Archive for the ‘FASCISM IN AMERICA’ Tag



John Chuckman

I used to read George Will occasionally just to see how strange words bent to political purpose could become. No political commentator in America is better able to use large words to say something at times indescribably odd. I don’t ask you to take this from me on faith. I offer examples, although none is recent since my tolerance for this sort of stuff has worn thin.

By outward appearance, George is the eternal American schoolboy. I imagine George’s conception of himself and the career he would follow may have been fixed when, as a reticent, dour twelve-year old with cowlick and glasses, he achieved an early social success blurting out a big word he had read, startling his teacher and breaking up his class. He has been repeating the same trick for decades to the applause of intense, pimply-faced boys in starched white shirts with dog-eared copies of Ayn Rand tucked under their arms.

America’s plutocrat-Junkers do have courtiers serving them just as the great princes of antiquity had. However, the pop-culture tastes of these modern great eminences do not employ the likes of Walter Raleigh or Francis Bacon. Instead we have Rush Limbaugh as one of the court jesters, still doing frat-boy jokes about physical differences between men and women forty years after college, and we have George as one of the sages, who appears from all the sage-like figures of history and literature to have selected Polonius as his model for style.

A few years ago, George nearly choked over plans to move a statue of some women to the Capitol Rotunda in Washington. He was upset about an expense, as he gracefully put it, to “improve the representation of X chromosomes.” The statue is of suffragists. George couldn’t resist passing along a demeaning nickname, “The Ladies in the Bathtub,” he picked up somewhere, perhaps at one of Trent Lott’s good-ol’-boy get-togethers down on his plantation.

George tried to make the nickname an issue of artistic merit. Artistic merit? The sculpture of the Capitol Rotunda is as uninspired a collection of stolid, state-commissioned hulks as ever graced a giant marble room. Aesthetics have never played a role.

George said he’d “stipulate” the women were great Americans – an interesting choice of words, “stipulate,” the arid language of lawyers allowing one to proceed in court or settle a contract without further discussion of some (usually minor) point. He then observed “the supply of alleged greatness long ago exceeded the supply of space for statues in the Rotunda.”

Well, clearly, choices do have to be made. And could it be news to anyone, apart from survivalists, huddled in abandoned missile silos, savoring George by candlelight as they bolt down freeze-dried snacks, that politics play a role in every choice in Washington? My God, members of the U.S. Congress, overwhelmingly male, actually have the flag that flies over the Capitol changed about every thirty seconds to provide a steady supply of authentic relics for interested, influential constituents, almost the way tens of thousands of true splinters of the Cross were fashioned as princely gifts in the Middle Ages. American presidents sign laws with fists full of pens, one for each loop of the signature and as gift for each key supporter. Politics just doesn’t get more ridiculous anywhere.

What’s annoying about a statue to the movement that gave (slightly more than) half the nation’s people the right to vote? The importance of what it symbolizes equals any democratic advance in the nation’s history. Why should a symbol for this achievement be the target of scorn?

The Rotunda collection already had highly ambiguous symbols that never upset George. Garfield was an undistinguished Civil War general and an undistinguished politician, ennobled only by a frustrated office-seeker assassinating him. Grant, despite his importance in the Civil War, was one of the most dangerously incompetent presidents before Bush. Jackson was a violent backwoods madman and unrepentant slave-holder, colorful and interesting at a safe distance, but America would have been a far better place without most of his presidential accomplishments. Hamilton, a truly great figure in American history, was nevertheless a man who had absolutely no faith in democracy.

It would be unfair to draw conclusions about George’s prejudice only from his opposition to the statue, but in writing about it, he managed, over and over, to use words of scorn and derision.

How do you explain a squib that the possible removal of a reproduction of Magna Carta in favor of the statue “might displease a woman” (Queen Elizabeth II, whose gift it was)? Wouldn’t you say it might displease the British people whose representative the Queen is? What explains his calling the statue one “less to past heroines than to present fixations”? Why his belittling description of the campaign for the statue as “entitlement mentality”?

George attacks one national symbol but is especially protective of others. He is especially protective of the reputation of the Sage of Monticello, patron saint to America’s militia and survivalist crowd. Thomas Jefferson, much to the surprise of people who know him only as a giant, worthy head on Mount Rushmore, provided the prototype for two centuries of American shadow-fascism: use fine words about freedom in your correspondence while living off the sweat of a couple of hundred slaves; a man who never hesitated to stretch presidential authority to its very limits, always seeking to extend American empire. Jefferson was a secretive, suspicious, and vindictive man. He was not a friend to the spirit of Enlightenment.

