Tag Archives: Fascism

The Rise of the Far Right

By Dr David Laing Dawson

In the 1988 presidential debates Mike Dukakis was asked whether he would support the death penalty should his wife, Kitty, be raped and murdered. A long time opponent of the death penalty, Dukakis responded to the startling question from CNN’s Bernard Shaw, “No, I don’t, Bernard, and I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life.”

It struck me at the time that Dukakis missed a moment in which he could be human, present himself as fully human, and at the same time as worthy of being a president.

He could have answered, “Of course. If a man raped and murdered my wife I would want to disembowel him; I would want to kill him in a manner that caused him maximum pain and suffering. Which is exactly why we have laws, and courts, and due process. Which is exactly why it cannot be my choice as victim or survivor to decide in the heat of the moment what should happen to the accused or convicted. Which is exactly why, to remain a civilized people, we must decide on appropriate penalties that will keep us civilized, that will not harden or poison our souls, that will not undermine our social contract. If the state does not value life, why should its people?”

And herein lies a human dilemma. We are biologically not far removed from chimpanzees and great apes. Our instincts, our immediate emotional responses, have been honed for years as jungle tribes. We guard our own watering hole. We are reluctant to share. We distrust the other. We are greedy. We are vengeful. We are easily brought to rage.

But, at least since the second world war, with many attempts before then, we have managed to overlay our primate instincts with a social contract that includes the rule of law. We have elected many leaders who could see beyond their primate selves and form alliances, be inclusive, share watering holes. We have created international forums, unions, agreements. At least in much of Europe and North America.

But those primitive instincts remain, the ones that led to the Holocaust, the massacres in Bosnia, the plight of the Rohingya, the destruction of Syria, the building of walls. They lie not far beneath the surface of each human. It is our collective that can overcome them, and that collective must have leaders and lawmakers who can see beyond their immediate fears and desires. Leaders and lawmakers who appeal to our better selves.

We always have had would-be leaders who could reach in and stoke our fears, fire up our distrust and hatred, get us ready to pick up torches and weapons, defend our watering holes from thirsty strangers, set upon those unlike ourselves in our villages. But, for the most part we have rejected them and chosen instead the Merkels and the Obamas. Trade has flourished. Europe has seen a long period of peace, cooperation, and open borders. Overall the people of this planet live longer and healthier lives than ever before.

I am writing this because a cousin asked me to write about the current struggles in Austria, where a far right fascist party has gained enough support to become part of a coalition government. This is happening seventy-two years after the death of Adolf Hitler, 90 years after the early Nazi’s received only 779 votes in a general election in Austria (1927), and 79 years since Nazi Germany annexed Austria.

I know little of the intricacies of Austrian life and politics. But this resurgence of the far right neo-fascist movement is occurring nearly everywhere in the west. Its leaders are appealing to our primate instincts, our rat brains. And this time, just as in the years between 1927 and 1938, they are finding more and more people responding to their simple message.

They stoke our fears and our grievances. Some of these are real. Most are manufactured or displaced. They point the finger at the other, the cause of our trouble. We respond and chant “Lock her up.” “Build a wall.” “Divorce Europe.” “Stop Immigration.”

We should have learned, especially Austrians, where this can lead. But apparently we didn’t.

Neo-fascism, jingoism, isolation, the breaking of alliances, the undermining of cooperation and the weakening of our international institutions will not fix our problems. And from recent history we know exactly where this trend can lead.

Our instant access of unfiltered world wide information, some truth, some fake, has us grossly exaggerating our risk. We find ourselves afraid of events that have a miniscule chance of occurring. We fear a terrorist attack more than we fear riding a motorcycle, when clearly death by motorcycle is far more likely than death by terrorist. Donald Trump can make us fear illegal immigrants when that, statistically, should be the least of our worries.

We do have real problems, problems big enough to spell the end of a habitable earth.

Paradoxically, these real problems can only be addressed by the unified, cooperative, inclusive, citizenry of one planet. These real problems cannot be addressed by walled off, exclusive, defensive separate states, each populated by a homogenous group of humans who feel they are the chosen.

