Rising fascism in the US

Reply Wed 6 Sep, 2023 12:29 pm
Behold the Free Speech Chutzpah of the Republican Party

A solid majority of Republicans continue to believe that Donald Trump won the 2020 election — evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Virtually all Democrats believe that Trump did, in fact, lose the 2020 election and that Biden won fair and square.

Now in an extraordinary display of chutzpah, Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, and fellow Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have accused Democrats of violating the First Amendment rights of election deniers.

In a June 26, 2023, interim staff report, Jordan and his colleagues charged that the Biden administration “colluded with big tech and ‘disinformation’ partners to censor” those who claimed that Trump won in 2020.

The report, “The Weaponization of CISA: How a ‘Cybersecurity’ Agency Colluded With Big Tech and ‘Disinformation’ Partners to Censor Americans,” makes the argument that

• the First Amendment recognizes that no person or entity has a monopoly on the truth, and that the “truth” of today can quickly become the “misinformation” of tomorrow. Labeling speech “misinformation” or “disinformation” does not strip it of its First Amendment protection. As such, under the Constitution, the federal government is strictly prohibited from censoring Americans’ political speech.

These civil libertarian claims of unconstitutional suppression of speech come from the same Republican Party that is leading the charge to censor the teaching of what it calls divisive concepts about race, the same party that expelled two Democratic members of the Tennessee state legislature who loudly called for more gun control after a school shooting, the same party that threatens to impeach a liberal judge in North Carolina for speaking out about racial bias, the same party that has aided and abetted book banning in red states across the country.

In other words, it is Republicans who have become the driving force in deploying censorship to silence the opposition, simultaneously claiming that their own First Amendment rights are threatened by Democrats.

One of the most egregious examples of Republican censorship is taking place in North Carolina, where a state judicial commission has initiated an investigation of Anita Earls, a Black State Supreme Court justice, because she publicly called for increased diversity in the court system.

A June 2 Law360 piece examined the racial and gender composition of the North Carolina judiciary and found “that out of 22 appellate jurists — seven state Supreme Court justices and 15 Court of Appeals judges — 64 percent are male and 86 percent are white.”

The article then quoted Earls: “It has been shown by social scientists that diverse decision-making bodies do a better job. … I really feel like everyone’s voice needs to be heard, and if you don’t have a diverse judicial system, perspectives and views are not being heard, you’re not making decisions that are in the interests of the entire society. And I feel like that’s wrong.”

On Aug. 15, the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission notified Earls that it was opening an investigation “based on an interview you since gave to the media in which you appear to allege that your Supreme Court colleagues are acting out of racial, gender and/or political bias in some of their decision-making.”

Earls’s interview, the notification letter continued, “potentially violates Canon 2A of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires a judge to conduct herself ‘at all times in a manner which promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.’”

On Aug. 29, Earls filed suit in federal court charging that there is “an ongoing campaign on the part of the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission to stifle” her First Amendment free speech rights “and expose her to punishment that ranges from a letter of caution that becomes part of a permanent file available to any entity conducting a background check to removal from the bench.”

At the center of Republican efforts to censor ideological adversaries is an extensive drive to regulate what is taught in public schools and colleges.

In an Education Week article published last year, “Here’s the Long List of Topics Republicans Want Banned From the Classroom,” Sarah Schwartz and Eesha Pendharkar provided a laundry list of Republican state laws regulating education:

• Since January 2021, 14 states have passed into law what’s popularly referred to as “anti-critical race theory” legislation. These laws and orders, combined with local actions to restrict certain types of instruction, now impact more than one out of every three children in the country, according to a recent study from U.C.L.A.'

Schwartz and Pendharkar also noted that “many of these new bills propose withholding funding from school districts that don’t comply with these regulations. Some, though, would allow parents to sue individual educators who provide banned material to students, potentially collecting thousands of dollars.”

What’s more, “Most prohibited teaching a list of ‘divisive concepts,’ which originally appeared in an executive order signed by then-President Donald Trump in fall 2020.”

The Trump order, Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping, included prohibitions on the following “divisive concepts”:

• That an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex; that any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or that meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by a particular race to oppress another race.

The censorship effort has been quite successful.

In a February 2022 article, “New Critical Race Theory Laws Have Teachers Scared, Confused and Self-Censoring,” The Washington Post reported that “in 13 states, new laws or directives govern how race can be taught in schools, in some cases creating reporting systems for complaints. The result, teachers and principals say, is a climate of fear around how to comply with rules they often do not understand.”

Larry Summers, a former president of Harvard who is a professor of economics there, argued in an email that issues of free speech are not easily resolved.

The problem, Summers wrote, “comes from both sides. Ron DeSantis’s efforts to limit what he regards as critical race theory is deplorable, as are efforts on Ivy League campuses to discredit and devalue those with unfashionable beliefs about diversity or the role of genes or things military.”

