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On Contact: Neofascist seizure of America’s state governments

On the show, Chris Hedges discusses the seizure of state governments by America’s homegrown neofascist movement with the historian Paul Street.

The creeping homegrown Christianized fascism that is steadily gaining power in the United States is most evident not in Washington but in state-level politics. Some 150 million Americans live in fully or mainly “red states,” where state politics and policy are completely or largely in the hands of a neofascist Republican party. There are 22 states where Republicans control the governorship and legislatives bodies. There are 15 states where the Democratic party controls the governorship and legislative bodies. And there are 13 states with divided governments. In the “red” states such as Texas and Florida, laws are being passed to suppress voting, outlaw abortion, forbid honest discussion of white systemic racism in public education, ban local governments and school districts from enforcing minimum wage ordinances, prohibit local vaccine and mask mandates, cut pandemic-related unemployment benefits, reject federal Medicaid dollars to help the poor receive health care, and persecute undocumented workers and their families. The nation’s most retrograde corporate political funders and operatives – the Koch-backed “fifth column” culprits in historian Nancy MacLean’s book Democracy in Chains – have long focused heavily on politics and policy at the state level. State politics, with the collapse of the local press and its consolidation by a handful of corporations, is an easy mark. It is rarely covered and almost never in-depth. Corporations, for relatively small costs, can buy the loyalty of state officials and banish those who do not do their bidding. What is happening, as the historian Paul Street writes, is that in the white-nationalist “flyover” states, Republican neofascists are hard-wiring these jurisdictions to orchestrate this creeping coup with Leninist discipline.

Paul Street is the author of 10 books including his latest Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and the Politics of Appeasement. He also writes regularly for Counterpunch where he published a recent column headlined “What Happens in the Red States.”

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CH: Welcome to On Contact.  Today we discuss the seizure of state governments by America’s homegrown neo-fascist movement with the historian, Paul Street.

PS: Their opposition to abortion was intimately related to a much broader overall fascistic worldview about just about everything, people are.  And the connecting link in all of this was personal responsibility.  They kept going on and on about personal responsibility.  Poor people are poor because they’re lazy.  There’s also this under text of inferior.  They even view COVID at the level of just a completely personal level.  They blame people for getting COVID.  It’s a personal responsibility issue.  They are obsessed with the notion that anytime the government ever steps in to help anyone, welfare programs, or pro union legislation, or public health mandates, that that is a socialist, Marxist, totalitarian assault on personal responsibility.

CH: The creeping homegrown Christianized fascism that is steadily gaining power in the United States is most evident, not in Washington, but in state level politics.  Some 150 million Americans live in fully or mainly red states, where state politics and policy are completely or largely in the hands of a neo-fascist Republican Party.  There are 22 states where Republicans control the governorship and legislative bodies.  There are 15 states where the Democratic Party controls the governorship and legislative bodies, and there are 13 states with divided governments.  In the red states, such as Texas and Florida, laws are being passed to suppress voting, outlaw abortion, forbid honest discussion of white systemic racism in public education, ban local governments and school districts from enforcing minimum wage ordinances, prohibit local vaccine and mask mandates, cut pandemic related unemployment benefits, reject federal Medicaid dollars to help the poor receive healthcare, and persecute undocumented workers and their families.  The nation’s most retrograde, corporate political funders and operatives, the Koch-backed fifth column culprits in historian Nancy MacLean’s book “Democracy in Chains” have long focused heavily on politics and policy at the state level.  State politics with the collapse of the local press and its consolidation by a handful of corporations is an easy mark.  It is rarely covered and almost never in depth.  Corporations for relatively small cost can buy the loyalty of state officials and banish those who do not do their bidding.  “What is happening…” as the historian Paul Street writes “…is that in the white nationalist flyover states, Republican neo-fascists are hardwiring these jurisdictions to orchestrate this creeping coup with Leninist discipline.  Joining me to discuss the seizure of local politics by the far right is Paul Street, the author of 10 books, including his latest “Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump and the Politics of Appeasement.”  He also writes regularly for CounterPunch, where he published a recent column headlined, “What Happens in the Red States.”  So Paul, I think that you’ve focused in that column on an extremely important point something that is often missed in the national discussion of the corruption of the Republican Party and the rise of a demagogue like Trump.  But lay the groundwork for us because this isn’t new.

