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Kolumne: Thomas Adcock: Fear & Fascism

Fear & Fascism

Repugnant Pursuit of the American Presidency

Terrorism’s refugees as scapegoats du jour

By Thomas Adcock

Copyright © 2015 – Thomas Adcock


Bleecker Street Films, 2015

Penguin Books, 1962

Penguin Books, 1962

‘TRUMBO,’ a newly-released movie about 1950s anti-communist hysteria, complements the début of television series based on the late Philip K. Dick’s novel of alternate history, ‘The Man in the High Castle,’ in which the United States is ruled by the German victors World War II.

NEW YORK, near America

 On Sunday evening the 15th of November, I telephoned a friend to warn him against wasting money on a ticket to “Trumbo,” an über earnest movie I’d just seen about 1950s-era anticommunist hysteria in the United States—focused on the principled struggles of Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976), blacklisted from film work for declining to kiss the rings and rumps of showboating right-wingers in Congress, or fingering his lefty colleagues before the farcial House Un-American Activities Committee.

A few minutes’ critique was enough to dispense with this offering, the re-telling of a familiar tale of suspicion in America’s recent past; suspicion that devastated the lives of people I know, not all of them Hollywood types. Thus, my friend and I turned to the day’s nonstop news: the aftermath of a terrorist massacre in Paris the previous Friday, carried out by young degenerates of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Paris in November 2015, much as New York in September 2001, has changed everything—starting with rationality in political, religious, and cultural discourse among friends. Suddenly, a frightening number of my countrymen talk as if they’re troupers in the Republican Party cotillion of liars, oafs, bigots, and fear-mongering fools in current pursuit of the American presidency.

I regret to report the example of an otherwise erudite friend:

“We’re heading toward worldwide religious war!” he exclaimed over the phone. He went on to inform me that the Paris murderers in particular and Muslims in general are bound by the tenets of Islam to hack off heads, seize villages and oil fields in Iraq and Syria, rape women and girls, spray men and boys with Kalashnikovs, and carry out the genocide of “unbelievers.” Allahu akbar!

I waited a few beats for the apocalyptic one to pull himself together. When I sensed the spittle had stopped flying, I said, “I’m not so sure about world war, and there are almost two billion people who would challenge your characterization of Islam. But I am sure of an old and ecumenical story—ignorant thugs using religion to justify unholy violence.”

To this, my friend responded with a slur that shall not soon leave my head: “It sounds like you’re defending ISIS.”

I expect vile idiocy of this sort from Republican pols. But from a friend? A litterateur? A man of accomplishment—in the movie trade, no less? A man who has supped at my table?

Credit the corrosive power of fear and suspicion, those time-stained triggers of fascist impulse. They are forces from Hell affecting us all, even the smart ones. Friendships falter in such circumstances; logic dies, nativism and xenophobia bloom, and political cynicism gains by leaps and bounds. On top of which, the American presidential campaign is well underway and chock full of dangerous absurdities.

We have entered into an epoch of uncertainty. It began with al-Qaeda suicide bombers who destroyed the World Trade Center in Manhattan and a chunk of the Pentagon in Washington—the first foreign invasion of America since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Uncertainty and its cousin, blind rage, gained muscle when President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney employed their Big Lie strategy to persuade most elected officials of both major U.S. political parties to support the “Shock and Awe” blitzkrieg of Baghdad that commenced the invasion of Iraq as bogus retaliation for the horrid day we reference as 9/11.

Shortly thereafter came an absurd Bush-Cheney coinage—the “War on Terror.” Few voices in mainstream media asked then or ask now the reasonable question: Exactly how does a nation battle a simple means of unconventional war?

Never mind reason in the halls of Congress—“that rat’s nest of talentless hicks and hacks,” as defined by William Seward (1801-1872), secretary of state under President Abraham Lincoln. In 2002, the hicks and hacks fell hook, line, and sinker for the Bush-Cheney lies and absurdities by enacting a bill granting that foul pair unprecedented war powers, a bill that redounds to all White House successors as a blank cheque for casus belli, true or false. Voting in favor—“enthusiastically,” as she put it—was Hillary Clinton, a senator from New York at the time who is now the leading Democratic Party presidential candidate.

Should there be war in the wake of Paris at 11/13, it will not be religious in nature, as my friend predicts. No, it will mean yet another quagmire for American soldiers, yet another revenue stream for armaments manufacturers and military contractors, and yet another occasion for obscenities on the order of U.S. torture chambers à la Bagram and Abu Ghraib.

