Note: The Preface and Chapters One through Nineteen can be found here: The 15% Solution.
This is the twenty-first installment of the serialization of a book entitled The 15% Solution: A Political History of American Fascism, 2001-2022. Herein you will find “Part 1” of Chapter 20. (This chapter is very long, and so it will be presented in four parts.) From the perspective of the 25th Anniversary of the Restoration of U.S. Constitutional Democracy in 2048, this chapter discusses “what might have been done” to prevent the fall of the old United States into fascism. If present readers find that the warnings from that far-off time have relevance for today’s, that is precisely the intent. For it was the Republicans of the 1990s and what they told us back then they would do if they ever got full power (e.g., see “Gingrich” and “Armey” on p. 3), with the complicity/acquiescence/meek “opposition” of the “center-right” Democratic Party of the time, that got the nation to where it eventually got to. Just an editorial note, the full set of references for this chapter of the book will appear in each of the Parts of this chapter.
For readers coming into this serialization at this time, you should know that under the pseudonym Jonathan Westminster, the book is purportedly published in the year 2048 on the 25th Anniversary of the Restoration of Constitutional Democracy in the Re-United States. It was actually published in 1996 by the Thomas Jefferson Press, located in Port Jefferson, NY. The copyright is held by the Press.
A commentator had this to say about the book: “I am in the middle of reading ‘The 15% Solution.’ For some reason I assumed it was a recent publication. About 100 pages in I looked to see when it was published. It was published in 1996. That absolutely shocked me. What it was saying then is exactly what is happening now. The race-baiting, anti-homosexual crap that takes one’s attention away from what is actually happening, and it was written about 15 years ago. Even the 14th amendment controversy is discussed in this book, as well as so much more – ownership of the media, talk radio, etc. This is truly frightening, and if the Dems do not wake up and fight, I fear there is much worse to come.” Indeed!
And so, Chapter 20, “What Might Have Been Done,” Part 1
Hindsight is almost always 20/20. From the vantage point of 2048, it is easy to look back 50 years and lay out “what might have been.” And I must admit to you, dear reader, that I cannot resist doing just that. In this chapter, I present for your consideration some approaches to the development of liberal/progressive political processes that might have been effective in protecting, preserving, and expanding Constitutional democracy in the old U.S. during the Transition Era, thus preventing the onset of fascism.
As for the political content necessary to give life to the recommended processes, I can do no better than refer you to Dino Louis’ late 20th Century political philosophy and program that he called “The New Patriotism.” While it was little known during his time, I think that it might have been put to very good use. One of his essays on it appears in this book in Appendix VII. Perhaps if a political strategy had been implemented that, for example, combined some of the process elements I present in this chapter with Dino Louis’ substantive program (or something like it), I never would have had to write this book. And that would have made me happy.
Factors in the Onset of Fascism in the Old U.S.: A Review
The Causes of Rising Unrest
Towards the end of the Transition Era (1981-2001), as noted on several previous occasions, the country faced increasing, and increasingly severe, economic difficulties (Wright). They were characterized by steadily declining real wages, real personal incomes, and job security, steadily increasing public and private debt, a steadily widening gap in both wealth and income between the rich and everyone else, steadily increasing permanent un- and under-employment concentrated in certain portions of the population. There were many causes of this state of affairs. It is now understood that the central element, the most important cause of this state of affairs, was the disordered public and private investment policy resulting from the use of the so-called “free market” to determine capital investment decisions.
Unrest and the Right-Wing Reactionary Response
This economic situation led to rising unrest in many sectors of the population. Some focused on the real causes of the problems. But many others were searching for easy, simplistic solutions to the national dilemma. Right-Wing Reaction was only too happy to supply such generalizations and non-answers as: “it’s because of a decline in moral values.” The trend in simplisticism then was aggravated by the increasingly vigorous exploitation by Right-Wing Reaction for political purposes of religion and religious prejudice, racism, and xenophobia. The common denominator of the several approaches was blaming “The Other” for the nation’s difficulties (Wright). Eventually, however, these measures failed to adequately damp down the unrest.
