Fascism in America won’t come with jackboots, book burnings, mass rallies, and fevered harangues, nor will it come with black helicopters or tanks on the street. It won’t come like a storm—but as a break in the weather, that sudden change of season you might feel when the wind shifts on an October evening: Everything is the same, but everything has changed. Something has gone, departed from the world, and a new reality will have taken its place. All the old forms will still be there: legislatures, elections, campaigns—plenty of bread and circuses. But “consent of the governed” will no longer apply; actual control of the state will have passed to a small and privileged group who rule for the benefit of their wealthy peers and corporate patrons.
To be sure, there will be factional conflicts among the elite, and a degree of debate will be permitted; but no one outside the privileged circle will be allowed to influence state policy. Dissidents will be marginalized—usually by “the people” themselves. Deprived of historical knowledge by a thoroughly impoverished educational system designed to produce complacent consumers, left ignorant of current events by a corporate media devoted solely to profit, many will internalize the force-fed values of the ruling elite, and act accordingly. There will be little need for overt methods of control.
The rulers will act in secret, for reasons of “national security,” and the people will not be permitted to know what goes on in their name. Actions once unthinkable will be accepted as routine: government by executive fiat, state murder of “enemies” selected by the leader, undeclared wars, torture, mass detentions without charge, the looting of the national treasury, the creation of huge new “security structures” targeted at the populace. In time, this will be seen as “normal,” as the chill of autumn feels normal when summer is gone. It will all seem normal.
--Chris Floyd, November 10, 2001
Moscow Times (English edition)
Since the 1970’s, American businesses have grown larger and more monopolistic, helped along by deregulation, the repeal of anti-trust laws, and a steady transformation from manufacturing to capital management (dare I say, “capital manipulation”?). As Paul Bigioni puts it in his excellent essay entitled “The Real Threat of Fascism”: “If we are to protect ourselves from the growing political influence of Big Business, then our antitrust laws must be reconceived in a way which recognizes the political danger of monopolistic conditions.”
Bigioni continues by emphasizing that “Antitrust laws do not just protect the marketplace, they protect democracy.” It is well to remember that conditions like these led to fascism in both Germany and Italy in the 1930’s, and Bigioni points out that the transformation toward fascism occurred in both countries while they were still liberal democracies. In America, since at least 1971, the rich have gotten much, much richer and the poor have become poorer and far more numerous, largely because our government now sees its primary function as serving the interests of Big Business and its Big Money. As of 2003, according to a Congressional Budget Office report, the top one percent of households in America accounted for 57.5% of America’s wealth, up from 38.7% only twelve years earlier. And this does not take into account the last three years of the Bush tax-cuts. In the U.S. today, there are 374 billionaires, approximately 25,000 deca-millionaires ($10,000,000-$999,000,000) and 2.5 million millionaires; and this does not even take into account the wealth of corporations! Under such conditions, competition is minimized or thwarted, and capital is exalted over labor, the consummation of Marx’s contention that “Capital is dead labor.”
In every industry, huge monopolistic cartels dominate the playing field, following the spate of mergers and acquisitions throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. To cite just two examples: (1) Four media giants (AOL-Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsGroup) control everything we read, view, listen to, see at movie houses, and do at entertainment parks. Just four conglomerates, which have oh so much in common with one another, produce (for profit) every newspaper, magazine, major internet site, movie, cd, dvd, television program, and so on. The pressure to stay within fairly narrow bounds of covering and the fear of losing one’s job should one “think outside the box” is detailed succinctly in Danny Schechter’s March 27, 2006 column the title of which is taken from a line Edward R. Morrow utters in the movie “Good Night and Good Luck”: “The Fear is in the Room: Inside our Unbrave Media World”; Robert Fisk’s March 19 column, “The Farcical End of the American Dream”; and Bill Gallagher’s March 28th column, “There is No ‘Good News’ in Iraq."
To note one other example: if Wal-Mart were a country it would have the 19th largest economy in the world!
