First appeared in The Agonist
Listening to Paul Ryan's speech at the Republican National Convention, I couldn't place where I had come across something quite like this before. Then it struck me -- Pravda! I used to subscribe to Pravda in high school and college, first to learn Russian, and second, to pursue a college program in Soviet studies. Pravda was a newspaper that specialized in the Big Lie -- the Five Year Plan was always ahead of schedule, Soviet industrial capabilities exceeded that of any other country, people were starving on streets all across America. The newspaper was a non-stop stream of lies, just as Paul Ryan's speech was studded with Big Lies -- lies that were easily disprovable, such as Barack Obama did nothing about the Simpson-Bowles recommendations to reduce the budget deficit (Paul Ryan didn't mention he voted against these recommendations when the House killed any chance of enacting them); or that Obama made it easier for people to live off welfare (the President altered the enrollment rules of welfare at the request of Republican governors); or the Romney favorite -- Obama cut over $700 billion of Medicare benefits for individuals (the cuts were imposed on hospitals and insurance companies, not beneficiaries, and Romney has the same cuts in his economic plan). (Image: Wikipedia)
Let's look at some of the key features of a totalitarian governing structure.
Party over polity
In the Soviet Union, the Communist Party was the paramount political governing body, not the state. The Soviet parliament was a theatrical agency designed to give the illusion that the people had any say in policy, when the supreme policy body in the country was in fact the Politburo of the Communist Party. The Republicans have taken one step in this direction, when they announced at the beginning of the Obama administration that the sole objective of Republican policy was to organize his removal from office. Republicans had already showed themselves willing to use the Constitutional power of impeachment to remove a president, even on the flimsiest of grounds, but the Republicans do not currently control the Senate or have enough votes to wield this weapon effectively. Instead, they have chosen to subvert the Constitution altogether by neutering the Senate, tying it up in endless filibusters, and altering it from a body run on majority rules, to one run on super-majority rules. Since the Democrats do not have a super majority of 60 votes to overcome these filibusters, the Senate has been useless for nearly four years. Showing themselves willing to traduce the Constitution, the Republicans have taken the first step towards making the Congress into a theatrical body, good for giving the illusion of providing the people a voice in legislation and policy. The next step would be to find a way to convert the Congress into a permanent rubber-stamp, or at least one that operates that way whenever the Republicans control the White House.
A sham election system occurs when the totalitarian state, as represented by the party, runs unopposed in elections, or always wins an overwhelming percentage of the vote. The US already has sham elections occurring in many parts of the country, especially for House seats, where incumbency becomes a powerful advantage that scares off challengers and chokes off money for opponents to the incumbent. The Republicans benefit from this system, but they don't control the entire Congress because of the gerrymandering that has divided up most of the seats securely between the two parties. This provides the blue state -- red state configuration in US politics, which locks in the Democratic Party in some states, and the Republicans in others. To break free of this restraint, the Republicans have taken to subverting the electoral process in the blue states through voter suppression efforts, and possibly through rigging of voting machine computers. The voter suppression attempts are blatant and out in the open -- one Republican official admitted recently the intention was to prevent blacks and poor people from voting. What is on display here is the Republican Party urge to obtain political power at all costs, along with a refusal to play the role of loyal opposition by compromising with the Democrats when they are in power so that the business of the nation can be managed. (Image: Dean Terry)
State control of the economy
Everything about Republican Party economic ideology speaks to free market capitalism and laissez-faire economics, a far cry from the Soviet model where the government issued detailed five year plans that fed inputs to every major factory in the country. There is, however, a back door way to create state control (or some degree of control) over the economy, and that is by having the government team up with large industrial, financial, and other interests. It's called fascism, technically -- the merger of the state with business as a means of controlling the country -- and as we saw in WWII, fascism is a handmaiden to totalitarianism. (Image: f-l-e-x)
The Republican Party has long been known as the party of big business and of the wealthy, but its transformation recently to the party of oligarchs -- the party funded by billionaires such as the Koch Brothers -- is something quite different. The last time the Republicans were in complete power, they showed themselves willing to auction off government services to the highest bidder (the K Street project, as well as the fund-raising targets set for each Congressman), and they allowed corporate lobbyists to sit in on Congressional mark-up sessions where bills are amended. The Citizens United Supreme Court ruling will provide the first test this November as to the power of unlimited corporate donations to campaigns. Since the Democrats have found no way to oppose these developments -- since in many cases the Democrats are themselves participating in the destruction of the rule of law and its replacement by the rule of the wealthy and corporations - some form of classic fascism is already operating in the United States (without the brown shirts and trains running on time, but there is always the potential at least for brown shirts to appear on the streets of America. The trains are another story).