The Political Destruction of Constitutional Democracy
The forces of Right-Wing Reaction then had to move to a second stage: the political destruction of Constitutional democracy. Since the beginning of the Transition Era, Right-Wing Reaction had been gradually but inexorably destroying by political means the bulwarks of Constitutional democracy: the Courts, the Congress, and the media. Under the NAR, they were physically destroyed or neutralized, and the organized use of broad-based repression and force was broadly employed as well, of course.) During the Transition Era, Right-Wing Reactionary political leadership did its best to undermine the Constitutional concept of the “United States,” as well as destroy the concept of a Constitutionally-based national government with broad authority and responsibility. This was directly contrary to the word and meaning of the Preamble to the Constitution. It states clearly that there is a nation, that there is a national government, and what its purposes are:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more
perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility,
provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare,
and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our
Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the
United States of America [emphasis added].
Pretending, or perhaps not knowing, that such a statement begins the Constitutional text, leading Transition Era Right-Wing figures tried to very significantly narrow the scope of the national government. For example, Richard Armey, the House of Representatives Republican Majority Leader in the 104th Congress, when asked about the functions of the Federal government, said (Sanger):
“Defend our shores, build a system of justice and construct some infrastructure.”
At about the same time, the Republican Speaker of the House Newton Gingrich put it more broadly (Kelly):
“It [the Federal government] is powerful in foreign policy, it’s powerful in keeping the dollar stable, it’s powerful in stopping all drugs from coming into the country, it’s powerful in doing those things we give to the central government. And then it says, you know, frankly: `You’ve got a lot of things to do back home. Don’t even call me. I don’t want to know. There’s no reason I have to pay attention.’”
Well, there was a reason to “pay attention.” It was called the Preamble to the Constitution. But few people of the time were aware of it or its import. And the positions taken by the likes of Armey and Gingrich made it more certain that ever fewer people would know what the responsibility and authority of the Federal government, under the Constitution, was. One way to insure the death of something is to ignore it. A sign on the wall of my dentist’s office says, “Ignore your teeth, and they will just go away.” The Right-Wing Reactionary attack on the Constitution was both active and passive. It succeeded all too well. (It must be noted that there is no evidence that either Mr. Armey or Mr. Gingrich would have approved of what eventually happened in fact to Constitutional democracy in the United States.)
No Effective Political Opposition
While this process was occurring, in many sectors of the population an abiding faith was maintained that Democratic forms, without content, would protect the American way of life. We know now that while democracy is the principal political weapon for the defense of Constitutional government and the rule of law against fascism, as a process it cannot stand by itself. It can be effective in that regard only if used in the promotion of a concrete ideology and a comprehensive political and economic program that stands in contrast to those of the fascists. That did not happen. Thus there was no effective political opposition to the eventual fascist takeover. (Note, however, as in the case of Nazi Germany, the existence of an Opposition, even a strong one, is no guarantee that the fascists will not take power in any case if the conditions for such a takeover are right.) Furthermore, many people simply did not believe that Right-Wing Reaction would do what it said they would do if they took power — but it did. (The same thing had happened in 20th century Germany. In Adolf Hitler’s prophetic book Mein Kampf he laid out exactly what he would do if he took power, including the extermination of European Jewry. Few took him seriously.)
The Failure of Opposition Leadership
As the process of fascist development proceeded, liberals of whatever party tended to “take a balanced view” and see “two sides of every question” until it was much too late to organize against the onslaught. As early as the 1992 Republican National Convention, the Right-Wing Reactionaries had declared that there was a “war on for power and control of the American spirit.” The Democrats and other liberals failed to grasp just what they meant (“it’s our way or the highway), until it was too late. Even within social groupings that would appear to have been natural opponents of Right-Wing Reaction, for example the Jews and the blacks, there were major splits. Although most Jews were liberals or progressives, Right-wing, so-called “neo-conservative” (known in the vernacular of the time as “self-hating”) Jews, were among the most vocal supporters of Right-Wing Reaction. Black leadership was split as well. As surprising as it may seem, during the late Transition Era and the early Fascist Period certain blacks in government, academic, and religious circles carried out some of the most important Right-Wing Reactionary work in promoting both anti-black racism and black anti-Semitism, as well as the general Right-Wing Reactionary line.
