There are a lot of reasons for a progressive caring person not to be focused on the growing threat of fascism in the United States. After getting past all the pressing needs of one’s personal life (in a society of long hours, financial insecurity, poor healthcare, energetic kids drugged, a record number of adults imprisoned, the most finely tuned propaganda system ever devised, not to mention intimidation and fear), the main stumbling block is that everything is turned into a partisan question. If you’re focused on the growing violence and hatred and lawlessness of Republicans, then you’re cheerleading for the Democrats.
This can feel like falling for a giant scam. Democrats, who campaign on basically doing whatever the weapons companies and corporations want but not being as hateful and bigoted (toward anyone other than war enemies) as Republicans, are not capable of saving us from environmental or nuclear apocalypse, and are frankly not worthy of support. The violence at home is being fueled by the wars abroad so beloved by both parties, while the corporate media blathers on and on about the horrors of a political divide, not to mention the supposed desirability of bipartisanship, while both parties oppose majority opinion on dozens of critical issues. The two parties in Congress driving the nuclear and environmental risks could star in a reality show where half of them marry the other half, and we’d still be buying fighter jets instead of schools or hospitals or houses.
Around 2003 or so, when a war could be fraudulently depicted as an exclusively Republican endeavor, a lot of self-identifying Democrats claimed to oppose war. Now that fascism is a Republican agenda, we’ve got Democrats going so far as to talk about U.S. support for fascism back in the 1930s and 1940s, a previously rather taboo topic. Ken Burns has made a film about U.S. refusal to aid victims of the Holocaust, not to tear down the central myth of the One True Good War, but to associate old-time fascism with Donald Trump. Rachel Maddow has produced a series of videos about Congressional support for Nazism and coup attempts against FDR. The New York Times has asked why, if hateful monuments are coming down, nobody ever mentions those to Wernher von Braun. Wow, if nothing is sacred but partisanship, I don’t want to touch partisanship with a a COVID-proof suit on.
But here’s the thing. There really is a major divide within the U.S. public. Yes, it’s complicated as all hell, and much of it ought by all rights to be redirected into a divide between the oligarchs and the rest of us. But where it is a divide between those backing hatred and bigotry and violence, and those backing understanding, compassion, and acceptance — no matter if people tell you it’s a partisan divide or not — one has a moral obligation to be on the . . . — no, not the side of understanding, compassion, and acceptance. One has a moral obligation to act with understanding and compassion to bring about reconciliation and close the divide rather than taking sides.
Violence and political violence are being normalized. A coup effort in Washington, D.C., is treated as a joke, while far more humorous coup efforts against Venezuela are treated as super serious. Congress Members speak hatefully and threateningly of each other and of whole segments of the population. Ethnicities are blamed for pandemics and wars. A defeated candidate in New Mexico tries to kill his opponents. Police violence and mass shootings are all over the news. The police for whom Atlanta is building Cop City have already started killing people on the site. This is neither acceptable, nor going to be fixed by taking sides, especially not partisan sides. We need, as Robert Koehler has written, to work on repairing a society.
I recently read a remarkable book called The Tragedy of Ukraine by Nicolai Petro and interviewed him for my radio show (coming soon). He makes a case that deep cultural divides in Ukraine could have been and should have been addressed at any time during the past century or more, as well as a case for how to address them in the future if the war ever ends. But, rather distressingly, Petro tells me that during the war is a time of such collective insanity that healing conflict resolution is just not possible. The good news is that the United States is not yet in a civil war. The bad news is how many people will already declare it utterly impossible — not to mention treasonous and shameful — to propose resolving the divide. That is itself a good sign that an actual war is not far off.
Of course, some people have been trying for decades now to bridge the growing divide, to create conversations and friendships, even polite debates above the toddler or cable news level. But it would sure help if corporate media would contribute. One problem is that millions of people could unite against the combined abuses of corporations and government, but corporate media beholden to government would never stand for that. Another problem is that the illusion of democracy and difference and a dramatic range of policy — not just rhetorical — choices at the polls dovetails perfectly with the sort of brainless horserace “news” reporting that is cheap and popular. It’s hard for people to understand that they have roles to play on more than one day every two years when billions of dollars are spent every year telling them otherwise.
It’s hard to see that the problem is oligarchy when you believe that the rich love you and their opponents hate you. But it’s also hard to see that poor, struggling, rural white people might dislike being the only group it’s acceptable to make bigoted jokes about when every time you hear about them on TV it’s because they’re shooting somebody. Sooner or later we have to become smarter and more generous of heart than media outlets as well as political parties, even as they defund our schools, or they’re going to be the end of us.
Yes, fascism will only be the end of us in combination with environmental collapse or war. But any disaster can be made worse by the addition of another, and anything we can do to prevent that we should do.