Conor Cruise O’Brien, Irish scholar, published a biographical study called “The Long Affair,” in 1996, about Thomas Jefferson and his peculiar admiration for the bloody excesses of the French Revolution. Well, the Sage for Archer Daniels Midland went into a word-strewn fit over the book.

Perhaps, the single thing about the book that most upset George was O’Brien’s comparison of a statement of Jefferson’s to something Pol Pot might have said. Jefferson wrote in 1793, at the height of the Terror, “…but rather than it [the French Revolution] should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated. Were there but an Adam and Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than as it now is.” George wrote off Jefferson’s brutal statement as “epistolary extravagance,” and attacked O’Brien for using slim evidence for an extreme conclusion about an American “hero.”

George went so far as favorably to compare the work of Ken Burns with that of O’Brien, calling Burns “an irrigator of our capacity for political admiration,” as compared to one who “panders” to “leave our national memory parched.” Whew! See what I mean about words?

I mean no disparagement of Ken Burns, but he produces the television equivalent of coffee-table books. O’Brien is a scholar, the author of many serious books. The very comparison, even without the odd language, tells us something about George.

But language, too, is important. The irony is that George’s own words, “irrigator of our capacity for political admiration,” sound frighteningly like what we’d expect to hear from the Ministry of Culture in some ghastly place (dare I write it?) such as Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

But George should have known better. This letter of Jefferson’s is utterly characteristic of views he expressed many different ways. Jefferson quite blithely wrote that America’s Constitution would not be adequate to defend what he called liberty, that there would have to be a new revolution every 15 or 20 years, and that the tree of liberty needed to be nourished regularly with a fresh supply of patriot blood.

Jefferson’s well-known sentimental view of the merits of sturdy yeomen farmers as citizens of a republic and his intense dislike for industry and urbanization bear an uncanny resemblance to Pol Pot’s beliefs. Throwing people out of cities to become honorable peasants back on the land, even those who never saw a farm, was precisely how Pol Pot managed to kill at least a million people in Cambodia.

Jefferson is not now revered for his understanding of the economics of his day. He truly had none, a fact which enabled the brilliant Alexander Hamilton to best him at every turn. However this is not a mistake Jefferson’s intellectual heirs make, since money and power no longer come from plantations and slaves. They understand money and pursue the principles of economics narrowly often to the exclusion of other important goals in society. Jefferson is only of value to them because of the powerfully-expressed words he left behind belittling the importance of government, the only possible counterbalancing force to the excesses that always arise from great economic growth.

What is it about many of those on the right relishing the deaths of others in the name of ideology? You see, much like the “chickenhawks” now running Washington, sending others off to die, Jefferson never lifted a musket during the Revolution. While serving as governor of Virginia, he set a pathetic example of supporting the war’s desperate material needs. He also gave us a comic-opera episode of dropping everything and running feverishly away from approaching British troops in Virginia (there was an official inquiry over the episode). Jefferson turned down his first diplomatic appointment to Europe by the new government out of fear of being captured by British warships, a fear that influenced neither Benjamin Franklin nor John Adams.

But real heroes aren’t always, or even usually, soldiers. Jefferson, despite a long and successful career and a legacy of fine words (expressing thoughts largely cribbed from European writers), cannot be credited with any significant personal sacrifice over matters of principle during his life. He wouldn’t give up luxury despite his words about slavery. He never risked a serious clash with the Virginia Establishment over slave laws during his rise in state politics. And in his draft of the Declaration of Independence, he lamely and at length blamed the king of England for the slave trade, yet, when he wrote the words, it was actually in his interest to slow the trade and protect the value of his existing human holdings.

Unlike Mr. Lincoln later, who had none of his advantages of education and good social contacts, Jefferson did not do well as a lawyer. He never earned enough to pay his own way, his thirst for luxury far outstripping even the capacity of his many high government positions and large number of slaves to generate wealth. Again, unlike Mr. Lincoln, Jefferson was not especially conscientious about owing people money, and he frequently continued buying luxuries like silver buckles and fine carriages while he still owed substantial sums.

Jefferson spent most of his productive years in government service, yet he never stopped railing against the evils of government. There’s more than a passing resemblance here to the empty slogans of government-service lifers like Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich who enjoy their government pensions and benefits even as they still complain about government. Jefferson’s most famous quote praises the least possible government, yet, as President, he brought a virtual reign of terror to New England with his attempts to enforce an embargo against England (the “Anglomen” as this very prejudiced man typically called the English).

Jefferson, besides having some truly ridiculous beliefs, like those about the evils of central banks or the health efficacy of soaking your feet in ice water every morning, definitely had a very dark side. Any of his political opponents would readily have testified to this. Jefferson was the American Machiavelli.