At the other end of the spectrum, there were multiple, small left-wing “third parties.” But they could never get together and sometimes spent much more time and energy fighting each other and the Democratic Party than fighting the common enemy. Finally, a major factor in the relatively easy success of the Right-Wing Reactionaries was the gradual destruction of the American labor movement. Post-Second Civil War historians have traced that process back to the day after the passage in 1938 of the Wagner Act, that for the first time legalized collective bargaining in the old U.S. The American economic decision-makers just never accepted their loss in that one. They kept fighting until that defeat was turned into victory. American labor, which decades before had been robbed of any effective leadership by Federal labor legislation known as the Taft-Hartley Law, offered little in the way of effective opposition to the fascist takeover.
Thus the majority liberal and progressive forces failed to:
- Recognize that they indeed held a majority of the electorate if they only would and could mobilize it.
- Recognize the clear and present danger to the future of Constitutional democracy and the maintenance of true Americanism the Right-Wing Reactionaries represented.
- Develop a comprehensive, consistent, progressive, broad-based, socially-conscious truly American, politically-salable ideology to put up against the Bible-based, fundamentalist ideology and Right Wing anti-social individualism upon which Right-Wing Reaction were fundamentally based, to fight for the preservation and expansion of American Constitutional democracy. (As noted, one example of such a program was Dino Louis’ “The New Patriotism.”)
But, as noted, the liberal and progressive forces did nothing along these lines. The Right-wing Reactionaries of course developed, and implemented, “The 15% Solution.” It worked. They won. And the rest, as they say, is history. (Again, it should be noted that there is no evidence that any of the original conceivers of the “The 15% Solution” would have sanctioned any of the policies developed under it or approved of any of the outcomes that occurred following its electoral success.)
The Politics of Mythology and the Suspension of Disbelief
A major strategy of Right-Wing Reaction was the use of what Alec Poughton referred to as “The Politics of Mythology” (see Chapter six. It was a variation on the German Nazi “Big Lie” technique.) It consisted of making known and obviously false statements of supposed fact with great conviction, and repeating them over and over again, regardless of how many times they had been refuted, in as many political contexts as possible. In one particularly egregious example (Hertzberg), in 1995 Newton Gingrich opined that:
“For thirty years we have liberated prisoners, tolerated drug dealers, put up with violence, accepted brutality — and done it all in the name of some kind of bleeding-heart liberalism.”
This was Right-Wing Reactionary Politics of Mythology, bordering on the Big Lie Technique.
In actual fact, over the previous 30 years, the United States (which, as Mr. Hertzberg noted, had a Republican President for most of them): rather than “liberating prisoners” had tripled the number of prison beds in the country; rather than “tolerating drug dealers,” had strongly prosecuted the so-called “Drug War,” primarily against people of color (see Chapter three); contrary to the position of the “bleeding heart liberals” had promoted uncontrolled gunning with its accompanying violence, (in contrast with the highly regulated gun-control systems characteristic of those industrialized nations having much lower violence rates than did the old U.S.); contrary to the position of the “bleeding heart liberals,” refused to crack down on domestic violence and sexual abuse; had talk radio airwaves filled with hate, hate, hate certainly not emanating from “bleeding heart liberals”; finally, who had developed and implemented many policies, definitely not those of the “bleeding heart liberals” that brutalized those members of the old U.S. society most likely to be brutalized, almost exclusively the poor and people of color. Dino Louis once remarked that he didn’t know which was the scarier thought, that Gingrich knew he was lying and did it anyway or that he really believed all the stuff he spewed. Collectively, statements like these created the political atmosphere that the Right-Wing Reactionaries used to achieve many of their objectives, eventually leading directly to the success of “The 15% Solution.” Effective tools for dealing with the Politics of Mythology were essential if the development of fascism were to have been prevented. Although the development of such tools would not have been technically difficult, it did not occur.
Specific examples of the elements of the Politics of Mythology, with contemporaneous fact-based responses in parentheses, were:
- “Welfare causes illegitimacy.” (There was simply no evidence of any sort to support this claim.)
- “The Medicare program is a vast Federal bureaucracy.” (The administrative costs of that very complex but primitive health services insurance program for the elderly and certain others happened to be the lowest of any health insurance program, public or private, in the country.)
