I originally wanted to write in response to Bush's "Iraq is Vietnam" ploy.
I wanted to ask how exactly the trad media (like that awful Briticism "trad jazz"?) copes with a government that acts so fundamentally and repeatedly in bad faith. With a president and administration whose every pronouncement, practically, personal or institutional, is a construct of distortion, fabrication, lies big and small but always self-serving, and history brazenly rewritten -- like copy for advertising fraud. Or a Soviet tract.
The answer is, of course, that traditional media doesn't cope. Bush's words are accorded the protocol of respect, as if they were still part of a regular political order. But they are not. They remain, as they were back in the days when Bush was running against Gore, radical flimflam, an ongoing con job.
The New York Times feels free to report on Hugo Chavez sarcastically in its news articles, to refer to him as a demagogue. But not Bush? Not Dick Cheney?
It seems vital to acknowledge that Bush is radical and extremist. But then comes a more underlying question, as I chewed on it over the weekend (before the tragic, tragic news arrived today of Al Gonzales' departure):
This government of America that carries Bush's radical brand...how exactly would you characterize it?
What is the accurate term to describe Bush's USA? I'm asking because I'd like to know. I'm not a political scientist, I'm a guy who lives here.
What exactly does it mean when John Dean uses the phrase "worse than Watergate?" Or when Benjamin Ferencz, a chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials, says that Bush belongs in the defense box at the Hague because "(a) prima facie case can be made that the United States is guilty of the supreme crime against humanity, that being an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation."
To bump the hot button right away: is Bush's America 2007 fascist? I have been often scornfully upbraided (I got myself a bit of a reputation) for releasing the f-word at dinner tables in New York, by people who hate Bush and Co. quite as much as I do, including, for instance, an editor who recently edited a big book on fascism. Something about fascism proper as a total, centralized violent state seems to be the issue.
But at dinner parties in Spain (where I dine a lot, gracias a dios), when Bush's name comes up, people shrug and say, "He's a fascist, what else?" These people include prominent bourgeois lights of their communities. The only Spanish person who has ever expressed sympathy, as opposed to outrage, about America's war on terror and its adventure in Iraq, in an I-do-like-Americans way, was the son of Franco's favorite restaurateur. (I hear the quibble immediately: Franco wasn't really a fascist!)
In Istanbul, one of the celebrated chefs in town, a half-Kurdish Marxist who doesn't speak English, declares laboriously, "Bush... Fascist." And grins wide.
Okay, anecdotal schmandecdotal, winey chitchat. "Are you seriously comparing Bush to Adolph Hitler??!!" is the common critique. I usually retort that fascism includes others beside Hitler and the Final Solution. Mussolini's corporatism, say. But then again, maybe Adolph -- the Adolph of the '30s -- belongs in the equation. Diane McWhorter, who won the Pulitzer for her book on the civil rights struggle and Alabama, is working on a book about Wernher von Braun and the other Third Reich scientists brought to Alabama after WWII to establish America's rocket program. She has been doing a lot of reading and research, accordingly, in Nazism. She finds parallels to the constitutional outrages of Bush and his abettors (bi-partisan) that kind of leap off the Berlin page into the present. Read her Slate piece, "The N-Word," and see for yourself.
My father was driven from that Berlin by the Nazis in '33. He was a member of Willy Brandt's splinter socialist party. He wound up in Palestine, where he published a political/cultural magazine during WWII (with an anti-Zionist bent; his printing press was finally bombed silent, but that's a story for another time). He wrote in 1942:
"...the phenomenon of fascism can be demonstrated as latent in more or less recognizable fashion in nearly all nations and peoples on earth.... Accordingly, to defeat Hitler is not yet to liquidate fascism."
Indeed brown shirts and flying German spittle aren't necessary accoutrements. (A touch of black in the blouse isn't always a hindrance, at that. Consider the great producer Hal Roach, the King of Comedy, who planned to go into business producing movies in the '30s with a much admired glamorous European political figure. The name of the company would be RAM: for Roach and Mussolini.)
To run around f-word resistance, I've taken up the term Orwellian, a word whose "fictional" snout is more tolerated in the parlors of "serious" -- as opposed to "reckless" -- commentary. (And I do admit that often when I myself read someone crying "fascist," I immediately want the person to prove his bona fides). What's good about Orwellian is that it invokes the insidious manipulation of public reality, which is a hallmark of Bush's America, where government publications are grossly doctored; where slogans are manufactured for official policies whose intent is the exact opposite of what's advertised; where war and fear are whipped up as partisan political weaponry.
But Orwellian is another word for totalitarian, no? Which in turn is a general term that includes our unwelcome friend, Herr F-word? I'm just pondering.
That editor of the book on fascism says we need a new mot to convey what Bush is up to. Not a backward looking one, but something of the here and now that links Bush with, say, Putin and Berlusconi. Neo-fascist? Post-fascist? "Authoritarian" doesn't do the trick, surely. Right wing democracy? Strongman democracy? Crime syndicate democracy? When does "democracy" start to mean nothing in these terms? How about "banana republic?" (Those are awfully big bananas.)
The veneer in Bush's America is still a government under the spreading branches of the Constitution. In September comes National Constitution Week and these fine words from the Decider in the White House:
"I encourage Federal, State, and local officials, as well as leaders of civic, social, and educational organizations, to conduct ceremonies and programs that celebrate our Constitution and reaffirm our rights and responsibilities as citizens of our great Nation."
Different words from his earlier ones that the Constitution was "a goddamned piece of paper" being thrown up at him to hobble him doing as he pleased.
Indeed, the actions of the Bush administration, along with laws on the books now, don't just monkey with constitutional details. They constitute open portals to tyranny. Maintained by the prodigious tools of state propaganda.
So really, I'd like to know: How properly tag America's government today? What is the grim forest called of which these are the trees:
Aggressive lie-based war, torture, suspension of habeas corpus, flouting of Geneva Conventions, militaristic jingoism, signing statements negating legislation, contempt of congressional oversight, blanket state secrecy, warrantless wiretapping, propagandizing of official documents and policies, partisan infestation of all government agencies, breaching of the separation of church and state, corporate engorgement. I've left things out.
All this in an environment of swift-boating, neutered or perverted media, and political religious fundamentalism. Again I've left out much.
What's the right name, here and now? Surely there's a moniker that will have the effect of screaming "FIRE!!", to jar us out of our national inertness, our "Ach, it's all just politics" mode?
What say you?
Thanks to Uber.com where this piece first appeared on my blog Brain Flakes.
Also at Smirkingchimp.com