But, Summers continued,

• it’s sometimes a bit harder than the good guys make out. What about cultures of intolerance where those who, for example, believe in genetic determinism are shunned, and graduate students all exhibit their academic freedom rights to not be the teaching fellows of faculty with those beliefs. Does ideological diversity mean philosophy departments need to treat Ayn Rand with dignity or biology departments need to hear out creationism?

“What about professional schools where professional ethics are part of what is being instilled?” Summers asked, adding:

• Could a law school consider hiring a lawyer who, while in government, defended coercive interrogation practices? Under what circumstances should one accept, perhaps insist on university leaders criticizing speech? I have been fond of saying academic freedom does not include freedom from criticism, but when should leaders speak out? Was I right to condemn calls for divesting in Israel as antisemitic in effect, if not intent? When should speech be attacked?'

There is, at this moment, a nascent mobilization on many campuses of organizations determined to defend free speech rights, to reject the sanctioning of professors and students and to ensure the safety of controversial speakers.

Graduates of 22 colleges and universities have formed branches of the Alumni Free Speech Alliance “to support free speech, academic freedom and viewpoint diversity.”

At Harvard, 133 members of the faculty have joined the Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard, dedicated to upholding the free speech guidelines adopted by the university in 1990:

• Free speech is uniquely important to the university because we are a community committed to reason and rational discourse. Free interchange of ideas is vital for our primary function of discovering and disseminating ideas through research, teaching and learning.'

Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at the school and a founder of the group, wrote in an email that achieving this goal is much tougher than generally believed:

• To understand the recent assaults on free speech, we need to flip the question: not why diverse opinions are being suppressed, but why they are tolerated. Freedom of speech is an exotic, counterintuitive concept. What’s intuitive is that the people who disagree with me are spreading dangerous falsehoods and must be stifled for the greater good. The realization that everyone feels this way, that all humans are fallible, that however confident I am in my beliefs, I may be wrong and that the only way we can collectively approach the truth is to allow opinions to be expressed and then evaluate them, requires feats of abstraction and self-control.'

The example I cited at the beginning of this column — the charge that the Biden administration “colluded with big tech and ‘disinformation’ partners to censor” the claims of election deniers — has proved to be a case study of a successful Republican tactic on several fronts.

Republicans claimed the moral high ground as the victims of censorship, throwing their adversaries on the defensive and quieting their opponents.

On June 6, The Washington Post reported, in “These Academics Studied Falsehoods Spread by Trump. Now the G.O.P. Wants Answers,” that

• the pressure has forced some researchers to change their approach or step back, even as disinformation is rising ahead of the 2024 election. As artificial intelligence makes deception easier and platforms relax their rules on political hoaxes, industry veterans say they fear that young scholars will avoid studying disinformation.

One of the underlying issues in the free speech debate is the unequal distribution of power. Paul Frymer, a political scientist at Princeton, raised a question in reply to my email: “I wonder if the century-long standard for why we defend free speech — that we need a fairly absolute marketplace of ideas to allow all ideas to be heard (with a few exceptions), deliberated upon and that the truth will ultimately win out — is a bit dated in this modern era of social media, algorithms and, most importantly, profound corporate power.”

While there has always been a corporate skew to speech, Frymer argued,

• in the modern era, technology enables such an overwhelming drowning out of different ideas. How long are we hanging on to the protection of a hypothetical — that someone will find the truth on the 40th page of a Google search or a podcast with no corporate backing? How long do we defend a hypothetical when the reality is so strongly skewed toward the suppression of the meaningful exercise of free speech?'

Frymer contended that

• we do seem to need regulation of speech, in some form, more than ever. I’m not convinced we can’t find a way to do it that would enable our society to be more just and informed. The stakes — the fragility of democracy, the increasing hatred and violence on the basis of demographic categories and the health of our planet — are extremely high to defend a single idea with no compromise.'

Frymer suggested that ultimately

• we can’t consider free speech without at least some understanding of power. We can’t assume in all contexts that the truth will ever come out; unregulated speech does not mean free speech.

From a different vantage point, Robert C. Post, a law professor at Yale, argued in an email that the censorship/free speech debate has run amok:

• It certainly has gone haywire. The way I understand it is that freedom of speech has not been a principled commitment but has been used instrumentally to attain other political ends. The very folks who were so active in demanding freedom of speech in universities have turned around and imposed unconscionable censorship on schools and libraries. The very folks who have demanded a freedom of speech for minority groups have sought to suppress offensive and racist speech.'

The framing in the current debate over free speech and the First Amendment, Post contended, is dangerously off-kilter. He sent me an article he wrote that will be published shortly by the scholarly journal Daedalus, “The Unfortunate Consequences of a Misguided Free Speech Principle.” In it he notes that the issues are not just more complex than generally recognized but also are distorted by false assumptions.

