First, They Came for the Trade Unionists…

Last night, on the eve of one of the biggest protests Michigan has ever seen, I got to wondering what, exactly, Republicans envision for the future of my state.

I was curious because the Republicans who run the legislature and hold the governor’s office were in the process of railroading through an extremely controversial “right-to-work” law. Polls have consistently shown that Michiganders are rather evenly divided on the topic. And Michigan, with its strong labor history, has a proud union tradition and hundreds of thousands of dedicated union members. While there has been talk about floating a right-to-work law on-and-off for decades, as far as I know, no serious bill to weaken bargaining rights on this scale had ever been introduced.

Until last week, when Gov. Rick Snyder did an about-face and suddenly declared that passing a right-to-work law was a state emergency. The legislature responded in kind, ramrodding through bills in the House and Senate in a matter of hours, allowing no room for committee hearings and no testimony.

A massive protest was planned for today. Yesterday, in advance of the event, I was at the state capitol building for work. What I saw there worried and unnerved me.

State police, naturally, are not a rare sight at the capitol. There are always a handful around. What I saw yesterday, though, was unprecedented. There were easily 150, maybe 200, troopers. Hanging out in the hallways. With billy clubs. And tear gas canisters. And gas masks. Just, you know, letting their presence be known, even though there were no protesters to be seen.

What particularly unsettled me, though, was the image of throngs of police hanging out in the rotunda, a space lined with flags. There it was – flags and billy clubs. Everything my mother ever warned me about. More on that in a moment.

So that evening, as I prepared for what I knew would be a momentous day ahead, I wondered where Republicans wanted to take all of this. I sat down at my computer and googled “republican end game.” The first hit came up with the description, “For those of you who were wondering what the Republican endgame would look like…” I eagerly clicked on the link. The rest of the sentence read, “…just turn your attention toward Michigan, where women’s rights, gay rights, public education, and unions are all being systematically dismantled before our eyes, in one fell swoop.”

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. I was asking what the goal of all this was, and here was someone telling me this WAS the goal. And if that were true, that in itself would be bad enough.

But then it hit me. This wasn’t the end game – this was only the beginning. The real goal is much darker, much more frightening and much more grim than anything we’ve seen yet. At least in this country.

Which brings me back to my mother’s warning. My mother, you see, grew up in Berlin, in World War II. She was just seven when the war ended and the Russians invaded. Naturally, those early experiences made a huge impression on her, and one she’s handed down to me. Growing up, she impressed me with two things regarding that time and place in history. First, never trivialize what happened during Hitler’s reign. Second, always be on guard against it happening again.

So when I saw that rotunda, those police, those flags and those weapons, it struck an historic chord. This is what she was warning you about, I said to myself. This is it. It’s here.

It’s OK if you doubt me or think I’m exaggerating. God knows I didn’t get it myself for years now, even though it’s been staring me in the face. My mother’s admonition to be slow to compare anything to Nazism is something I do take seriously. But I believe the comparison needs to be made now. Hear me out.

You have to understand, first, that genocide was not the original intent of the Nazis. It was not what they set out to do. Rather, it was a corporatist take-over of a country. The government ruled with an iron fist to the benefit of corporations. The camps we know today as killing fields didn’t start out that way. They began as prison labor camps, the cheapest kind of labor around. A bonanza for corporations. The granddaddy of all government giveaways to big business.

This is what some people want here and now.

Consider this. Republicans have taken great pains to destabilize and minimize the middle class. This assault on bargaining rights is just the latest step, and one guaranteed to reduce wages for working-class families. They are also attacking programs that assist the most vulnerable in our society, trying to reduce things such as food assistance, Medicaid and Medicare, Social Security and unemployment benefits. In fact, they call them “entitlements,” trying to make those who depend on them sound both greedy and lazy.

They’ve also gutted the school system in Michigan. They began two years ago by robbing our schools of nearly $1 billion in funding. They’re following that up, likely this week, by passing a law that would corporatize our schools. Under this proposal, the bottom 5 percent of schools based on student performance on standardized tests would be taken over by a government-appointed authority, who would then farm them out to charter schools run by for-profit companies. So in no time, you’ll have the most vulnerable 5 percent of our children being viewed as little more than cash cows for corporations. Do you really think big business wants to invest in their education? No, neither do I. And if those kids grow up unable to read or write well or do basic math, what chance do they have for finding good work? And how will they survive otherwise, with all social assistance programs gutted (see above!).

Also this week, Michigan is set to pass some of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the nation. Basically, they intend to harass abortion providers out of existence in our state by setting up a myriad of guidelines to follow – door width, a mandate for $1 million in insurance, restrictions on calling in prescription medicines, etc. As a result, many abortion-providing clinics in the state are expected to fold. The result? More women having more babies they can’t care for, who will likely get sub-par education in corporate schools, all while receiving no social help benefits because – remember? – we gutted that.

It goes on and on. Expenditures on higher education have been decimated, making tuition costs soar and putting the pre-requisites for good careers out of reach for many. Tax credits and tax deductions working-class families depend on, such as the $600 per-child deduction and homestead property tax exemption credit, have been eliminated or severely reduced. Senior retirement income is now being taxed.

All of these things have something in common: they rob the working- and middle-classes of economic security. It’s no coincidence.

The lucky ones who are able to obtain a higher education and train for a career that pays decently will be safe. Those who run big corporations will be safe (aren’t they always?). But those who don’t? Look out. Because they want you desperate.

Why? Because a desperate worker, to them, is a good worker. A desperate worker, terrified of losing a job is one you can push around. A desperate worker is someone who is dependent on their employer. And what can an employer do to someone who’s desperate? Anything.

That is the goal: Serfdom. And it’s not hard for me to image an even lower class, a legalized slave class, made up of people who are called “takers,” “the 47 percent,” “the entitled.” Does any of this sound familiar?

I can now imagine where this goes next. I’ve already heard calls to get rid of the minimum wage. Thankfully, this is set at the federal level and we are protected from that – for now. But I would bet anything that sometime in the next two years, there will be a real push to get rid of Michigan’s minimum wage, which at $7.40, is a measly 15 cents above the federal rate of $7.25. But they want that 15 cents, too.

What next? If the corporatists worm their way into controlling the federal government, look for more restrictions on consumer bankruptcies and the return of debtor prisons. Think I’m joking? I wish I were.

A lot of people pooh-pooh these ideas. They point out that no one is killing Jews now. Yes, I’m thankful. But that would be too obvious and there are too few of us around. If you want to know who the next target is, just listen. You will know who they’re targeting when you hear things like “welfare queen” and “takers.”

Remember: Fascism isn’t really about death camps. It’s about a hand-in-glove relationship between corporations and government. Oh, it takes a lot of enforcing to keep things in line – that’s where things like the Gestapo, the SS, crowds of police in the rotunda…

Doubt me if you want, but I saw it today. Hundreds of police called in to contend with angry but peaceful protesters. Police on horseback and in riot gear called in by the governor to intimidate people who dared speak out against the abuse of the democratic process. I was there, on the front line of it, inches away from the batons and gas masks. I saw it.

I am not saying that this will all come to pass. This is still a two-party system, even if Republicans in my state are running it as though it weren’t. And there are far too many people who would be up in arms if the principles of democracy were completely disregarded. So, no. It won’t happen tomorrow. Hopefully, it won’t happen ever.

But if the more authoritarian arm of the Republican party was able to run things unopposed? This is exactly what they’d do.


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