Saturday, February 21, 2015

Can It Happen Here?

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross."
--Attributed to Sinclair Lewis but probably of unknown origin


In the 1920s and 30s as some countries in the world turned to totalitarian regimes as a solution to their problems, real or perceived, Sinclair Lewis, with tongue planted in cheek, declared "It Can't Happen Here". Of course, the question that he was attempting to answer in his novel was really "Can it happen here?" Here in Murica, we have all this freedom and stuff. We don't have to worry about fascism, communism, or any of that crap. Unless of course, we want to use those terms to apply to Presidents that we don't like. Isn't it funny how half of the country said Bush was like Hitler and now half the country says Obama is like Hitler? Though both have their faults, neither of them presided over the murder of over six million people based on their religious beliefs or locked innocent people in camps (rumors about FEMA camps notwithstanding). So perhaps we shouldn't compare them to Hitler. But my friends, I view everything through the lens of history which is, after all, what I spent all that time in school learning how to do. The question of whether or not we could ever have a totalitarian government in our own country is certainly an interesting one. 

Totalitarian regimes often emerge in times of political, social, or economic turmoil. Consider the Great Depression which actually swept through Europe as well. The economic upheaval made the Nazi Party's message appealing to many and thus they were elected. Yes, Dear Readers, we often forget that the Nazi Party was democratically elected. In Russia, centuries of turmoil among the peasant classes led to the growing popularity of the Bolsheviks (communists) and, of course, we all know how that worked out for them. Given our existing economic structure, I would say that we are far more at risk of a creeping fascist government than we are a communist one. But what is fascism? Well, this lovely graphic will sum up its basic tenants quite nicely. See if any of it looks familiar.

But, you say, this is Murica! We have a Constitution and the like. Well, Dear Readers, the Constitution has never stood in the way of our government doing just about whatever it wants. Consider the Alien & Sedition Acts passed in 1798 which saw journalists fined and jailed for criticizing the government or President Adams. And of course we have Lincoln who took extra legal measures (ie: imprisoning people without trial and using military commissions to try civilians) during the Civil War. Moving into the 20th Century, we have the Espionage & Sedition Acts of 1917 and 1918 which saw labor leaders like Eugene Debs imprisoned for challenging our involvement in World War One. The Supreme Court is, in theory, there to protect us from such things. However, they upheld the World War One rulings. In the Merryman Case in 1861, the Chief Justice ruled that Lincoln's actions were not Constitutional but he ignored the decision. Many moons ago I read a book by the late Chief Justice Rehnquist about civil liberty in wartime. In it, he left us this gem. "It is neither desirable nor is it remotely likely that civil liberty will occupy as favored a position in wartime as it does in peacetime." Allow me to rephrase. Unconstitutional laws are fine as long as it is during wartime. That is absolutely terrifying as it comes from a person who took an oath to protect our civil liberties. You know, that kind of sounds like when we put US citizens of Japanese ancestry in camps during World War Two now that I think about it. And guess what? The Supreme Court endorsed that too!

Jewish partisans.....who dared fight back. Would you?

The sad fact is, friends, that in all the cases cited above, people defended the laws as necessary to protect us from an enemy real or imagined. How many Americans stood up to FDR and said that locking up Japanese-Americans was wrong? I have yet to hear about any (though I'm sure there had to be some.....or at least I hope there was). Most Americans are perfectly okay with the government engaging in such totalitarian measures so long as they are directed against the other person or the other party. Consider today how hysterical some Republicans get with denouncing President Obama for doing some of the same things that President Bush did. But wait, that was somehow different. When we have another Republican in the White House, the Democrats will do the same thing. You heard it here first. You see, we are all about our Constitutional rights. Truth is, we don't give a damn about our neighbor's rights. This is particularly true if our neighbor does not look, worship, or speak the same language as the rest of us. No less an authority on totalitarian governments than Hermann Goering left us a warning as to how citizens can be duped to go along with the bidding of their governments.

I will give you a personal example of the above reference to people's views on the rights of others. There use to be a guy who came to one of the colleges where I teach peddling religion, evangelical Christianity to be exact. He stood over the in the bookstore and asked all who walked by if they had "heard the good news". The first time I ran across him, I politely replied that I was aware of the good news and I informed him that I was Catholic. From that point on, he took it as a personal mission to try and convert me to evangelical Protestantism every time I went over there to so much as buy a cup of coffee. No matter how many times I told him no, he kept after me. I made a comment about it in the break room one day and wondered aloud why my freedom of religion didn't seem to matter. In a matter of seconds, the entire room turned on me and told me that I should be glad that he was so concerned about my soul and that he had a right to accost me and try to sell me his faith whenever he wanted because of the First Amendment. I pointed out that I too, had a First Amendment but my plea fell on deaf ears. Part of me wonders if it was because of the latent anti-Catholicism that is inherent in many evangelical communities. This guy had a right because he agreed with them but I, who disagreed, did not have the same right. This same group wants to push their brand of Christianity on the country. We need prayer in schools, they say! But when I ask them if that means that I, as a Catholic, should be free to lead my classes in a Hail Mary or two before an exam they backtrack quickly. (Their usual response to that is "No, that's different.")

When? Not if?

Mussolini said that fascism was the perfect merger between the corporate and the state. This is why,as I said above, I think this would be a more likely scenario for us in the United States if we are not careful. I certainly do not think that it is a forgone conclusion that we will go down the path towards a totalitarian state. Quite the opposite. So much about our country's history says the otherwise. After all, we fought a war to rid the world of fascism. (Though we had to ally ourselves with the Soviet Union, a fact that today we find most inconvenient.) We were willing to fight a war to abolish the great evil that was slavery. There is so much that we have done right that it is not a good idea to simply focus on what we did wrong. But to deny that the United States is somehow immune to the forces that create dictatorships is to deny history. There is a simple solution to much of this. Stop believing that politicians have your own personal best interests in mind. They don't. It is funny how many people out there, far, far too many, who actually think that the Republicans or Democrats give a damn about them. All they care about is control. Remember, Psalms 146:3 tells us "Put not your faith in princes."

Actually it is fascism when EITHER of you do it!

Alas, there is a simple answer to the question I asked at the beginning. Can it happen here? You are damn right that it can. Remember, Dear Readers, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Stand up for your neighbors. Defend their rights as zealously as you defend your own. Treat them as you yourself would want to be treated. The United States of America is a great country and will remain so as long as we hold true to the ideals upon which we were founded. (And no, we were NOT founded as a Theocracy!)

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who firmly believes that ALL politicians, no matter the party, are like diapers. They should be changed often and for the same reason.


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