form of another spectacularly, and openly, stolen election. One ray of hope though is that they did after all still nevertheless have to steal the election. They don’t yet have a majority in their camp, in spite of all their think tanks, PR firms, and mass media.
On second thought, there may after all be a similarity between the elections of 1972 and 2004. For what has happened these past few years? Well, protest movements have exploded everywhere, beginning in November 1999 in Seattle, and then moving on to Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Boston, Miami, Quebec City, Genoa. I suspect that when the tens of millions living in the Midwest, South, Great Plains, and Rocky Mountains, saw a million protesters marching through the streets of New York City at the Republican Convention, that’s when they resolved that they would make damn sure to get out and vote for Bush. Nearly half of all Americans hate protesters, and anything that upsets the status quo. And they hate New York City, regarding it almost as an alien state, being as it is a liberal bastion.
At least with McGovern progressives had a candidate who embodied a few of the values and goals of the protest movements of the sixties. With Kerry, they had nothing. Nevertheless, the progressive movement was determined to vote for him, because of the extreme danger represented by the Bush neocon cabal. Conservative Americans understood this, understood that Kerry was the candidate of the protesters (and a Massachusetts liberal to boot). This was enough to motivate the millions in the heartland to get out the vote to defeat him, just like McGovern was defeated in 1972 (in what was surely one of the most humiliating defeats in US electoral history).
Of course, there are many other reasons for this current Democratic defeat, other than conservative revulsion at protesters, which was after all probably not the major factor. (Please note that I’ve said "defeat", and not that they "lost the election", which I don’t believe they did.) The decisive factors were surely that the Republicans have built a mass base among Fundamentalists, have invented and gained acceptance of a whole new ideology, have instituted fascism which gives them a lot more control, have prosecuted the ‘culture wars’ relentlessly, have learned to speak a totally Orwellian language, and have defined their opposition as an ‘enemy’ to be eliminated, not just bested at the polls. There is the additional fact that Democrats have been for a long time now merely Republican-lite, and offer nothing to the average citizen.
I was distressed almost as much by progressive commentary after the election as by the election itself. Howard Zinn for example was a participant in the radio program I mentioned above, on postmortems on the election. He said we should not lose hope, but work harder to build a movement for change to try to move the Democratic Party to the left, or perhaps start a third party for progressives. This same sentiment was expressed by every progressive commentator I heard or read after the election. These people never learn.
Several mass movements have been built in American history, all aimed however only at changing laws. The abolition movement sought to get rid of chattel slavery, by law. The suffrage movement sought to give women the vote, by law. The civil rights movement sought to secure basic constitutional rights for African-Americans, by law. The environmental movement sought to protect the environment and save endangered species, by law. These kinds of movement are no longer sufficient. (Actually, they never were.)
We need to build a movement, for sure, but for what? To radicalize the Democratic Party? No! To build a third Progressive Party? No! To get populists elected to Congress, to get proportional representation, to get instant run-off voting, to get a multiparty system, to get money out of elections. No, No, No, No, and No! We definitely need to organize a revolutionary movement, but one that will reject representative government per se, and seek to transform the entire social order, not just change the laws of the present one. Revolutionaries should probably just declare a moratorium on even discussing Democrats, Republicans, or Greens, beyond what is minimally necessary to know what is going on. We should instead concentrate on establishing real direct democracy in neighborhood, workplace, and household assemblies.
We must realize that anarchy is the real nemesis to neoliberal capitalism, both abroad (empire) and at home (fascism). Nothing short of this is a practical alternative. Nothing short of this can win. The era of representative government is over. Liberal democracies will never return. We will have fascism or anarchy. Those are our choices. This election proves that beyond any doubt. Bourgeois democracy cannot be fixed, nor is it worth fixing. But it requires a real leap to imagine a world without such structures of government. Nevertheless, it is a leap that we must make, now, with all the resources at our disposal. We are running out of time. But the historical opportunity is here. We must get this idea into the air. We must seize the time. The alternative is too awful to contemplate.