Religion and It’s Role in American Fascism – Part 1

“The indemnification of church and world is the mutual approval and support exchanged by Constantine and the bishops.  The church is no longer the obedient suffering line of the true prophets; she has a vested interest in the present order of things and use the cultic means at her disposal to legitimate that order.  She does not preach ethics, judgment, repentance, separation from the world; she dispenses sacraments and holds society together.  Christian ethics no longer means the study of what God wants of man [sic]; since all of society is Christian (by definition, i.e. by baptism), Christian ethics must be workable for all of society.  Instead of speaking sanctification, ethics becomes concerned with the persistent power of sin and the celebration of the lesser evil; at the best it produces Puritanism, and the worst simple opportunism.”  John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism, (Scottdale: Herald Press, 2003), pp. 65-6.

Religion plays a significant role in American life.  With an overwhelming number of people, roughly 70%, who claim to be Christian, religion is significant.  Part of the reason that this has been the case is that people have been free from the constraints of government on what religion should be.  Unfortunately, government isn’t free from the constraints of what American religion thinks it should be. 

American Christianity has had its own evolutionary cycle.  In the early centuries of American Christianity, much of the theology and training was done in Europe and the two had a great deal in common.  While it was influenced by European Christianity in its early days, in the late 19th century, it started to separate itself from the biblical studies that were being done in Europe.  This distancing has allowed American Christianity to move in a direction that can easily support someone like President Trump.

As Christianity in America started to take on its own form, it gradually started to take on the influence of its culture.  In order for the church to connect with the people that it was trying to reach, it needed to make itself available and reasonable to the understanding of those same people.  As people moved west to newly opened territories to farm, ranch and get away from the structures of the growing cities, the evangelists soon followed.

What was often missing in the new areas was access to education.  Many of the people who moved out west approached life as one of survival and hard work.  Education, beyond the basics of reading and writing, was something that was of little use to people who needed to tend fields and animals for their livelihood.  Plain and simple became the operational ideology of the west.

When the churches were first set up in early America, the 17th and 18th centuries, the pastors were expected to be the most educated in their communities.  But, this approach to the Bible and the church fell flat in the newly opened territories.  Since plain and simple was a reasonable understanding to those in the newly developing areas, plain and simple became the rule for evangelists and preachers to apply to the biblical text and to the Christian religion.  The plain and simple was promoted by William Bell Riley, T.T. Shields and many others to create a new form of Christianity called Fundamentalism. 

But, plain and simple was insufficient in getting people to respond to the call of Christianity.  They needed to experience something, as well.  There was an emotional plea that reached out to people, one that captured many peoples’ attention.  It was this approach of plain and simple, with the emotionally charged call that worked its way back to the cities of the east and made the likes of D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday and others very famous.

The idea of a plain and simple message with an emotive call was something that many politicians quickly learned would help them get into office.  This is an idea that seems to be more true today, than it may have been in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  What politicians really learned is that the plain and simple approach seems to work even better when it is couched in the words of the conservative Christian community.

While the conservative Christian community believed that since the politicians were claiming to be one of their group and using their language to back that up, their agenda of making America a Christian nation was coming about.  What they didn’t realise, however is that they were actually being co-opted by the political establishment to advance a different agenda.  Take a look back at the theological positions that many pastors shared for supporting President Trump in the 2016 election.  What many shared was the Republican Party platform with selective verses to show support of an agenda that has little in common with the teachings of Jesus.

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Is America Fascist? Part 11

Next, Punishment and the Judicial System

One of the necessities in keeping prisons full when violent crime has been on the decline is make sure that you have laws in place that will keep people in prison.  It helps to have the media continue to reinforce this with their leading stories being about crimes that have been committed.  In American news, “if it bleeds, it leads.”  When the first thing you hear on the news, every night, is about crime, you believe that it is a major problem.  This makes it much easier for politicians to tell the people who are voting for them that any draconian law to keep people in prison longer will get votes. Keeping people in prison longer, must after all, make everyone safer.