It was this side of him that put Philip Freneau on the federal payroll in order to subsidize the man’s libelous newspaper attacks on Washington’s government – this while Jefferson served in that very government. At another point, Jefferson hired James Callender to dig up and write filth about political opponents, an effort which backfired when Callender turned on Jefferson for not fulfilling promises. Callender famously dug out and publicized the story about Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s slave-mistress, his late wife’s illegitimate half-sister (slavery made for some amazing family relationships), a story we now know almost certainly to be true (by the way, dates point to Sally’s beginning to serve Jefferson in this capacity at 13 or 14 years old). It was this dark side of Jefferson that resulted in a ruthless, years-long vendetta against Aaron Burr for the sin of appearing to challenge Jefferson’s election to the presidency.

George charged O’Brien with wronging Jefferson on his racial views by quoting from Jefferson’s youth and ignoring a different statement years later. But history really doesn’t support George. Jefferson was challenged by others over the years on this issue, and, rather than argue a point on which he knew he was vulnerable, he tended to keep quiet, but there is no good evidence he ever changed his views, despite bits of writing, twinges of his own conscience undoubtedly, that sound sympathetic about how blacks might have arrived at their then piteous state.

Jefferson expressed himself in embarrassingly clear terms about his belief in black inferiority. And it is important to note that in doing so, he violated one of his basic principles of remaining skeptical and not accepting what was not proved, so this, clearly, was something he believed deeply. There is also reliable evidence that on one occasion he was observed by a visitor beating a slave, quite contradicting Jefferson’s public-relations pretensions to saintly paternalism.

When Napoleon sent an army attempting to subdue the slaves who had revolted and formed a republic on what is now Haiti, President Jefferson gave his full consent and support to the bloody (and unsuccessful) effort.

Hero? I have no idea how George defines the word, but by any meaningful standard, Jefferson utterly fails.

In another flight of fancy some years ago, George equated honest efforts to limit campaign contributions to attacks on the First Amendment, about as silly an idea as claiming the Second (well-ordered-militia) Amendment defends the right of every household to own tanks and missile-launchers.

America restricts many forms of commercial expression deemed destructive or dangerous. Liquor advertising on television, certain forms of cigarette advertising, pornography, and racist propaganda are among these. Are these attacks on the First Amendment? Well, if they are, concerns for the Amendment are trumped by concerns for protecting children from noxious substances.

I’m not sure I can think of a more noxious thing than the complete twisting and distorting of democracy by money in Washington. Restrictions on things like liquor advertising testify that people recognize the suggestive, manipulative nature of advertising, yet America’s national elections have pretty well been reduced to meaningless advertising free-for-alls between two vast pools of money.

No one objects to informative discussions of liquor, cigarettes, or racism on television, yet any thoughtful person knows that advertising for the same products or ideas is something else altogether. Do the most fundamental issues of a nation deserve the debased treatment they receive in election advertising campaigns? The Lincoln-Douglas Debates cost little but supplied voters with real information, something that cannot be said for any money-drenched campaign of the 20th Century.

When a particular aspect of free speech, as the right to give and spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, undermines democracy itself, it is not just one Amendment at stake, it is the whole evolution and meaning of the American Constitutional system.

Further, large amounts of campaign money, in economic terms, represent barriers to entry against newcomers, outside the two money-laden, quasi-monopoly parties. Try marketing a new product against a firm with the market position of a Microsoft or a Coke without tens of millions to spend, no matter how good your product, and you’ll see what I mean by barriers to entry. This is something many find instinctively repellent and unfair in their most ordinary, everyday shopping and business dealings. How much more so where it directly affects the entry of candidates and new ideas into government?

Apart from the sheer ugliness of watching members of Congress grovel for money, we have many examples of money’s pernicious influence on elections. The CIA has spent God knows how many millions of dollars influencing elections in other countries, yet observe America’s great touchiness a few years back over even a hint that China may have played the same trick. This only shows how well Americans understand what money does to politics, yet whenever someone tries to do something to improve a rotten situation, George and other courtiers switch on their word processors and start felling trees.

My last citation from George concerns his regret over the coarseness and lack of civility in America, what George called “Dennis Rodman’s America,” or in another place, “a coarse and slatternly society” jeopardizing “all respect….”

Unfortunately, George’s historical errors gave him a false basis for measuring moral decline. He wrote that the youthful George Washington was required to read “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior.” The fact is the highly ambitious Washington chose the small book and forced himself to copy out the rules in longhand so that he might become more acceptable for advancement in British colonial society.

