Monday, January 23, 2017

It Did Happen Here

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari Goldstein)
My one ambition is to get all Americans to realize that they are, and must continue to be, the greatest Race on the face of this old Earth, and second, to realize that whatever apparent differences there may be among us, in wealth, knowledge, skill, ancestry or strength–though, of course, all this does not apply to people who are racially different from us–we are all brothers, bound together in the great and wonderful bond of National Unity, for which we should all be very glad. -
Senator Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, It Can't Happen Here

Literature can be deceptive in its efficacy, its occasional bent toward prophecy. At times, we're often unaware for decades at a time how truly clairvoyant its authors are. Then, before we know it, their nightmarish dystopian visions ossify into reality and we're caught with our pants down and bent over a barrel. We experienced much the same thing in the 80's under Reagan, although the alarmist comparisons to George Orwell's 1984 were just that- alarmist, not even rising to the level of the premature. While Ronald Reagan was a horrible president for anyone in the 99%, he was certainly no Big Brother.
     However, what are we to make of Donald Trump and the sudden comparisons he invites to Sinclair Lewis's work, It Can't Happen Here (Possibly the greatest book by a Nobel Literature Laureate)? First, in order to fully appreciate the eerie parallels between Lewis's nightmarish vision and what we're seeing today, we need historical context. And with Trump, we need to  re-examine the Nobel Laureate's 1935 novel and briefly study the political and social conditions of the 1930's.
     While I won't belabor the realities of the Great Depression, which everyone knows about, there was an undercurrent of resentment against the status quo that had been presided over by the Republican Party until FDR's election in 1932. Revolution and Communism were looking pretty good when the New York millionaire took the reins of power. In fact, Communism was looking so appealing that anything Russian in the 1930's grew in popularity. As one example of this- When an unknown, middle-aged English actor named William Henry Pratt starred in a horror movie named Frankenstein in 1931, Universal Studios cynically renamed him Boris Karloff and he never looked back.
     Of course, in Lewis's masterpiece of political prophecy, the American voter went to the other end of the political spectrum and voted for a cryptofascist Senator named Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip. For unknowable and inexplicable reasons, Lewis cast his protagonist as a Democrat. At the 1936 convention, he wins the nomination when President Roosevelt and Senator Walt Trowbridge split the reasonable vote, essentially dooming the fictional FDR to one term status.
     As with Trump, and many other factual presidential candidates, Windrip drove his campaign with a book entitled, "Zero Hour." And this appealed to a core of disaffected, disenfranchised white laborers, exactly the constituency Hitler mobilized in his own quest for power in 1932 that paralleled FDR's. Don't forget, by 1935, when Lewis had first published his book, FDR's New Deal hadn't been entirely implemented. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled much of the New Deal unconstitutional by 1937. Of course, this was at the start of FDR's second term. In Lewis's book, this hadn't happened yet and a series of challenges in federal court had rendered much of the New Deal null and void. The unemployment rate was easily in double digits and many people, understandably, were still antsy about their future prospects.
     "Buzz" Windrip, who promises prosperity, guarantees $5000 a year for every working man and national strength, assembles a paramilitary goon squad around him similar to the one Trump had cobbled together on the campaign trail last year. (In an eerie prescience of Trump's signature campaign promise to keep Mexicans out of the US, Windrip's own thugs are called "Minute Men.") In another presaging of Trump (as well as Obama, Bush and many presidents before them), they quickly outlaw dissent. Women's and minority rights are sharply curtailed. The government swiftly turns into a corporatocracy. The stage has been set and fascism comes to America. But has it happened here, for real, already?
The First Hundred Zero Hours
An honest propagandist for any Cause, that is, one who honestly studies and figures out the most effective way of putting over his Message, will learn fairly early that it is not fair to ordinary folks — it just confuses them — to try to make them swallow all the true facts that would be suitable to a higher class of people. And one seemingly small but almighty important point he learns, if he does much speechifying, is that you can win over folks to your point of view much better in the evening, when they are tired out from work and not so likely to resist you, than at any other time of day. -Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip
In a shocking reversal of the lazy, self-indulgent, self-destructive Trump campaign and transition, the nanosecond Trump took the reins of power, as the heavens spat rain upon him, things began moving with dizzying speed. The day after the inauguration, Trump made an unusual trip to CIA Headquarters in Langley and almost immediately suspended his intent for being there to yell at the media for accurately reporting his inauguration crowd wasn't as big as Obama's in 2009 and 2013. And he had the nerve to do before the Memorial Wall for CIA officers who had lost their lives in the line of duty. Yes, he was doing the hand thing again.
     That same day, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer introduced himself to the press by literally yelling at them over this trivial and easily provable fact- That Trump had not drawn the same size crowds or TV ratings as the 44th President. The day after that, Kellyanne Conway sparred with Chuck Todd and claimed that what Spicer had provided were "alternative facts", a phrase that would make even Frank Luntz's head spin (as well as George Orwell's and Sinclair Lewis's.).
    As several dystopian antifascist works inform us, totalitarian regimes, especially far right movements, hold intellect and erudition in complete contempt for the very reason that such qualities are able to see through their confidence games and can alert the populace. The intelligentsia, after all, is a great breeding ground for political opposition movements. Realizing that would leave a suspicious dearth in the brain pool, such governments then supplant the real intelligentsia for one of their fabrication (usually after successfully marginalizing or liquidating the actual one). Such movements give us “intellects” such as George Will and William F. Buckley.
    The first order of business is to co-opt the truth and try to convince the populace that they own it and the facts (Remember Trump’s recent insistence that he knew things we didn’t regarding his campaign’s ties to the Russian government?). Essentially, this boils down to the famous Richard Pryor line, "Who ya gonna believe, baby? Me or your lyin' eyes?"