Putting people in prison is considered the way that one can decrease crime.  Another way, which few people think about, is that decreasing the number of laws will also decrease crime.  One can look at Portugal’s reduction in drug laws and how that has reduced crimes and the cost of policing and the courts.  But, this is not the direction that America has chosen to take.  They see that the correction to social problems is to write laws that criminalise the social behaviours they dislike.  My favourite in this list would laws that ban sagging jeans.

There has been one hurdle to some of this law making and that has been judges.  One of their roles has been to determine if the laws being written is constitutional, or can be legally upheld so as not to violate human rights or other laws that are already in place.  This may not be as great a hurdle as one might think.  If corporations can be considered people by the Supreme Court, the best and the brightest may not be in the judiciary.  One opinion about judges from Maynard Pirsig was passed along to me by someone who studied under him at William Mitchell Law School.  Prof. Pirsig was also a temporary Minnesota State Supreme Court Justice and former dean of the University of Minnesota Law School.  His opinion was that those who studied law and got A’s became professors, B’s – prosecutors, C’s – politicians and D’s – judges.  He may have been on to something.

Having judges in the justice system that help an agenda more than hinder is important, especially to lawmakers who have an authoritarian agenda.  This is a major reason that the Republicans held fast in not approving Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court, a seat that has been open for more than a year.  They wanted someone in place that would approve their agenda.  President Trump’s pick of Neil Gorsuch for the open Supreme Court seat must make them very happy.  If his history is any indication, he will quite happily continue the government/corporate agenda that has advanced these last 37 years.  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/supreme-court-nominee-gorsuch_us_58c85ebae4b01c029d772817?rf4ge1zg7n2q33di&) This is also the reason that they have held up appointments in more than 100 federal judge seats, leaving them vacant until they can get the people they want appointed.

As Billy Bragg suggests, courts are not courts of justice, they are courts of law.  If the judges that are in place are wiling to uphold the laws that are passed, even when they are draconian or racist, they are still maintaining law and order.  A fascist government will thrive on its commitment to law and order as long the judiciary is willing support and not oppose the legislation.  If these same judges are willing to look away from the abuses of the police that happen on a regular basis, then another component fascism is supported, as Attorney General Sessions has said he would do.

Holding up the confirmation of judges on federal seats creates a backlog of criminal and other cases that need to be heard.  Without enough judges to do the work, cases get delayed longer and longer.  Politicians can then claim that there is more crime in the country than there actually is, since the cases cannot be heard.  This allows for pressure to be put on the lower courts to be more decisive and also dissuades people from pushing for appeals.  A plea bargain on a crime can possibly have a person out of jail before they can get an appeal heard.  This is a very persuasive argument to someone who feels they have few options. It also works to keep for profit prisons full.

When the judges oppose the laws, or executive orders that are passed, because they are systemically racist or unconstitutional, these judges are discredited by being labeled as “activist” judges, trying to push forward their own agenda.  These judges that put up opposition can actually be a strong block on rising authoritarianism.  As America has moved more and more to the right, the numbers of these judges has decreased in the federal court system, though.

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Is America Fascist? Part 10

Policing and Punishment Continued

To keep these prisons full, the call for law and order must be repeated, loudly and often.  To make sure that people are ready to be put into prisons more frequently, law and order must begin in elementary and high schools.  Police officers are placed in schools and have the ability to issue tickets to children who misbehave.  These tickets are supposed to be sealed and not used as the children turn 18, so as not influence judges if they commit small actions that violate the draconian laws of the state.  Instead, they are used as a reason to inflict longer sentences on people who are first time offenders, as adults.  This is known as the school to prison pipeline.  It is particularly pronounced in inner city schools that have large minority populations.

Tickets, in schools, are often issued for things that would have gotten a talking to, or possibly detention in the past.  They are issued for things that young people do as they learn about rules and try to understand what they mean.  Let me use my own example.  When I was in high school, it was prohibited to bring pop, or pop cans into school.  Pop was seen as bad thing for young people to consume.  We could drink off of school grounds during school hours, but had to dispose of the cans off of school grounds, as well, but there were very few places to dispose of these off of school property.  As a prank, I started to put empty cans into my school locker, which was located directly outside of the principals office.  I even asked others to contribute to the collection.  I think there were over 200 cans in my locker.

