America, circa 2006: We find ourselves engaged in a costly and unjust war to which there is no end in sight, despite the fact that our commander-in-chief declared our "mission accomplished" nearly three years ago; Congress continues to authorize increases in military spending while slashing the budgets of the very social programs on which so many of our soldiers and their families depend; right-wing pundits like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity offer advice on "how to talk to a liberal. . .if you must" and how to defeat the "evil" of liberalism; SUVs throughout the country are plastered with star-spangled stickers sporting slogans that range from the innocuous "Support Our Troops" to the jingoistic "Let's Roll"; soccer moms are revered while working mothers are reviled; 43 of our 50 states have banned same-sex marriage either through statute or through amendments to their state constitutions; at Guantanamo Bay, in violation of the Geneva Conventions, the US military has detained indefinitely hundreds of "enemy combatants" and subjected them to procedures the International Red Cross has described as tantamount to torture; those who committed the atrocities at Abu Ghraib remain largely unpunished and the man who declared such interrogative techniques legal is now the US Attorney General; the exposure of Jack Abramoff's political ties has revealed the largest corruption scandal since Teapot Dome; our president affects the good ol' boy persona of a blue-collar American despite his northern roots and his heritage of wealth and privilege, claims to speak directly to God, and has boldly announced that "either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
In such a climate, one has to ask oneself -- especially if one was paying even the slightest bit of attention during one's high school History classes -- is it fascism yet? Political scientist Lawrence Britt has studied the fascist regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto and others and has identified 14 characteristics common to all fascist governments:
- Powerful and Continuing Nationalism: Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
- Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights: Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
- Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause: The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
- Supremacy of the Military: Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
- Rampant Sexism: The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
- Controlled Mass Media: Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
- Obsession with National Security: Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
- Religion and Government are Intertwined: Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.
- Corporate Power is Protected: The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
- Labor Power is Suppressed: Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
- Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts: Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
- Obsession with Crime and Punishment: Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
- Rampant Cronyism and Corruption: Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
- Fraudulent Elections: Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.