Young Washington was heavily influenced by associating with families from the cream of British colonial society, people not at all characteristic of average colonial Americans. Most of America then was a rude, rough place. Newspapers regularly libeled and abused with a ferocity we can scarcely imagine today. Drunkenness and brawling were common. Fights often included such grotesque practices as gouging out eyes. And, of course, the filthy brutality of slavery was normal, on exhibit in many streets.

It is simply wrong to say that American behavior has gone downhill from a golden age. Europeans in the 19th century noted with horror the way Americans spit tobacco juice everywhere – even on the floors and carpets of the most elegant hotels. Visitors to the White House used to clomp around in muddy boots, pawing and even walking on furnishings, cutting souvenir swatches from the drapes and carpets and grabbing anything small enough to stuff under a coat – often leaving the place a shambles after a large public gathering.

At times there have been rules or practices that might now be cited as exemplifying a lost age of gentility, but citing these in isolation misrepresents the general tone of the past. While George cited the clean language used in movies under the Production Code in the 1940s, he neglected to mention that, while Hollywood worried about sexual innuendo in scripts, in any American city a policeman might freely and openly address a black citizen as “niggah.” And while Hollywood fussed over suggestive words in “Casablanca,” it was still possible in some parts of the country to lynch a black man and suffer no penalty.

But George is more concerned about sexual coarseness than violence. This happens to be a characteristic America’s Puritans. It has also been characteristic of tyrant-temperaments. Hitler did not permit off-color or suggestive stories told in his presence. Lincoln, on the other hand loved a good off-color joke.

Now, again consider George’s words about “a coarse and slatternly society” jeopardizing “all respect….” Slattern? Just what century does he think it is?

In fact, it is easily observed that people who use foul language are expressing anger and frustration, and there are lots of angry people in America: the pressures of the society do that to you. Trying to get at the cause of the anger would raise a discussion of civility to something worthwhile, but George seemed simply to want to “tut tut!” a bit like some marquis in the late 18th Century worrying about the niceties just before the deluge.



John Chuckman

Like acrid fumes seeping from a chemical dump long thought dormant, attitudes of an unmistakably-fascist nature are drifting through American society. One catches whiffs of the dreadful stuff on almost every breeze from America.

Just the day before the recent Congressional election, the CIA laid claim to the assassination of six men in Yemen. The men were, of course, described as associated with al Qaeda, and may, for all I know, have been so, but just when did bragging about the public murder of six people by a government agency become acceptable practice to Americans? No charges, no trial, no evidence – just murder.

That act was in keeping with the spirit of America’s treatment of prisoners from its stupid, disastrous war in Afghanistan. First, many hundreds of prisoners were murdered under American auspices. Second, thousands were illegally detained and abused. Many were tortured. Hundreds remain prisoners in cages thousands of miles from their homes with no legal rights. A scholastic nonsense about these men being held away from the rights-protected soil of America appears adequate to make their treatment acceptable.

The murder also is in keeping with the alliances and interests America has been forming abroad. Perhaps the most murderous elected leader in recent memory, Mr. Sharon, responsible literally for the deaths of thousands and for keeping an entire people hopelessly crushed into apartheid-style camps is called a “man of peace.” His works of assassination and destruction are blessed and supported more cordially than I remember support for America’s old friend, the Shah of Iran, who smiled at dinners in the White House while his secret police, Savak, pulled out the fingernails of screaming opponents and suspects.

Russia’s Mr. Putin wages the most devastating small war of recent times, a relentless, murderous effort to hold a people who do not want to be held, reducing their towns and farms to burnt-out wasteland, and he, too, is regarded as a partner for peace and an opponent of terror. I wonder how many Americans caught the little-noted fact that not one Chechen left the theater in Moscow alive, despite all having been knocked out by gas. I’m not objecting to effort to free hostages, only to the clear fact that every Chechen was summarily murdered in scenes that must have recalled the old NKVD’s bullet to the back of the head. I wonder was the old Soviet practice of charging relatives for a cartridge followed?

A military dictator in Pakistan is regarded as an ally against terror, as are bestial war lords in Afghanistan.

The Attorney General of the United States tells Arab Americans they are fortunate not to be treated the way Japanese Americans during World War II were – that is, fortunate not to be thrown into concentration camps and have most of their property seized, never to be returned. More disgusting yet, coming as it does carefully wrapped in robes of reasoned debate, are the words of a American lawyer on the need for establishing legal procedures governing the proper use of torture in the country.

