Rules for Radicals in the Twenty-first Century

When he returned from overseas in 2006 and came to Youngstown, he tried to do what he had done in other places, following the Saul Alinsky model of community organizing: round up the troops in your group, march down to city hall or the local developer’s office, and shake the tree to get resources for the neighborhood. That approach came out of an earlier era, the middle of the twentieth century, when power was more consolidated and centralized in the cities. After a year of trying, Noden realized that the model was irrelevant in Youngstown. There were no resources to be shaken loose. The tax base had collapsed. The mayor had very little power. Industry was a ghost of its former self. The centers of power were elsewhere—in some ways, they were spread around the globe.

—George Packer, The Unwinding, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), 231.

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George Packer on Trump

New Yorker writer George Packer’s book “The Unwinding” describes the gradual economic and, more importantly, moral decline of the United States. It is perhaps the most astute book about the country’s condition today. Sitting at Lafayette Grand Café & Bakery in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, Packer says that Trump now exhibits several of the characteristics of a fascist.

In the past, as a reality TV star, Trump had to come across as somewhat likeable, says Packer. But now that he is playing the fascist, he suddenly resembles one, with his grim face, his pursed lips and the threatening and intimidating look in his eyes.

It’s no accident that Trump expresses great admiration for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, who seems to impress him far more than politicians seeking to champion the values of democracy with their painstaking and often vain search for compromises.

“He is a nicer person than I am,” Trump said of the Russian president. “In terms of leadership, he’s getting an A.” The reason, according to Trump, is that Putin is “making mincemeat out of our president.”

Der Spiegel, February 1, 2016

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Ted Cruz in Iowa

I want to speak for a moment to the soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines and moms and dads who have a child serving overseas. And husbands and wives wake up wondering if their loved one is still alive, waiting months upon months to get a hug from mommy, a kiss from mommy. The men and women sent into combat with arms tied behind their back with no idea when it will end in January, 17. You will have a commander in chief who finally has your back. And to the police officers, and the firemen, and the first responders, the heroes who rushed in to burning buildings instead of out of burning buildings, the last seven years of having a president, having an attorney general that demonizes you, that vilifies you, that sides with the criminals and looters instead of the brave men and women of law enforcement, that will end on January 20, 2017. So tonight, the state of Iowa, the Democrats here seem to be in a virtual tie. Between one candidate, who admits he’s a socialist, and the other candidate who pretends she’s not.

—Ted Cruz’s victory speech after Iowa caucus, February 1, 2016

When I first heard this I couldn’t believe my ears, but then I found a transcript of the speech and yes, there it was, the man Iowa chose for Republican candidate for President of the United States said last night that the sitting president and his attorney general demonize and vilify police officers and firemen and they side with criminals and looters. Goldman Sachs speeches notwithstanding Hillary Clinton, claims Ted Cruz, is a socialist.

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What is Fascism?

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

—Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, (New York: Knopf, 2004), 218.

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American Fascism

The language and symbols of an authentic American fascism would, of course, have little to do with the original European models. They would have to be as familiar and reassuring to loyal Americans as the language and symbols of the original fascisms were familiar and reassuring to many Italians and Germans, as Orwell suggested. Hitler and Mussolini, after all, had not tried to seem exotic to their fellow citizens. No swastikas in an American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the pledge of allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.

—Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, (New York: Knopf, 2004), 202.

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[A] debate has arisen about which country spawned the earliest fascist movement. France is a frequent candidate. Russia has been proposed. Hardly anyone puts Germany first. It may be that the earliest phenomenon that can be functionally related to fascism is American:  the Ku Klux Klan.

—Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, (New York: Knopf, 2004), 49.

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Anatomy of Fascism

Fascism does not rest explicitly upon an elaborated philosophical system, but rather upon popular feelings about master races, their unjust lot, and their rightful predominance over inferior peoples. It has not been given intellectual underpinnings by any system builder, like Marx, or by any major critical intelligence, like Mill, Burke, or Tocqueville.

—Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, (New York: Knopf, 2004), 16.

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The political role of corporate power, the corruption of the political and representative processes by the lobbying industry, the expansion of executive power at the expense of constitutional limitations, and the degradation of political dialogue promoted by the media are the basics of the system, not excrescences upon it.

—Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 287.

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Founding Fathers versus Demos

Our present-day hagiography celebrates Founding Fathers but almost entirely overlooks the emergence of an American version of a demos in the decades before and during the revolution.

—Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 254.

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Politically, as well as socially and economically, inverted totalitarianism is best understood as imperialist and hence as a postdemocratic or, better, post-social democratic phenomenon. It is marked by an expansion of the horizons and ambitions of the governing classes and an accompanying increase in the instruments of power, private as well as public, as well as by a decline in demotic power both in its instruments of governance (political democracy) and in its socioeconomic supports (social democracy).

—Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 194.

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