One day, someone was seen putting a can in my locker.  It wasn’t long and I had to sit down and talk with the principal.  Nothing came from this, other than the discussion.  Today, however, I could have gotten a ticket for brining contraband into the school.   Either I, or my parents would have to pay.  And it could be used against me if I were to be arrested for something petty, let’s say having a small amount of weed on me.  It would be used in the context that I was a long term trouble maker that needed long term correction, thus the need to send me to prison.  If I were a minority, this would be something that would be a much higher possibility.

What is more troubling about the for-profit prison system is what it is capable of becoming, or more importantly, has already become.  These prisons have a secondary income, other than the money they get from the state for housing the people sent to them.  Many also function as factories, making any number of goods, usually sold to state and federal governments, like body armour for soldiers.  They can produce these for the same kind of money that factories in other counties that use, essentially, slave labour to produce.  (See http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-prison-industry-in-the-united-states-big-business-or-a-new-form-of-slavery/8289. There are more like this to be found.) Since they function as a business, they are not held to the same human rights standards that government facilities are held to.  They have the ability to skirt labour laws and human rights laws, much like other private companies do, like mercenaries do (also know as private security firms).

The question that comes to the forefront at this time is; what can happen with these prisons?  What can happen in prisons that have little outside oversight?  With the system that is in place, they can be easily converted to make munitions and other things necessary for a war, which some already do.  They can do this very cheaply, since they don’t have to pay their workers much and they can be easily used to house exclusive minority groups.  This has been done in the past and it shouldn’t be hard to imagine it happening again.

Next: Punishment and the Judicial System

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Is America Fascist? Part 9

Policing and Punishment.

Another component of law and order has to do with punishment.  To keep order, those who offend must be punished.  (Rehabilitation seems to be an idea of the idealist, liberal past.)  Punishment is BIG business in America.  This commingling of the role of the state, who is generally consider the one who has the right to punish, with that of corporations and their desire to make a profit are one of the best extensions of a government/corporate partnership that is central to fascism.  President Obama had made a bold move to stop using for profit prisons by the U.S. government late in his presidency, but Trump quickly overturned that.

America is very proud of their commitment to punishing wrongdoers and they appear to do it better than anyone else in the world.  America has roughly 5% of the world population, yet it holds 25% of the world’s prison population, somewhere in the vicinity of 2.4 million prisoners.  The number of prisoners is roughly 20% more than the entire population of the state of New Mexico.  And this doesn’t seem to be decreasing.

What should come as no surprise on this, is that it is all legal!  Or, at least for the most part.  A country is perfectly within in its rights to establish laws and the punishment that goes with them.  It has the right to establish draconian and unethical laws to justify its ideology of law and order.   When it does this, however, it has no right to claim any kind of authority in talks about human rights with other countries.

The for profit prison system, as America knows it, started in the 1980’s.  Part of their growth has had to do with the ability to insist that states maintain a certain level of prison population.  A company may propose to build a prison for a state, but the state needs to maintain at least, say an 80% prisoner population.  If they do not, then the state needs to pay for the unused space.  To help alleviate this monetary waste, states have thus imposed minimum sentencing and such things as “three strikes” laws that can keep people in prison for life, after committing three petty crimes.  They have also changed more and more crimes from being misdemeanours to felonies, in order to increase the prison population, an example of this is trying to evade police. In the early 1980’s, this was considered a misdemeanour that could get one up to one year in prison.  It is now a felony in most states and carries a much longer sentence.

