Note: The Preface and Chapters One through Nineteen can be found here: The 15% Solution
This is the twenty-second installment of the serialization of a book entitled The 15% Solution: A Political History of American Fascism, 2001-2022. Herein you will find “Part 2” 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. In 1990s, the Republicans told us precisely what they would do if they ever got full power (e.g., see “Gingrich” and “Armey” on Part 1, p. 3). With the complicity/acquiescence/meek “opposition” of the “center-right” Democratic Party of the time, the nation has come precisely to where it is now. This Part 2 discusses the self-destructiveness of US Society in the mid-90s. Just an editorial note, the full set of references for this chapter of the book appears with each of the Parts of this chapter as published.
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 written in 1994-5, and 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 2
The Self-Destructiveness of the Society of the Old U.S.
Pre-fascist American society was remarkably self-destructive, augmenting the economic instability that underlay the development of fascism. Both symbolic and causative of this state of affairs were, for example:
a. The economic prominence and political support received by the tobacco and alcohol industries, the major purveyors of addictive drugs and drug use in the country. Together in the mid-1990s, the use of these substances accounted for more than one-quarter of all deaths in the country (over 500,000 per year [McGinniss and Forge]). However, the tobacco industry, for one, showed the highest rate of profit of any industry in the country. It could afford to spend a great deal of money to protect itself politically and legally. And it did, for the detriment of American society as a whole.
b. The position of the food industry, heavily dependent for its profitability on what was called “fast food.” The latter was characterized by a high and unhealthy fat content. From the mid-1970s onwards, the old U.S. suffered from and epidemic of obesity. While much of anti-obesity science focused on finding a genetic basis for obesity that could possibly be treated with drugs, the epidemic developed much, much too quickly to have a genetic basis. In any case, there was no parallel development in any other country. The causes of this epidemic, costly to the country in many ways (health concerns aside, in the mid-90s the nation spent about $35 billion annually on attempted weight loss), had to primarily be found among environmental factors. One had to be the food industry and the practices it followed. But this matter, as destructive to the national health and welfare as it was, unlike those related to tobacco and alcohol use, never even made it onto the national political agenda.
c. The timber industry was another highly profitable one. But its profitability was tied to a system of harvesting which far outstripped the rate of creation of new supply. Ultimately, the timber and other natural resources industries wreaked havoc upon those resources of which they were supposedly the stewards, playing a major, disastrous role in the ultimate downfall of the old U.S. economy and devastation of the eco-system. Yet the timber industry was another one that was extremely powerful politically, and its profitability was thus protected.
d. In terms of political influence, the gun industry possibly ranked ahead even of the drug industries. Its leading public voice, the National Rifle Association, existed primarily to maintain and improve the highly profitable sale of guns and ammunition to private persons in the old United States. That the easy availability of guns contributed prominently to the high murder and personal injury death rates in the country seemed to matter little to the gun manufacturers and purveyors. Their slogan was “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” As surprising as it may seem today, some of the gunners even believed it. But it is likely that the gun industry knew how fallacious the saying was. After all, for example, the tobacco industry knew for many years (although they publicly denied it for many years as well), that cigarette smoking kills, that nicotine is a highly addictive drug, and that if they didn’t hook a person to smoking as a child their chances of getting him or her as an adult customer were almost nil. However, unlike the tobacco industry, the gun industry apparently destroyed all of its internal documents proving its prior knowledge of its culpability for death and disability. It was a highly profitable business, and it was going to stay that way, the highly excessive gun-based violence in the old U.S. to the contrary notwithstanding.
e. Finally there was the grandfather of highly profitable industries, the work of which produced results were highly destructive to the long-term interests of the country. Through a favorable taxation system, the prices of petroleum and petroleum-based products were kept artificially low and demand thus unnecessarily high (unnecessary for everything but the maintenance of high industry profits). From the late 1970s onwards, the major American petroleum companies made their money not from the sale of products derived from reserves they owned, but from the sale of products derived from reserves owned by others, primarily the Middle Eastern Arab autocracies. Thus the primary interest of the petroleum companies was in selling as much product as they could, even with a modest profit margin. And that they did. They were therefore opposed to the development of any economically competitive alternate energy sources, especially renewable ones. Thus Republican policies, from the Reagan Presidency onwards, always sought to undercut such work. Of course, as we know now, as the international petroleum reserves began to dwindle, the prices that their owners charged began to skyrocket. No preparations had been made for such an eventuality. The economy of the old U.S. had remained almost entirely dependent on petroleum products as its primary energy sources. This situation, as we know only too well, just compounded the disaster created by the timbering policies. But, as long as it lasted, the petroleum industry was a highly profitable one. Another case of profitability and societal self-destruction.
