THIS IS HOW FASCISM COMES: REFLECTIONS ON THE COST OF SILENCE
by Tim Wise
For those who have seen the ugliness and heard the vitriol emanating from the mouths of persons attending McCain/Palin rallies this past week—what with their demands to kill Barack Obama, slurs that he is a terrorist and a traitor, and paranoid delusions about his crypto-Muslim designs on America—please know this: This is how fascism comes to an ostensible democracy.
If it comes—and if those whose poisonous, unhinged verbiage has been so ubiquitous this week have any say over it, it surely will—this is how it will happen: not with tanks and jackbooted storm troopers, but carried in the hearts of men and women dressed in comfortable shoes, with baseball caps, and What Would Jesus Do? wristbands. It will be heralded by up-dos, designer glasses, you-betcha folksiness and a disdain for big words or hard consonants.
If fascism comes, it will spring from the soil of middle America, from people known as values voters but whose values are toxic, from simple folk whose simplicity, far from being admirable, is better labeled ignorance, from “all-American” types whose patriotism is a dagger pointed at the very heart of the national interest, for it so forsakes all the best principles upon which the republic was founded, choosing instead to elevate and ratify the narrow-mindedness, the bigotry, and the intolerance that also marked our country’s origins.
If fascism comes, it will be ushered in by tailgaters at the big football game, by Joe Six Pack, who, upon finishing his sixth beer and belching forth the stench of a mediocre life lived, will gladly announce its arrival, so long as it comes with a steady supply of Pabst Blue Ribbon and hot dogs on the grill, and giant foam hands with a “We’re Number 1” finger, some Mardi Gras beads and a good titty bar.
If fascism comes it will dress like a hockey mom, or a NASCAR dad. It will believe Toby Keith to be an artist, Larry the Cable Guy to be a comic, and that the world was made in six literal days less than 6000 years ago.
If fascism comes it will come from the small towns; the ones Sarah Palin, quoting a famous racist and Jew-hater, said “grow good people,” and which occasionally do, but which, just as often grow provincial, isolated, fearful and superstitious ones.
If fascism comes it will come from faux populism, from anti-immigrant hysteria, from persons who have more guns in their homes than books, or whose books, when they have them, are principally volumes of the Left Behind series, several different copies of the Bible, and a plethora of romance novels.
If fascism comes it will be welcomed, lock stock and barrel by persons who pray at every meal to a God they visualize as white, whose son they also think was white, and who they believe is going to rapture them all into the sky upon the blowing of some heavenly trumpet, after which point all those who don’t think as they think will be burned in an eternal lake of fire. Their vision and version of God is itself fascistic—to love a God who would do such a thing is to love an abusive, sadistic and evil deity after all—so it should come as little surprise that their conception of the state would be equally authoritarian or worse.
If fascism comes it will be at the behest of those who hold a contempt for what they call “book learnin,” who prefer Presidents who mispronounce basic words because they make them feel smarter, and who are looking for nothing so much as a commander-in-chief with whom they would enjoy having a beer, or two, or twelve at some backyard barbecue.
If fascism comes it will be interviewed, lovingly, on talk radio, by hosts whose cerebral inadequacies are more than made up for by their bellicosity, their bombast, their willingness to shout down those with whom they cannot argue, for argument requires knowledge, and this is a commodity with which they have not even a passing familiarity.
If fascism comes it will come wrapped in red,white and blue, carrying a crucifix and a shotgun, projecting its own sexual confusion and insecurity onto others, substituting volume for veracity and rage for reason, and landing on the New York Times best-seller list as a result.
If fascism comes it will have a pajama party at Ann Coulter’s house, pop pills with Rush Limbaugh, and go gay-bashing with Michael Savage, all in the same weekend. And it will refuse to learn another language or get a passport, because doing either of those would make one cosmopolitan—which is just another word for “faggot.”
If fascism comes it will come because a lot of people who aren’t like the folks I’m talking about here, won’t stand up to the ones who are. Because we’re too busy, don’t want to make waves, don’t want to lose friends, or alienate family. It will come, in other words, because those who know better are cowards, more concerned with getting along, making nice, and being liked than with telling the truth, calling out evil and saving their country.
If fascism comes it will come because of the silence, and thus, collaboration of those who think themselves good, and certainly superior to the knuckle-draggers they can see on YouTube at the McCain rallies, but who in the end are no better and in some ways worse than they: after all, at least fascists stand up for what they believe in. They are telling us, in no uncertain terms what kind of United States they want and are willing to fight for, and maybe even to kill for. But many “progressives,” many liberals, many of the so-called enlightened are doing nothing at all.
If fascism comes it will come because those liberals thought voting for Barack Obama was all they needed to do; it will come because they allowed themselves to believe that politics is what a person does every four years, but not at work, and not in the neighborhood, and not at the dinner table. Meanwhile, know-nothings filled with hate, nurtured on racial and religious bigotry and who have overdosed on the kind of hypernationalism that has always proved fatal to those places foolish or craven enough to allow it a foothold, talk of their visions for America at every opportunity. They raise their kids on that sickness, they build churches whose very foundation is rooted in that cancerous rot, and they will think nothing of steamrolling those who get in their way.
So when, exactly, do we fight back? When do we say enough? When do we stand up to our relative or friend who sends us the e-mail about Obama being a Manchurian Candidate or al-Qaeda sympathizer, or the one about the decency of Midwestern flood victims as opposed to those stranded after Katrina, or about how God was punishing New Orleans because of its tolerance of homosexuality, and tell them what we think: namely, that they are a bunch of racist, heterosexist loons, whose friendship or familial connection we neither want nor intend to pursue unless they get help. When do we decide that we love our country and humanity too much to allow these people one more day of decent sleep, one more day of self-assured confidence in their craziness and the willingness of the rest of us to just take it? When do we decide that every irrational, Jeezoid, racist thing that comes from their mouths will be attacked, will be rebutted, until they can no longer take for granted the ability to say any of it in mixed company without being called out?
Why, in the face of the fascism they would surely introduce if given the chance, are we intent on being so nice? Why are we not more offended? Offended not merely at what such persons say about others—like Obama, or Latino immigrants, or whatever—but even about we who look like them? After all, their open exhortations of racism presuppose that they are speaking for us, and that this kind of brain-dead ventilation is something to which all white folks should aspire as though it were virtually the essence of enlightenment.
If fascism comes it will come because we did not see in their actions a sufficient threat, or because we allowed ourselves to believe that it couldn’t come, that our institutions were too strong, our people too good, for that to happen. If it comes it will come because we allowed ourselves to believe the rosy and optimistic version of America spun by Obama, without tempering that optimism with a clear-headed appraisal of the way that (sadly) a still huge number of Americans actually think: because we allowed the vehicle of our hopes to outrun the headlights of truth; because we convinced ourselves that we actually lived in the country of our aspirations, rather than the nation we have at present.
And if fascism doesn’t come—if, rather, democracy does—it will come because good people said no. It will come because we saw in this moment the opportunity to demand the full measure of our humanity and to pour it forth upon the national soil. It will be because we understood that democracy isn’t what you have, it’s what you do. But if we are to issue that demand, if we are to stand straight and fulfill the potential we possess to do justice, we had best exercise the option quickly, for the opponents of justice are on the move. They are preparing to enter on the winds of our silence and indifference, and complacency. Let them find no quarter here.