Post makes the case that there is “a widespread tendency to conceptualize the problem as one of free speech. We imagine that the crisis would be resolved if only we could speak more freely.” In fact, he writes, “the difficulty we face is not one of free speech, but of politics. Our capacity to speak has been disrupted because our politics has become diseased.”

He specifically faults a widely read March 2022 Times editorial, “America Has a Free Speech Problem,” that warned:

• Americans are losing hold of a fundamental right as citizens of a free country: the right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned.

Post observes that

• no such right exists in any well-ordered society. If I walk into a room shouting outrageous slurs, I should expect to be shamed and shunned. Only a demoralized community would passively accept irresponsibly hurtful speech.

People constantly “balance self-restraint against the need for candor.”

Arguments that the protection of free speech is crucial to the preservation of democracy, Post maintains, “encourage us to forget that the fundamental point of public discourse is the political legitimation of the state. Our public discourse is successful when it produces a healthy public opinion capable of making state power answerable to politics.”

In Post’s view, polarization “is not a simple question of speech. It is the corrosive dissolution of the political commitments by which Americans have forged themselves into a single nation. If we conceptualize public discourse as a social practice, we can see that its failures stem from this fundamental problem.”

In this context, Post concludes,

• Politics is possible only when diverse persons agree to be bound by a common fate. Lacking that fundamental commitment, politics can easily slide into an existential struggle for survival that is the equivalent of war. We can too easily come to imagine our opponents as enemies, whose victory would mean the collapse of the nation.

In such circumstances, Post continues,

• Political debate can no longer produce a healthy and legitimate democratic will. However inclusive we may make our public discourse, however tolerant of the infinite realms of potential diversity we may become, the social practice of public discourse will fail to achieve its purpose so long as we no longer experience ourselves as tied to a common destiny.

“We cannot now speak to each other because something has already gone violently wrong with our political community,” Post writes. “The underlying issue is not our speech, but our politics. So long as we insist on allegiance to a mythical free speech principle that exists immaculately distinct from the concrete social practices, we shall look for solutions in all the wrong places.”

0 Replies
Reply Fri 29 Sep, 2023 05:59 pm
Putin and the presidents: Timothy Snyder interview. FRONTLINE

Whether Ukraine wins or loses, which is pretty much up to the United States, very much up to the Biden administration, is something that historians will be writing about in a hundred years.

If you seriously believe that just privatizing things is going to end up with a good political system, then Russia should be a good political system because they did privatize things. But in fact-- and this is a good lesson for everybody-- if too few people own too much of the stuff, and if too few people dominate the media, you're not going to end up with a democracy whether you're America, whether you're russia, or whether you're anybody else.

Russia's not trying to make America like Russia; Russia's just trying to turn America into a total mess. That's what they're going for. And that's a kind of power. And it's consistent, by the way, with a lot of Soviet history. It's not so much making everybody else believe your ideas, it's making sure that nobody else can make a serious challenge to you.

... I think we dismissed Russia as weak rather than realizing that the people who run the Russian state are very intelligent, that they have no desire to have democracy, that they're not going to wait and let it happen to them, but instead they're going to go on the offensive and try to undermine it in other places. [such as Trump and Brexit]

So Russia invades Ukraine because it looks like Ukraine could become a functioning rule-of-law state, which would join the European Union. It doesn't have a whole lot to do with America. But it has to do with is the possibility that a post-Soviet Union country next to Russia, we're a lot of people speak russian, which in a lot of ways is not so different from Russia, that that country could actually become a rule-of-law state and join the European union. That is what Russian needed to prevent in 2013, and that is what Russia needed to prevent a 2014 when it invaded Ukraine.

It's clear that Putin wanted Trump to win, he said as much. It's clear that he applauded Trump's idea that the European Union isn't really a thing. In general, what Trump does for Putin is he normalizes the Russian way of doing politics.

So Putin's View that democracy is a joke, you can lie all the time, politics is fundamentally about some rich guy becoming richer, corruption is normal, Trump normalizes that for the whole world. Trump did, he took Putin and he made Putin normal. He put Putin in the middle. Putin was now no longer something exceptional. Putin was now something normal thanks to Donald Trump, and that has a tremendously negative effect on politics around the world, I think.

Trump is there to tell you that democracy is a joke. Trump is there to tell you that the rules don't apply to everyone equally;
They don't apply to him.

So January 6th, apart from else, leads directly to the war in Ukraine because it looks like not just America is morally discredited, it looks like America is weak.

And, of course, trump doesn't care at all about democracy. He doesn't care about American democracy, and he doesn't care about democracy anywhere. He's a gift not just to Putin but to all dictators around the world, especially the great ones who came out of a quasi-democratic background because he seems to show you can start with democracy and end up in tyranny.