PS: You know, it’s not all just about Trump.  In fact, in many ways, it’s much more dangerously and significantly and in a grassroots kind of way about the states, and what’s going on in the states.  And there’s a remarkable lack of attention, particularly in liberal and left circles and in--and in media coverage of politics of what goes on at the state level.  There’s a--there’s a there’s a over focus in a lot of our consciousness on national politics, and sometimes on local politics.  I’m from Chicago, and it’s always about Trump and Biden, or it’s always about Lori Lightfoot and what’s happening in the city itself.  What’s going on in Springfield, what’s going on in Des Moines, what’s going on in Madison, Wisconsin, what’s going on in Little Rock, Arkansas, the right knows all about this.  It’s--I like your phrase “Leninist discipline.”  They have been little laser focused, the Koch brothers and the right-wing legislative networks that they funded like ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Commission, which just prints off like an assembly line, a series of far right-wing bills that then does get disseminated across these red states.  And there’s this kind of habit among leftist and liberals I know who are disproportionately concentrated in bright blue metropolitan cities and bright blue campus towns to dismiss a lot of that stuff.  You know, it’s a mistake.  Well, that’s what’s going on out in the Hicks, that’s what’s going out in Montana.  You know, that’s what’s going out into, “flyover zones.”  Well, for one thing, this is really stupid and foolish, there’s neglect on numerous stuff, as one of them is that maybe a hundred and fifty million, certainly more than a hundred million people, actually live in these places and they’re all--and they’re not all neo-fascist Amerikaner white nationalists, Texas and Tennessee and Alabama are full of people of color.  There are liberals, there are leftists, there are progressives, that live there, you know.  You sometimes sort of hear this kind of snide statement, you know, from urban liberals, “Well, let them secede, maybe they’ll secede from the union,” my God, that would be a nightmare for millions and millions of people.  And those people matter.  The women of Texas matter.  I was at an abortion rights rally recently where some Illinois abortion rights activists were saying, “Well, we’ve got to set up a firewall, you know, we’ve got to--we’ve got to--you know, we’ve got to protect our state and our region from what’s going on in Texas.”  And I thought to myself, what about all the women in Texas, you know?  So I mean, so these things, you know, these people matter down there.  Everything that happens in the states bleeds over, not just in other states, but into the national politics.  I’m an Iowa right now, over there with the university a mile away it’s just the Wild West with COVID because the right-wing Board of Regents doesn’t even let professors ask students to wear masks during office hours, can you imagine?  And, you know, so a kid that’s got a job now as an accountant in The Loop in Chicago that he got in Iowa comes back for homecoming, contracts COVID because there’s no masks anywhere around here.  My wife and I don’t even want to go downtown.  I don’t use the university library anymore.  I don’t use the university gyms anymore, because it’s just--it’s just insane over there because of the state level COVID policies imposed by COVID Kim Reynolds, the right-wing Republican Governor, that--those kids go back to Chicago and spread COVID in a blue state like there.  The Texas Abortion Bill is analogous in many ways to The Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, and has a mercenary impact that could lead to anyone anywhere in any state being sued for $10,000 if they are shown to have helped a woman in Texas get an abortion, like funding an organization that ferries people out of Texas.  The Mississippi Abortion Bill and many other state level anti-abortion bills are specifically crafted to make their way to the Supreme Court and then lead to a decision on a court that is staffed by people who disproportionately reflect the power of red states in the national politics of this country is meant to precipitate a decision that will eliminate women’s right to abortion in the whole country and across the vote--we should probably get into some of the voter suppression.  And also in many way--in the underestimated aspect of this, the voter nullification activities that are under these under wings red states are clearly designed to tilt the national politics in 2024, 2025.  And on top of which, the red states themselves under our charter, which goes back to the 18th century, are drastically overrepresented in the national politics.  Wyoming has two senators and so does California, even though Wyoming has less than 600,000 people and California has almost 40 million people.  California had the same population the US Senator ratio as Wyoming.  It would have more than 130 US senators.  So there’s this magnification on the national level of the political sentiments in these so-called flyover states.  They matter.  They matter a lot.  And you’re absolutely right, the right-wing has known this for a long, long time and doesn’t screw around with it.  They have Leninist discipline.

