How politicians whitewash their past by criticizing the present

Opinion: Figures like Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton cannot be removed from the history of attacks on democracy
Henry Giroux, McMaster University
DEM 2016 Convention
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaks during the second day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Tuesday, July 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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Hillary Clinton is seen in this February 2016 campaign event welcoming former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright onto the stage in New Hampshire during the Democratic primary. As both women condemn U.S. President Donald Trump for his creeping fascism, are they forgetting their own pasts? (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Henry Giroux, Chaired professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the Department of English and Cultural Studies, McMaster University

Madeleine Albright, without irony, has written a book on resisting fascism. She has also published an op-ed in the New York Times pushing the same argument.

Albright, former secretary of state under Bill Clinton, is alarmed. She wants to warn the public to stop the fascism emerging under the Trump regime before it’s too late.

Unfortunately, moralism on the part of the infamous and notorious is often the enemy of both historical memory and the truth, in spite of their newly discovered opposition to tyranny.

It defies belief that a woman who defended the killing of 500,000 children as a result of the imposed U.S. sanctions on Iraq can take up the cause of fighting fascism while positioning herself as being on the forefront of resistance to American authoritarianism.


Denis J. Halliday, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Iraq for part of the sanctions era, once said of those measures: “We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that.”

Is any policy worth the death of 500,000 children?

Albright, however, is not alone.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is seen in this October 2016 photo. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson)

Hillary Clinton, herself a former war-monger and an unabashed ally of the financial elite, has also resurrected herself as a crusader in fighting the creeping fascism that now marks the Trump regime.

Speaking recently at the PEN World Voices Festival, Clinton appeared to have completely removed herself from her notorious past as a supporter of the Iraq war and the military-industrial-financial complex in order to sound the alarm “that freedom of speech and expression is under attack here in our own country.” She further called for action against America’s creeping authoritarianism.

‘Flight from memory’

It’s an odd flight from memory into the sphere of moral outrage given her own role in supporting a number of domestic and foreign policies both as a former first lady and as secretary of state.

There was the refusal to punish CIA torturers, the drone killings, the lavishing of funds to the military war machine, the shredding of the federal safety net for poor people and the endorsement of neoliberal policies that offered no hope or prosperity “for neighbourhoods devastated by deindustrialization, globalization, and the disappearance of work.”

Clinton’s critique of Trump’s fascism does more than alert the public to the obvious about the current government, it also legitimatizes a form of historical amnesia and a long and suppressed legacy of cruelty and human misery. It gets worse.

Michael Hayden, the former NSA chief and CIA director under George W. Bush, has joined the ranks of Albright and Clinton in condemning Trump as a proto-fascist.

Writing in the New York Times, Hayden, ironically, chastised Trump as a serial liar and in doing so quoted the renowned historian Timothy Snyder, who stated in reference to the Trump regime that “Post-Truth is pre-fascism.”

Hayden is seen in this 2009 photo when he was director of the CIA. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

The irony here is hard to miss. Not only did Hayden head Bush’s illegal National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping program while the head of the NSA, he also lied repeatedly about about his role in Bush’s sanction and implementation of state torture in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And yet he’s now being regarded as an honest, expert commentator on intelligence and other issues.

Dubious heroes

The United States and its Vichy Republican Party has drifted so far to the fascist right that people like Albright, Clinton and Hayden are serving as heroes in the political and ethical resistance to fascism.

While the call to resist fascism is to be welcomed, it has to be interrogated, not aligned with individuals and ideological forces that helped put in place the racist, economic, religious and educational forces that produced it.

I am not simply condemning the hypocrisy of former politicians who are now criticizing the emerging fascism in the United States. Nor am I proposing that only selective condemnations should be welcomed.

What I am suggesting is that the seductions of power in high places often work to impose a silence upon people that allow them to benefit from and become complicit with authoritarian tendencies and anti-democratic policies and modes of governance. Once they’re out of power, their own histories of complicity are too often easily erased, especially by the mainstream media.