0 Replies
Walter Hinteler
Reply Sat 30 Sep, 2023 05:43 am
A new book examines the history of far-right authoritarian US groups – and ways the public has chosen to look away

Fascism in America: a long history that predates Trump
Pro-Nazi propaganda, courtesy of the US post office? This unlikely scheme was hatched by George Sylvester Viereck, a German-born American who between 1937 and 1941 sought to marshal US sentiment against intervention in Europe. Those who heeded him included prominent members of Congress, such as Burton Wheeler of Montana and Rush Holt Sr of West Virginia, anti-interventionist Democratic senators known for speeches that prompted accusations of antisemitism. Viereck’s contacts on Capitol Hill allowed him to place anti-interventionist speeches in the appendix to the congressional record. Thanks to friends in high places, he could order inexpensive reprints and have German-American groups mail them out on government postage.

If this sounds out of place in the land of the free, it shouldn’t – according to an illuminating new anthology, Fascism in America: Past and Present, edited by Gavriel D Rosenfeld and Janet Ward. In 12 chapters plus an introduction and epilogue, the co-editors and their contributors make the case that fascism has existed on US soil for well past a century and remains disturbingly present today.

“We don’t sufficiently teach civics or democratic awareness [in high schools], how fascism and far-right extremist movements have a long history in the US,” Rosenfeld said. “We think we’re an exception, that America fought ‘the good war’ to defeat fascism and Nazism. We patted ourselves on the back for many decades as ‘the greatest generation’ – a useful myth for American public life that blinded us to darker undercurrents in our society.”

Ward mentions history from even further back, “eugenics-based scientific standards” that “informed opinions and policies on what it meant to be included not just as fully American, but as fully human” in the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, subsequently influencing Nazi laws regarding race.

Rosenfeld is president of the Center for Jewish History in New York and a professor of history at Fairfield University in Connecticut. From the UK, Ward is a history professor at the University of Oklahoma; she is a past president of the German Studies Association and was an American Council on Education fellow at Yale. Both are scholars of Germany, including the second world war and the Holocaust. (Rosenfeld authored a chapter in the anthology, on alternate histories of the war, from The Plot Against America to Watchmen.) Both editors became alarmed by developments during the Trump administration that suggested parallels with the rise of Nazism and hinted at a reawakening of homegrown fascist sentiments lying dormant for decades.

“We redirected attention on our own backyard and applied the same kind of lens to a place that had not been subject to the same kind of scrutiny, the vulnerabilities in our own kind of democratic institutions,” Rosenfeld said. “We reached out to scholars in related fields – American studies, Black studies – to see what we could learn from the American experience … We were equally concerned about the present-day democratic backsliding.”

Ward said: “More than one country has turned toward populism and the extreme right. It began to worry a lot of us, not just academics but cultural commentators.” The resulting volume is “very much part of a new awareness of the way in which traditional academics circulate to a broader public”.

Collaborators include the New York University history professor Linda Gordon, who incorporated findings from a forthcoming project and The Second Coming of the KKK, her 2017 book about the years after the first world war. Ousmane K Power-Greene, an African American scholar at Clark University in Massachusetts, examined Black antifascist activism from the 1960s to the 1980s, by activists such as Angela Davis and H Rap Brown.

Trump comes up repeatedly. Thomas Weber, of the University of Aberdeen, compares “Anarchy and the State of Nature in Donald Trump’s America and Adolf Hitler’s Germany”. Marla Stone of Occidental College researched Trump-era detention facilities for migrant children. Her chapter title: “Concentration Camps in Trump’s America?”

“It’s not just that we wanted to determine for ourselves, is Trump a fascist or not, is Trumpism fascist or not, is Maga-ism fascist or not,” Rosenfeld said, noting that such questions are frequently posed by scholars, journalists and readers. “We try to trace the evolving debate, the historical shift over time – of course, after the Charlottesville Unite the Right march in 2017 … [Trump’s] defending the Proud Boys at the 2020 debate, obviously after January 6 … it’s been a moving target.”

Yet, Rosenfeld said, “ever since January 6, more people are inclined to believe that even if Trump is not a dogmatic fascist, so many of his followers are willing to use violence to overturn the rule of law, the constitution, to make it very concerning for people. At a certain point, you want to be safe rather than sorry, err on the side of caution, to believe we’re in a potential fascist moment.”

The book suggests fascism in America might date back as far as the late 19th century, amid Jim Crow laws in the south and nativist fears over immigration from Europe. In the early 20th century, the US enacted infamously high immigration quotas, while domestic white supremacist groups thrived: the Ku Klux Klan during its 1920s resurgence, followed by Depression-era proto-fascist militant groups such as the Silver Legion, under William Dudley Pelley. While the interwar years witnessed clandestine German-backed attempts to mobilize Americans against intervention, the book makes it clear fascism needed no foreign encouragement.

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0 Replies

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