I was having a typical discussion with my dad. It was on the verge of becoming an argument. But an interesting thing happened. I said that the US is one step from fascism. And he agreed with me.
I’ve feared fascism for as long as I’ve understood what it is. I’ve specifically feared American the slide toward fascism, call it what you will: big money, plutocracy, crony capitalism, corporatocracy, inverted totalitarianism, etc.
My dad, on the other hand, didn’t previously worry about such things. He has always been a fairly mainstream conservative and Republican. He loves capitalism. He has fond memories from childhood of factories belching out smoke, a sign that things were being built and all was well with the world. He has even worked for a number of factories as a manager. He loves business and has never before had issues with even big biz. In his Cold War mind, capitalism was going to save the world. That was the propaganda he grew up with, as a child born at the tail end of WWII.
In the past, he would have taken warnings of fascism as left-wing rhetoric, something to be dismissed. If anything, he feared the people making such warnings. The messenger should be attacked for maligning the good name of capitalism. But, in recent years, his mind has been changing. He is beginning to see the potential dangers of big biz and big banks and their collusion with and even control of big gov.
I talk to my dad a lot. He is my main sparring partner. But, to be honest, we actually agree more than not. It’s just that the disagreements can get heated. As we’ve both aged, our views have maybe come closer in certain ways, despite my own thinking becoming more radical. Ideology isn’t the issue. It doesn’t matter that my dad identifies as a conservative and I a liberal. What many people, including my dad, are coming to understand is that authoritarianism is a threat greater than any specific ideology.
It has been Donald Trump’s campaign that has hit this home for my dad. It simply doesn’t matter what Trump says or really believes. He is a wild card. That isn’t to dismiss those who support Trump. There is good reason people feel so frustrated with the status quo. This mood has been emerging for decades now, even if so many Americans tried to ignore it. It took Americans like my dad longer to see what this all meant, until it was already here.
Also, consider the problems going on in Michigan. Flint has brought this to mainstream attention, with the lead toxicity problem. I told my dad that it turns out democracy is a good thing after all, as the Republicans who decided to eliminate democratic government created this problem. My dad at first said that democracy had failed too because of the debt that had incurred, the supposed reason for the use of ’emergency’ dictatorial powers. I countered that, well, eliminating democracy has brought on even worse problems. He agreed that maybe democracy really is the least worst system. My dad doesn’t love democracy and, as with so many Americans, likely doesn’t even understand what democracy is. Still, he is beginning to appreciate what happens when it disappears entirely.
There is a similar situation happening locally. Terry Branstad is the Republican governor of Iowa. He selects the members of the Iowa Board of Regents. And it is the regents who selected J. Bruce Harreld as the new University of Iowa president. He had no experience and many of the other people considered had way better qualifications. But Harreld was a businessman, which in the conservative worldview means you are qualified to do anything, from running governments to running public universities. Businessmen supposedly just know how to solve problems, the exact rhetoric Trump has used to take over the Republican Party.
I explained to my dad that Americans are frustrated with being shut out of everything. Shut out from governing their own communities, shut out from institutions they belong to, just plain shut out. I’ve gave an example to my dad that helped him understand this. The leadership of my union, AFSCME, is backing Hillary Clinton. There was no voting or even input from union members. Even my union steward was shut out from the process. It’s not a left vs right issue. Americans, all across the spectrum, are tired of being silenced and disempowered.
For my dad, this experience hasn’t been part of his life. He has spent his entire life in positions of authority, not immense power but well-respected and secure, from being an army officer straight out of college to having his first job as a factory manager and then later to be a professor at a major university. He has never known what it is like to be silenced and disempowered. He has never personally known severe poverty, racial discrimination, police profiling, or anything like that. It simply isn’t the world he has lived in.
Yet, in his retirement, he has begun to think more deeply. He sees things differently. He realizes that he will likely live comfortably for the rest of his life. But it bothers him the direction his country is taking. His faith in the system has been shaken. There are many Americans like my dad who are becoming aware that the hour is getting late.