Who let the fascists out?

By PAT WATSON

Things don’t always happen suddenly. They often have a way of building up until they hit some kind of tipping point, then the vast majority of us who are too busy managing the minutiae of our lives gasp in shock, or – depending on the seriousness of the situation – in horror at the ‘sudden’ change.

One such clarion call of system change came one day a few summers ago during a hurried and crowded rush-hour commuter exchange at the always-busy Yonge/Bloor subway intersection. While people were pushing their way into and out of the subway cars, the conductor blew his whistle to signal that he was about to close the train doors. (Remember when conductors used to blow a whistle to warn that they were about to close the doors?)

People scrambled to make their way on or off before the doors closed. One harried 20-something man, who got in amid the crunch, protested in frustration with a loud, “Fascist!”, as the doors closed leaving scores of would-be passengers still on the platform.

The use of the term as an epithet was like a call from the past. For reasons that one can only sense, somehow it signaled that the tide was turning.

Fast forward to the current heated debate in the United States over healthcare reform and we see how Canada’s so-called socialized medical care system is being used to undermine proponents of a universal healthcare system there; shamefully absent in supposedly the most powerful and envied nation on Earth.

In the propaganda war that is being fought by American conservatives, big business – that is, health insurance companies – health care reformers and the rest, posters of U.S. President Barack Obama have been pasted up all over downtown Toronto with Obama bearing the likeness of “The Joker” (making him a Black man in White-face, ironically) from the most recent Batman movie along with the captions, “Socialism” and “Fascism”.

And with this stuff drifting north, one has to wonder what winds of change are shifting the sands of our socio-political structure.

It is definitely a changing landscape. For one, we cannot underestimate the influence of the shift in the atmosphere in Washington. Obama is a game changer, even though he gives the impression of trying to balance his political philosophy with pragmatism. Just the fact that Prime Minister Stephen Harper this week chose popular Manitoba New Democrat politician Gary Doer to become Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. shows the kind of influence this latest U.S. administration is having.

But speculation about a spreading shift in North America at this time toward socialism or its twisted sister, fascism, is a hallucination. In the last U.S. administration, maybe. But now?

To a certain extent – with unprecedented incursions into foreign lands – some observers who were horrified by what had been taking place during the George Bush/Dick Cheney era, felt back then that they needed to sound the warning against rising American fascism. The post 9-11 symptoms included nationalistic fervour bordering on jingoism. America wrapped itself so tightly in its flag that one had to wonder how the nation could breathe.

Then there were the too close ties between the religious right and the seat of power. And, let us not forget the disdain for international rule of law and finding a scapegoat, in this case Muslims or, more specifically, ‘Islamist terrorists’.

America has just come through the 21st Century version of McCarthyism and, shamefully, Canada had gone along with it, albeit more quietly, as is the Canadian way. A holdover effect of the Bush/Cheney era, at the leadership level here in Canada, is the practice of measuring complex conditions in dichotomies.

“Remember Bush’s dictum that “You’re either with us or agin’ us”. You’re either one of us good guys or you’re an evildoer. Apparently, Harper, an ideologue who, as “Stevie”, was simpatico with the previous U.S. president, identifies with this perspective.

In any case, we need not fear creeping socialism. If Karl Marx is right, our economy hasn’t yet amassed the kind of wealth across all socio-economic strata that would allow for that next step in economic evolution. But since history has a way of repeating itself, we should keep watching for signs of fascism.

On another note of change (with tongue firmly in cheek)…

Since fame is the new status symbol, and since the status symbol of those who are famous is to have one highly recognizable name (Aretha) or otherwise some kind of name mash-up (P. Diddy, J.Lo) this scribe, in a shameless bid for the latest status symbol, is laying out the new moniker, PatWa.

Cast your vote here.

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