April 24, 2010

Get me a ticket on an aeroplane

"The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen,” Chomsky went on. “Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response. What are people supposed to think if someone says ‘I have got an answer, we have an enemy’? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don’t think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election.

"when Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here.

Thus spake Noam Chomsky recently, and Mr. Lewis in 1935. Oddly enough, I found myself saying something similar recently, right down to the detail about a Germany versus America comparative-awfulness analysis. I guess paranoid minds think alike. At least I hope it's paranoia. I thought to myself that Germany prior to the mid-1920's or so, or around the time of the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich (1923), had been a relative bastion of Enlightenment thinking, or at least to the extent any European country could be enlightened in the aftermath of the First World War. A largely educated, cultured populace, the home of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Goethe and Schiller. Yet it all went to hell anyway. Whereas modern America can boast Toby Keith, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin as cultural icons. One can take cold comfort there. Germany thought Hitler had been dealt with after the Putsch: he was arrested, tried and imprisoned. The hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic gradually ebbed. Progressive America thought the danger had passed with the election of Barack Obama and the marginalization of an increasingly radical-Right Republican Party. Now the Democrats grimly concede that the Republicans have a reasonable chance of recapturing the House in November. How could this happen in two years?

The United States Bank (based in the Bronx - not the Federal Reserve, but a privately chartered bank) failed in 1929, Wall Street crashed, and the Depression was on, returning Germany to its post-Versailles Treaty malaise, and setting the stage for the Little Corporal with the Chaplin mustache. Thus runs one theory of the rise of Nazism in such books as The Origins of the Second World War by A.J.P. Taylor, a model of lucidity and perhaps oversimplification. Yet it's pretty hard to argue with the claim that national humiliation often leads to a backlash and a search for scapegoats, especially when the country once enjoyed unchallenged preeminence. My own view is that the USA was on a long, slow trajectory of decline long before the Wall Street crash of 2007-2009, and that it's naive (and whistling past the graveyard) to think that everything going on is because Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. That's just preposterous, a result of the uber-insularity of the intellectuals, largely based in New York, who dictate the first draft of history in this country. But Americans, like other peoples, prefer having specific people to blame when calamities strike. Even the weather is treated that way, if you've noticed: "The fierce storm was blamed for five deaths yesterday." (Is the storm supposed to feel remorse? Knock it off in the future?)

So if I were a Wall Street banker (and since I don't really ID myself here, LET ME ASSURE YOU I AM NOT), I would probably be reading A Tale of Two Cities as a self-help book about now, and avoiding ladies who sit on the curb knitting all day. I'm sure they all have escape plans if TSHTF. I confess I've been a little surprised at the growing strength of this Tea Party stuff, which is definitely a Right Wing movement with a survivalist, militia-backed aura about it, and that's not good at all. I thought if times got bad that Americans would simply dumpster-dive between episodes of American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, and would not notice that anything had gone wrong until the Social Security checks did not arrive one day, finally expiring of a Cheeto overdose on the couch during the final episode of "Lost."

It doesn't seem that benign. Personally, I would prefer that the United States just slump into a kind of economic mediocrity leavened with a little more fun and conviviality, sort of a North American version of Italy or Greece, without an intervening step such as Mussolini or the Greek Colonels. Just skip the Fascist crap, because it never works out. I hope Noam is being his usual alarmist self, the way he was in Manufacturing Consent, with his crazy-ass theory that a handful of mega-corporations would control most of the media outlets in America, broadcasting propaganda for a central government controlled by business interests. Okay, maybe that's a bad example of his alarmism, which seems more now like objective reality.

But you get the idea. Okay, almost time for "The Pacific," about the U.S. Marines in World War II. Damn, they were great. We won't let that effort go to waste, right?


  1. hammerud3:19 PM

    From my perspective, the risk of ending up with a Nazi-like fascist government rests much more with what we have than from any change that might come about from the Tea Party. The current power grab of the Obama administration is where the real threat lies.

  2. Machipongo John7:41 AM

    Mr. Swimmer,
    I always enjoy your blog; it's the second thing I look for each morning, right after the latest Doonesbury cartoon.
    I wonder if it isn't inevitable that any once-powerful nation goes through a Fascist phase when it starts to decline. The populace doesn't understand why TSHTF, and looks for a "strong" savior, who convinces them that it's all the fault of those *. Insert any stereotype scapegoat for the *.