Friendly Fascism

The roots of fascism in America run as deep as its foundation, but its modern incarnation began in earnest in the 1990s. At the time, ex-CIA director George HW Bush presided over a time of tremendous upheaval abroad. His Presidency marked the total collapse of any meaningful distinction between the office of the chief executive and his foreign intelligence apparatus. The Soviet Union, America’s only peer military and ideological adversary, imploded, leaving its Arab allies vulnerable to American aggression. The US, flexing its imperial muscles, launched invasions of both Panama and Iraq. In the former conflict, America’s ostensible purpose was to put a stop to Manuel Noriega’s involvement in the drug trade. In practice, I suspect Bush’s true intentions were to prevent Noriega from spilling the beans on America’s actions during the Dirty Wars: it is, after all, difficult to forget Noriega’s previous role as a top CIA asset. In the First Gulf War, after luring the Iraqi military into an assault on Kuwait, the US rallied a large international coalition to launch a devastating air and ground assault on our hapless erstwhile ally. This was wildly popular domestically, and live footage of the air assaults blanketed the airwaves in a tawdry display of American triumphalism.

On the home front, the anti-war movement had been effectively neutered after a decade of economic growth, military buildup, and evisceration of social programs. Genuine dissent was deemed subversive. The Detroit industrial collective Consolidated gauged the mood accurately on “Friendly Fascism”:

You’ll learn to like what you must do. If you resist you are the threat. You are told who to fight and when By Bush and Nazi, fascist friends. Alienating technology wipes out all sense of community. Millions will die just like before. We disconnect and start the war. … Big business and big government Distract us with entertainment. They manufacture our consent While we destroy the environment.

Obviously, much time has passed since the early nineties. If anything, the situation has deteriorated further. We’ve watched almost helplessly as the US deployed crippling sanctions and/or military strikes against dozens of nations in a belt stretching from Central Asia to West Africa. That these measures are intended primarily to ensure America’s continued access to strategic resources is transparent. The 9/11 attacks pale in comparison to America’s wildly disproportionate response. Moreover, the US has backed coups-d’etat in many, many more countries, including Venezuela, Bolivia, and Honduras, escalated the War on Drugs, and intensified its violent border crackdown. We exported and continue to export arms to countless nations with dubious human rights records such as Israel.

At the same time, alienating technology really has wiped out all sense of community. Popular Web 2.0 services like Facebook and Twitter have siloed the American population into ideological echo chambers we struggle to escape. Even romance has been commodified. Advances in machine learning threaten to make the masses increasingly irrelevant to the larger economy. Soon, the machines will be writing original screenplays. It is now possible to envision a future in which even the most challenging conceptual tasks are automated.

In the United States, the post-1991 neoliberal political consensus has fractured. Reactionaries with open ties to far-right extremist groups have abandoned their centrist pretenses and wholly rejected the economic calculus that undergirded the Ricardian free trade push of the nineties and 2000s. The Republicans square off against a Democratic Party riven by factional disputes between centrist and left-ish elements which has disavowed all connection with its true left wing, the activists who represent their only real hope of #resistance.

There are many historians and talking heads who argue that this particular moment cannot be accurately described as fascist. Personally, I beg to differ. We find ourselves in the waning days of America’s Weimar. With the altogether far-too-predictable collapse of the impeachment proceedings, little stands between Trump and total victory. The Republican Party’s tight control over the military and police guarantee it victory in the civil war Trump and his supporters promise to inflict on us all should he lose in November. The fascist tendencies highlighted on that Consolidated track have, if anything, become far more pronounced since its release. The seeds of our contemporary predicament were sown in the ashes of the Soviet Union, but I predict China will reap the harvest.

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