CH: I want to talk about voter suppression.  So we just had the Texas Legislature pass gerrymandering bill that when you look at the map, essentially cuts out black and Latino voters by making them a minority in each voting district and then, of course, the nullification and everything else.  But you have very aggressive tactics, especially in the red states to block the ability of potentially Democratic voters from having any political power at all.  Oh, no, that’s absolutely right.  And it’s just--it’s a blitzkrieg of bills and I you know, and I--and I wrote down here somewhere just so I could remember how many are there.  There are 19 states that have passed 33 laws to suppress voting, voter restriction.  And the--really, the go-to source on this is the--is the Liberal Brennan Center associated with the law school of New York University, NYU, and I highly recommend regularly up--checking for the updates on the latest voter suppression laws at the Brennan Center.  And really, a voter restriction means anything that makes it harder to register to vote, anything that makes it harder to stay on the rolls, anything that makes it harder to vote.  And I literally printed off because it’s just--like I said, it’s a blitzkrieg.  Let me just give you some of the examples of the voter restriction laws that are being passed disproportionately in the south, but not exclusively in the south, also in western Republican states and in the great upper Midwestern outposts of the Confederacy, Iowa and South Dakota, shortened window to apply for a mail ballot, shortened deadline to deliver a mail ballot, make it harder to remit--to remain on absentee voting lists, eliminate or limit sending mail ballot applications, eliminate or limit sending mail ballots to voters who do not specifically request them, restrict assistance in returning of voters’ mail ballot.  You know, for instance, a handicapped person who might like some help getting their ballot, that limit the number, location or availability of mail ballot drop boxes, impose stricter signature requirements for a mail ballot, harsher voter ID requirements, which incidentally are aimed not just at black and minority voters, but at White college students in campus towns that come from blue areas, but they’re in red state universities like Madison, Wisconsin, Iowa City, and Columbia, Missouri.  Like those universities there.  Expand voter purges, or risk faulty vote purges.  The--just the mass slashing of people with felony records who are disproportionately black from voting rolls.  Increase barriers for voters with disabilities, which is just sadistic and social Darwinist and vicious, increase number of voters per precinct, reduce the ability of election workers to stop right-wing poll watchers from harassing voters.  And the list goes on and on.  And in and of themselves, some of these might seem minor, but cumulatively, they’re a really big deal, particularly when you start limiting ballot sites and people have to literally try and get their bosses to let them take whole days off to get their votes.  And this is the Republican lesson that they took from the massive turnout to vote out Trump in 2020.  You know, never again will it be as easy to vote as a lot of local election authorities made it in the COVID--in the COVID period.  So that’s the restriction and they’re just getting started.  There’ll be more between now and 2024.  In some ways, the more interesting things are the suppression aspects, or the--excuse me, the nullification aspects which does not--does not get enough attention.

CH: Great.  When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation about the seizure of local politics by the far right, with the author and historian Paul Street.  Welcome back to On Contact.  We continue our conversation about the seizure of local politics by the far-right with the historian and author, Paul Street.  So before I go into the issue of COVID and abortion, these kind of flashpoint emotional issues, why is the Democratic Party so supine?  Why are they not responding?