It does suit the tenor of times in which U.S. border officials have been routinely photographing, fingerprinting, and grilling visitors for hours from certain countries even though they may have taken up a new citizenship. Prize-winning Canadian author Rohinton Mistry, a man born in India and whose religious background is a form of Zoroastrianism, about as far removed as you can get from being a Muslim Arab, cut short his American reading tour after being stopped and interrogated every time he caught a plane.

Another Canadian, unfortunate enough to have been born in Syria many years ago, was refused entry to the U.S. and deported. Not serious you say? Well, yes, had he been deported to his home in Canada. But the INS in a frenzy to demonstrate appropriate zeal, deported the man to Syria, leaving his family in Canada desperate for some while trying to locate him. It’s the kind of activity Germans in the 1930s used to call fondly “working towards the Fuhrer,” that is, guessing what action might please the leader.

There’s been a lot of “working towards the Fuhrer” lately in America. It seems to come quite naturally to a significant number of people. I am reminded of the farce in Florida when a mindless police chase was created by the paranoid reports of an overheard conversation. Or the universities and colleges where dissenting views are punished. Or the lists published of dissenting voices. Or the nonsense that pours from mainstream American media like CNN or the New York Times, as when recently they deliberately underreported the size of an anti-war rally in Washington.

Ah, the New York Times, that courageous tribune of the people – people, that is, who make well in excess of $100,000 a year and think the word empire when applied to America is actually a benevolent concept. Does that motto about all the news “fit” to print not suit well?

This government has given America corruption, poor appointments to important posts, a huge and wasteful increase in military spending, not a single worthy humanitarian initiative, and it has set its jaw in grim contempt for the sensibilities of virtually the rest of the planet. It is determined to launch a war for which there is not one sound reason, a war that promises to send the world into a downward spiral of resentments, uncertainty and death.

Yet Americans have given it a vote of confidence.

A political party that in one generation has included as prominent spokesmen and leaders Jesse Helms, Tom De Lay, Phil Gramm, Dick Armey, John Ashcroft, Bob Barr, Pat Buchanan, and Newt Gingrich, that attracts vultures like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and whose spokespeople include genuine hate-mongers like Ann Coulter cannot be regarded as harmless. There is a large enough cesspool of ignorance and arrogance here to threaten all people who regard human decency and rationality as important.

Students of history will know that not every member of the Nazi party in Germany at the height of its prestige and power around 1940 shared the poison dreams of its leadership. People joined because of social pressure or the requirements of career advancement or agreement with limited aspects of the Nazi program. Yet we do not sort this all out when we speak of Nazis. Who on the planet does not use the term Nazi as one of contempt and anathema?

Of course it is not just the bulk of “decent” Republicans who fail to speak against genuine evil. The Democrats are softer spoken, more benign in their use of words, but they have utterly failed to provide leadership here. They have not raised their voices against torture and abuse of prisoners, against public murder, against policies advocating unprovoked attack, against the wanton destruction of a generation’s work on treaties and conventions for international cooperation, or against unholy alliance with thugs like Sharon, Putin, Musharraf, and General Dostum.

Mr. Clinton’s eight years in the White House were not marked by particularly enlightened measures either at home or abroad, although almost anyone would agree that his smiling intelligence was more reassuring than the numb-faced, thick-tongued mumbling of Mr. Bush. All decent people had sympathy over the low-life dragging of Mr. Clinton’s private life into the glare of publicity, but that fact did not render him a particularly enlightened leader on the world’s scene.

America spends on its military as much the next thirty countries in the world combined spend on theirs. This gigantic flow of money, like a monstrously-swollen river roaring over the landscape, erodes every value and decent aspect of American life. It simply cannot be otherwise. And it erodes America’s every relationship with the rest of the world. It has been observed by numerous historians that the very presence of great armies helps induce war.

Please remember that not once did Hitler attack a country without a plausible excuse, and the emotional tug of his arguments resonated in many capitals outside Berlin. Moreover, he had what he regarded as a visionary purpose for his belligerence. He spoke of terror against the German people. He wanted to secure Germany’s long-term future as a great and powerful nation. He wanted to end the barbarism of Bolshevism. He also pleaded eloquently for peace at times. Yet the sum total of his work was the greatest destruction in human history.



John Chuckman

“Perhaps America will one day go fascist democratically…” William L. Shirer

Long before the unsavory American politician, Patrick Buchanan, was accused by the just-ever-so-slightly less unsavory American politician, William Bennett, of “flirting with fascism,” the country had a rich history of doing that very thing.

There is a keen and almost pathetic sense one gets from the words of many liberal American commentators insisting Mr. Bush’s war measures represent a heart-wrenching departure from the nation’s traditions. I beg to differ.