As was said by Voltaire, “Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

So we are reminded by “Trumbo,” which on second thought I would urge my forgetful friend to see.

And how prescient the November début of “The Man in the Castle,” based on the late Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel imagining Axis triumph in World War II, with a divided America as the result. Imperial Japan rules the West Coast from headquarters in San Francisco, the Nazi high command is bivouacked in New York to rule the East and Middle West.

Adolf Hitler, of course, is “The Man” of Mr. Dick’s darkly seen alternate history. As in the novel, Der Führer is portrayed on the small screen as wheezingly ill, yet ever poisonous on the world stage. As per usual, the TV Hitler touts “Mein Kampf” as the ultimate in heroic memoir, his dicta for Third Reich architectural style as inspiration for the stern chrome-and-glass skyscrapers of Manhattan, and non-Aryans as swarthy inferiors to be rounded up and sent away (or worse).

Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate for president whose headgear appears to be a rodent pelt dipped in gold leaf, was born too late to have known Hitler. A pity. They had much in common.

The Donald, as we New Yorkers call him, is the grandson of Friedrich Drumpf (1869-1918), who arrived in New York in 1885 as an immigrant from the old Pfalz town of Kallstadt. Großvater Drumpf made his fortune as an hotelier and pimp, became a naturalized American in 1892, and shortly thereafter returned to Germany with his loot and a petition for repatriation. He was deported due to allegations of tax fraud. The Donald, as we New Yorkers call the grandson, resides in a modern-day castle on Fifth Avenue in the wealthy heart of Manhattan; specifically, a sixty-room penthouse occupying the top three levels of the eponymous, fifty-eight storey Trump Tower—a phallic structure on the order of Hitler’s “severe deco” aesthetic.

This past summer, the penthouse plutocrat announced his candidacy from the pink-and-gold lobby of Trump Tower, populated for the event with actors paid to applaud his maiden wannabe presidential address—in which he disparaged Mexican immigrants as murderers, drug dealers, and rapists. In the days following, The Donald pledged to address the problem of swarthy Mexicans on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande in two ways: 1) erection of a giant fence two thousand miles long the border with Mexico, and 2) rounding up some eleven million undocumented Mexican immigrants, upon whom the American restaurant and construction industries are dependent, and deporting them.

And one more thing: Like Der Führer, Der Donald is duly proud of his so-to-speak literary œvre—slim volumes of large-print, self-congratulation, and sure-pop tips for rapid riches. Enkel Trump is particularly proud of “The Art of the Deal,” his 1987 easy-to-read guide to the central nature of his magnificence. On the campaign trail, he often speaks of “Art” as “my second favorite book; the Holy Bible, that’s my very favorite.”

As November drew to a close, Der Donald topped himself in delusional bigotry. While on the hustings, he—

  • Called for a national registry of Muslim immigrants, surveillance and/or shuttering of mosques;
  • Advocated mandatory identification cards for all Muslim Americans, immigrant or native-born;
  • Tweeted crime “statistics” from a neo-Nazi organization holding blacks responsible for eighty-one percent of white murder victims—a claim at odds with the Federal Bureau of Investigation annual crime surveys, which last year found whites responsible for eighty-two percent of white murder victims;
  • Ejected prominent Latino journalists from his campaign rallies;
  • Praised white thugs at a campaign rally after they punched and kicked a black protestor as he lay flailing on the floor;
  • Insisted that on 9/11 he looked down from his high Manhattan castle and across the Hudson River to see “thousands and thousands” of people in an “Arab” neighborhood of neighboring New Jersey “cheering” as al-Qaeda terrorists flew suicide bombing missions over Lower Manhattan. This despite the complete absence of confirming reports from police and military agencies and news media.

Accordingly, the usually staid New York Times published an editorial of unusually blazing clarity on November 24: “America has just lived through another presidential campaign week dominated by Donald Trump’s racist lies. …In the Republican field, Mr. Trump has distinguished himself as fastest to dive to the bottom. If it’s a lie too vile to utter aloud, count on Mr. Trump to say it, often. It wins him [television] airtime, and re-tweets through the roof.”

