Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics

Eva-Maria Simms: Fascism is never democratic

It was St. Patrick’s Day weekend in 2016, and I was out in my garden digging the ground in preparation for the spring planting season.  The day was warm, and I saw young people out on the sidewalk decked out in green top-hats and t-shirts making their way to Pittsburgh’s St. Patrick’s Day parade and the revelries downtown. They were laughing and talking and seemed to have a good time.  I remembered that during my student years I joined the St. Paddy’s Day parade in Dallas, Texas dressed as an Irish fairy with wings made from coat-hangers and an old bedsheet.  I was told that on that day we were all Irish, even I as a German, and I happily danced and blew kisses in front of our home-made float with the poet Gerald Burns, decked out in mitre and chasuble, officiating over the celebration.

I kept digging, happy with my memories of an America where we all could be Irish in March, Mexican on Cinque De Mayo, African American on MLK day, and Italian whenever the neighborhood of Bloomfield had their street festival.  A chorus of male voices wafted over from one of the backyards behind ours, and I realized that they were singing a German folk-song.  I was amazed to hear my native language raised in song, and I hummed along.  The song ended, and I looked forward to the next tune.  But what blew over from below was “Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil!”  I froze and stopped my shovel in mid-swing.  I could not believe what I had just heard.  This is America, my chosen home that prides itself on freedom, inclusion, and democratic idealism. And a nest of neo-Nazis felt that finally, during the ascendancy of Trump in the 2016 election, they had the liberty to publicly spout Nazi propaganda.

I have lived in the US for almost 40 years, and I had never seen this blatant and public glorification of German fascism.  What has changed in American life that such a thing can be possible?  Are we not the good people of Hogan’s Heroes and the Nazis the horrible people over there, and we despise their narrow obedience and abhor their amoral, evil deeds?  We beat them in WW II and thought we were done with them.  But now Nazi racism and brutality are raising their ugly voices in our own neighborhoods.

Fascist sentiments have been part of American life for a long time.  Racism, eugenics, the call for a strong-man leader, empire-building militarism, and the curtailing of individual civil rights and liberties are all part of modern American history.  But we always seemed to be ashamed of them on some level, and the people who advocated for them did so in niches and hidden corners of our public discourse.  No longer:  since St. Patrick’s Day 2016 — which now seems to me like the canary in the coal-mine — fascists feel perfectly free to bring their ideology and their force into our public life and claim that they represent a large number of people and that they have a valid political position.

But what they want is not political discourse.  Political discourse respects the other and engages in free debate and democratic deliberation.  It is built on a carefully balanced system of powers that our constitutional history has established and it pre-supposes a social contract between citizens: we agree to respect and follow the law.  Underlying this is a sense of decency that goes even beyond legal constraints: we believe that goodness has an intrinsic value, and we treat each other as basically good people. A free society is a society where people can live their daily lives without fear of government violence against citizens. However, what the Nazi’s want is not a free, democratic, decent society. They want a dictator, a one party system, world-domination, the erasure of races that are not white, and the brutal exercise of power over any citizen.

We saw in Germany what that led to:  paranoia and rumor ruled the neighborhoods, and your neighbors were carted off in the middle of the night never to be seen again.  You could have been next. You were drafted into quagmire wars in Russian steppes where you or your brothers or your sons lost your lives, or you were herded to the SS breeding farms to “Give the fuehrer a child” to strengthen white supremacy.  Your children with down syndrome were first sent to psychiatric hospitals, and then they vanished; their death certificates all had the same day on them. Your parents, your children, your husbands were sent to Auschwitz and Treblinka, where they said “Arbeit macht Frei” but where an endless cloud of fumes came from the gas ovens and hung over the land.   At the end your cities were in rubble, your people were starving, and you looked at the ruin of your civilization and wondered how ever did we get here?

This is where fascism is headed.  It is brutal, misogynistic, racist, anti-democratic, and megalomaniacal.  Neo-Nazi ideology is not normal and is not a valid political position in America.


 

Copyright 2017 Eva-Maria Simms

Dr. Eva-Maria Simms is Adrian van Kaam professor of psychology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

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“Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017

8 comments on “Eva-Maria Simms: Fascism is never democratic

  1. richwrapper
    August 24, 2017

    Reblogged this on richwrapper and commented:
    Powerful. Personal. Prophetic?

    Like

  2. Benjamin David Steele
    August 19, 2017

    This is a good piece. But there is some important context missing. Sure, the US fought the Nazis and we won. Even so, it was rather arbitrary that they were Nazis. Any country of any ideology having acted in the same way would have received the same response. Most Americans didn’t enlist to fight against the Holocaust, as most Northerners didn’t enlist in the Civil War to fight slavery — in both cases, it was countering a threatening act of military aggression.

    Fascism, eugenics, xenophobia, ultra-nationalism, white supremacy, right-wing populism, etc were extremely popular in the US all across society, including among the ruling plutocrats. There was absolutely no shame in any of this at the time. The Second Klan in the early 20th century had national membership that primarily consisted of the most respectable people in communities (ministers, store owners, judges, police chiefs, etc) and they had major politicians on their payroll. At the same time, the German Bund had large marches in US cities where they dressed in Nazi uniforms and carried the Nazi flag.

    Major American political, economic, and media figures openly supported, were allied with, advocated for, and worked with Nazis. Many American businessessmen were invested in the the Nazi economy and many American factories were built in Nazi Germany. Take the Bush family. Prescott, W’s grandfather, was a businessman and politician. He made his wealth through business dealings with the Nazis. After WWII, the Bush family guaranteed the safety of certain Nazi war criminals, helped them get US citizenship, and got them jobs with the US government. The Bush family feels no shame in any of this — they never have and they never will. Like the Nazis, the American plutocracy cares about power, whether through hard fascism or soft fascism.

    Nothing has changed. The alt-right is being promoted by right-wing media, think tanks, and astroturf that is owned or funded by wealthy and powerful elite who are directly involved in US politics. It’s a large-scale propaganda operation. This has been the way the political right has operated this past century. It’s a tried and true strategy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Vox Populi
      August 19, 2017

      Thanks for giving us the historical context, David.

      Like

  3. Lorrie
    August 17, 2017

    Perhaps we need to follow the neo-nazi parade with a parade of the victims, a parade we could all dress for in remembrance.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Leslie Ellis, Ph.D.
    August 16, 2017

    I just hope that all good-hearted and fair Americans now understand that this President is an evil Fascist pretender who is hell-bent on taking over this country and making it as far removed from a Democracy as he can take it. His efforts to suppress the vote and illegitimate the press are terrifying and are the tactics of Fascist dictators who are trying to solidify their power against what they consider to be their
    enemies.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Rosalie Steward
    August 16, 2017

    Thank you Marie Simms. Indeed the Alt-right is not about a perceived belief in white supremacy; it is about Fascism and the Charlottesville incident is a demonstration fascism in action and there is nothing “right” about it. The whole
    group and the ideas behind them are an affront to our system of government
    which is founded on the principle that “ALL men(humans) are created EQUAL, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I consider the events in Charlotesville treasonous and any persons trying to validate the actions of the alt-right in Charlotesville are defending treason and should be held accountable: that includes Donald Trump.
    .

    Liked by 1 person

  6. daniel r. cobb
    August 16, 2017

    Eva Marie Simms. Whenever she writes, it is time to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Patricia A. Nugent
    August 16, 2017

    Beautifully written…and oh so frightening. It causes me to scream obscenities. I’m at zero tolerance for ANYTHING that man or his defenders say or do. He must be removed from office. NOW! Call your Congressional reps.

    Liked by 3 people

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