Flirting with fascism has been an important historical current since the founding of the Republic. Certain underlying attitudes and tensions, almost like buried toxic sludge, have regularly bubbled to the surface over two and a quarter centuries.

As to thinking that the election of a Democrat will change everything, well, that is twinkly-eyed, “Look what the Tooth Fairy gave me!” stuff. Mr. Gore doesn’t raise his voice against the ugly excesses, and Mr. Clinton set a dreadful, bloody precedent in Kosovo. And where is the indignant voice of major newspapers and broadcasters, the self-anointed, Fourth-Estate protectors of rights, over the murder and torture and mistreatment of prisoners?

It has often been observed that there is a kind of perpetual adolescence in America, and there is an peculiarly adolescent quality to fascism. Whether it’s in the emotions that center on uniforms, puppy-love hero worship, and drum-crashing spectacles, or in the belief that there are easy answers to society’s difficult problems, especially through the application of force. Fascism is generally associated with the notion that a people are special in some way and have a destiny or birthright to claim, given only the necessary, daring leadership. Hyper-patriotic, chest-thumping displays are typical behavior. Fascism lingers in the territory of misty, adolescent dreams about power, courage, and invincibility.

The observed niceties of Mr. Bush’s snatching and torturing people only outside the boundaries of America’s Constitutional protections, for example, is part of a long tradition of brutality-under-legalism where it’s convenient or profitable. During the first century of the new republic, the Supreme Court deemed the Bill of Rights as applying only to federal matters. Since individual states at that time were responsible for virtually everything touching people’s lives, the Bill of Rights was pretty much a parchment nullity. Which is exactly how it was treated by slaveholders and others, including Andrew Jackson, the president closest to being a genuine madman, when he practiced large-scale ethnic cleansing of native Americans.

Right at the country’s founding, some tendency towards what we now call fascism was evident. Of course, there was slavery. Dr. Johnson’s apt remarks about “drivers of Negroes” speaking of liberty and patriotism’s being “the last refuge of scoundrels,” were shafts aimed directly at Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and other Virginia “gentlemen.” And lest there be any misunderstanding on that, the incomparably-honest Johnson hated both imperialism and slavery decades before America even thought about being a separate country.

The American Constitution avoided the glaring issue of slavery, only quietly allowing the small population of slave-holders to enlarge their representation in Congress by counting each slave as three-fifths of a person represented. To further secure the interests of slavery, the Senate was designed to give disproportionate power to states with small populations. One might call this the backwater bias of the Constitution, and, to this day, it assures that truly parochial, uninformed politicians fill many important committees, committees that are the real power in Congress (For non-American readers, this is so because rural Congressional seats often tend to become lifetime sinecures, and appointments to committees are based on tenure).

Contrary to a common belief, the intellectually-advanced world of the late 18th century had already passed judgment on slavery. It was not an acceptable institution among the thoughtful and morally considerate. Men like Jefferson understood this, being in communication with many thinkers in Europe, and that’s why he felt compelled to write some noble-sounding rhetoric against slavery while continuing all his life to enjoy its benefits. Even with two hundred slaves, Jefferson was so addicted to luxury that he died in debt, often buying new silver buckles or a fancy new coach rather than paying old debts.

So too Madison, although his words on the subject ring with considerably-less nobility than Jefferson’s. The “father” of the Bill of Rights advocated all his adult life the mass deportation of black slaves to Africa (as did Jefferson), if and when by some miracle they were liberated and only providing their owners were fully compensated for lost property. Never mind that many slaves had been born in the United States, some going back more generations than many planters, or had grown to have attachments in the course of their lives of forced exile, off they all would go to Africa.

Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence (amended by other committee members and edited down mercilessly by members of the Continental Congress) actually included a lengthy, whining effort to blame Britain for imposing the slave trade on the colonies, as though there could be a trade without ready buyers. Of course, by the late 18th century, the slave trade was beginning to put downward pressure on the value of Virginia’s human holdings. After all, breeding slaves itself would become a business, and the laws of supply and demand worked even for human commodities. When Congress later put a moratorium on the trade, it was with this economic reality in mind, and not with any urgent sense of morality.

Thomas Jefferson conducted one of the most ruthlessly-oppressive policies ever undertaken by an American President. Determined not to go to war with Britain over grievances that, afterwards under Madison, caused the War of 1812, Jefferson imposed an embargo on trade with Britain. It was a foolish policy and a vivid example of Jefferson’s intense single-mindedness where he believed he was right.