- “Big Government is the cause of all our problems.” (Which problems? “Big” compared with what? How did government size alone cause problems? In any case, when the pre-fascist Grinchites made this a major issue in the late Transition Era the size of the Federal government had already been declining for a number of years [Reno].)
- “Government regulation is the cause of all our problems.” (Which problems? Which regulations? How? In any case, this was a great abstraction. In most specific cases where their interests were directly harmed, most people favored government regulation. Further, as Dino Louis pointed out in his essay reprinted in Appendix V, government regulation is almost invariably a reactive not a proactive process.)
- In 1980: “Reagan wins by a landslide.” (He received 50% of the vote. Some landslide.)
- In 1994: “the people overwhelmingly voted for tax cuts and a smaller Federal government.” (Republican Congressional candidates collectively received about 51% of the votes cast by 38% of the eligible voters. That 19% of the eligible voters constituted “The People”?)
- “Illegal immigration is a major drain on the economy.” (No available data applying to illegal immigrants as a group supported this claim.)
- “Taxes are too high.” (For what? Compared with what? It happened that taxes in the old U.S. were among the lowest in the industrialized world [BOC, Table 1376]).
- “Tax cuts will lead to revenue increases for government.” (The evidence of what happened under the Presidency of Ronald Reagan when this strategy was first tried was to the contrary notwithstanding.)
- “Tax cuts benefit everyone.” (Most of the benefits of Right- Wing Reactionary tax cuts instituted from the time of the Reagan Administration forward went to corporations and high-income individuals.)
- “The courts are drowning in private tort litigation.” (The Federal courts were drowning in litigation alright, in local and state-type crimes that had been “Federalized” by a zealous, Right-Wing, “anti-crime” Congress, by the endless prosecution of non-violent drug-law offenders, and, on the civil side, by burgeoning contract litigation, mainly between businesses.)
- “Drug use will increase significantly if drugs are legalized.” (The available historical evidence, for alcohol and tobacco use for example [Jonas], was all to the contrary.)
- “Imprisonment lowers crime.” (Between 1970 and 1990, crime rates generally rose, while the national prison-bed complement was being approximately tripled.)
- “The death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder.” (The states with the highest execution rates were generally those with the highest murder rates.)
- “Blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites.” (There was no scientific evidence to support the claim. See Appendix VI.)
- “Unregulated gun ownership is a bulwark against crime.” (Those countries with the tightest gun control had the lowest crime rates.)
- Finally: “The US is a `welfare state.’ Its dismantlement is essential to `turning the country around.’” (The purveyors of this one never bothered to define what they meant by “welfare state.” But when the old U.S. was compared with the European countries and Japan, the claim held no water. For there was no universal health insurance, government subsidized paid sick-leave, illness and disability income coverage were very limited as was unemployment income coverage, there were no children’s allowances, there was no organized system of day care, higher education was neither guaranteed nor paid for fully, poverty abounded, and the gap between the rich and everyone else was the highest of any of the industrialized countries.)
- An essential political task for the liberal/progressives, never effectively done, was to put facts such as these into “sound-bite”* size, politically useful/effective aural and visual presentations, for speeches, interviews, advertising, political articles, and the like.
- “Sound-bite” was the term given to a very brief, one-three sentence explication of some political thought, that fit the very short time-requirements of the standard television news broadcast of the time.
References and Bibliography:
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The original edition of “The 15% Solution” is available on Amazon.com and on BarnesandNoble.com. The 2004 print-on-demand re-issue from Xlibris is also available on Amazon.com and on BarnesandNoble.com. You will find a “Sub-Home Page” for the serialization at the lower right-hand corner of the Home Page for www.TPJmagazine.us. It contains such items as the Disclaimer, cast of characters, author’s bio., cover copy, and several (favorable) reviews, and will have a full archive of all the chapters as they are published over time. The serialization is also appearing on www.BuzzFlash.com, Dandelion Salad; The Greanville POST; and TheHarderStuff newsletter.
Jonathan Westminster and biography are based on a pseudonym.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for Truthout/BuzzFlash (http://www.truth-out.org/, http://www.buzzflash.com), Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to Op-Ed News.com; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; and a Contributor to The Planetary Movement.
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