The GOP and Its Supporters Embrace the Darkside

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          Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here was published at a time when fascism was ascendant in Europe. The novel describes Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, a United States Senator who is elected to the presidency after promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and traditional values. After his election,Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes a fascist dictatorship with the support of a ruthless paramilitary force, modeled after Adolf Hitler's SS.

            The New York Times' editorial board noted the other day that President Obama's address to the nation last Sunday "was intended to reassure anxious Americans that the United States will defeat the Islamic State, 'by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing upon every aspect of American power' But success, he noted, 'won't depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving into fear. That's what groups like ISIL are hoping for.'"


            In response to his address, the GOP's presidential candidates and their super pacs excoriated President Obama for his measured and thoughtful address and accused him of timidity. However, not one of the GOP  candidates, including the three U.S. senators, could summon the personal courage to demand that the Congress discharge its constitutional responsibility under Article I and vote authorize of the deployment of U.S. forces to combat ISIS. Because of the Congress's moral cowardice, President Obama has been forced to act unilaterally in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.   


            Donald Trump, who managed to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War, proposed to ban all Muslims from entering the country.


            Ted Cruz, whom the Times described as a Twitter warrior, proclaimed that he would "direct the Department of Defense to destroy ISIS"and while campaigning in Iowa this past weekend claimed "We will carpet bomb them into oblivion," and stated "I don't know if sand can glow in the dark, but we're going to find out," an apparent allusion to unleashing nuclear weapons. Mr. Cruz if should be noted has never served in the U.S. military and one presumes that his announcement that he wants to be a "war-time" commander-in-chief will not include his insisting that his own children serve in the U.S. military.


            In similar vein, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Jeb Bush condemned radical Islamic terrorism and demanded bold and decisive military action against ISIS.


            Left unaddressed by the GOP's presidential candidates are the answers to a number of questions.


            Scott Shane accurately reported in a New York Times article on June 24, 2015 that "Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, anti-government fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: As of that date, 48 people had been killed by extremists who were not Muslim, including the mass killing in Charleston, S.C., compared to 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center." In addition, according to the Center for Disease Prevention and Control of the U.S. State Department, more than 406,000 Americans have died from domestic gun violence in the United States since 2001.

            Does ISIS pose a greater threat to the U.S. than domestic terrorists and random acts of senseless gun violence?  Precisely how do the GOP candidates propose that the United States - a country that cannot even control rampant gun violence at home - could possibly defeat an enemy that is motivated by a crackpot, apocalyptic ideology that exalts in a fanatical, intolerant strand of Islam, and which is located in a remote, unstable geographic region populated by Arabs, Turks and Persians whose languages, histories and cultures are utterly alien to most Americans?  How does an expanded military footprint in that region promote vital U.S. interests?    


            The Watson Institute at Brown University reports that more than 6,800 American service members have died in Iraq and Afghanistan and that more than 970,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veteran disability claims have been registered with the Veteran Administration. The Congressional Research Service concludes that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to date have cost U.S. taxpayers $1.6 trillion. Harvard University economist Linda Bilmes calculated in 2013 that the total costs of these two ill-fated adventures will be between $4 trillion and $6 trillion including "long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs."


             How can the GOP candidates justify putting more American soldiers in harm's way and spending potentially hundreds of billions of dollars more of taxpayer money at art time when they are demanding a balanced budget and are unwilling to support critical domestic spending that would address this country's essential economic, infrastructure and health needs? 


            If, as all of the GOP candidates agree, government is the problem and not the solution to this country's problem, and that domestic needs are best addressed by states and local governments, how do the GOP candidates justify their confidence in the ability of the U.S. government to successfully implement and execute policies and programs thousands of miles away from the homeland, in territories that the U.S. does not control?


            Saudi Arabia currently has a military force that numbers 227,000 troops, including 75,000 soldiers, 13,500 sailors and 20,000 air force personnel. Iran has 545,000 active military personnel. The Turkish Armed Forces collectively rank as the second largest standing military force in NATO, after the U.S. Armed Forces, with an estimated strength in 2015 of 639,551 military, civilian and paramilitary personnel.  


            Why shouldn't those Muslim countries, as Senator Bernie Sanders has suggested, take the lead in fighting ISIS and Al Queda since they are the countries and populations most directly affected by the spread of Islamic fanaticism?               


            Saudi Arabia is an Islamic theocracy. Its brand of Salafalist Wahhabism has been the inspiration for ISIS and other Muslim fanatics throughout the world. To the present, it continues to actively propagate its virulent and insidious doctrines through its support for mosques and madrassas around the world. In addition, religious minorities are not permitted to practice their religions in Saudi Arabia, non-Muslim religious propagation is prohibited, and conversion from Islam to another religion is punishable by death as apostasy. Proselytizing by non-Muslims, including the distribution of non-Muslim religious materials such as Bibles, is illegal. In late 2014 a law was promulgated calling for the death penalty for anyone bringing into the country "publications that have a prejudice to any other religious beliefs other than Islam."


            If the GOP candidates want to combat religious fanaticism, why are they so reluctant to condemn Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states for their religious intolerance and demand that the persecution of Christians and non-believers cease at once?  


            The answers to these questions are fairly simple, but the refusal of the GOP's presidential candidates to answer is inextricably bound up with the financial support that they receive from the gun lobby, the welfare-through-warfare lobby, the domestic oil and gas lobby, and from the large international manufacturing corporations and financial institutions that oppose U.S. government regulation and seek to evade  paying their  fair share taxes. Rather than acknowledge that they are beholden to these entities, the GOP s presidential candidates - to a man and one woman - have instead chosen to pander to a base of poorly educated, low-information, and fearful Americans who do not understand the roots of their insecurity and angst. 


            The advent of the automobile, the post-World War II exodus to the suburbs, the demise of extended families in closely-knit urban neighborhoods, the development of gated communities and a corresponding decline in personal involvement in  civic and fraternal organizations have all been carefully documented by  researchers such as Robert Putnam at Harvard University. Those developments have exacerbated the individualistic ethos that has been at the core of American experience since the country's founding; together, they have engendered a sense of social isolation, fear, and vulnerability among many Americans.


            That increasing sense of anomic, isolated individualism now poses a danger and a challenge to our body politic, our sense of who we are, and how confident we are in our ability to confront the challenges of the future. The attendant fear - that forces more powerful than the self pose a threat to personal autonomy - help, in large part, to explain the anger, frustration, and vitriol exemplified by the Tea Party movement that first came to prominence in the summer of 2009 and now by the current GOP presidential candidates. 


            In his important book, Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm observed, that "Once the primary bonds which gave security to the individual are severed, once the individual faces the world outside of himself as a completely separate entity, two courses are open to him since he has to overcome the unbearable stage of powerlessness and aloneness. By one course he can progress to "positive freedom;" he can relate himself spontaneously to the world in love and work...he can thus become one again with man, nature and himself, without giving up the independence and integrity of his individual self. The other course is to fall back, to give up his freedom, to try to overcome his aloneness by trying to eliminate the gap which has arisen between his individual self and the world."


            The next  election decide may very well decide whether voters will succumb to their  fears and insecurities, as urged by the GOP's presidential candidates, or will choose to face the future with collective determination and hope as a previous generation of Americans who heeded the words of Franklin Roosevelt that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself."

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