Sunday, April 8, 2018

A dirty word that begins with F

1958-1959 I was spending my university junior year abroad in  Berlin. It was a heady time for a US political science major wondering what did  happen and why what was happening now was going so wrong and so right simultaneously. It was a bit over  twelve years after World WW II ended. I walked through the rubble and desolate stretches of bombed out empty spaces on both sides of the Brandenburg Gates. The Wall had not yet been built. It was a hands on view as one form of fascism lay in ruins and the Soviets consolidated control of their conquered eastern sector.  Fascism was fresh in the memories of my fellow students who had survived Hitler’s regime and my roommate in my British sector governed dormitory was from the now Soviet controlled sector. I met a young medical student from Yugoslavia, then a communist country headed by dictator Tito. We later married and we were together for over the next 50 years until he passed away. He became a US citizen, active in civic affairs, with certificates and plaques hanging on our walls to attest how much he loved life in America, democracy, and the freedom to pursue his dreams.

At my age now there are  few left who have institutional memories of three forms of government and their impact on people's’ lives. It is easy to read history books, but it is  also easy to miss the lessons we could learn from them. Human nature being what it is, there are innate tendencies to steer us directions that gets us into unanticipated misery.

This is what I have learned:  When people are fearful, confused by chaos out of their control, feel victimized or losing  economic and political power they once had, communism and fascism find fertile ground. There is a human streak  longing to be part of the ruling group (some call that tribalism or racism) and to find blame and to put down the offenders. Demagogues play on fears of loss of power and a sense of victimization.  At the same time, those feeling wronged look for a leader to lead them from the wilderness. What both communism and fascism leadership had in common is that they played that “strong man “ role. One buried capitalism; Hitler and Mussolini harnessed  private sector business. These totalitarian dictators seized the reins of governmental power, Hitler and Mussolini by democratic means, Stalin by taking over a revolution. They then began consolidating power step by step, often under the public' radar or with majority's tacit or enthusiastic approval. The fascists gained control of media by destroying opposition by violence or  by manipulating governmental processes and destroyed the rule of law to their benefit. They eliminated whomever got in their way or were “others” in gulags, firing squads, assassinations, concentration camps, and ovens. They demanded total loyalty to them personally instead of to the rule of law from citizens and those in government, including judges and once freely elected governing bodies. Theirs were the only truth and facts; any realities to the contrary were buried. Their regimes and their citizens ended in figurative and physical rubble.

Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that  reviewed the current tendency throughout the world to revert to autocratic leaders and to manipulate the destruction of  democratic institutions to consolidate their power. She saw that same tendency in the US in the instinctive modus operandi of Donald Trump who disdains the rule of law, finds "others" to scapegoat, sees critical media as fake or enemies of the people (sic. himself), and dog whistles to the racists. Albright is no left winger given to extreme speech. She has the gravitas of hands on experience from WWII to now. The question posed by her opinion piece headline was “Will we stop Trump before it is too late”.  The word she used describing what she fears starts with F. Fascism .


Her book launched at the same time, Fascism: A Warning
in which she lays out in detail why she sees those tendencies in President Trump. It is not only calling it as she sees it rising in may parts of the world, she connected the word Fascism to Donald Trump, making use of that word in public discourse to describe his modus operandi more historically fact based than just inflammatory. She does not leave it at that and issues a call for action as well.

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