Another component in keeping prisons full is being able to make sure that you have people to populate the prisons.  To do this more efficiently, states can make laws that punish people with less ability to defend themselves, such as the poor and disenfranchised people of the population.  An example has to do with the types of laws that that were written for crack versus those for cocaine.  Cocaine was a drug of choice for white and wealthy people, crack was more available for the poor and thus the penalties for crack use were much more harsh than for cocaine use.  The crack laws were eventually adapted to include crystal meth, another drug affordable to the poor.  The laws around cocaine were much more lenient than those of crack or meth, mostly because of the fact that it was easier to punish poor and minority people for longer periods of time, which assisted in keeping the for profit prisons full.

Defence against crimes in court is expensive and if you don’t have the money to defend yourself, a court appointed attorney is provided.  This is beneficial, as long as, the court appointed defence attorney wants to win their case.  More often they are interested in getting cases settled out of court (a cost saving measure) and work to put people in prison, instead of keeping them out, or getting them the help they need.  It should come as no surprise that for-profit prison companies are so profitable that they can now fund football stadiums for universities.

More on keeping prisons full in the next blog.

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Is America Fascist? Part 8

Part 8 – Obsession with Crime and Punishment

One of the aspects of a fascist nation is possibly one of the most chilling.  It is the power of the police and the willingness of people to overlook the abuses that go with that.  Over time, people become very wiling to give up civil liberties in order to feel that they are being made more safe from the evil people around them.  They will even believe the propaganda that they are in more danger than they really are, which makes it much easier for the government and police to take unlimited power with little or no opposition.

Policing in America is unlike the rest of the developed world.  The amount of violence that the police are allowed to perpetrate on the population is excessive.  The amount of property that they are allowed to take, easily and legally, with the simple accusation of suspicion is beyond comprehension.  The amount of military weaponry that they are helped to purchase, encouraged to purchase, suggests that their role is far more than policing.  America essentially has a military whose sole purpose is to focus on its citizens and has the right to take most anything the want to support themselves.

The stories of police beatings and killings of people in America are so numerous that that many of them are never reported beyond their local news, if they are reported at all.  The stories of unarmed people who are shot, often  repeatedly, and by more than one officer at a time, or innocent people who are beaten, nearly to death are almost common in the news.  The use of offsite, or secret locations for interrogations is noted in Chicago, but likely isn’t exclusive to this city.

The number of police officers who are charged and convicted for these events in America are so few that it should be obvious by now that America is a full blown police state.  From 2005 to 2015, there were 13 officers convicted of manslaughter charges, 0 in 2015.  None were convicted of murder.  The officer with the most harsh penalty had shot an unarmed man and for this received 3 years for a manslaughter charge.  He never faced a murder charge for killing an innocent, unarmed man. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/police-shooting-convictions_us_5695968ce4b086bc1cd5d0da)

There are roughly 1,000 police shootings, annually, in America.  To have only13 convictions for roughly 10,000 police involved shootings should get people to ask many more questions about what is happening.  But, with the propaganda that crime is on the rise, they often praise what is being done and are quite happy to accept these police officers as judge, jury and executioner, even before guilt can be proven.  Crime is significantly lower than it was in 1991 and lower still than the 1970’s.

Another part of the issue has to do with prosecutors and judges being reluctant to charge or convict officers for wrongdoing.  They often take the public approach that to make officers stop and think about what they are doing limits their ability to do their jobs, effectively.  This is more a position of support for a police state than it is a position of justice.  It also makes their jobs much easier, since they do not have to push for a prosecution and will not be on the receiving end of the wrath of the police force.

Even the new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, says that he will reduce the Department of Justice’s investigation into police forces that have a consistent history of abuses. He is not willing to investigate police departments or officers who use excessive force, constantly and repeatedly.  (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/jeff-sessions-justice-department-sue-police-civil-rights-violations-obama-black-lives-matter-a7604711.html)

The acceptance of this behaviour by the police, and the justice system, is not just within the departments and the government, it is more and more promoted by the population. While Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan used law and order as platforms to get elected, the Religious Right and National Rifle Association were quick to add their voices to it and bringing a good number of the public onboard.  Since Reagan, every president has used law and order as a platform to gain public support and has increased the prison population.