Do not be hoodwinked by labels here: there was nothing “socialist” about Hitler’s National Socialist Party, despite his clever employment of terms such as “volk” (the people or the folks), “heimat” (homeland), or the solidarity sounding “ein land” (one country)! Likewise, there is no genuinely human freedom in the free market, despite the intoxicating rhetoric of the neo-liberals. Bigioni quotes Thurman Arnold, the head of the Anti-trust section of the Justice Department in 1939:
“Germany, of course, has developed within 15 years from an industrial autocracy into a dictatorship. Most people are under the impression that the power of Hitler was the result of his demagogic blandishments and appeals to the mob. . . Actually, Hitler holds his power through the final and inevitable development of the uncontrolled tendency to combine in restraint of trade.” And in another address, Arnold told the American Bar Association that “Germany presents the logical end of the process of cartelization.”
And, of course, every cartel needs a strong leader, a commander-in-chief with an iron fist, And Arnold says that Hitler filled that role, but that if it had not been Hitler, it would have been someone else. (Americans today might draw an analogy: if it were not George W. Bush, the first M.B.A. President, who would serve as the front-man for Big Business, it would be someone else.) Bigioni writes, “Compulsory slave labor was the crowning achievement of Nazi labor relations.” By analogy, Employment-at-Will, the outsourcing of manufacturing and even service jobs, and the rejection of a living wage, is the crowning achievement of American labor relations. (See, for example, Harold Meyerson’s article, “Three Ideas to Radically Reorder Economy” (Providence Journal, March 24, 2006) and Princeton University Professor Alan Blinder’s article in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs. The disappearance of union jobs, outsourcing and downsizing has been the crowning achievement of American business relations over the past 30 years or so. The other factors contributing to what Bigioni calls “the fascist trajectory” includes low taxes, various forms of corporate welfare, the decimation of small businesses, and the ability of corporations to discharge obligations to employees, to the environment, and to the country as a whole.
In short, the United States is suffocating from the deleterious effects of Big Money interests in virtually every arena, from public political processes to the privatization of much of what belongs to all of us. Corporate advertising secures the pernicious effects. From time to time, one hears a call for public financing of elections, for truth in advertising, and for more regulation and oversight of lobbying activities, but on the whole, Americans seem glib about the way things are, supposing that this is the only way they can be.
The status quo breeds resignation in the citizenry, and this resignation, too, is in large part an effect of Big Business and its Big Money. It keeps ordinary folks and their common sense away from the political arena, which might otherwise force a change in the way things are done. Big Money does everything it can to sour people on political participation, so that the little guys who just don’t know what’s best for themselves or the country will leave matters of governance to the professional ruling class. To formalize this relatively recent reality, it would seem necessary to reword our Constitution to reflect those entities called “corporations,” which have now been deemed “persons” and whose capital is now regarded as a form of “speech.” (See, for example, Jeffrey Kaplan, “Uncivil Liberties: ACLU Defense of ‘Money=Speech’ Precedent Undermines Democracy.”) The United States has become a country “of the corporation, by the corporation, and for the corporation.”
Public financing of elections and campaign expenditure limits are shouted down as communism or socialism, in a manner very similar to Big Money’s cries of “class warfare” when the population at large objects to additional
giveaways to the richest few Americans. Big Money (representing a small, elite class) does everything in its power to prevent the American people from awakening to the fact that what it is seeing really is class warfare: warfare that is being waged from the top down, against the poor and what we used to call the “middle class,” which are now subsidizing Big Money interests that control the political agenda and its legislative processes.
The influence of Big Money on U.S. elections cannot be underestimated. (See, for example, Greg Palast’s “Jim Crow in Cyberspace” in The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, the work on election fraud by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman, and the recent articles by Warren Stewart “Do You Know How Your Vote Will be Counted?” and Fred Grimm “Election Official Hammered for Telling the Truth”. The problem with the role of money in a supposedly democratic country is not restricted to the many and all-too regular scandals—such as the Abramoff affair or the conviction of Randy “Duke” Cunningham—nor is the problem restricted to the corruption that has ensnared elected officials and exposed lobbyists as little more than bribes makers and bagmen. (See Geov Parrish, “That Old-Fashioned Corruption,” and Katrina vanden Heuvel’s, “Annals of Outrage I, II, and III) It is, rather, that money, as John McCain famously said, “is the mother’s milk of politics” (at least in the U.S. political system.) The need to raise money at every level, from city to state to federal offices, pollutes and perverts the democratic process.
The corruption is bipartisan; at present, the Republican Party enjoys greater favor with the corporate paymasters than does the Democratic Party, but both parties are “on the take”. It does little to assuage one’s concern for democracy that one party gets 55-60% of the paymasters’ money and the other only 40-45%. In a country that prides itself on being democratic, private money peddles its influence across the political spectrum.
