What's Going to Happen
At its root, fascism quashes dissent in order to temporarily gain high efficiencies in pursuit of key objectives. Fascism can be hard to recognize when not donning its stereotypical jackboots and mustache, and in fact can look quite dapper in a good suit and tie. In post-modern memory, however, our understanding has been distorted by old images from the desperate conflicts of the last century, the repetition and amplification of which have served up ever-ready and all-present, but incomplete and misleading, icons. In short, fascism has become difficult to think about clearly on one's own, much less discuss with others. But it's alive and well. It has much to do with what has happened to the US, and what is going to happen here next. It has much to do with our country's direction, with the pseudo-intellectuals broadcasting an overarching, hermetic ideology and fake dialogues specifically designed to drown out discourse and reason. Fascist regimes do not engage in public debate.
It is probably the oldest form of government, in which a group of stakeholders begins a process to set aside differences, decides on ends and means, designates a leader, and throws its collective weight into decisive action. Often, this "action" means violent aggression which cannot be averted once the pre-scripted acts begin. When a bunch of chimpanzees decides, via the signals of their species, to band together to kill another of their kind, their marriage of convenience does not organizationally differ from fascism. For at time, they must share a strongly held ideology; for example, "Bongo has stolen his last banana." And for our own species, the popularity of the TV show 'Survivor' may be more in sync with the times than we realize.
Fascism has a multitude of markers. But it can be discerned early on by its deepest hallmarks: rigid adherence to an ideology, especially in the face of contrary evidence or common sense, and in the way it silences more active dissent. A better description of "silences dissent" might be that fascism seeks to disconnect the effects of dissent from policy in order to maintain the momentum of a pre-achieved consensus. The Nazis were perfectly willing to beat dissenters to death in the streets or send uncooperative minorities away to torture and death; for them, that was deemed socially acceptable, even praiseworthy by many. As planners, however, what they most feared was the prospect of putting housewives to work in factories, and this they did not do until 1943. They didn't think the German people would grant them such a sacrifice, and were amazed when they got away with it.
There are much more sophisticated, sustainable, and one might say "green" means of disconnecting dissent than Hitler or Mussolini employed. People can be silenced without blood, without dragging them out to jails for beatings in the middle of the night (although minorities can attest that's still a common part of the toolkit). People can be denied tenure. They can be punished for whistle-blowing. They can be sent envelopes of weaponized anthrax. They can be fired like General Shinseki was (for saying pacification of Iraq would require 500,000 troops). They can be passed over for promotion or hire. Reporters with Pulitzer Prizes can be shut out of the mainstream press. Anyone's communications can be eavesdropped on. Most of the above is entirely within the law, if you are the law. In the realm of cultural reinforcement, reality can be created; protests can be ignored, stories can be spun, casualties and incidents of sabotage can be unreported or denied. As a White House aide related to Ron Suskind in 2002:
Now there's your democracy in action, staying one step ahead of your reality. What do you think, was that anonymous aide Ari Fleischer, or Karl Rove? Sounds like Ari to my ear. Josef Goebbels held those precise sentiments, and some of his pronouncements could be translated into exactly the same English. This combination of propaganda technique and policy action is a perfect fit with what has begun to be referred to in scholarly circles as "soft" or "friendly" fascism. Catchy phrases, but really what it's referring to is as old as Greece, with the same primal tendencies observable in any group of chimps concerned with status, food, and territory. You can maintain control of the monologue and erase past fuck-ups by starting into a bigger one. Political structures which rely on fascist techniques are hard to sustain because the punishment they must dish out creates a lot of friction, requiring in turn yet more punishment to maintain forward momentum. The ante can't forever be upped, however; in its late stages, the fascist group turns on its own, and then on itself, bestially capable of breaking the strongest taboos. The Neo-cons are now entering their late stage.
"...guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality - judiciously, as you will - we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Soft fascism can transition into hard fascism. This occurs more often than not when its policy objectives begin to be thwarted, and our fascists are seeing theirs start to fade beyond reach. Look at their world! Neo-con allies are faltering or have already checked out. Iraq, already a bankrupting, morally sapping quagmire, has lapsed into civil war. An Israeli invasion into Lebanon was defeated by a political party. Venezuela has new oil customers. Mexico may break apart. Iran is well-armed, aware, and refuses to be cowed. China is ascending, patient, and has bought oil out from under our noses, even from Canada, with cash we paid to them. Russia has money from energy and weapons. Bush had to sell India nuclear technology.
I'm not exactly sure how the Neo-cons will respond to these setbacks. But their playbook is known, and I have a pretty good idea what Josef Goebbels would've done in the same situation. It would've involved scaring the shit out of the German people and coming down very hard on majority dissent. The words "sent to the Russian Front" still have a peculiar ring to them, don't they? I believe the Neo-cons are currently considering how to bring the battlefield closer to Americans. Call it a hunch. When have fascists ever gone quietly? (Franco and Tito did, yes, but their imperatives were for domestic order, not expansion.)
On the cultural side, the 9/11 movie which ABC is airing again tonight is an apparent Neo-con effort to create a reality which will trump historians, Hollywood, the press, and emerging cultural arbiters like blogs. It's an early experiment in the new campaign that features "islamofascism," and a sign of bigger things to come, probably symptomatic of a desire to escalate into a "Total War" stance. The Neo-cons have also seen the blogsphere, its growth worries them, and they realize the dissent which lives here can't be silenced without either drowning it out or integrating their propaganda across it. They don't understand the internet yet, much less blogs. None of us really does. They don't fully comprehend that blogs are the kernels of new governments, their structure ideally suited to transparency and participatory democracies. Jefferson's bastard children.
In attacking the blogsphere (I mean, beyond simply demonizing it) the Neo-cons will attack the very fabric of what it is to be an American, and will hasten their own demise. The cats are out of the bag, peeing under the church pews, hissing and clawing the Establishment's legs raw. The dogs have been called by now, but the technology-based blogsphere is a printing press, a church door Martin Luther pinned his proclamation on, and a magic meeting house all rolled into one. It's a naturally legislative infrastructure which allows for far greater spans of control than machine politics, easier internal and external consensus building, voting, recording, and more flexible responding. Blogs are governments without an 'off' switch. And it's too late to turn them all off.
Before they are utterly defeated, Neo-cons will leave much greater devastation and waste in their wake than they already have, and they almost certainly will turn on us, the radical middle and silent majority, directly before it is over. It might hurt a lot. But it will pass. We have the memories to rebuild democracy, and fantastic new tools to spread it--not at the barrel of a gun, but by internalization, direct exchange of ideas, and free adoption. Our old ships of state are tearing apart, as maintenance of old infrastructure is bankrupting them while new technology pulls them past the speeds they are capable of going. As Bette Davis said, "Buckle your seat belts, everybody. It's going to be a bumpy ride." Democracy will be back, stronger than ever it was in Athens.