The Times had allies in its disgust with the high-flying Mr. Trump. Among others to speak up was Robert Reich, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of California-Berkeley and the former labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. In a blog posting, Mr. Reich thundered, “I find it less surprising that Donald Trump is now mimicking Nazi Germany than that no current or former Republican leader has yet denounced Trump’s shameless bigotry.” The professor feigned surprise. He knows full well that decency is dead in the Republican soul, that the party’s old-timey conservative doctrine has been upended by Trumpian sludge, and that Trump rivals must toe the line.

Consider, for a moment, the vision and tone of Mr. Trump’s principal rivals for nomination as the Republican to take on the Democratic standard-bearer (likely Ms. Clinton) in next November’s presidential election:

  • Rafael Eduardo “Ted” Cruz, the Harvard-educated son of a right-wing Christian hustler and Cuban émigré, ignores President Barack Obama’s substantial achievements in rescuing the American economy after the Great Recession of 2008. Instead, he remarked via Twitter, “What does a black man know about a budget?”
  • John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, former governor of Florida and younger brother of George W., explained his position on “gun rights” during an October campaign appearance in South Carolina. He spoke of the massacre on a college campus in Oregon days before, where nine people were fatally gunned down and seven were injured at the hands of a demented young man in legal possession of weaponry. “Stuff happens,” said Mr. Bush. “[I]t’s a personal right to bear arms [that] shouldn’t be infringed.”
  • Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, in a May interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, warned of “a real and present danger” that proponents of same-sex marriage will soon define opposing views espoused by Christian fundamentalists as “hate speech.”
  • Ben Carson, the ex-neurosurgeon whose Baltimore home contains an oil painting of himself side-by-side with Jesus Christ, backed Donald Trump’s claim of witnessing a throng of New Jersey Arabs cheering the 9/11 bombings; he stated that he saw the “news reels” of joyous nihilism. A day later, Dr. Carson said he’d got New Jersey confused with the Middle East.
  • Carly Fiorina, ousted from two different computer manufacturing firms as chief executive and a two-time failure at gaining elective office in California, claimed to have viewed a grotesque abortion procedure on video tape during a September forum for Republican candidates. “I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes (sic),” she said. “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” No such tape (or tapes) could be located. Ms. Fiorina, however, is sticking to her story.
  • Chris Christie, the bullyboy governor of New Jersey, objected to a questioner who challenged his peculiar comment on climate change during an August campaign stop in New Hampshire. “You’d better clean out your ears, young lady,” he declared, adding, “I never said that humans contribute to climate change by breathing. Ridiculous statement. I never said that.” At issue were Mr. Christie’s remarks a few days earlier, recorded by a television news crew: “The climate’s been changing forever, and it will always continue to change. …[B]y breathing, we contribute to it.”

On the issue of sneaky terrorists disguised in refugee rags and determined to reach the U.S. in order to slaughter Americans—such is the Republican angst du jour, despite the laborious two-year vetting process required to gain refugee status—Mr. Trump’s rivals constitute a Greek chorus: Be afraid, be very afraid! And please do ignore further FBI numbers: Since 9/11, foreign refugees have shot four Americans, while homegrown terrorists with have slaughtered more than thirty-four thousand.

In late September, Der Donald vowed, “If I’m elected, Syrian refugees are going back!” (Rounding up wily Syrians would be an easier task for President Trump than corralling eleven million undocumented Mexican immigrants. According to the European Union, only 2,174 Syrians have been admitted to the U.S. since 2012, scattered across the continent and constituting 000.4 percent of the overall population.)

Dr. Carson compares refugees to “rabid dogs” who need to be “put down.” As a Harvard man, Senator Cruz is more genteel: “Christians are being crucified right now…They’re being beheaded…Just three percent of the Syrians that [President Obama] has let in are Christians. He’s ignoring the [genocide] directed at Middle Eastern Christians.”

Jeb Bush would be open to admitting Syrian refugees, provided they had Christian credentials, whatever they are. But Chris Christie, the candidate blessed with a Christ-like name, would admit no Syrian refugees—not even, he promised, orphans under the age of five.

—I could go on, but I am becoming a bit nauseous.

KKKThe True Invisible Empire Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan are an Order of the Highest Class for White Christian Men of Intelligence and Character. …This Order will strive forever to maintain the God-given supremacy of the White Race. To preserve the blood purity, integrity, cultural, and traditions of the White Christian Race in America.

Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan website

 Nativism on the part of god-fearing Caucasian bigots, presumed to carry the mysterious Christian credentials, is the leitmotif of America’s immigrant history. As the legendary tabloid newspaperman Damon Runyon (1880-1946) would put it, they are players in the oldest established permanent floating crap game of American apartheid. Victims may change, but bigotry remains.