     This contempt for the intelligentsia, all the way down to the basic intelligence of the populace and even provable albeit embarrassing facts (such as the size of the inauguration crowd on Friday) can range from the ridiculous to the sublime (In Trump's case, always the ridiculous.). Right wing strong men like Trump blatantly lie so many times and about so many things even the most industrious journalist is hard-pressed to keep track of them. A prime example is when Trump said last July that he had no ties whatsoever to Russia, financial or otherwise. Yet a NY Times exposé proved "millions of transactions" between Trump and Russia in real estate deals. And if you don't want to believe the Gray Lady, then Donald Trump, Jr put the kibosh to his own father's lie nine years ago.
     We see this arrogant co-opting of the so-called facts (alternative or otherwise) in every presidential administration. But seldom if ever have we seen such breathtaking arrogance and easily provable chicanery with the new administration led by a man who can't tell the truth except accidentally.

The Corpo

They were the Idealists of Corpoism, and there were plenty of them, along with the bullies and swindlers; they were the men and women who, in 1935 and 1936, had turned to Windrip & Co., not as perfect, but as the most probable saviors of the country from, on one hand, domination by Moscow and... making America a land for sterner men to loot. - Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here
And in order to fool a gullible, scared and/or angry voting public into accepting and even supporting every measure designed to keep them in a state of indentured servitude, you need to co-opt the truth and the facts as you choose to see and present them. In Lewis's novel, the new 15 plank government under President Windrip is called the Corpo government. Either by accident or a deliberate co-opting of the word, the very word "corpo" appears to describe and define Donald Trump to a tee, at least according to the Urban Dictionary.
     As stated, this fictional fascist government wasted no time in severely cutting back women's and minority rights as surely as Trump put himself on the map with his jeremiads about Mexican rapists and criminals and his misogynistic worldview on women. But, in keeping with Hitler's own fascist government, Windrip's administration leaps into bed with corporations like the kind that had actually tried to mobilize a fascist corporate cabal under the stewardship of one Prescott Bush in the earliest days of FDR's administration.
     Proof of this is the very fact that Donald Trump's Cabinet picks are worth an estimated $14.5 billion, people whose lifelong agendas is to take away everything necessary to a free, Democratic industrialized nation from affordable health care, public schools, Social Security and a living wage. In other words, Trump's "most probable saviors" who will save us from ourselves and silly notions about liberal progress.
     Indeed, the very first thing the Trump administration did was to axe an FHA prohibition on increases in insurance rates enacted by the Obama administration. Later that day, he signed as his first executive order one that promised to "ease the burdens of Obamacare", although that's not its official name nor was the gesture more than a ceremonial one.  While Trump's ridiculous grandstanding will mean nothing in the short term, it can certainly be viewed as one that's the harbinger of things to come.
     And as with Trump and so many other Republicans, Windrip also appealed to evangelicals and the eternally scared with his boilerplate about the role of Christian religion and a strong military presence. Compare that to Trump's deceptively bland, listless inaugural speech in which he invoked the military and law enforcement to keep order over our "carnage" plagued nation.
     As Trump's administration isn't even 100 hours old, it bears continued study, this book that saw Trump coming 82 years ago. We're still a ways from Naomi Wolf's 10 steps of fascism made easy to spot from a decade ago (as far as I'm aware, Trump hasn't gotten around to making gulags yet, unless he'll outsource that in economic ways to his own Corpo Cabinet). And while the long night is still young, we must remember these things happen in stages and we must remain ever vigilant to these gradients as they begin to come true.

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