The Magazine

The Horror! The Horror!

The paranoid style of the American left.

Sep 3, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 47 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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The fascists are coming! Or rather, they're already here, installed in the White House, planning like mad to subvert the Constitution and extend their reign in perpetuity, having first suppressed and eviscerated all opposition and put all of their critics in jail. Thus goes the rant of America's increasingly unhinged left. If only, sigh many Bush partisans, wondering when this administration will get out of the fetal position and show some fighting spirit. To them, as to most reasonable observers, the White House shows the chronic fatigue of a two-term presidency reaching its final year. Nonetheless, paranoia about what Bush and Co. are up to preys on the minds of many progressives, who have progressed, in this case at least, beyond reason.

It Can Happen Here, says Joe Conason, in his book of the same name, and in fact it already has started: George W. Bush and his coterie are the very picture of the pious and scheming homegrown fascisti that Sinclair Lewis described in his 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here. Similarities abound. In Lewis's novel, "Buzz Windrip" (Bush), an illiterate dweeb with sleazy charm and low animal cunning, backed by Lee Sarason (Karl Rove), a smooth and duplicitous political mastermind, becomes president, cooks up a fake war to extend his own power, cows Congress, corrupts the courts, bankrupts the country, and all but destroys the free press. The core of his power is a sinister nexus of theocrats joined at the hip to corporate interests, and you can tell how evil they are by their proclaimed love of country, and their incessant talk about God. In their endeavors, they are backed by the Hearst newspaper empire (Fox News), the only one left after all other outlets have been shut down.

Fox News looms large in the liberal panic about creeping fascism--an immense smoke machine pumping poison gas into the atmosphere 24/7, against which there is neither escape nor defense. This theory of the pervasive malevolent power of Fox rests on a quip by anchor Brit Hume that the network played a decisive role in the 2002 midterms, which Conason seems to take seriously, and the scholarly output of two obscure professors arguing that Fox swung the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 as well. "Citing what they call 'The Fox Effect,'" Conason informs us, "professors Stefano Della Vigna of the University of California at Berkeley and Ethan Kaplan of the University of Stockholm found that the network convinced 2 to 8 percent of its non-Republican viewing audience to 'shift its voting behavior toward the Republican party.'" If they say so. But there is no corresponding mention of the NBC-ABC-CBS-Time-Newsweek-New York Times "effect," and what its impact on voters might be.

At the same time that Conason is looking back to a fictional past in America, Naomi Wolf--last heard from in 2000 advising Al Gore to dress in earth tones--is looking back to a real past in Europe, and seeing troubling parallels. In 4,600 overwrought words, she explained to the readers of the Guardian that there are ten steps to "Fascist America" and Bush is taking them all. He has whipped up a menace (the war on terror); created "a prison system outside the rule of law" (Guantánamo, to which public dissidents, including "clergy and journalists" will be sent "soon enough"); developed "a thug caste .  .  . groups of scary young men out to terrorize citizens" (young Republican staffers who supposedly "menaced poll workers" during the 2000 recount in Florida); set up an "internal surveillance system" (NSA scanning for phone calls to and from terrorists). An airtight case, this, and leading to just one conclusion: "Beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable .  .  . that it can happen here."

Well, this explains many things. It explains why poor Cindy Sheehan is now sitting in prison; why Bush critics like CIA retiree Valerie Plame have been ostracized by the corporate media and are wasting away in anonymity; why no critic of Bush can get a hearing, why no book complaining about him can ever get published, and why our multiplexes are filled with one pro-Bush propaganda movie after another, glorifying the Iraq war and rallying the nation behind its leader.