The author offers one of her periodic assessments of America’s potential to go fascist. And the news is better than it’s been in years.
Photo Credit: JoelInSouthernCA
America has never been without fascist wannabes. Research by Political Research Associates estimates that, at any given time in our history, roughly 10-12 percent of the country’s population has been bred-in-the-bone right-wing authoritarians — the people who are hard-wired to think in terms of fascist control and order.
Our latter-day Christian Dominionists, sexual fundamentalists and white nationalists are the descendants — sometimes, the literal blood descendants — of the same people who joined the KKK in the 1920s, followed Father Coughlin in the 1930s, backed Joe McCarthy in the early ’50s, joined the John Birch society in the ’60s, and signed up for the Moral Majority in the 1970s and the Christian Coalition in the 1990s.
Given its rather stunning durability, it’s probably time to acknowledge that this proto-fascist strain is a permanent feature of the American body politic. Like ugly feet or ears that stick out, it’s an unchanging piece of who we are. We are going to have to learn to live with it.
But it’s also true that this faction’s influence on the larger American culture ebbs and flows broadly over time. Our parents and grandparents didn’t have to deal with them much at all, because the far-right fringe was pushed back hard during the peak years of the New Deal. It broke out for just a few short years in the McCarthy era — long enough to see the rise of the Birchers — and then was firmly pushed back down into irrelevance again.
But the country’s overall conservative drift since the Reagan years and the rise of the Internet (which enabled the right’s network of regional and single-issue groups to crystallize into a single, unified, national right-wing culture over the course of the ’90s and ’00s) reenergized the extreme right as a political force. As a result, history may look back on George W. Bush’s eight years as the “Peak Wingnut” era — a high-water mark in radical right-wing influence and power in America.
Now, things are changing again. Every year or so for the past five years, I’ve written about the future prospects for America’s would-be fascists on the far right. And it’s time to take another look, because the political and cultural landscape they’re working in now isn’t at all the same one they were working in even three years ago.
Fascist America: We Were Very Nearly There
The last time I visited this subject in 2010, progressives were reaching a point of maximum despair. In 2008, the GOP had taken its most thorough drubbing since the FDR years. But, just two years on, the far right had not only regrouped; it had taken full control of the Republican Party under the resurgent Tea Party banner — and was getting set to elect some of the country’s most extreme political, social and economic Neanderthals. In the process, it was also about to retake Congress, along with control of over half of the state governorships and legislatures.
And take over it did. In the wake of this victory, the far right’s new electees shifted into overdrive, immediately introducing brutally aggressive legislation to bust unions, disenfranchise Democratic voters and roll back a century of progress on reproductive rights. The speed and power of the onslaught was breathtaking — but it was also driven by desperation. What most pundits missed was the fact that the far right had no time to waste, because both the mood of the country and its basic demographic realities were changing under their feet.
Polls over the past decade show that America is, at its core, a progressive nation in every way that matters, and that this trend is solidifying and expanding with time. As Nancy L. Cohen put it in Delirium: How The Sexual Counterrevolution Is Polarizing America:
Cultural progressivism is the new American way….A majority of all Americans now supports same-sex marriage. Americans strongly upholding Roe v. Wade, and strongly oppose the position of the Republican Party. Fully 62 percent think that abortion should be legal in the first three months of pregnancy, in which 89 percent of abortions occur; only 15 percent favor outlawing abortion in all circumstances.
Americans have become less religious and less culturally conservative over the past 40 years. Polling on birth control and sexual morality show that Americans unequivocally reject the sexual fundamentalists’ attempt to take us back to a time when sex was stigmatized and only legitimate when confined within the traditional heterosexual marriage. The majority of Americans believe in the basic values underpinning a culturally progressive approach to matters of sex, gender, family, and culture: privacy, personal freedom, equality, and pluralism.