The Attack on Disney: A case study for how fascism progresses toward tyranny in America
Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has declared war on Disney, while his colleague in Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott, is on a jihad against the parents of trans children.
This is how fascism progresses through its later stages toward tyranny. Democracies typically do not turn into fascist oligarchies by being invaded or losing wars. It usually happens from within, and is driven by an alliance between demagogic politicians, corrupt religious leaders, bigoted street brawlers, and some of the wealthiest people in society.
First, fascists identify groups of people they believe are both vulnerable and sufficiently powerless that they won’t be able to fight back. Typically, these are racial, religious, political or gender/sexuality minorities.
Enormous efforts go into demonizing the people the fascists have identified; members of the group who’ve committed crimes are heavily publicized, while “think tanks” and fascist allies in the media identify malicious “reasons” for those folks’ “deviance.”
Efforts by members of the demonized groups to achieve parity or equality in society are characterized as a “theft” of privilege and assets from the majority, legitimizing both verbal, legal, and physical attacks on members of the group.
For example, the billionaire Murdoch family’s top-rated morning show, Fox & Friends, recently wandered into a discussion about white people being “marginalized” by the possibility of our public schools teaching the actual racial history of America.
“[T]hey are not only trying to raise up minorities and make sure the playing field is even,” Brian Kilmeade said, “they’re trying to take down the white culture!”
Kilmeade, in full “White people are the victims!” mode, went on:
“Why are we being marginalized on a daily basis…? And it’s not even subtle! It’s actually out there! It is written in black-and-white!”
It’s played out this way in every democratic country that has fallen to tyranny from within. It’s how it happened in the 1930s in Italy, Germany, Japan and Spain, and today in Hungary, Poland, Egypt, Russia, The Philippines, and Turkey, among others.
More recently, Swanson Food Heir Tucker Carlson went on a rant about the “Great Replacement Theory.”
After identifying targeted minorities — for today’s GOP that includes Black people, trans kids (and their parents), pregnant women, and Democrats — and encouraging legal and physical violence against them, fascists move to the second major step: seizing enough economic and political power that they can reshape society itself.
This requires bringing in morbidly rich people and enlisting the aid of big business.
So, first, they go after the biggest businesses. One of the biggest businesses in Florida is Disney, so Ron DeSantis tried to get them on his bigoted side. They didn’t go along with it, so now, in typical strongman fashion, DeSantis feels he has to destroy them to save face.
As German industrialist Fritz Thyssen writes in his book I Paid Hitler, he pressured German President von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as chancellor, and then lobbied the Association of German Industrialists, that country’s and era’s version of the US Chamber of Commerce, to donate 3 million Reichsmarks to the Nazi Party for the 1933 election. It brought Hitler to power.
Hitler’s sales pitch to the German people was that Jews, gays, and socialists had “stabbed Germany in the back” and were trying to “strip” good white Christian Germans of their “rights” and twist society to conform with their “perverted” ideas and lifestyles.
Hitler blamed the 1933 economic crisis on German minorities, Jews and gays, and accused Germany’s second largest political party of complicity with them; the German people went along with him. Once the Nazis took power, they changed election laws in such a way that they would never again lose.
Republicans and rightwing billionaires, of course, are doing much the same thing right now in America. One wonders if they’ll have the retrospective angst that haunted Thyssen until the day he died. He wrote about it in I Paid Hitler:
“I am not a politician, but an industrialist, and an industrialist is always inclined to consider politics a kind of second string to his bow — the preparation for his own particular activity. In a well-ordered country, where the administration is sound, where taxes are reasonable, and the police well organised, he can afford to abstain from politics and to devote himself entirely to business.
“But in a crisis-ridden state, as Germany was from 1918 to 1933, an industrialist is drawn, willy-nilly, into the vortex of politics. After 1930 the aspirations of German industry may be summed up in one phrase: ‘a sound economy in a strong state.’ This was, I remember, the slogan of a meeting of the Ruhr industrialists in 1931. …
“I, too, approved this slogan, ‘To surmount the crisis it was necessary to reinforce the authority of the state.’ … I believed that by backing Hitler and his party I could contribute to the reinstatement of real government and of orderly conditions, which would enable all branches of activity — and especially business — to function normally once again.”
