The violent reaction both before and after the historic vote on health care in the US Congress is truly unnerving. There has always been a virulent right-wing in the US but until now it has always been marginal – in part because the Republican Party, however conservative it was, actively marginalized violent elements which purported to be part of the political mainstream.
All that has changed. As US writer Sara Robinson said in her excellent article, Fascist America: Are we there yet? when elements of the right-wing political elite begin to wink and nod at grass roots violence, or actually encourage it, you have the beginnings of fascism. The tea partiers, some of whom brought guns to rallies outside Obama appearances, are reminding a lot of people of the Nazi Brown Shirts. They haven’t started shooting yet – but I expect someone in Germany brought guns before they fired them, too.
Robinson quotes a prominent authority on fascism, Robert Paxton: ”The most important variables…are the conservative elites’ willingness to work with the fascists (along with a reciprocal flexibility on the part of the fascist leaders) and the depth of the crisis that induces them to cooperate.”
That, says Robinson…“…sounds eerily like the dire straits our Congressional Republicans find themselves in right now.” She went on to say (this was in September last year): “America’s conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country’s legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America’s streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won’t do their political or economic bidding.”
In the days before the recent vote, Democratic Congressmen were harassed, threatened and subjected to racist taunts. An American Press story stated: “Representative Andre Carson, an Indiana Democrat, told a reporter that as he left the Cannon House Office Building with Georgia Democratic Representative John Lewis, a leader of the civil rights era, some among the crowd chanted “the N-word, the N-word, 15 times.” Both Mr. Carson and Mr. Lewis are black. It was like going into the time machine with John Lewis,”
It got worse after the vote – now Democrat’s offices are being vandalized and members of Congress are getting death threats over the phone. If you want a taste of these scary events take five minutes to listen the Rachel Maddow show. Republicans are not-so-subtly encouraging this behaviour and when confronted by their words, refuse to retract them – or to take any responsibility for the actions they foment.
One such incident featured Republican House Minority leader John Boehner “warning” his fellow Cincinnati Democratic Congressman Steve Driehaus not to vote for the reforms. If he did? “He may be a dead man. He can’t go home to the west side of Cincinnati.”
It’coming. The question for Canadians to begin asking themselves is what do we do as American moves inexorably towards fascism?