To cite one illustrative example, Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen, an energy industry watchdog, reports that Big Oil and Gas doled out $55 million to various campaigns for legislative and executive seats since 2001. And why not, ExxonMobil alone made a profit of $36.1 billion in 2005, the most profit ever recorded by a U.S. corporation in a year, and a rate of return on investment of 46-59%. And what did these donations buy the industry? Among other things, when the executives of the top five oil and gas companies were called before Congress to testify about possible price-gouging and the prospect of a windfall profits tax, the five company representatives were not required to testify under oath!
Big Money and the future of Democracy in America
I suspect that everything I have just recounted is entirely by design: not by the design of our framers, but by the design of Big Money interests. The role of money ensures that only the wealthy and well-connected have any chance of influencing the political process or holding elected office at a significant level. In the 2004 election campaign, 549 people each raised $100,000 for Bush’s re-election, and John Kerry, too, relied on big donors on his side of the political equation. Thus, it was not by sheer coincidence that, in the 2000 presidential campaign, voters were given a choice between a Yale graduate, whose father had been President and whose grandfather was a Senator, and a Harvard graduate, whose father was a Senator. And in the 2004 presidential contest, the choice was even more narrow, between a multi-millionaire Yale “Skull and Bones” man and a billionaire Yale “Skull and Bones” man. Nepotism, like corruption, discourages most good Americans from participating in elections, to say nothing of running for office!
In 1968, I hung a poster on my bedroom wall that read: “Wanna Be President of the United States? First Find $25 Million”! Today, that wouldn’t buy a Senate seat or even a New York City Mayor’s job. I was shocked when John Corzine spent $63 million for a New Jersey Senate seat, but I was aghast when Michael Bloomberg spent $70 million to become the mayor of New York City. Corporations give money to both parties in staggering amounts, and what they do not give directly to their favorites, they spend on advertising to shape the public mind. The result is a net loss both for the public good and for democracy. It costs the corporations only a small fraction in contributions for what they gain through their wheel-greasing. I wonder how much the oil and natural gas lobby paid to secure that $9 billion in windfall profits that they stand to gain from the Bush administration’s plan for “royalty relief”. And that million dollar donation by the UAE to the Bush library in Crawford was surely just a down-payment on the ports deal they hoped to get!
It seems quaint nowadays to reflect back on the corporate culture of the 1960’s. John Kenneth Galbraith wrote the following description in his1967 book, The New Industrial State, as quoted by Paul Krugman in his excellent October 20, 2002 New York Times Magazine article, “For Richer”:
“Management does not go out ruthlessly to reward itself---a sound management is expected to exercise restraint. . . With the power of decision goes opportunity for making money . . . Were everyone to seek to do so . . . the corporation would be a chaos of competitive avarice. But these are not the sort of thing that a good company man does; a remarkably effective code bans such behavior. Group decision-making insures, moreover, that almost everyone’s actions and even thoughts are known to others. This acts to enforce the code and, more than incidentally, a high standard of personal honesty as well.”
Does anyone believe that such a self-policing culture exists today? If the corporate scandals of the 1990’s taught us anything, it is that corporations no longer even aim to stay in business, a goal that used to temper their penchant for excess and bridge-burning. The cases of Enron, Tyco, Adelphia, WorldCom, Global Crossing, and many more perpetrators, should have made abundantly clear that there is no limit to corporate excess or insatiable greed, and, in the absence of federal and international regulations, it is usually the stockholders and the public at large who end up underwriting the thefts, cleaning up the pollution, and dealing with the displaced workforce. Most of this is not new. In fact, the seeds of corporate rule over America were sown by the 1971 ”Powell Memorandum.” And we need only think back to the Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980’s, to recall another half a trillion dollar boondoggle that taxpayers had to underwrite. There have been plenty of books written about such scandals (see, for example, William S. Greider, Who Will Tell the People?, Arianna Huffingtom, Pigs at the Trough, Jim Hightower, Thieves in High Places, and David K. Johnston, Perfectly Legal, for starters.) Yet despite the recurrent malfeasance, little has been done to curb corporate excesses and outright frauds.