PS: You know, it’s--it really--it’s just astonishing the extent to which the Democratic Party just consistent--it was not astonishing, but it’s depressing, the extent to which they just continually give evidence for Sheldon Wolin’s 2008 description of the Democratic Party as the inauthentic opposition.  They simply don’t want to engage in the kind of mobilization of the population that would be required to really fight these types of things.  It’s the--it’s the last thing they want to do.  They want to hitch everything onto these little holy moments of two minutes every--well, now sometimes it’s a half a day.  But these one days, every four years, when people--this is the sole definition of politics, when we all go in to make--to mark ballots next to the name of a preselected ruling class candidate.  And, you know, and that’s the sole definition of politics.  These can--these quadrennial electoral extravaganzas.  This would, you know, to really take this stuff on would be to getting really into the thick of how our local governments and our national governments, and our state governments are structured and how our election laws function, it would involve putting people in the streets, and it would involve taking a really hard look at the absurdity of the institutional structure that frankly goes back to the slave owners constitution of the late 18th Century.  Why does Wyoming have as many senators as California?  Have you--have you ever tried to explain the electoral college to a--to someone from another country?  It’s just--it’s a hilarious experience, you know.  And they don’t want to tinker with any of those fundamentals.  But they don’t even seem to want to do some of the kinds of things that the constitution allows, like the--like the For The People Act, which just can’t get past the US Senate.  Now the US Senate, it’s not just Kyrsten Sinema’s fault, and Joe Manchin’s fault, and neither of them could have the kind of ability to block the use of the filibuster to pass something like the For The People Act, which would outlaw a lot of these state-level practices.  It--they wouldn’t have that power if we didn’t have a senate that was fundamentally weighted towards the red states.  And they just don’t want to confront that reality.  But there are things even within the constitution that could be done, and they refuse to do them.  They could bypass, they could--they could--they could bypass--they could--they could--they could go hard after the filibuster.  They could make Sinema and Manchin pay a price.  They could--they could just do a whole number of things.  And they just don’t want to do it because their funders don’t want them to do it.  They don’t want to mobilize the population to the extent that would be required to really take this on.  How about--how about Washington DC being given statehood, you know?  How about expanding the size or threatening, as FDR did, to expand the size of the Supreme Court?  Biden thought about that--about that briefly, and then just kicked it down the cab with down the--kicked the can down the road with a Blue Ribbon Commission.  But they don’t--they don’t want to do it.  They’re junior partners, they’re sort of like, the Weimar Party as the neo-fascist party rises up and it’s predictable and yet tragic, nonetheless.

CH: Well, they’re like von Papen, you know, the old aristocratic party who are appalled at the Nazis, but won’t make fundamental changes, and then, of course, essentially orchestrate their own extinction.  You use the term Christian fascist.  That’s a word I’ve used for a long time when I wrote my book on American fascism, a Christian writing in a war in America over a decade ago is very controversial term, but one that I think is apt.  And I want to talk about that because it gives an ideological veneer to this assault.  And then I want you to talk about the COVID, the prohibition of masked mandates, vaccine mandates.  So you see this explosion of COVID on the one hand in these red states, and on the other hand, this aggressive political move to prohibit the very mechanisms by which would be restrained.  And then, of course, I want you to talk about abortion.  But can you tie all those three things together?

PS: Well, you know, it’s always been a truism that if fascism or some form of it came to America, which lacks the anti-clerical sorts of traditions that existed in Western Europe.  There’s just a different relationship between the right--between politics and religion in the United States than there was in Europe.  There’s a deeply embedded fundamentalist textually biblically based fundamentalists kind of white supremacism that goes back to the very origins of this country.  And if we were to even ever get fascism, it would be wrapped among other things in the--in the flag of the--of the Christian Bible.  And this goes way back.  I recently had occasion to counter-protest a bunch of anti-abortion activists in Chicago called Operation Rescue, they’re very propagandistic.  And they’re very zealous, they have a fire in their eyes, and they come over and talk to you.  And it was very interesting.  They weren’t just there out of their Christian faith in the life of a--of a--of a conceived entity in the belly of a mother.  As you talk to them more, it became clear that their opposition to abortion was intimately related to a much broader overall fascistic worldview about just about everything, people are.  In the connecting link and all of this was personal responsibility.  They kept going on and on about personal responsibility.  Poor people are poor, because they’re lazy.  There’s also this under text of inferior.  They even view COVID at the level of just a completely personal level.  They blame people for getting COVID.  It’s a personal responsibility issue.  They are obsessed with the notion that anytime the government ever steps in to help anyone, welfare programs, or pro-union legislation, or public health mandates that that is a socialist Marxist totalitarian assault on personal responsibility.  They informed me that Fidel Castro killed 11 million people.  They believe that the COVID vaccine is full of cell tissues from aborted fetuses.  It’s just--it’s all part of a whole cloth.  It’s all--it’s all linked together.  And absolutely, you know, the opposition to COVID, the hypocrisy in the Republican Party generally, state level and for instance, at Fox News, it’s just extraordinary, because many of the key people fomenting opposition the mask and vaccines are themselves masked and vaccinated.  They are protecting themselves.  They view it as--they view it purely from the perspective of cynical, partisan advantage.  This goes back to Trump in his initial response to the virus.  He politicized it, and it works for a certain part of their base.  And it doesn’t matter that most of the population is on the other side because on this issue.  Most of the population has at least based on basic common sense and is--but it works for enough of their base when they’re rigging the elections, and they’re rigging the game.  And the red states are disproportionately represented in the electoral system, they’ve decided that it’s a winner and they’re willing to kill their own people to do the status.  So they view it.  There’s another kind of subtext and all of this to--and this goes back to the very beginning of it in the connections with fascism.  There is a sense of social Darwinian weakness that the people who get and die from COVID are at some level sort of genetically inferior.  I think the Trump cabal was very impressed early on by the fact that COVID broke out first amongst people of color in big cities.  Cities and people of color, along with science, medical science are big targets, they’re big enemies in fascist ideology and in--and in fascist thought.  They thought that the pandemic was just going to harm their evil enemies and their swore--their--swore these cities of sin and--of sin, and, you know, sexual misbehavior and race mixing that they hate so much and then lo and behold, the virus, as anyone could’ve predicted, spread out into some of their regions.  I kind of suspect that Trump and Lindsey Graham and some others have tried to nudge the Republican base into getting vaccinated then they get booed because they’ve let this cat out of the bag and they--and they can’t put it back.  But they’ve tried to nudge some of their base to get vaccinated in part because probably of fear that they’re going--they’re trying to kill off too much of their base that it will actually turn against them in 2022 and 2024.  But…

