Through the Glass Darkly

     When a French family visited me last month, they were seeing the U.S. for the first time.
     It was the immensity of the place and the friendliness of the people that hit them most directly.
     We talked about all kinds of things about America, including the politics. I put forth my theory that the spectrum of politics here in the U.S. is skewed well to the right of those in France.
     The mother, Francoise, answered immediately, “Mais nous on a Le Pen.”
     But we have Le Pen, she said, referring to Jean-Marie Le Pen who leads the anti-immigrant, far-right party called the National Front.
     She had a point.
     Le Pen is against immigration, against the European Union, against gay marriage, against abortion, in favor of the Catholic church and a proponent of traditional French values. In law school, he was the head of a right-wing group whose primary purpose was to fight street brawls with Communists.
     So it got me to thinking.
     First that the amalgam of positions taken by the far-right in France is not much different from the toxic brew of positions taken by the TEA Party. They are against immigration, against NAFTA, against gay marriage, against abortion, against taxes (that’s the only big variation), in favor of the Christian church and a proponent of traditional American values. In the background lurks the threat of violence.
     The difference is that the National Front never achieved anything close to a majority in the French legislature, normally running way out on the fringe of popularity. While here in America, the Republican Party could well take the House this fall, and the positions taken by the Republican Party are generally the same as those of its radical wing, the TEA people.
     They mesh.
     The second thing Francoise’s point did was it got me to thinking that this is all a bit dangerous.
     In Europe, they know what a far-right party soaked in populism and racism can do. The furies of war killed so many and destroyed so much that will not start down that path again.
     They also know what a police state of the far-left can do. Poland, Germany and Yugoslavia lived under the state’s boot for decades. And they are not going down that path either.
     But we in the U.S. have not lived those searing lessons.
     So the Republican-TEA Party activists, with their big-money backers like the Koch brothers, as profiled in this week’s NewYorker, and their propaganda machine at FOX, as eviscerated nightly on the Daily Show, are poised to take control of one house of Congress.
     Legislation will grind to a halt.
     The disenchantment and frustration of the great body of Americans who are generous and thoughtful — the kind that helped the French family as they wondered about City Hall and the Federal Courthouse and the mini-ethnic neighborhoods of downtown — will continue and grow.
     The economy will get little help, so the unemployment level will stay high. The gap between rich and poor, the largest among the Western nations, will grow.
     What used to be considered nutty ideas – like a flat tax – will come into the mainstream of political discourse. Immigrant bashing will be a dull constant. Environmental enforcement will falter. Oil dependency will grow.
     Relations with the Muslim nations will not improve and key moderate nations such as Turkey and Egypt could fall into line with Iran. In the eyes of the world America will be seen as a great power, with vast territory and a generous people, that lost its way and became a crackpot nation.

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