What is more, trans-national corporations need have no allegiance to the United States of America. They have offices in many countries and on many continents, and most of them have already shipped their profits offshore to avoid the patriotic duty of paying their fair share of U.S. taxes.
Remembering President Eisenhower’s Warning
Several commentators have recently reminded us of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s January 17, 1961 farewell address, warning of the threat posed by the “military-industrial complex”. Usually omitted from discussions of President Eisenhower’s warning is the less well-known fact that, until the final version of the speech, Eisenhower used the phrase, “military-industrial-congressional complex”. He is said to have deleted the reference to Congress from his final version to avoid offending legislators. But President Eisenhower regularly referred to “the triangle” and even to “the iron triangle” consisting of the military, the industries that profit from war, and the Congress, which is charged with declaring war, appropriating funding for wars (and everything else the federal government spends money on), and for exercising oversight functions of various kinds. According to University of Washington Emeritus Professor of engineering, public affairs, and social management, Edward Ward Wenk, Jr.:
“These three cornered fellowships coupled hungry defense contractors,
ambitious military officers whose promotions rested on husbanding new defense systems, and members of Congress eager to steer new funds and job opportunities to their district.”
Eisenhower might have added “educational institutions” to the list, since universities conducted research for the Manhattan Project and institutions, such as UC Berkeley, which managed the Los Alamos laboratory (which produced the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) from its inception until last year, when the University put Los Alamos on the auction block and Bechtel secured the management contract. President Eisenhower’s speechwriter—whom Professor Wenk revealed to be Malcolm Moos—recalled that Eisenhower feared a “pathological influence of the military-industrial coalition beyond a healthy arm’s-length relationship, especially if the national psyche was prodded artificially by fear. A future chief executive might exploit political energies of the coalition to further a narrow and dangerous agenda” (Italics mine).
Professor Wenk, who served in the administrations of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and who was the first incumbent in the post of science advisor to Congress during the Eisenhower administration, draws this conclusion in his March 17 article, “Ike’s Warning Reverberates Today” by saying: “I see coalitions increasingly entrenched. Failed weapons systems are seldom canceled. Auditing is cursory for moving and feeding troops; malperformance is accepted in the fog of war, and penalties for fraud uncollected. . .” “Influence of coalitions also has grown with the cost of political campaigns. Members spend half their time raising funds, rather than forging policy. . . In the absence of strong vigilance, their concern about a corporate state hatched by stealth might yet happen.”
Indeed, it may have already taken place.
It appears glaringly obvious these days that Congress has failed miserably in its oversight, appropriation, and war-declaration functions. This lack of oversight is apparent not only with respect to the Administration’s reckless adventure in Iraq, but also with regard to the passage of the Patriot Act (and its renewal), the muted response against policies condoning torture, the suspension of Habeas Corpus, the practice of “extraordinary rendition”, the warrantless wiretapping on American citizens, and the insuring of free and fair elections with verifiable ballot-counting. What we have now is a military-industrial-Congressional complex indeed!
I nonetheless believe that most public officials begin their careers with a desire to serve the people and to make America better. I do not believe that members of Congress, or members of state legislatures, for that matter, run for office merely to enrich themselves. No, I think that most of them begin their political careers as genuine and sincere people. But the systemic role of money, as I have said, pollutes and perverts processes and people. It is a bit like boiling a frog. If you drop the frog in boiling water, it will immediately jump out of the kettle; but if you drop the frog in lukewarm water and slowly increase the temperature, the frog will neither jump out of the kettle nor croak anymore.
And that is just what happens to far too many of our public servants and to the citizenry as a whole. It is ironic that Big Business tries to insure that government stays on the sidelines and pursues laissez faire policies, until Big Business needs the government (usually aided by the U.S. military) to make some country or region “safe” for its business interests. From making Cuba safe for the United Fruit Company, to securing access to Persian Gulf oil and South Asian gas, Big Business is always ready to have the government protecting its interests. One notes again and again, however, that such security is paid for by taxpayers, while the profits go straight into the corporate coffers. But beware, Big Business; for as Bigioni warns: “Just as monopoly is the ruin of the free market, fascism is the ultimate degradation of liberal capitalism.”
Dr. Gary Alan Scott is an associate professor of philosophy at Loyola College in Maryland and he is currently the Director of Loyola’s International Study Abroad Program in Leuven, Belgium. Email to: email@example.com.