A trifle over one year ago, I wrote about fascism in America and in general, working from the American Heritage definition:
Fascism. A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.I found that although the situation was certainly getting closer to fascism, it was still so far away from it that an attempt to call the US government fascist would require calling many other governments fascist, from France to Japan to Brazil. I think at that point the term loses its meaning. Now, as I’ve said before, I think that many of the people in Our Only President’s cabal of crooks and incompetents are fascists. They would like to go on centralizing authority until it was all under their control. They would like to impose socioeconomic controls, although the economic controls would probably not be recognizable as stringent, being primarily transfers of power from lower-echelon governmental bodies to their friends in the boardrooms. The social controls, on the other hand, I suspect would be surprisingly stringent. As for suppression of the opposition, well, I think there are certainly some with a taste for that in the government. And we have seen both belligerent nationalism and racism peeking out through the eyes of Our Only President himself this week. However, this administration has not succeeded over the last five years or so in turning a liberal democracy into a fascist state.
I bring all this up again, because a few weeks ago, in a conversation about the movie of V for Vendetta, I stated that one of the points Mr. Moore was attempting to make in the original comic, and which the movie brought forward fairly nicely, was that if you keep electing fascists to positions of power, eventually you will have fascism. Constitutional provisions are wonderful, and I yield to no-one in my admiration for James Madison and his collaborators, who have kept us out of fascism for two hundred years now, but a system that can withstand one or two fascist administrations may not be able to withstand three or four.
I’d been meaning to write about that for a few weeks now, as I say, and then yesterday the Boston Globe published an article by Charlie Savage called Bush challenges hundreds of laws. The article, although restrained in its tone, makes it clear that the Executive under Our Only President has reserved to itself the final decisions about the constitutionality of any given law, regulation or statute. That is, the Executive does not recognize any check on its actions by the Legislature or the Executive. Aha! Fascism!
At least in theory. Because, in all honesty, there are only a very few cases (important ones, yes, but few in number) where the Executive has actually exercised that power. And those cases are, on the whole, cases where there is some nearly-defensible connection between the proscribed action and National Securité. Not, you know, defensible enough to actually defend, or to convince the Legislature and the Judiciary to support, but, you know, near that. Or near to near that. What I’m saying is, Our Only President claims the Constitution allows him to knock over liquor stores, and that the Congress can pass all the laws it likes about knocking over liquor stores, and that it can even pass a law saying specifically that it is a crime for the President to knock over a liquor store, and he can sign that law, while still reserving the right to knock over liquor stores if it seems like a good idea at the time. That’s very bad. That’s very bad indeed. However, to date he hasn’t actually knocked over any liquor stores, and that’s good.
And if he did? Well, that’s not actually clear. Certainly the Congress ought to, at that point, begin impeachment proceedings (as, frankly, they ought to now over the little matter of warrantless wiretapping). And if they did, what would happen? Would Our Only President acknowledge the authority of the Legislature to issue subpoenas? If he or his colleagues refused to testify, would they be arrested? If it came to a break, who would the actual law enforcement officers look to for authority? Who would the Marines?
It seems obvious to me that in such a case the Congress would successfully exercise its authority, and that the various enforcement branches, including the military, would abandon an obviously criminal President. Of course, there are lots of things that are obvious to me that aren’t true, so take it as you will. But take a nearly-worst-case scenario, where the President, fearing impeachment if the Democrats take the House, and noting the polls this summer, releases information about a serious threat on election day in New York, and asks the Governor of that state to suspend elections. Would he? No, he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. I mean, technically, he would have the authority to do so, but using that authority would be the end of his political career, and make him a pariah. He would not. It’s not even clear that if he did, the localities would follow such and order. What would the President do then? Send in the Marines to shut voting booths? Would their officers follow such orders? No, I don’t think they would. Knowing that, he won’t give such orders. And Mr. Madison wins again.
Now, all that could change any day. One more scary slaughter and perhaps we will allow an election to be suspended, just until this war on terror ends. Maybe. I doubt it, myself. I think our liberal democracy is good for another two or three sets of fascists in the White House, myself. But, you know, if it does happen, if there is a tipping point where we have let just enough fascism into our government for the fascists to take over, it will appear to happen suddenly and without warning. The safe thing is to keep the pyromaniacs far away from the matches.
Still and all, for those of you who want comfort, there’s this: A comedian who nobody had heard of a few years ago publicly mocked Our Only President to his face, and has been richly rewarded for it in the esteem of the masses. Our Only President has insufficient central authority to have prevented him from doing it, insufficiently stringent control over the corporation that employs him to have him fired, and insufficient use of terror and censorship to have him shot or silenced. Or to have me shot or silenced for remarking on it. While I worry about next week, I can say today we’re not living under fascism.
chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,