Monthly Archives: August 2020

Fascism and the Quickening of History

          Over the last few months I have been revisiting research I did a long time ago on fascism. Pinochet’s Chile, Suharto’s Indonesia, Montt’s Guatemala, Hitler’s Germany and beyond. I’ve spent time poring over the accounts of the survivors, the details of the crimes, the descriptions of the torture, of the camps, the ghettos, the dehumanization, the cruelty, the terror, the photos of the train cars headed to concentration camps, the mass graves, the massacres, the piles of corpses. And reading through the accounts of people who knew things were going in this direction, that something ghastly was being done to other people, yet did nothing, not even raised their voice when they had the chance.


Sadly, I have come to believe that it is, once again, reasserting itself globally and more overtly. And it isn’t just in incendiary speeches from the US president or others who stoke the flames of racism, and scapegoat and demonize the poor, the immigrant, the marginalized, or the oppressed. In recent days, I have seen far right trolls on social media sharing memes with gruesome photos of the deceased in Kenosha. Photos mocking them, memes celebrating it, and cheering on more of the same, and worse. From my research, I realized that this is how it all started. How fascism became normalized in those societies that fell to its barbarism. A level of callous dehumanization that cannot be sated. Cannot be reasoned with. And that, when joined with state agencies, becomes a force that is lethal and next to impossible to stop. I can tell you, the research has taken an emotional and spiritual toll, and led to many sleepless nights.


But Americans have already tolerated the precursors of fascism. The atrocities they have largely chosen to look away from, or normalize, or conveniently blame on one president. They know of the imperialistic invasions and bombings of scores of non-Americans in the Global South by the US military. And at home, they have seen immigrant and refugee families torn apart and put in cages. They have heard the sobbing of children in detention camps. They have seen people prosecuted for daring to help these people in the scorching desert. They have seen police departments acquire tanks and armour, and use tear gas and fire at people on their front porches. They have seen unarmed protesters beaten, and maimed, and disappeared in unmarked government vans. And much of this was happening long before Donald Trump darkened the doors of the White House. To be sure, fascism has always simmered just below the surface in the United States. History’s pages, dripping with the blood of Indigenous genocide and the suffering of African slaves, has nurtured the ground for fascism to flourish whenever the conditions were ripe for it. Indeed, the Nazis took lessons from America’s ruthless systemic supremacism. So anyone who argues that “it can’t happen here” has no interest in this history. Because it already has happened here, it just hasn’t affected the majority of white Americans yet.

As the election looms closer it has become undeniable that the proto-fascist in the Oval Office will do everything he can to stop his potential removal from office. Indeed, Trump has already started pulling the levers of power available to him, from attacks on the US Postal Service to casting doubt on the process itself. He is employing one of the few gifts he possesses, incitement, to activate his far right base, including armed white supremacist militias. He has accelerated his demonization of opponents and any political group who dissents, including anarchists and Black Lives Matter activists. And he has aligned himself with the most unhinged and violent factions of the notorious conspiracy engine known as QAnon. If anyone thinks he will leave office without trying to cause immeasurable chaos and misery, they have not been paying attention to the last four years. And his opposition comes from the most stale, neoliberal precincts in recent memory. A cadre of ghouls and grifters for the interests of capital, who offer little hope outside of platitudes to the millions of Americans struggling with a pandemic, an economic downturn not seen since the Great Depression, as well as climate change fueled catastrophes.


And so how then shall we proceed? How shall people of conscience, those who reside at the margins of an empire in a state of collapse, live? There are times when history feels quickened. When the merciless maw of barbarism cannot be avoided. But there are moments every step along the way which give us a window of reprieve. A chance at redemption. A space to build solidarity with others of like mind and spirit. Others who cannot stand silent or paralyzed while the heel of ruthless hatred stamps out our very humanity. It is up to us to seize those moments when we can, because they can often lead us toward preventing unthinkable atrocities. I believe this is one of those moments, but I also believe that it is rapidly fading away.



