Liberal and conservative are two sides of the same coin, the democratic coin. Liberals will bow to conservatives, and vice versa, when the other side wins a free and fair election. This is true regardless of how different policy positions may be. Both accept the legitimacy of democracy, the rule of law. They take freedom as a given, as inalienable. They like open markets, everywhere.
This is not the case in our time. Today there are two completely sides in the political debate. There is a democratic side that supports democracy, an open society, and free enterprise. There is a fascist side that supports dictatorship, a closed society, and enterprise controlled by a small elite in the name of the nation.
Donald Trump is a fascist. This is what makes him different from every previous American President. It’s the word the media, even today, won’t utter. Fascist.
Americans are taught in grade school that we beat fascism in World War II, that it died with Hitler and Mussolini. It didn’t.
What makes fascism, which emerged in the 20th century, so dominant in the 21st is something that emerged in the 19th century. Nationalism. The idea of “my nation, right or wrong,” the L’Etat as the French Revolution saw it, has quietly come to dominate the entire world. China isn’t communist. They have no social safety net, nor a democracy. They’re run by military and business elites, with ideology replacing the church. They’re fascists.
What emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union was Vladimir Putin’s fascist state. Oligarchs, an Orthodox religion, tied together by a cult of personality. Putin runs an economy the size of Australia, rules over a population of drunks whose numbers are declining, and carries enormous influence around the world only because he is a fascist, one who understands his instrument.
Next to fascism, what liberal democracies offer, on the surface, appears to be minimal. We disagree with one another, and those disagreements are easy to exploit. Businesses rise and fail routinely, and those that are failing always see government power as protective. Americans have embraced the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about, the global interference Washington feared most, even while those images are exploited by fascists. Look at the giant pro-Nazi rally held at Madison Square Garden in 1939. There’s Washington’s portrait. It’s blasphemy on our national faith.
The failure of 2016 should not be laid at the feet of Hillary Clinton, or the Democratic Party, or even of Barack Obama, who merely believed democracy could overcome any foe, even fascism. The failure must be laid at the feet of Facebook, of Google, of this medium I’ve written on for 30 years, the one you’re using now.
Putin hacked the Internet because the people with power over the media refused to accept their responsibility for maintaining its values. Google and Facebook (and smaller companies, like Twitter), declared they were not media companies, that they were mere transports like the phone networks. They said this because they didn’t want the cost of being responsible for something as expensive to maintain as the national discourse. It doesn’t scale.
But lies scale. Propaganda scales. Memes scale. Advertisements scale. These are the tools the fascists used to obtain power, and no one stepped in to stop them. Then, after the fascists had seized power, democrats and Democrats turned on Facebook and Google, demanding they be “regulated” in the public interest. By whom? By the same fascist government that had just seized power? What the fuck are you thinking?
So far, Facebook has offered little more than lip service to the crisis of our time. Google has done the same. Taking responsibility for the truth isn’t easy, and it doesn’t scale. It’s going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars to get this bull back in the corral, and they don’t want to spend the money because, frankly, they’re still doing great.
So far in 2017 Facebook stock is up 58%, Google 34%. This on top of already high valuations. As I write this Facebook is worth $531 billion. That’s more than all the nation’s top four wireless carriers, combined. Google parent Alphabet is worth $735 billion, more than all the major cable and phone companies in the U.S., taken together.
This is where the power lies. It’s not in Time Inc. It’s not at AT&T, with or without CNN. It’s not at Comcast and MSNBC. It’s with the companies I call the “cloud czars” – Google and Facebook, along with Apple, Microsoft and Amazon.com, which between them are worth $3 trillion, about half the value of the whole NASDAQ market. These companies hold the power over our media, our politics, our future.
My theme in 2017 has been a constant drumbeat of demanding that these companies step up to their responsibility for democracy, for capitalism, for liberty, for the values that birthed them and nurture them. You think an autocratic society is going to allow for open source, or allow private companies not tightly affiliated with them to control what people see or think?
For the cloud czars it should be clear. Everything you are, everything you have built, is all on the line in this global battle with fascism.
If they wait until after their stocks start to fall, something that could start at any time, given the uncontrolled speculative fever that Trump and his fascist cohorts have unleashed, it may be too late for everyone. That $100 billion Ruth Porat has squirreled away in cash for a rainy day? That $250 billion Apple has? It could all be gone.
It is past time to invest that cash in people and tools that can separate lies from truth, legitimate discourse from illegitimate calls to dictatorship, and deliver an atomic truth bomb to the people of the world.
The clock is ticking.