When the Black Lives Matter campaign started, in response to too many African Americans being killed by police with no legal recourse, there was quickly a Blue Lives Matter campaign started.  This is not only a racist response to the Black Lives Matter campaign, dismissing the issues that they are brining to the public, it is a rather obvious acceptance of a police state.  Through the lack of convictions for inappropriate police behaviour, killing of innocent and unarmed people that go unpunished, the call for protection of police should make this understanding even more clear.

Because of the public support of Blue Lives Matter, state governments are looking to enact legislation that will give the police even more unprecedented power and protection from prosecution for their abuses.  Louisiana was the first to put forward the idea that killing a police officer could be prosecuted as a hate crime.  These laws are spreading across the country, led by Republican state houses.

Hate crimes have been put in place to protect oppressed and marginalised groups in the society.  The police are not an oppressed or marginalised group.  While the action of killing a police officer is a heinous crime, it is not an act of hate against a race or religious group.  It is not necessarily an act of hate, at all.  To label the killing of a police officer as a hate crime is just another way to protect an already, overly protected profession.  It is another way to maintain an already existing police state.

More on the police state in the next blog.

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Is America Fascist? Part 7

Obsession with National Security

America is obsessed with national security.  The call to block people coming in from specific countries is just the beginning and only a small portion of this extremism.  (Since this ban is focused on specific countries, it raises the suspicion that America will increase military actions in those countries.)  Since World War II, America has been so obsessed with national security it has even established public policy to prevent certain economic ideologies from entering the western hemisphere, not just America, but every country that could be considered near to America.  It was actually meant to keep communism out of the western hemisphere.  (Fascists are opposed to communism more than anything else.)  This ideology of maintaining security has expanded to “guarding” Americans from all kinds of “bad” ideas and people before they can even get into America.  America also took on the role of being the world’s police force in order to make things safer for America/Americans, or, more likely, for American business interests.

America is so obsessed with nationally security that they have security people placed around the world.  America is the only country that I know that requires one to go through a customs screening in another country before boarding a plane.  For example, on a recent trip to Canada, which stopped over in Minneapolis, our flight connected through Amsterdam. We had to go through a TSA checkpoint in Amsterdam before we could board the plane.  Then, once in Minneapolis, we had to go through customs again once we got off the flight, even though we weren’t leaving the airport.  The only customs checkpoint for Canada, was in Canada.  Airports in other countries have waiting areas for international passengers who are not leaving the airport and require no additional customs clearance to be in there.

Every time we have flown from Canada to America, we have had to go through customs twice, once before we board in Canada and then again after we have landed in America.  It is the only country that I know of that does this.  Flying back to Canada is much easier, we just go through customs after we land.  In fact, crossing into America at the land crossings is far more difficult than any other country that I have travelled to.  I have had more issues going into America, even as an American citizen, than I have had anywhere else.  I was once stopped 100 miles from the border of Mexico by border agents to check my credentials.  Why would I be stopped that far away from the border?  Especially if I hadn’t even crossed that border?

America’s obsession with security has reached new levels in the last few years.  The continued media hype around potential terrorist attacks has established a basis of fear that is worse than that of the Cold War.  It has military bases in more than 120 countries around the world.  It also went into Iraq in 2003 as an act of preemption against anyone who would pose a threat to America.  This obsession with security and blaming the Muslim community for this, currently has 55% of Americans approving Trump’s recent ban on Muslims. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/02/10/americans-still-support-donald-trumps-immigration-ban-poll-shows/)

There is also the cost for all of this.  America spends more on it’s military budget than  any other country, so much more that the next eight largest military budgets equal what America spends.  Add to that the more than 20,000 border agents and 47,000 TSA security officers and screeners.  Because of the fear mongering that is spread daily by much of the talk radio, web sites and various televised media about the need for security, America is now in the process of building a wall on its southern boarder, that could easily cost $25 billion dollars or more.

America is so afraid that it is unable to recognise the shear amount of wasted time and money it puts into national security.  People are told repeatedly that the government needs to spend less money and agree with this in ever growing numbers.  They then overwhelmingly support additional spending for national security and military in ever greater amounts.  Fear trumps reason in this ever growing concern.  It could very easily bankrupt the country as administrations cut taxes and spend more and more on those things they claim will make America safe.