The embargo crippled New England, most of its trade being with Britain or the British colonies of the West Indies and Canada, and drove hundreds of established businesses into bankruptcy. Opposition to the law was determined, as one can imagine with people’s very livelihoods at stake, indeed it started a serious movement towards New England’s secession from the Union. Jefferson only became enraged and demanded ruthless enforcement. He came down extremely harshly on people who were only trying to earn a living, treating them as though they had committed crimes against the state.

Now, this was the same Jefferson who during an earlier, ineffective, colonial embargo, insisted on ignoring it to import the special English windows he wanted for his pet project, Monticello. This was the same Jefferson who had come to power accusing the John Adam’s administration of tearing at the very fabric of the Republic with its Alien and Sedition Acts, laws intended to prevent the hot embers of the French revolution from starting a fire in America.

The Alien and Sedition Acts were indeed ugly laws, typical of what any American today would think of when he or she thinks of fascism, including the power to throw people into prison for saying or writing anything disrespectful of the national government. Ironically, the Alien and Sedition Acts were never enforced in the same ruthless fashion as Jefferson’s embargo. Only a small number of people suffered seriously under them, while Jefferson put New England into a great depression and arrested anyone who opposed his doing so.

Jefferson was a great admirer of the French Revolution, and he did not cease admiring it even when it started being very bloody. This man who never lifted a musket during the Revolution and who as governor of Virginia dropped all the state’s business to gallop away as the British approached Charlotttesville (there was actually an official investigation into his behavior) was always writing lurid stuff about the need for “blood to fertilize the tree of liberty.” Conor Cruise O’Brien has quite accurately compared some of his expressions admiring what was happening in France to someone admiring the statecraft of Pol Pot.

When the slaves of Haiti rebelled against the French revolutionary government, Jefferson, then Secretary of State, was horrified at the idea of a republic run by ex-slaves. Later as President, he imposed an embargo against Haiti and supported Napoleon’s bloody, unsuccessful effort to restore French control. So much for the Jeffersonian “Empire of Liberty” where blacks were concerned.

So that I may keep this piece to a reasonable length, I’m going to skip to the Twentieth Century, although in doing so I leave behind some rich examples of America’s continuing, lurching dance with fascism.

General Douglas McArthur, who later distinguished himself as a general who would challenge directly civilian control over the military, first achieved some note for leading troops in Washington in 1932, exceeding his authority to beat in the heads of bonus-marchers, veterans of World War l who had fallen on hard times and sought early payment of a Congressionally-authorized bonus for their war service.

During the early Twentieth Century, eugenics became an important movement in the United States. There were many dreadful laws passed that required the involuntary sterilization of those considered unfit to reproduce. The program during the 1930s was huge with tens of thousands of legal victims. It may surprise many Americans, but the program was larger and more developed than one that existed in Hitler’s Germany at the same period. Indeed, it was admired by many Nazis.

If you want to get a real flavor for what was a very prominent strain of American thinking of the time, you should read the startling words of Henry Ford, a truly hateful man. Or you might sample the wisdom of Charles Lindbergh on Nazis.

Speaking of Nazis, there was a Bund movement in America. This organization was popular in the 1930s. At a 1939 rally in New York, the Bund drew 20,000 people. These dashing fellows held special summer camps and marched around in dark uniforms and jackboots just like Ernest Roehm’s gang of thugs, the SA, had in the years leading up to Hitler’s taking power.

The Pledge of Allegiance was given throughout the 1930s with a salute exactly like that of the Nazis with the right arm extended out and slightly upward. Only in 1942, when the pledge first gained some official status in being incorporated by Congress into the flag code and the nation was at war with Hitler, was this practice stopped.

Of course, there were the various massacres of blacks, especially during the 1920s. These were horrific events, complete with hidden mass graves, every bit as terrible as the kind of acts we associate with Kosovo. The Klu Klux Klan became a powerful movement, estimates of its membership in the mid-1920s are 4 to 5 million, at a time when the U.S. population was less than 40% of what it is now, although participation dropped quickly after a series of financial scandals and the start of the Great Depression.

Brandeis University in Massachusetts was founded in 1947 with the aim of creating a Jewish institution for higher learning that would one day compete with Harvard and Yale and the other ivy-league universities. Why would this be necessary? Because at that time these eminent institutions of learning only reluctantly accepted Jews and in small numbers. How did they know people were Jews? The same way the Nazis did, you asked them. And where you didn’t believe the answers, you made assumptions. And note that date, 1947.

After Word War II, it was common to hear American ex-servicemen say that the U.S. had fought against the wrong side. How anyone could say this, after the revelations of the death camps, is almost unbelievable. Yet I have heard this said by men who otherwise seemed decent, ordinary citizens.

