I would like to see a moderate conservative party with sane politicians that balance Democratic excesses. But since Barack Obama’s election Republicans have been getting rewarded for running to the political margins of the far right. My fear is that a major terrorist incident (a nuke in the harbor of Long Beach, for example) would turn the country decisively into a right-wing authoritarian country. I think that what we’re witnessing within the Republican Party is right-wing authoritarianism, not George Will style conservatism, and, in a crisis, the result could be catastrophic for the country’s direction.
The Tea Party people are the “avant guard” for a coming authoritarianism. Their shameless enthusiasm for torture and gay baiting, their love of conspiracy theories and fundamentalist religion, and their demonization of liberals and urban cosmopolitan culture is softening the country up for future brash authoritarian moves. Like a frog in an ever-increasing temperature, once you can tolerate torture and gay bashing, why not, say, the preemptive use of tactical nuclear weapons against our strategic enemies? And if we need oil, why not just take it? And if Muslims are an existential threat to the “Christian West”, then let’s round-up American Muslims and start a civilizational war with the Muslim world. Anti-intellectual simplification breeds more of the same, and callousness breeds callousness. It’s why the Tea Partiers love an anti-intellectual like Sarah Palin and praise a violent maniac like Joe Stack as a “patriot.” The Republican Party is giving itself over to dark forces in the psyche: they are sowing the wind and are in the process of reaping a whirlwind.
I keep praying the economy will turn around and the unemployment rate will come down because authoritarians thrive on crisis and economic misery. Unfortunately, the Bushies dug such a deep hole for the country that we may not come out for years. The very Keynesian stimulus programs and bailouts that kept the country from falling into Great Depression 2.0 have been so outrageously demagogued by the right that if we have another crisis it’s likely that our elected officials would simply let the country drop into it and right-wing authoritarians would consequently thrive and rule across the board. And memories, being short, would shift the blame for the crisis to Barack Obama’s time in office. I just hope that’s not what we’re about to witness.
History can take surprising directions, and I don’t think that an authoritarian turn in America is inevitable. But the very fact that history can take surprising turns also means that our country is by no means safe from authoritarianism.
Are we living in the Weimar Republic, and is Barack Obama, despite his youth and glamour, like the aged and feeble Paul von Hindenburg, presiding over a politically dead-locked government that leaves people clamoring for a “strong hand” and “strong hand measures”? Or is it Morning in America, and is Barack Obama the Democrats’ Ronald Reagan—a man on his way to presiding over six years of relative peace and prosperity and the progressive marginalizing of the far right?
For the sake of the country, I hope it’s the latter. I think that we all feel, collectively, that we’re on the cusp of something. But what?
For those interested in reading a book blurbed by Susan Sontag and published by the University of California Press, and which documents the Zeitgeist of the Weimar Republic even as it seems to channel the intellectual and social currents of our own time, see here. The book is very, very sobering reading.