President Trump easily carries this message to the people and gives them the false understanding that he will make them safer.  It may appear that they are becoming safer from terrorism, which they aren’t, all the while they are becoming more and more economically unstable, which is another kind of insecurity.  All Trump needed to do was to beat this drum, loudly and proudly and many Americans were ready to “give hime a chance”.   There is no doubt that Trump and the rest of congress know they can keep using this until it is too late.  The question that I must ask at this point is; do they they know when it will be too late?  Or will they understand it when the people of America have had too much?

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Is America Fascist? Part 6 – Racism in Another Context

There are other means of racism being played out in America.  The talk of illegal immigrants is an issue that has gotten a great deal of media attention and played a major role in the recent election.  I will choose to use the term, undocumented workers, instead of illegal immigrants.  The call to remove undocumented workers needs to be addressed for the racism that it is.

The hiring of undocumented workers is one that needs to be discussed as a form of racism.  It also needs to be discussed in the context of broken government and the government/corporate partnership.  People come to America to find work.  The reason they do so, is because there is work available for them there.  There are many jobs that are hard work and people from other countries are quite happy to have these jobs.

Many people are understandably upset that people from other countries will come in, work for less than the living wage and send money back their countries of origin.  Many people get upset that when they go to a fast food eatery, that many of the people speak broken English and blame them for taking American jobs.  Even though almost none of these people complaining have ever attempted to learn another language and have had theirs hopes pinned on the idea of working in fast food.  This is nothing short of racist thinking.

More troubling, however, is the ease at which people will blame undocumented workers for stealing American jobs.  It as though the people who employ them bear no responsibility in this.  Why aren’t they hiring Americans first?  Why are the people who have the best connections to government not being held accountable?  Why are they allowed to continue to hire undocumented workers and play their part in making their communities better places for the people who have lived there for decades?

Undocumented workers come with many benefits to employers.  First and foremost is that they are less expensive to employ.  They are willing to be exploited by these employers because they are afraid of being deported.  They are afraid to report their employer if they are being denied overtime, holiday pay, or medical attention.  They are extremely unwilling to report health and safety issues, all for the fear of being deported.  Thus, the employers end up paying much less in taxes, updating facilities for safety, or for benefits that documented workers would need to be paid.

Examples of this abound in the meat packing industry.  Once people from other countries find that they can work in one of these facilities, they tend to move in in large numbers.  The people of the local community find themselves out of work.  The newcomers work hard, don’t complain when they are asked to do things that are illegal or dangerous, or even excessive.  When they get injured, they get dismissed with no recourse and no consequence to the employer.  There are many undocumented workers who are no longer able to work because receptive stress syndrome and no way of having it taken care of properly.

Periodically, the immigration service will come through and fine the employers for hiring undocumented workers.  This usually an amount that isn’t overly excessive and can be paid easily.  A number of undocumented workers are rounded up and sent away.  In many cases, the undocumented workers who are sent away are those who have been injured on the job and can no longer work.

The government appears to be working in conjunction with these employers to make them more profitable.  If they stay in business, it is believed that they will pay more in taxes, which is good for the economy.  The government also looks like they are doing something about the ongoing concern of undocumented workers, which helps appease public opinion.  So they can look like they are being impartial, they will deport someone who is in good standing in the community, like a pastor who has been there for a good number of years.  This is a practice that is not exclusive to any particular administration in the last 30 years.

But, the undocumented workers remain a scapegoat and many politicians and business leaders will proclaim it loud and clear.  My speculation as to why this is, is that it gets people to look in a different direction, so they aren’t watching what is being done in the various state houses and congress.  As the government and corporations work to dismantle labour rights and employees recourse to working conditions, those things that make business “too costly”, they are getting people worked up about undocumented workers that are committing crimes.  Once they have dismantled these laws, they will be happy to employ whoever lives closest, as long as they are cheap labour who can dismissed easily and with little recourse.

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