The Importance of the Past and the Future
To implement fascism, both the past and the future must be wiped from public consciousness. I once saw a cartoon entitled “Diary of a Cat.” It illustrated several entries in such a diary. The first was, “Today. Today I got some food in a bowl. It was great! I slept some too.” The next was, “Today. Played with yarn. Got some food in a bowl. Had a good nap.” And next, “Today. Slept, food, yarn. Fun!” And so forth. The cartoonist knew that cats live entirely in the present. For them there is no past, no future, no calendar. Only now, only today. One of the features that distinguishes humans from all of the other animals is that we have pasts and futures that we know and are aware of, or at least can be. We have the ability to learn from the past and apply that learning to formulating our conduct for the future. However, not all of us use, or can use, that ability. In that, some of us are quite animal-like. As one Joe Klein, a political writer for the old New York magazine, noted (1991):
“The essential failing of the Reagan-Bush years has been a near-total lack of interest in the future.”
He might have added:
“Since learning from the past is necessary to support an interest in the future, there has been no interest in the past and its lessons either.”
For the Right-Wing Reactionaries, life came in discrete time parcels. Like the cat in the cartoon, they lived day by day, only in “Today.” And of course they made policy on that basis. They generally did what seemed to work at the time, to achieve some political gain or secure short term profits for one or another of their special economic interest support groups. There was no public attention to, and no apparent political interest in or concern with, the long-term negative outcomes of any policy. But in the pay of a major sector of the economic decision-maker group, they plowed ahead.
The Prevention of Fascism
We have seen from the history recounted briefly in this book that in the old U.S. the progression to fascism did not occur by great revolutionary leaps. Rather, there was a step by almost imperceptible step progression to it. And although, by looking backwards we can see that that progression was inexorable from the late Transition Era onwards to the founding of the NAR, to most observers at the time it appeared to be anything but. The primary lesson to be learned from the pre-fascist American experience with the development of fascism was that its prevention would have required early action. In this case that action would have centered on the early disruption of the progression of “The 15% Solution” itself. As in Nazi Germany, once it gained power through Constitutional means, the Right-Wing Reactionary coalition that instituted fascism in the old U.S. never relinquished that power until it was defeated militarily.
Recall that the German Nazis had come to power in 1933 in the first instance by democratic means. It happened that within 24 hours of Adolf Hitler’s accession to the German Chancellorship, his police and para-military forces had begun moving to secure that power indefinitely, by the suppression of democratic processes, suspension of individual rights and liberties, and the use of terror. But the initial accession to power was constitutional and non-violent. Unlike the Nazi Germans, in major part because there was no significant or effective opposition, the American fascists did not need to use force widely at the beginning of their reign. They were able to rely on electoral victories and seemingly Constitutional government until they had been in power for a number of years. Of course, by that time conditions had deteriorated so much that they had no choice but to turn to the violent repression and terror that became so characteristic of the NAR.
American Neo-Exceptionalism and Historical Exactism
Those persons who during the Transition Era warned of the possible development of fascism in the old U.S. had to deal with two common schools of thought both labeling such voices as nothing but alarmist. One school was what we now call “American neo-exceptional ism.” It said that what happened in those countries that became fascist during the pre-World War II period was unique to those countries, primarily the result of the accession to power of persons with twisted characters. The other school of thought was “historical exactism.” It said that what happened during the pre-World War II fascist period, while not uniquely “German,” or “Italian,” or “Japanese,” was uniquely a product of the circumstances of the time, and that they could not recur. Both theories were interpreted to mean “it can’t happen here.”
Both arguments needed to be countered. But the subject was a delicate one. Politically it had to be treated with great care. The old U.S. was not a “nation of innocence.” For example, slavery had existed in it followed by legal discrimination against persons of color in the states of the former Confederacy and social discrimination against them throughout the country; virtually complete suppression of the Native American political economy and cultures had been carried out; Japanese-American citizens, accused of nothing more than being of Japanese descent, had been arbitrarily imprisoned during World War II without the benefit of judicial proceedings of any sort; terror aerial bombing against civilian targets in foreign wars had been developed to its highest degree of sophistication; in foreign countries with democratically-elected governments that adopted policies considered inimical to U.S. economic and political interests, those governments were routinely overthrown.
Despite these facts, many Americans persisted in the belief that nothing bad like fascism could come to pass in the old U.S. But of course it did. Among many other things, no one in the Opposition had ever figured out before it was too late how to counter either Neo-Exceptionalism or Historical Exactism in a politically effective way. Admittedly, it would have been difficult.
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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.