Their newly found stances against fascism do nothing to help explain where we are and what we might do next to resist it now that it’s engulfing American society and its economic, cultural and political institutions.

What is often unrecognized in the celebrated denunciations of fascism by celebrity politicians is that neoliberalism is the new fascism.

And what becomes invisible in the fog of such celebration is neoliberalism’s legacy and its deadly mix of market fundamentalism, anti-intellectualism, rabid individualism, unchecked selfishness, shredding of the welfare state, privatization of the public sphere, white supremacy, toxic masculinity and all-embracing quest for profit.

‘Savage politics’

The new and more racist, violent and brutal form of neoliberalism under Trump has produced both a savage politics in the U.S. and a corrupt financial elite that now controls all the commanding institutions of U.S. society.

Systemic corruption, crassness, overt racism, a view of misfortune as a weakness, unapologetic bigotry and a disdain of the public and common good has been normalized under Trump, but it’s been gaining strength for the last 50 years in U.S. politics. Trump is merely the blunt instrument at the heart of a fascistic neoliberal ideology.

We need to be wary, to say the least, about those mainstream politicians now denouncing Trump’s fascism who while in power submitted, as noted U.S. sociologist Stanley Aronowitz puts it, “to neoliberal degradations of health care, jobs, public housing, and income guarantees for the long-term unemployed (let alone the rest of us).”

What is often ignored in the emerging critiques of fascism is neoliberalism’s legacy coupled with the mainstream media’s attempts to hold up many of its architects and supporters as celebrated opponents of Trump’s fascist government.

Trump is the extreme point of a long series of attacks on democracy —and former politicians like Albright and Clinton cannot be removed from that history.

Trump speaks during a National Day of Prayer event in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

None of these politicians have denounced nationalism, the myth of American exceptionalism and the forces that produce obscene inequality in wealth and power in the U.S., or the oppressive regime of law and order that has ruled the U.S. ruthlessly and without apology since the 1980s.

Unchecked and systemic power, a take-no-prisoners politics and an unapologetic cruelty are the currency of fascism because they have long been the wedge that makes fear visceral and violence more than an abstraction.

This lethal mix is also a pathological condition endemic to brutal demagogues such as Trump. Trump and his ilk demand loyalty —not to justice and democracy, but loyalty to themselves, one that stands above the truth and rule of law.

Stamp out amnesia

The calls to resist fascism are welcome, but they can’t be separated from the acts of bad faith that helped produce it.

The fight against fascism is part of a struggle over memory. We must not engage in historical and social amnesia.

It is also a fight to defend the public spheres and institutions that make civic literacy, the public imagination and critical consciousness possible. We must expose the forces that are and have been complicit in the longstanding attack on democratic institutions, values and social relations, especially those that now hide their past and ideological convictions.

Any resistance to fascism has to be rooted in the call to make education central to politics with a strong emphasis on the teaching of historical consciousness and civic literacy as crucial weapons.

At the same time, the fight must be unwavering in its refusal to equate capitalism and democracy. We are at war over not just the right of economic equality and social justice, but also against the powerful and privileged positions of whiteness, toxic masculinity and the elimination of solidarity and compassion.

This is a war waged over the possibility of a radical democracy while acknowledging that the rich and powerful will not give up their power without a fight.

Looking for guidance on fascism in the U.S. today? Listen to Parkland activist Emma Gonzalez, 18, not Albright, Clinton or anyone else who has been complicit. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

And so instead of listening to complicit politicians and others deeply embedded in a system of exploitation, disposability, austerity and a criminogenic culture, we need to listen to the voices of the striking teachers, the Parkland students, the women driving the #MeToo movement, the Black Lives Matter organizers and others willing to make resistance visible, collective and widespread.

The fight against American-style fascism cannot and will not be lead by establishment politicians and pundits parading as the new heroes of the resistance to Trump’s fascism.

The ConversationIt will be led by we, the people.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.