Show trials and party purges
The Republican Party has not yet been able to use the judiciary as a means of enforcing party dictates (other than through the traditional means of stacking the courts with Republican judges). Even though we haven't had 1930s style show trials in the US, there has been an ominous development this week that has set the Republicans on the path of purges that weed out undesirables in the party. The usual process of the quadrennial political conventions is for the first ballot to be an open ballot, so that all the candidates who have run in the primaries and who won delegates to the convention will allow their name to be placed in nomination and votes counted from their supporters. Even in the case where a candidate such as Mitt Romney has locked up the nomination, this ritual is observed, if only to preserve party unity in the election (the losing nominees after the first ballot "free up" their delegates and urge them then to vote for the winner of the primaries). (Image: Ron Paul)
This ritual was not observed this week at the Republican National Convention. Ron Paul received a substantial number of votes in the primaries and had a large number of delegates at the convention. The Romney team pushed some of these delegates off the floor and out of the convention quite unceremoniously, using trumped up reasons (with the seating of the state of Maine's delegates, for example). Then, when it came time for the first ballot, even though the states went ahead and announced the votes for Ron Paul, the chair would ignore those and announce only the votes for Mitt Romney. Worse was to come. The party introduced rules that will make it much harder in future primaries for someone like Ron Paul to get much if any votes. These were put up for voice vote, and even though the nays obviously shouted louder than the yeas, the chair -- in this case House Speaker John Boehner, called the vote for the yeas. In fact, people could see the teleprompter Boehner was using, where it clearly instructed him to say the yeas had won the vote no matter what he heard.
This is a classic party purge, and a number of Ron Paul delegates walked out of the convention in disgust (many of them are using the internet to announce they have left the party altogether). For the first time, and despite the fact Romney is in a very tight race for the presidency, party purity is more important than party unity. Once purges begin they are very difficult to end, and since Romney is something of an empty vessel on matters of principle (his policy program is nothing but the trite Republican bromides of tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation, and endless defense spending), it is up to the Tea Party faction to fight it out with the Evangelical Christian faction and the Oligarchic funders of the party to see which side will remain standing.
Summary arrests and disappearances
The Republicans under George W. Bush pushed the nation down a very dangerous path with the establishment of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for accused terrorists. No charges were filed against these prisoners, though some have been brought in front of military tribunals. Despite campaign promises to shut down Guantanamo, Barack Obama has been unable to close the camp down. He has also expanded the powers assumed by George Bush which allow the president to order summary executions for suspected terrorists without benefit of trial. Obama has now assumed the power to execute American citizens solely on the strength of his signature.
This is what we know publicly about the assaults on due process and citizen's rights. Much has been done under secrecy, and Obama has been a foe of transparency in government from the start. He has hounded and punished government whistleblowers far more rigorously than Bush, the most notable being Bradley Manning, who sits in prison now for two years without any charges being filed against him, and with some indication he has been subjected to some of the tortures used against prisoners in Iraq. (Image: Abu Ghraib)
None of this has been taken very seriously by the American public, because it has been dressed up as essential for their safety and as protection against terrorism. Nor is this an example of party abuse of power -- it is strictly government abuse of power, so far. Alarm will come when the Republican Party takes the step of arresting and disappearing political opponents. If that happens, by then it will be too late to stop the practice.