CH: I want--I want to talk about the, you know, just to close in the last minute, where you think we’re headed.  But just to make a note that the rural urban divide was very much part of the ethnic conflict in Yugoslavia and very much part of the rise of fascism, in Germany, the Nazi support was largely rural, it was the Communist Party that controlled the industrialized urban centers among the working class, but what do you think all of this means for where we’re going?

PS: Well, you know, Donald Trump initially, his very perceptive psychologist, liberal niece Mary Trump was fairly committed he wasn’t going to run again, because of his--because of his narcissistic fear of being labeled a loser a second time.  And she has subsequently decided that his calculations have changed, and she’s probably right about that.  And not that it’s all about Trump.  They could--they could run another kind of neo-fascist like DeSantis or the Texas Governor or some other--some other lunatic.  But probably Trump, he seems to have a stranglehold on the party right now.  Now, Mary Trump thinks he’s going to run and I think she’s right.  And the calculation is that the voter suppression measures, and the voter nullification measures and policies at the state level.  And when I say voter nullification, I’m talking about things like the states taking away the power of county level election officials in democratic counties and also the replacement of democratic secretaries of state by Republican officials to count election.  And his calculation now is that the voter suppression and nullification is going to be sufficiently intact, it’s going to continue, along with the success that the GOP has had in slowing down economic recovery precisely by attacking pandemic public health restrictions, which in turn has an economic impact.  So Biden is having economic problems.  And furthermore, Biden took the hit of a really sloppy and poorly executed withdrawal from Afghanistan, his approval numbers have fallen very significantly.  He lose--he’s losing independence.  And now the idea is that Trump probably will run again and has a--has a distinct possibility of success through a coordinated election strategy that’s heavily rooted at the state level, and in these manipulations carried out at the red state level but then will then in turn impact the 2024 election.  If it’s anywhere close to looking like Biden or Kamala Harris has a shot, they’re putting the people and policies in place to challenge elector slates from contested states, elector slates that don’t go the way they want them to, preventing Biden or Harris or whoever the Dems run in 2024, from getting to 270 Electoral Colleges thereby sending it into the House of Representatives, which the GOP should take back in 2022.  But even if they don’t, they probably win under the 12th Amendment in the House of Representatives, if they can--if they can contest the elector slates, they probably win because in the house to decide a contested election, they vote not by number of representatives, but by number of state delegations.  Another example of how--what happens in the red states impacts the whole country.  So I mean, I hate to say it, but Trump, with a strong sense of revenge, and White Nationalists of vindication has a distinct chance of returning to power.  No small credit to the Democrats, unfortunately, in bringing that outcome about.

CH: Thank you, Paul.  That was author and historian, Paul Street, whose latest book is “Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump and the Politics of Appeasement.”  His writing can be found at CounterPunch.

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