Guilt over America’s treatment of Jews was part of the reason for the government’s postwar support of the new state of Israel. Before the Final Solution – which only started when the 1941 invasion of Russia provided an environment of total chaos to hide the unspeakable work of the Einsatzkommandos – Hitler was willing to deport all the Jews, just as Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain had done in 1492.

Of course, one of the most logical places for them to go was the wide open spaces of the United States, but Americans wanted no part of that. It was political anathema during this period to advocate accepting Jews from Europe. A boatload of Jews seeking asylum in the U.S. before the war was turned away. Although killing Jews at that point in the Reich was not common, treating them as less-than human was a matter of law. America’s behavior very much served to confirm Hitler in his belief that no one wanted the Jews.

America’s postwar support for Israel also had a dark underside. American politicians gladly embraced the benefit of large numbers of Jews migrating from war-ravaged Europe to any place other than America. It was one of those happy opportunities in history, much as with the moratorium on the slave trade, when you can do something utterly selfish while taking credit for noble motives.

The traditions of the American Bund come right down to the militia movements and Aryan “church” movements of our own day. There is absolutely nothing exceptional about these people in American history. Timothy McVeigh has been reincarnated many times in American history. And one should recall that Mr. McVeigh’s most cherished ambition had been to become a Green Beret, the brave fellows who murdered at least twenty thousand civilians – yes, that’s civilians, not soldiers – as part of Operation Phoenix during the war in Vietnam.

The FBI never took a determined interest in these bizarre, violent groups before events in Oklahoma City, an observation which brings me to the dramatic civil-rights movement in the 1950s and early 1960s. Hollywood often portrays the FBI as having been at the forefront of the fight for human rights and dignity. This is utterly false. J. Edgar Hoover hated blacks, would not allow them to become FBI agents, and acted as though a few pitiful communists were a vastly greater threat than the club-swinging, church-going lunatics in the South. Only under intense political pressure did the FBI become more actively involved in the violence against blacks and civil-rights workers.

Still, despite the FBI’s turnaround, Dr. King, one of America’s authentic modern heroes, later was the victim of an ugly FBI project, part of COINTELPRO, reminiscent of the kind of thing South African secret police practiced under Apartheid. Intimate tapes and suggestive, threatening letters were sent to the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize with the intention of shaming him and hopefully inducing his suicide. Visitors to the nation’s capital will notice that Mr. Hoover’s name yet remains in big, shiny letters on FBI headquarters, much as the Confederate battle-flag still waves from official flagpoles in parts of the South.

Some of the Southern states, right into the 1960s, actually had secret state agencies that operated very much like the Gestapo in gathering information about, and intimidating, people concerned with civil rights.

The Southern Baptist Convention, one of the largest fundamentalist churches in America, was founded in 1845 by extreme, pro-slavery interests and has never since been a voice for tolerance or broad human rights. Recently-released recordings of Billy Graham, the nation’s most famous Southern Baptist, talking with the late President Nixon, reveal not only anti-Semitism but an unblinking willingness to see nuclear weapons used on Asians.

There have been many debates over the ethnic-origin questions in the American census. Despite the fact that most Americans are of mixed descent, and despite the fact many are not even aware of their ancestors beyond a generation or two, they are still asked in every census to identify their ethnic/national origins.

After two hundred years of slavery and another hundred years of de facto servitude, breathes there one black person in America without European genes? Are there Hispanic people without American Indian genes, or, going back centuries earlier to Spain, without Moorish genes? Even the English are a hybrid people of early Britons, Romans, Scandinavians, Germans, Norman French, and other bits. Indeed, since it is quite possible all the world’s peoples originated out of Africa, what can be the meaning of such questions? Is ethnicity defined by some arbitrary length of time? Is it defined only by a last name whose national origin almost always hides an immensely-complicated past? What do these intrusive questions achieve that is of genuine scientific or social value?

The same kinds of questions are routinely asked by potential employers to comply with certain federal regulations. Somehow, America has managed to turn an effort at insuring equality of opportunity into another collection of statistics about race. Totally inappropriate forms are supplied by potential employers to be filled with information about the applicant’s ethnic origin/race. They are blunt and insulting, but always come with the official assurance that the information has no bearing on your employment and remains confidential.

That is just a brief reflection on some dark, violent, and unmistakably-fascist events and attitudes that helped shape American history, and there is every indication they will continue shaping it for many years to come. What’s more, William L. Shirer in making his famous remark about fascism and America perhaps never anticipated the possibility of people cozy with fascism coming to power without actually being elected.