The Other 'F' Word
You could fill your lederhosen with razor blades and ride a bicycle down some steps. You could administer yourself a boiling-hot clyster of Drano and minced cactus. You could irritate a pride of lions whilst bedecked in a ham waistcoat. But why take the easy way out? Its better to stand and fight. I refer to the deeply Sisyphean task of opposing the neofascist regime which has taken over the United States. There, I did it. I used the word fascist, which places me in that camp, even if the word was prefixed with the modifier neo as in o neo f the worst ideas ever.
Its been a long time coming, and not just because of Bob Doles Viagra (humorous joke, get it? Long time never mind). For all its strenuous efforts, I could never give the Bush administration that much credit before. Fascism is such a heavy term, so loaded with images of greasy newsreel dictators in Sam Browne belts and tall boots. Too many commentators leapt on the Orwellian and fascist bandwagons too quickly into Bushs sic volo, sic jubeo term of office. After all, wasnt the WWI Sedition Act far worse than Ashcrofts Junior Inquisition? How about the McCarthy Era, when a ventriloquists dummy nearly destroyed our nations freedoms, just to deny Dalton Trumbo the screenwriting credit for Roman Holiday? For a long time I couldnt quite slap the F word, as fascism is coyly known among lefties, on Bush and his minions. No matter how naughty the Man Who Would be President might be, for my tastes he never hit that perfect Kafka note -- until recently. Him and his people werent really fascists. Just execrable excrudescent assholes. But 2003 has changed all that.
These people are fascists, and they make Mussolini look like a mezzafinook. There is no component of American liberty of which they are unwilling to relieve us, and no aspect of American life upon which they are unwilling to relieve themselves. Where to begin? First, we must define fascism. It is a term like love, about which it can be said that everybody knows exactly what it means, and nobody knows what theyre talking about. Luckily I know everything and so can clear the matter up, particularly if I consult Mussolinis own diary, which I picked up on Ebay for a song (the song was Thats Amore as sung by Dean Martin). For those not fluent in Italian, I will paraphrase the definition before me in Il Duces crabbed hand:
Fascism is an extreme right-wing ideology which embraces nationalism as the transcendent value of society. The rise of Fascism relies upon the manipulation of populist sentiment in times of national crisis. Based on fundamentalist revolutionary ideas, Fascism defines itself through intense xenophobia, militarism, and supremacist ideals. Although secular in nature, Fascisms emphasis on mythic beliefs such as divine mandates, racial imperatives, and violent struggle places highly concentrated power in the hands of a self-selected elite from whom all authority flows to lesser elites, such as law enforcement, intellectuals, and the media. What a rush. Must buy Clara a new hat.
I couldnt have said it better myself. If we accept this general definition of fascism, we can be forgiven for rushing to the bedroom and throwing some clean underwear into a portmanteau ere catching the next train to Toronto. But we must stand our ground, however eroded it may be. Our freedoms have been undermined at home. Our nation has engaged in an outrageous military adventure overseas, the tissue-thin justification for which has disappeared completely, leaving America in the awkward position yclept hostile invader by entities such as the United Nations (you remember them, those nice colored folks over on 39th Street?) Meanwhile our states have mostly gone bankrupt, the first tax cut during wartime since the 1840s -- more wealth for the wealthy -- is in the works while corporate feudalism runs rampant, our ability to respond to authentic terrorist threats has been hobbled, the voting system has been co-opted by digital pirates in the Republican party, the electoral system in general is hostage to big money, our healthcare system is in meltdown, our national budget is so far in the red we have to import ink from China just to keep up; the prison population is exploding while our schools implode, civil rights are verklempt and vivisepulturated, our businesses are folding by entire sectors while the military-industrial complex thrives, and our environment is sinking into crisis with the North Pole melted and environmental regulation evaporating like so much ozone. Meanwhile, Jesus Christ is sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom.
But because the American media has ceased to make its own news, relying instead on a kind of government-hosted charabanc tour for journalists, nobody is questioning this lunatic national retrenchment in a public forum -- instead, we demonize Arabs and teenagers and black people and homosexuals and poor folks and drug users and anyone, God bless them, who has ever performed fellatio. And thats only the tip of the scheisseberg. These are all harbingers and symptoms and outcomes of fascism. But still, fascism is such an extreme notion. Once could argue that these many fresh hells are the result of simple criminal mismanagement, and for some time I have been so inclined (to argue thus, not to criminally mismanage. For the latter Id need an MBA).
What specific enormity cemented the notion of Bush and his cabal as fascists in my mind? If I could sit out all of the above, surely nothing could compel me to apply the scarlet F to these vendible quantum-larrikins and their erstwhile leader, the Ivy-League demagogue bogtrotter George W. Bush. I can tell you the very moment, and if you missed it, its worth finding a dog-eared copy of the video and viewing it entire, although I caution you to keep a bucket handy -- these images are too graphic for many American stomachs.
An aircraft carrier in the Pacific, about an hour from San Diego, California. You could row that far. A couple of jets on deck as props, lots of giddy sailors. Here comes an airplane! It lands in the accustomed manner. Out springs the Boy Prince, the Dauphin of D.C., the VIP of the GOP, George W. Bush in full military flight suit, with his ejector harness giving him the worst moose knuckle in presidential history. A bit of video for the election commercials just in case the Democrats dont all curl up and die on their own, whats the harm in that? I wish it was that simple. But what we really saw in that moment was a coup detat. The president isnt supposed to wear a uniform. Hes a civilian. Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt strapped on a pistol now and then and weve had generals who made president before. That Kennedy fellow was a war hero, too, and Bush Senior, the one who got elected, did his bit in the Pacific while Grampy Prescott was supporting the Nazis in Europe. But when they were president none of these men put on military uniforms. They understood that there are three sacred lines with regard to American democracy that can never be crossed: the line between privilege and power, the line between Church and State, and the line between civilian and military leadership. Cross any of them, and youre at fascisms doorstep. Cross two, youre on the threshold with your hand on the doorknob.
George W. Bush, son of unimaginable privilege, crossed the first line when he was selected to be president by the Supreme Court and accepted the job. He crossed the second line when he revealed his divine imperative, such as when (after the disaster of 9/11) he spoke of being chosen by the grace of God to lead at that moment." (Attributed by Tim Goeglein, deputy director of White House public liaison and a barrel of laughs at any party.)
When George climbed out of that airplane in his shiny new war suit, he didnt just carry his own cute little self across the deck: son of privilege, chosen of God, and wearing a military uniform, he passed through the doorway from mere wickedness to fascism. Our struggle in the time ahead is to resist the urge to follow him.
Ben Tripp is a screenwriter and cartoonist.