This crap game was established during the arrival of British, Spanish, and French settlers early in the seventeenth century. At that time, according to a United Nations study, an estimated eighteen million indigenous persons lived in America—“redskins,” per the offensive racial marker still used today, notably by the Washington Redskins professional football team. Once the Europeans arrived, the indigenous population was reduced by eighty-five percent, on account of newly introduced diseases and old-school genocide.

In the wake of America’s Civil War (1861-1865), and the slave-holding South’s loss to the abolitionist North, came a resentful aftermath and formation of the virulently racist Ku Klux Klan—ignorant thugs who appropriated Christianity as a righteous vehicle for re-subjugating freed African American slaves and terrorizing the South with lynching raids. Today’s Klan is allied with Nazis, skinheads, and gun zealots in violent hatred of blacks, Jews, homosexuals, intellectuals, Muslims, Latinos, Asians, Catholics, and immigrants of all persuasions.

Sometimes, racism directed toward immigrant groups is confounding. I was told by my great-grandfather that once upon a time in New York the hands-down fairest complexioned people on the planet—meaning himself and his fellow Irish immigrants—were not considered white by their fellow English-speaking white people. Harps and micks and paddy sots and bogsiders, the Irish were called. That they were Roman Catholic didn’t help. Damn those mackerel snappers and Papists and bead-rattlers.

Then came immigrant waves from Italy, Hungary, Germany, Poland, China, India, Vietnam and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean—respectively scorned as greaseballs, hunkies, krauts, polacks, slant-eyes, gungas, gooks, and spics. Damn foreigners, they ain’t able to speak no good Amuhrkin.  Of darkest hue, shanghaied from Africa by European slave merchants, were and still are literally beyond the pale. Damn niggers. As for Jews? To hell with the Christ-killing sheenies.

We now turn to terrorism’s refugees as immigrant scapegoats du jour—Muslim victims of ISIS and al-Qaeda savagery. Or as we say, ragheads.

These crude sentiments are sucked down with our mother’s milk. All of us Americans grow up with it; many, perhaps most, hope to grow out of it. But social progress is slow while racist violence is unfailingly swift: Witness the coast-to-coast epidemic of white cops unloading their Glock semiautomatics on unarmed black men and women.

Add to our customary racist conduct a coordinated, foreign-based terror movement that reached us on 9/11, and which shall probably reach us again, and here you have it: a perfect storm of existential fear and reflexive xenophobia, boiling up in a bellicose presidential campaign, the likes of which we have seldom if ever seen—a campaign in which the leading candidate of one of our only two viable political parties is a fascist.

It hurts my heart to know that a worthy friend has succumbed to the suspicion fostered by unworthy politicians the likes of Donald Trump, to hear my friend utter an absurd accusation—which he has yet to retract. From his grave, Dalton Trumbo knows how this hurts. And perhaps Philip K. Dick’s dystopian classic contains kernels of ugly truths to come.

“Nativist hysteria and scapegoating are nothing unusual in our history,” writes Bill Blum in his latest column for the online magazine TruthDig, “but the current iteration is especially malignant because it has gone mainstream so rapidly.”

A former judge and trial attorney specializing in capital defense cases, Mr. Blum continues:

„[W]hile the malignancy was certainly in place before the barbaric Islamic State attacks of November 13 in Paris, the attacks have given it a veneer of legitimacy that would have been unthinkable only a few weeks earlier. The new nativism…is steeped in ignorance and fear, stirred up by political demagogues and opportunists, and stoked by media outlets [more] interested in financial bottom lines than honest reporting.“

The new nativism is also, in many respects, flat-out illegal. And where it’s not, it’s flatly irrational and offers nothing to protect us from international terrorism.

In the 1948 film noir classic “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” a bandit-king character named Gold Hat scoffs at legal nicety. Asked to prove his authority, Gold Hat snarls, “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” This line of dialogue puts me in mind of a certain, swaggering gold-haired grandson of a pimp.

Barack Obama tells us that America is “better than this,” by which he means the fear and racism and scapegoating that characterizes the pursuit of the presidency by one half of our political establishment. He infers that we Americans are better than people of the past who allowed fascism to flourish. I want to believe Mr. Obama, but I have doubts, for I am as affected by fear as my friend.

—Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag

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