Hidden Power

Book by Charles Derber

Review by Thom Hartmann, originally published at buzzflash.com on October 19, 2006.

Why would it be that when the vast majority (78 percent, according to a 24 September 2006 Gallup poll) of registered Democratic voters favor a gradual or immediate withdrawal from Iraq, only about a third (36 percent, as noted by John Walsh in a brilliant article at Counterpunch) of the Democratic candidates in the tightest House races this fall share that view?

Although Charles Derber doesn't address the current race in his new book "Hidden Power - What You Need to Know to Save Our Democracy," it's pretty clear from reading the book that he would probably suggest it's "the current corporate regime." The entire book, in fact, is about how "regimes" come to power, hold power, and lose power in American politics.

The current regime is one that draws most of its money and power from the military-industrial complex and multinational corporations, and has taken over virtually the entire Republican Party - Derber calls it the "corporate regime." Like Republicans, regime stalwarts of the Democratic Party continue to promote the regime's main meme these days, which is that we're in a "war of civilizations" that will "last for and beyond our lifetimes"...and, in the process, be enormously profitable to those in power and their friends.

The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) is largely responsible, through the DCCC leader Rahm Emanuel, for the pro-war Democratic candidates and their funding. They don't impassion voters, don't reflect the Democratic Party base or even the concerns of most Americans, but they support the regime. As Derber writes:

"Democratic integration into the corporate regime was sealed by President Clinton, who by his own admission embraced core regime objectives usually associated with Republicans: globalization and free trade, zero deficits, small government, the end of welfare, and American Empire and continued militarization after the end of the Cold War. Despite the challenge from grassroots and progressive Democrats, these are still core aims of the Democratic Party today.

"Influential Democratic insiders created a movement within the party - centered in the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) - to sever the Democrats from their New Deal past. [Derber refers to the last regime, which ended with the election of Reagan, as the "New Deal regime."] With financial backing from corporations, secured by DLC players who had been corporate lawyers and lobbyists, they created the vision of a "New Democrat" that has redefined the party, at least until the 2004 defeat to Bush that began to weaken the DLC grip. The New Democrats want the party to abandon their New Deal liberalism and embrace the new corporate regime. They seek modest reforms of the regime - including a minimal safety net, government support for research and development, and enterprise zones for the poor. But their zeal is around creating a new party that sheds the baggage of the New Deal and embraces the regime priorities of corporate expansion and profit, fiscal conservatism, globalization, and smaller government."

Derber suggests that since the Civil War there have been five regimes that have held power in the United States. They are:

First Corporate Regime, 1865-1901 - Gilded Age
John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan built this house.

Progressive Regime, 1901-1921 - Progressive Era
Teddy Roosevelt busts the trusts in this house.

Second Corporate Regime, 1921-1933 - Roaring Twenties
Harding and Hoover turn the house back to big business.

New Deal Regime, 1933-1980 - New Deal
Franklin D. Roosevelt designs a people's house.

Third Corporate Regime, 1980-? - Reagan Revolution
Global corporations built this house for themselves.

The good news that Gerber highlights is that corporate regimes inevitably implode, and usually within 25 to 30 years at the most, because they stray so far from the Enlightenment ideals on which this nation was founded, and are essentially antidemocratic. The people become fed up and revolt at the ballot box. (There are some, like Mark Crispin Miller and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who would probably suggest that the Third Corporate Regime actually ended with the 2000 election, but Republicans criminally stole that and the following two elections through a combination of means ranging from unlawful redistricting to voter suppression to rigged ballots and voting machines.)

After the collapse of the first two corporate regimes in the US, our nation became more democratic, more egalitarian, and the excesses of the "economic royalists" (to quote FDR) were reduced. If history repeats itself, we can expect to see the same, and one day soon.

Derber, however, also posits an alternative to a new progressive regime - the rise of fascism in America. He notes how the institutions of fascism are being steadily interwoven into our law, our media, and our educational and political institutions. The fear of communism - centered in the USSR - has been replaced by the fear of something stateless, location-less (both nowhere and everywhere - even here in the US), and impossible to crumble the way the USSR did: "terrorism." This "clash of civilizations" that the promoters of the Third Corporate Regime are using to hold power and increase wealth could easily get out of control and flip us into a new type of "American fascism" that many Americans wouldn't recognize until it was far too late to do anything about it (at least over the short term).

"We have seen the hints of a fascist drift in earlier American eras, although it never created a permanent police state or fascist order...

"This chapter looks at the dangers of an unprecedented tip toward a new regime that I will call 'fascism lite.' Fascism has long been understood as a police state based on the union of big business and government. Such a regime suspends the most basic constitutional liberties of citizens in the name of a religious or nationalist war against civilizational enemies. I argue in this chapter that several forces could converge to create right-wing regime change toward an American brand of fascism.

"In the current regime, we already see the embryonic shape of such a new hypernationalist order, foreshadowed in the Patriot Act, the Homeland Security restrictions on civil liberties, and the Pentagon's suspension of the Geneva Accords and Constitutional safeguards against arbitrary detention and abuse of terrorism suspects. This suggests a creeping authoritarianism that already functions within today's regime and could continue to sustain the current order. But in another scenario, repressive forces could expand and accelerate to create regime change. By fascism lite, I mean a new regime that would effectively suspend much of our current rights, while still preserving the patina of formal elections and constitutionalism. It would preserve a government-corporate partnership, but, in contrast to the current regime, it would clearly subordinate corporations to the state. It would eliminate unions, formally subjugate the press to government censorship, increase the tie between religion and the state, and subject dissenters and tens of millions of ordinary citizens to the unconstitutional treatment and daily abuse now received by terrorist detainees.

"Any form of fascism that might take root in America is radically distinct from the classical forms in Germany and Italy in the 1930s - and will remain a different breed. Fascism lite is not Nazism, Hitlerism, or Mussolini-style rule, and is dangerous precisely because it is likely to retain the framework of constitutional rule that Hitler and Mussolini openly abandoned."

Derber notes that a number of things could act to quickly flip the US into fascism lite, including a political crisis among a corrupted elite, an economic meltdown (which is what brought fascism to Europe in the 1930s), or - most dangerously - new terror attacks within the United States.

But even with this dispassionate and dark prophecy, the book is not despairing. The good news, Derber notes, is:

"...[F]ascist regime change in the United States is a possibility, not a certainty. The American people have the ability to stop it if they understand the danger and how to respond. ...Americans can not only prevent fascist regime change, but also tip the corporate regime in the opposite direction, toward a reenergized democracy."

In the final chapter of the book, Derber outlines the details of how Americans can help build a new regime based on progressive values that is both business- and democracy-friendly. He shows how in many communities the process is already underway, and defines how Americans can become involved. And he outlines a clear and easily understood agenda that the Democratic Party could pick up to help bring about a new progressive regime and prevent this nation from sliding into fascism lite.

"Hidden Power" is the must-read book of the year. Buy three copies, at least, because you'll want to share a few with friends, and will never want to part with your own well-marked-up copy.

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