COLUMN: From Here and Back Again

Jim Coufal

Fear and Anger: Part III

Fascists rejected reason in the name of will, denying objective truth in favor of a glorious myth articulated by leaders who claimed to give voice to the people.  Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny. 2017 p. 12.
“The Fear of God is the death of wisdom.” Clarence Darrow

Part III covers (1) the fact that we have been warned, frequently, and (2) the role religion, especially evangelical Christianity has and is playing in the move towards American fascism. There have been many warnings so only a few can be covered here.
In the mid-1930’s, in view of what was happening in Germany and Italy, Sinclair Lewis wrote the novel, “It Can’t Happen Here.” The title was a play on the common Americans refrain of the time, but Lewis looked at a possible way it could happen here. Other novels such as “Fahrenheit 451,” “1984,” “Brave New World,” and “Handmaidens Tale” have looked at dystopian futures, with great prescience regarding what is happening in the U.S. today. Novels may not be real history, but they often are predictive of history.
In the early 1940’s the New York Times asked Vice-President Henry Wallace to write a piece about fascists in America. His article, “The Danger of American Fascism,” described a breed of super-nationalist who pursues political power by deceiving Americans and playing to their fears, but is really interested only in protecting his own wealth and privilege.” In 1966, a Republican Senator warned that a strange mixture of corrosive hatred and sickening fear, who are recklessly determined to either control our party, or destroy it.”
Over the years of the German-American Bund, and a variety of Nazi/fascist parties in the U.S., the entities have been looked at as fringe elements, but Trump has released them from any civil restraints and they loudly expand their influence. Fascism, Nazi-ism, communism and others of such ilk, are one-party states, where the party minion conspire in the move to totalitarianism and are thus complicit. In 2016, E. J. Dione Jr. wrote, “Why the Right Went Wrong.”
Don’t be put off by the title because in looking where the right when wrong, he also rightfully looks at where the left went wrong. Dione traces our current rise of right-wing thought to Goldwater conservatism, through Reagan and the Bushes, including the rise of the John Birch Society onto the Tea Party and the “Family (see below).”  One of Dione’s conclusions is that “As it developed in the years since Goldwater conservatism has come to operate almost exclusively on behalf of older, culturally conservative whites and a new class of wealthy Americans who see any imposition upon them by government as the work of a taker class intent on tearing down capitalism.” It is the abandonment of Eisenhower conservatism.

Christian author Chris Hodges wrote “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America’” (2007) and offers many examples of how Christian rights advocacy groups have burrowed deep inside Americans government to subvert it, especially to destroy church-state separation and to give special privilege to Christianity. He concludes hat while the radical Christian right calls for exclusion, cruelty and intolerance in the name of God, they do not do so out of evil but to make “a better world,” better because it is to be a world shaped by their beliefs.
Christian correspondent Ray Suarez wrote, “The Holy Vote: The politics of faith in America” (2007). At the end of his presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us of the military/industrial complex. In effect, Suarez adds religion to this complex and says our current polarization in the U.S. is created by a paradoxical marriage between politics and religions.
In “One Nation Under God: How corporate America invented Christian America” (2015) Kevin Kruse reveals the corporate money involved moving religion, especially evangelistic religion, from concern for the poor—-the least of these—-to the poor will always be with us so let them eat cake, or “the prosperity gospel.”
Most specific and most frightening, Jeff Sharlett went underground to join the self-named “Family,” a right-wing Christian fundamentalist group housed in Washington, D.C. His book, “The FAMILY: The secret fundamentalism at the heart of American Power,” says members of the FAMILY —congressmen, executives, general, foreign dictators, etc.—consider themselves the elite, the chosen and meet in confidential cells to pray and plan for a “leadership by god” not to be won by violence but by subterfuge and quiet diplomacy. And he lists many members of government who belong to this secret society. Sharlett followed up with “C Street: The fundamentalist threat to American democracy” (C Street is where the FAMILY  is housed). Here he focuses on how  FAMILY ideas influence foreign policy (witness birth control and AIDS programs in Uganda) and Christianity in the military (witness the Air Force Academy).
Not all evangelical Christian or Nazi/fascist influence is subtle. American politicians call Trump a gift of God. The chairman of the American Nazi Party said he loves Donald Trump as president because it is a real opportunity for those like white nationalists to gain legitimacy and boost their movement. Trump has an Evangelical Advisory Board with members from denominational leaders to prosperity gospel televangelists. Trump is working to allow religion to preach politics from the pulpit. All this is part of the promise he made to evangelicals during the campaign that if they voted for them he would grant them more power. They voted for him overwhelmingly.
It is fair to ask why evangelical Christians have fallen under the spell of Trump, racists demagogue that he is. I suggest it is because of a phenomenon labeled as “anticipatory obedience” (AO) by historian Timothy Snyder. AO is not unique to evangelical Christianity or religion, but it certainly is strong therein. It means, “adapting instinctively, without reflecting to a new situation.” Why should people do so? Because they have been taught to accept authority and practice obedience, especially when it speaks to their fears, real or imagined. Some authors say fascism is not likely to succeed in the U.S., others that it is already here in incipient forms. Those who have eyes, left them see; those who have ears, let them hear.

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