TCS Daily


It's "America" Not "Amerika"

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - November 30, 2004 12:00 AM

Let's put a silly myth to bed, shall we? Contrary to what some believe, American politics is not devolving into a state of fascism.

We read and hear warning cries alerting us to the supposed incipient fascist threat quite often nowadays. Many of these "alerts" inform us that our freedoms and liberties are at risk, that the American democratic-republic is gradually giving way to an authoritarian or totalitarian establishment, and that our leaders are reminiscent of Nazis. Thus we have Internet threads comparing George W. Bush with Hitler, or at the very least, with Mussolini or Leonid Brezhnev. By extension of the Hitler analogy, America may be like Germany in 1939 -- on the cusp of embracing fascism if it hasn't completely done so yet.

You might shrug off this kind of rhetoric by saying that it is confined to crank quarters of the punditocracy, and to be sure, those who argue that America is sliding into fascism are ripe for ridicule. But the argument -- while wrong -- has the virtue of being simple and simplistic, meaning that it has the potential to be spread rather easily. (This is most interesting -- usually it is the fascists who have the simplistic arguments on their side. In this debate, however, it is the supposed anti-fascists who are trying to win converts to their argument with simplistic cries about fascism being in the ascendant in the United States.) Because the argument of "America as the Fascist State" can be so easily spread through simplistic arguments, it is high time to fight the demagoguery with a little perspective.

A key component of the fascist state is the presence of authoritarian or totalitarian laws that clamp down on civil liberties. Those who decry the supposed onset of fascism in the United States like to claim that the Patriot Act is the instrument by which our rights and liberties is being curtailed. Putting aside the fact that many of the Patriot Act's critics haven't even carefully read the Act and its provisions, many of the arguments made against the Act are just plain wrong. Myth-busting articles and blog posts on the Internet setting the record straight regarding the Patriot Act -- like this one, for example -- are quite plentiful because there is a market for them thanks to blatant misreadings of the Patriot Act that are all too common in news and punditry circles. Many of the supposed totalitarian aspects of the Patriot Act were already in existence when the Act was passed, and as of July of this year, out of the nearly 1300 alleged abuses of the Patriot Act that were forwarded to the Inspector General of the Justice Department, the Inspector General found that none of those complaints had any merit whatsoever. (Surely, we will be told that the Inspector General is simply covering up the abuses of the crypto-fascist state, but there does come a point where such circular arguments are no longer worthy of any attention whatsoever.)

The supposed loss of civil liberties and the onset of fascism were key components of the argument made to elect John Kerry as President. Kerry himself spoke to this issue when he promised in his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention that he would "appoint an attorney general who will uphold the Constitution of the United States." Of course, anyone who has been paying attention to political rhetoric over the past four years knows that John Ashcroft is closely connected with the supposed rise of American fascism, and politically, it was quite convenient for Kerry to pose as the remedy to the fascist Ashcroftian annihilation of American civil liberties.

But when one compares the civil liberties voting records of Senator Kerry and former Senator Ashcroft, Ashcroft plainly comes out ahead as the more capable and ardent defender of civil liberties. And Ashcroft is not alone as the miscast Republican fascist. When the Clinton Justice Department was working on the development of "Carnivore" -- a cyber-surveillance tool -- it was former Republican congressman and House Majority Leader Dick Armey who campaigned against Carnivore as a threat against civil rights and civil liberties. Indeed, Armey pressed both Attorney General Janet Reno and Ashcroft on the issue of Carnivore -- strange behavior, to be sure, from the former leader of the House contingent of America's supposed fascist party. Strangely enough, those loudest in denouncing the incipient rise of American fascism ignored and ignore all of this.

Of course, it isn't just Americans who are claiming the onset of fascism in the United States. In Europe, comparisons between the Bush Administration and fascist elements like the Nazis have also been plentiful. This is peculiar because the state of civil liberties in Europe is far more parlous than it is in America, and if the state of civil liberties in America actually descended to the European level, warnings regarding the incipient rise of fascism might actually have some merit. In his recent Thanksgiving holiday blog post, law professor Orin Kerr gave thanks for the fact that we live in a country that respects civil liberties a great deal more than they are respected in Europe. His remarks are well taken, but I wonder why we haven't heard alarm bells ringing regarding the rise of European fascism from the same quarters that like to claim American fascism is a threat to be taken seriously.

None of this is to say that when it comes to fascism, "It Can't Happen Here." But those who make the claim that America is becoming a fascist state have an obligation to be responsible with the facts, lest others stop taking them seriously. Ironically enough, fascism has its best chance when those who line up to denounce it discredit themselves with one too many false alarms. The next time they sound the alarm, they may have reason to. But few people will be inclined to listen if those who make the claims have proven themselves to be untrustworthy demagogues in the past.


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