Kenn Orphan   September 2020

The Empty Theatre

Media personality figure and former prosecutor, Kimberly Guilfoyle, perhaps gave the most crazed speech at the Republican National Convention. In a shrill tone, she repeatedly claimed that Joe Biden and the Democrats are socialists. This is how far down the rabbit hole the American political landscape has fallen. If they are socialists, they are the worst ones in living memory.
          After all, Wall Street heaved a sigh of relief when Biden was nominated, and again when he picked Kamala Harris. And Biden has vowed to veto Medicare for All and Green New Deal policies. While those things aren’t necessarily socialist, they are far more left than Biden or Harris’ politics. In truth, any socialist would laugh at the notion of these candidates being one of their own.
          But this doesn’t matter in American politics. It never has. And this is all part of the delusion. Both ruling parties are plutocratic in nature. Both are capitalist. And both support American militarism and imperialism, with varying degrees of minute difference.
          Guilfoyle, like Nick Sandmann, the smirking MAGA hat wearing kid who mocked a Native American elder in Washington DC, also brought up “cancel culture.” It has become a hot topic for these types, which is rich given the fact that they are giving speeches before millions of people carried by every corporate, national news outlet.
          But what struck me most about Guilfoyle’s speech was the pitch. It was unhinged to a degree I have seldom seen in American politics. And I have seen a lot. Of course, she was a television personality, which has its own theatrical melodrama. But before that, she was a prosecutor. An astonishing fact that should make any sane person shudder. And she is now the partner of one of Trump’s sons. So the stark nepotism is remarkable in and of itself. But it was the fanatical look on her face which took me aback the most. It was the look one sees in the faces of cult followers. And all of it has been normalized to such an extent that too many Americans simply shrug things like this off.
          To date, over 180,000 American have died from Covid-19. This is the most for any nation. A quarter of the entire world’s deaths, and the US only represents 4.25% of the planet’s population. It is facing an economic downturn not seen since the Great Depression. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, millions may lose their homes due to an inability to pay rent or mortgages, and millions have lost health insurance because the nation has tied healthcare to employment. It is a time where uprisings against systemic racism and police brutality are being met with more police brutality and murderous rightwing militias. And like the rest of the world, it is facing enormous ecological catastrophes on the horizon from climate change. In fact, thousands are reeling from fires in the west and the aftermath of a hurricane in the south. But to people like Guilfoyle, Donald Trump has done the best job ever, and is the only hope Americans have against all of its enemies, foreign and domestic.
          Guilfoyle ended her bizarre speech by yelling “the best is yet to come” before an empty theatre. And perhaps this is what best sums up the madness of this historical moment. The political class is playing to an empty theatre because most Americans cannot afford to attend the play, or are too sick, or too over-worked, or are not white enough to be admitted. But this class has never really paid much attention to the audience to begin with, so for them, little to nothing has changed.
Kenn Orphan  August 2020

Holding on to Love, in Memory’s Fading Light

My partner Patrick and I have had my mom here with us for a few days so that my sister, who does a marvelous job caring for her, can have a respite. She is 87 and suffers from dementia, and has done remarkably well so far. But she recently had a test where she scored 10 points lower on cognitive ability. So we all know she is declining.

This journey has had its measure of pain. And my long work in hospice care helps, but doesn’t extract me from the landscape of mourning we must all traverse. When my father died, she held him in disbelief sobbing, and begged God to take her too. He was the love of her life, after all. She was with me, my sister, brother and nephew, at the time, and the agony of loss was acute for all of us.

After that we began to notice her becoming more detached. She wound up in a wheelchair and eventually a nursing home for a brief stint. With much attention, especially from my sister, she was able to go from a wheelchair to a walker, and then back home. Eventually she was able to glean joy once again from life. Soon after, we moved her from Florida, which is where my parents retired, back home to Nova Scotia, the land where she was born.

She has had tremendous support here, was put on excellent medications, and was involved in a wonderful day program for people with dementia, which kept her socially and cognitively engaged. Unfortunately, they had to suspend this due to the pandemic. And the loss of that interaction has been marked.

There are moments now when she asks me: “you’re my son, right?” These lapses in memory don’t last long, and they aren’t very often, but the sharp stab of sorrow I feel in my chest is becoming too real for me to ignore now. And they are becoming more frequent with each passing day. After I shake off the grief, she is back to herself again, asking about my partner Patrick, whom she adores. Or her other son, George, who lives in the States. Or where my sister is. Or about her sister Marilyn, who also lives here in Nova Scotia. Or she talks about my father, and how much she still misses him.

