Book Review: Hedges, Chris, “American Fascists. The Christian Right and the War on America.” Free Press, New York, 2006
“When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross”
—sometimes attributed to the author Sinclair Lewis and sometimes to Louisiana Governor Huey Long
I appreciated this Dallas Public Library book more than I enjoyed it. I really liked his examination of the underlying precepts of radical right evangelism and his historical comparisons to the thinking and strategies of earlier fascists. On the downside, I think he credited televangelists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson too much and blamed fascist financiers like the Koch brothers too little. I think Hedges understands a lot more about the ideology of fascism than he does about the reasons for it.
Hedges was a top-level foreign correspondent. He really knows how to do research and how to present it. He focused his research on the section of protestant evangelism in the United States that he names “dominionism.”
From page 11: “Dominionism, born out of a theology known as Christian reconstructionism, seeks to politicize faith. It has, like all fascist movements, a belief in magic along with leadership adoration and a strident call for moral and physical supremacy of a master race, in this case American Christians.”
I was interested in faith and fascism because of callers to my radio talk show “Workers Beat” today, March 31, 2018. One of them said that the current pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Robert Jeffress had said that everything President Trump does is okay because it is “ordained by God.” Another caller said that Jeffress, a few years ago, had called President Obama “the anti-christ.”
Another book, “’White Metropolis” charges First Baptist with far-right racist politics in the past. Hedges doesn’t mention Jeffress in his 2006 book, but he hits hard against Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, both of whom are presumably in Heaven now.
Long-time unionists know that Americanism is often evoked against its own people. Labor writer Len DeCaux tells us about a 1913 strike organized by the Industrial Workers of the World, employers tried to use the American flag as a strike breaking device. Declaring March 17 “Flag Day,” they draped flags over mill gates with signs calling for a return to work. The silk workers, makers of flags themselves, retorted with a huge American flag across Main Street bearing these words: “We wove the flag; we dyed the flag. We live under the flag; but we won’t scab under the flag!” –Excerpted “The Living Spirit of the Wobblies”
During a speech delivered in 1918, labor leader Eugene Victor Debs made a similar statement: 3 “No wonder Jackson said that ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.’ He had the Wall Street gentry in mind or their prototypes, at least; for in every age it has been the tyrant, who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both.”
Can They Be Stopped?
Author Chris Hedges thinks that the radical Christian Right should be repressed. He thinks that the liberal approach of extreme tolerance for varying points of view will lead to the destruction of America. He points out that Hitler could have been stopped if Germans had been less pathologically tolerant. On page 202, Hedges says, “Debate with the radical Christian Right is useless. We cannot reach this movement. It does not want a dialogue. It is a movement based on emotion and cares nothing for rational thought and discussion…. This movement is bent on our destruction. The attempts by many liberals to make peace would be humorous if the stakes were not so deadly.”
I agree with Hedges. Tolerance cannot be extended to include intolerance. Where the book goes wrong, though, is in implying that these unscrupulous and opportunistic evangelists can, on their own hook, bring fascism to America. Hitler, working alone or with his ideological compatriots, couldn’t have done it either. The ideologists are not that powerful nor persuasive. Fascism is a form of rule chosen deliberately by rulers. That’s the danger.
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