Fascism in Portlandia
I try to be restrained when I opine on political matters. The opportunity and temptation to demagogue or Caricature or fear-monger is too great, and our civil discourse is bad enough as it is. See…pretty much the entirety of the last decade.
That is why when there is a choice to be made, I tend to choose the less inflammatory language. Admittedly, calling the delayed delivery of my new sea-horse aquarium the “Apocalypse of Doom” was a regrettable exception. And I’ve already sent a letter of apology to the sea-horse farm in Ulan Bator.
That said, while we don’t want to exaggerate or overstate, we also don’t want to pretend that things that are happening aren’t. For example, we should not call everybody who disagrees with certain policies a racist. But in fact, some people actually ARE racists, and we shouldn’t shrink from calling that out. Along these lines, I feel some clarity needs to be brought to the discussion about what has been happening in Oregon.
I’ve never been to Portland (the “Thank You” notes from the Chamber of Commerce are really unnecessary). Most of what I know about the city has been learned from the TV show Portlandia. That’s also where I learned about String Theory. Weird, I know. The show portrays the town as a benign and quirky place with a granola-based economy. It hardly seems to lend itself to being the site of a major tipping point of oppression. But there is only one word that fits what we’ve seen in the past week. Fascism.
As everyone with a cable box, or access to the neighbor’s password has seen, President Trump (“A lot of people call me and say ‘Donald, nobody hates fascism more than you!’”), ordered troops to Portland.
Despite the fact that neither the Mayor nor the Governor asked for them, Trump sent in heavily armed, fatigue festooned Gendarmes, who showed no badge, wore no identifying insignia, and refused to answer any questions about who they were. They grabbed people, seemingly at random, off the street, without showing a warrant or telling the people what they were being detained for or where they were being taken. They then shoved the citizens they seized into unmarked vans, and drove off into the night.
Clearly, the predictable result of this is to inflame the situation, and obviously there is nothing about this which is compatible with democracy. They did a lot of this sort of thing in Chile and Argentina in the 70s and in Russia now. In Russia, many of the people seized go on to have truly unfortunate falling-off-balcony accidents, sometimes several on the same day. A lot of clutzes there.
In America, we are not supposed to use the federal government’s military assets for domestic policing. That’s why they don’t send the nuclear submarine Ticonderoga to your house to search for weed. We also don’t arrest people at all unless there is either an arrest warrant or the appropriate police witness a crime being committed. And if we detain you, we tell you who is doing the arresting and why. We read you your Miranda rights. Hell, we are even supposed to give you one phone call (I’d suggest calling Crazy Eddie’s Electronics Store. His prices are INSAAAANE!!).
Aside from all the democracy-schmemocracy problems with this, it is extremely dangerous. You have to comply when the police arrest you. You are under no obligation to comply if a bunch of anonymous dudes with guns try to grab you off the street and cram you into the back of a Land Rover. Some people might legitimately be frightened and resist, and then, well…what could go wrong?
Trump, and his Twap Wigit Bill Barr have now promised to invade a number of other cities that don’t want them. It seems that they want to normalize this as they’ve normalized so many other gashes to the heart of our democracy. But is this really creeping “fascism”?. Well, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC has put out a list of 12 signs that a country is heading towards fascism. Look at this list and tell me which ones we are not currently experiencing.
- Powerful and continuing nationalism
- Disdain for human rights
- Identification of enemies as a unifying cause
- Rampant sexism
- Controlled mass media
- Obsession with national security
- Religion and government intertwined
- Corporate power protected
- Labor power suppressed
- Disdain for intellectuals and the arts
- Obsession with crime and punishment
- Rampant cronyism and corruption
There is a famous “Doomsday Clock” that tracks how close we are to nuclear war. During tense times we’ve gotten as close as three minutes to midnight. I am unaware of a “Fascism Clock”, but don’t be surprised if someday you see me with a version on Shark Tank. But I can only imagine if such a clock did exist, we would already be hearing the chimes. If we don’t stop this now, when will we?