It's easy to throw around the f-word in politics. If you want to discredit your opponents, you call them fascists. Everyone hates fascists, right?
As a debating tactic, calling someone a fascist (or more specifically, a Nazi) often signals the point at which a discussion degenerates into a pointless shouting match, to the extent that Mike Godwin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation invoked an early Internet adage to draw attention to the overuse of a related invective:
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.
But what happens if the comparison is apt? What if, instead of describing something as fascist because you're too furious to refrain from ad hominem attacks, you describe something as fascist because it's fascist?
Naomi Wolf, the author of The Beauty Myth, makes a painstaking case for just this accusation against the Bush administration, and it's a doozy.
Quite simply, she identifies ten common steps that governments always take when trying to transform an open society into a closed society and relates them to the actions of the US government since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Some of the steps fit the evidence more closely than others (for example, brownshirts are not yet hauling people out of their houses), but she acknowledges that the process is still in its early stages.
If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways. But it is always effective.
More chilling, other steps - like invoking a terrifying internal and external enemy, establishing gulags, and setting up comprehensive internal spying - are already well advanced.
Sidestepping Godwin's Law, Wolf draws references from Thailand's recent coup, Nazi Germany, Italy under Mussolini, the USSR under Stalin, Communist China, Chile under Pinochet, and other times and places to cast recent events in the US into a context that reveals the ten-step fascist strategy.
It's a long (4,600 words) piece, and Wolf is not the first person to make these connections, but this is required reading for anyone who wants to undersand what's going on in the US today and why so many Americans themselves don't seem to appreciate the danger.
In a fascist system, it's not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can't tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit. [emphasis added]
Never underestimate the power of this very strategy to wear people out.
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