Unlike Thyssen, who volunteered to support Hitler’s rise to power with massive financial and business backing, Disney is pushing back against DeSantis’ efforts to remake society in an American neofascist mode. Unless they soon cave in, Disney’s executives probably won’t one day write in their memoirs, as Thyssen did in his:
“But it is no use crying over spilled milk. The strong state of which I then dreamed had nothing in common with the totalitarian state or, rather, caricature of a state, erected by Hitler and his minions.
“Not for an instant did I imagine that it was possible, one hundred and fifty years after the French Revolution and the proclamation of the Rights of Man, to substitute arbitrary action for law in a great modern country, to strangle the most elementary rights of the citizen, to establish an Asiatic tyranny in the heart of Europe, and to foster anachronistic aspirations of conquest and world dominion.”
This is not America’s first brush with oligarchic fascism, as I lay out in The Hidden History of American Oligarchy. President Franklin Roosevelt and Vice President Henry Wallace struggled with it in the 1930s with Charles Lindberg’s infamous Nazi-aligned America First movement.
In early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry Wallace to, as Wallace noted, “write a piece answering the following questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?”
Vice President Wallace’s answer to those questions was published in The New York Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan.
“The really dangerous American fascists,” Wallace wrote, “are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way.”
As if he had a time machine and could see the “conservative” media landscape today, Wallace continued:
“The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.”
But Disney refused to use their media platform to advance the fascists’ agenda. It has only, however, slowed them down a bit.
Ultimately, as fascists gain more power and grow bolder, nothing is off the table. This is the threshold we’re approaching today, where they don’t just trash minorities and march through the streets displaying weapons and huge flags, but began asserting justification for violence and even murder.
Alleging crimes against the majority’s children is a fascist favorite, as Hitler charged with his repeated attacks on Jewish teachers, leading 15% of the nation’s teachers and professors (including a guy named Albert Einstein) to flee the country when he began his attacks on education in 1933.
Fascist politicians start alleging the most vile of crimes by the groups they hope to destroy: words like “grooming” roll off their lips with a smarmy ease.
Soon vigilante groups set out to destroy those accused, sometimes politically, sometimes physically. German Nazis were particularly fond of accusing people they intended to destroy or kill of sexual “crimes.” As Thyssen wrote:
“General von Fritsch’s affair is also a good sample of the peculiar methods used by the Hitler regime. Fritsch was to be ‘liquidated.’ To achieve this, it is said, the head of the Gestapo personally reproached him with practicing homosexuality.
“Fritsch, who denied this from the very start, was ordered to call at the chancellery of the Reich, where he was to be unmasked in the presence of the Supreme Leader. … It seems certain that General von Fritsch has subsequently committed suicide. I can at least say that whatever the actual circumstances of his death may have been, he was anxious to die.”
While history usually sides with the victims of fascists, as we’re seeing today with the people Putin is starving to death in Mariupol, that’s small comfort as they confront terror and death.
DeSantis, Abbott and the other Republican neofascists are playing a dangerous game, using Disney as a proxy for the racial and gender minorities they want as whipping boys. It’s a high-stakes political game that has torn societies apart and destroyed millions of lives in the past.
Standing against them are their victims and the Democratic Party, albeit hobbled in their efforts by the perfidy of Manchin and Sinema. This autumn’s elections may well be the last chance for people of good will who believe in American values and eschew fascism to rise in opposition.
Make sure everybody you know is registered to vote, regularly double-check your own registration to make it through a voter purge if you live in a Republican-controlled state, and volunteer to help out inside the Democratic Party or through any of the great groups fighting for a more just America. Time is short, as Fritz Thyssen and Vice President Wallace would tell you were they alive today.
Brіаn McGowаn, Jоsе Mіzrаhі, Zіnо Schееrs, Kаrl Cаllwооd, Crаіg Аddеrlеy
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