We are really all at risk because of an interrelated set of developments:

  • Over population
  • Extremely uneven wealth distribution
  • Man-made global warming.
  • And a large subset of problems that flows from these three.

We can change this, turn it around, make progress, but only if we can function as the citizenry of one world, only if we have strong international institutions, only if we recognize that we will survive together or perish alone.

Adolf and Donald, the Parallels are Growing

By Dr David Laing Dawson

The Weimar Republic, a new democracy, was only 14 years old when Adolf seized power and dismantled it. The republic was young; there were insufficient safeguards; and it was actually an old and ailing Paul von Hindenburg who, as president, appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor, and then suspended many civil liberties with the Reichstag Fire Decree.

The rest unfolded quickly as we know, and cost humanity a great deal.

Adolf and Donald use(d) the same techniques: Outrageous accusations and name calling without any regard for truth. Adolf spoke of this practice long before branding experts and internet trolls discovered memes. Both men assault(ed) the rules of civil discourse, the civil discourse, a social contract, absolutely necessary for democracy to flourish.

Adolf was clearly the better orator, but Trump has the alt-right bloggers and internet trolls to do his work for him.

Both have the ability to tap into the infantile rage that lingers in our brains from childhood. “Things are just not fair; someone is to blame; they took away my toys; it’s a disaster; they are (stealing, killing, controlling, raping, bombing) us; why can’t things always go my way; lock her up.”

Both men instill a terrible fear of impending doom, and then they say they have a solution. They don’t specify the solution. Trump probably has no ideas beyond walls, deportation, bombs, and torture. Hitler, as we know, had in mind a final solution.

Neither man was/is interested in governance. Neither man had any experience in governance. None whatsoever. Each is acting out a vision of himself: – a ten foot portrait on the wall of every public building, a statue in every square. Each wants to be the central character in an heroic myth.

It is easier to see why so many Germans were angry. They were living in relative poverty and disgrace following the First World War and the imposed reparations by the side that “won” that war. And the alternative to the Nazis Party was a true socialist future, possibly a communist future.

The angry alt-right Americans? Well, they are not living in poverty or disgrace, but they have been fed a diet of privilege or expected privilege for so long that it must come as a shock that to be a white, male, uneducated American no longer gives you the keys to a Harley, the open road, and the envious respect of the rest of the world. And it no longer guarantees them subservient females and black porters.

To be useful to a demagogue, anger needs a focus. We know Hitler pointed his followers toward Jews, but also Gypsies, communists, homosexuals, even the infirm and mentally ill. Donald points to Hispanics, Moslems, immigrants, “criminals”. You know he wants to point at other groups as well, but in 2016, he has to use code for liberated women, African-Americans, at least until he vanquishes political correctness (as some would call it) or civilized sensitive discourse.

In the Germany of 1933 the sane but conservative members of society, the privileged, the elite, the titled, the bankers, the businessmen, the officers, allowed the rise of Hitler. They believed he would be better for them than socialism; they believed he was, for them, a useful tool. Adolf would let them keep their privilege and power, they thought.

The same is happening in the US today. Many otherwise sane conservatives, republicans, believe Donald is a safe alternative to …..to what? “Crooked” Hillary, a woman in power, the Washington Elites; higher taxes on their wealth, restrictions on gun ownership, government regulation, and, I think, a truly integrated diverse population. But Donald will not serve their interests any more than Adolf served the interests of conservative Germans.

I do not understand the rules of American democracy well enough to conjure up any predictions should Donald become president.

A terrorist attack, a mass shooting, a Russian provocation could be the equivalent of the Reichstag Fire.

It was really not difficult for Adolf to dismantle German democracy, inflame his people, build up his armed forces and start a war. Apparently being saluted by adoring crowds screaming his name, having his portrait in every public building, having absolute power over one large country was not enough for him. (The hero in myth and comic books must overcome his fear, go to war and vanquish a foe, before receiving the adulation of his people.)

We can only hope that there are sufficient safeguards built into American Democracy to prevent Donald from dismantling it. But I fear enough power resides in the office of the President of the United States of America for Donald to do great harm to humanity should he be elected.

And, even if he loses, Mr. Trump has already opened wounds that will take a long time to heal.