UC Davis: Is it fascism yet?

November 21, 2011

It was in 2006 that I first saw this phrase, on a button worn by a young man on the uptown 6 train.  I was on the subway heading up to the Museum of the City of New York for a meeting related to the exhibition “Facing Fascism:  New York and the Spanish Civil War.”  I remember being struck by the message and by the irony of seeing it on this particular ride uptown.  The button captured so neatly the often neglected fact that fascism need not arrive like an evil knight on a black steed, the truth that broad swaths of societies, like those of Germany, Italy and Spain in the 1930s, can drift almost willy nilly into depraved versions of “normalcy.”  A shortcut on human rights here, a concession to authoritarianism there; a “provisional” reaction to a perceived threat one day, a caving to our penchant for scapegoats the next; and before you know it, with not a “monster” in sight, with parents who still love their children, with people just “following orders” and “doing their jobs,” and with the 6 train running more or less on schedule, we’ve drifted across a line of basic human decency and civility and into the territory of banal evil.

These are the first thoughts that came to my mind as I watched the video of UC Davis police officer John Pike pepper-spraying a group of peaceful college students as if they were so many cockroaches.  These are the thoughts that returned as I heard the equivocating reactions of the Chancellor of UC Davis, and as I read many comments posted on the video and on news items about Pike’s brutality that actually defended his actions.   Is it fascism yet?