Thanks to Donald Trump’s increasingly hostile and race-baiting rhetoric, the topic of fascism — what it is and what causes it — is once again on the minds of many Americans. And while Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican field should scare anyone who’s read about how Hitler and Mussolini rose to power, what’s even scarier is that one of the key components of US fascism is already in place, and has been ever since the Reagan Revolution.
That component is monopoly, something former Vice President Henry Wallace identified as the key to fascism in a 1944 piece for The New York Times.
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American fascists, Wallace wrote,
… claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective … is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.
At the time Wallace was writing, the threat of fascism was very, very real. The US was fighting a two front war against Axis powers, and was just three years removed from a Japanese fascist attack on its home soil.
It was also just 11 years removed from the tense days of 1933, when Marine Corps General Smedley Butler exposed a plot by big business to overthrow President Franklin Roosevelt in a military coup. That plot, the so-called “Business Plot,” was concocted by the very same rich men and corporations who Wallace said would support US fascism.
But luckily, thanks to the New Deal and Roosevelt’s trust-busting efforts, those forces had been kept in check and would remain in check until the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan stopped enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
That act, which was signed into law in 1890, is our government’s most powerful tool against monopoly, and ever since Reagan threw it out the proverbial window, the monopolists — Wallace’s American fascists — have been on the march. Almost every major industry in the United States is now controlled by a of handful giant multinational corporations.
When it comes to household products, for example, pretty much everything you can buy at your local grocery store is made by a subsidiary of Mondelez, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola or Nestlé; either that, or a subsidiary of Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Mars or Unilever.
The same is true of the media. Six corporations — GE, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS — now control 90 percent of the electronic media. That’s a huge drop from 1983, when 50 companies controlled that much of the media.
Probably the worst example of monopolization, though, is in the airline industry. There are now just four major US air carriers, and almost half of the country’s 100 largest airports are dominated by just one carrier. If you’re looking for a reason why ticket prices are still high even though crude oil prices are way down, this is it.
It’s all about monopoly. For these huge corporate conglomerates, it’s “heads I win, tails you lose” with both smaller businesses and consumers.
When big business controls the marketplace, they can set the prices, and in this post-Citizens United era, they can also legally bribe politicians to block regulations they don’t like or pass bills to help them consolidate themselves even further.
This kind of control of the few over the many is what scared Henry Wallace so much about monopolization, and it’s why he saw it as one of the key ingredients of US fascism. When corporations can buy Congress and use their sheer size and influence to get what they want and box out competition, there is no free market at all.
And if you believe the old maxim that there is no freedom without economic freedom, there’s no democracy either.
Despite all its obvious problems, the United States is not a fascist state. Not yet, at least.
That being said, Donald Trump is taking us in a very dangerous direction, and thanks to Ronald Reagan, he has fertile ground to work with. The working ingredients of fascism are already there in our increasingly consolidated and monopolized economy.
That’s why it’s time to ditch the Reagan Revolution and start breaking up the big monopolies.
Having a healthy economy with millions of small- and medium-sized local businesses worked for decades, and it will work for us today, too, if we were to begin to break up all these functional monopolies.
It might also save us from fascism, which George Orwell called a “boot stamping on the human face — forever.”
We need a president who will reverse Reaganism and start enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act like Teddy Roosevelt did. Pass it along.