There are other moments of irritation and exasperation that come with being asked the same question ten times in ten minutes. Or hearing the same story over and over again as if it were the first time she was telling it to you. This is the rocky territory of caregiving in the unforgiving land of Dementia. And then there are the conversations that were never finished, conflicts that were never resolved, and memories she can no longer grieve or celebrate with me. That, and the sleepless nights and guilt for all of those feelings. And I know this is only part of what my sister has experienced.

Despite that, we have found solace in the small things that make us spontaneously smile, like her colouring. She was never one to do any kind of art, now she loves colouring. And singing old hymns. “Great is Thy Faithfulness” is one of her favourites. And, after singing it with her for what seems like over one thousand times, it has become mine too. And watching travel shows. Every time she watches one with us she is so grateful, because she laments not having traveled the world the way she dreamed of when she was a kid. She somehow remembers that I’ve been lucky to travel a lot, and asks me for each country we see: “were you there, and were the people friendly?” And sitting by the bonfires this summer while she does her word puzzles. And marveling at trees and flowers. I have never seen anyone become so enraptured by looking at trees and flowers as my mom.

We know the days will grow shorter. But I hope I can collect as many memories that I can, like old letters in a shoe box. I hope I can keep them alive, somehow, in some compartment in my heart, even as I know they will slowly fade into the evening dusk for her.


Kenn Orphan   August 2020

We do Not Live in the World of Before

Following the announcement of US presidential candidate Joe Biden picking Kamala Harris for VP, I have seen many social media posts. US American liberal friends seem thrilled and some have already started the “vote shaming.” Biden and Harris have been forgiven or, better yet, not even noted for their centrist, rightwing past. And I have US American leftist, anarchist, and socialist friends lamenting the betrayal, once again, of the Democratic Party to working class people. Most of them are anticipating another four years (or more) of Trump. As one who is considered to be far left, I must concur with the latter. The Democratic establishment is once again banking on identity politics over substance. It is digging in its heels to the noxious muck of late capitalism, as it always has. That might have worked before, but we do not live in the world of before.


So it causes me to ponder what might have won? Medicare for All in a country where healthcare (a fundamental human right) is linked to employment, where millions have lost their jobs and are un or under-insured? And during a global pandemic that is poised to take hundreds of thousands of American lives? Comprehensive programs for housing and debt relief, including student debt, in an economic downturn not seen since the Great Depression? Defunding and abolishing the police as it exists as an institution today, in the midst of massive uprisings against documented, ongoing, entrenched brutality and systemic racism? A true “Green New Deal,” that isn’t merely a cloak for green corporate capitalism and the fossil fuel industry? An end to the surveillance state that vastly eroded civil liberties, and a bloated military industrial complex that sucks billions of dollars each year to destroy poorer nations in the global south in the defense of capitalist interests? A decisive criticism of diplomacy and the human rights crimes of American allies, like medieval Saudi Arabia, which continues to commit genocide in Yemen with US bombs? Or apartheid Israel, which has just annexed the occupied West Bank with little opposition even though it violates international law? Just a few things here, I know.


Trump is perhaps the final and most visual symbol of the American Empire’s depravity. Perhaps, even, of its collapse. And his proto-fascistic character thrives on centrist weakness as much as it feeds on the fears of the privileged, ignorant and bigoted. He has been erroneously mocked as stupid, and yet those who mock him cannot see that this is his strength in a sham republic, where education and science are routinely viewed with suspicion and met with derision by an enormous swath of the population.


Forgive me, but I have no encouragement regarding these events at the moment. Because to me, it is as if the Weimar Republic is reaching its bony fingers through the soil of its grave to warn the apathetic and the unaware. An omen to those who live in the shadow of an empire in collapse.


I can only encourage people of conscience to build solidarity and stay sharp. As Lenin said, “sometimes decades pass and nothing happens, and then there are weeks where decades happen.” From here until January of 2021, we shall find out if that is the case in our moment.


Kenn Orphan  August 2020

Ghosts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

On this day, 75 years ago, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing 80,000 civilians instantly and injuring tens of thousands of people, many fatally, in the days and weeks that followed. Human beings were reduced to ash shadows, burned into the pavement. Women, men and children wandered through the firestorms, their skin hanging from their bodies like tattered clothes. The US would go on to bomb the city of Nagasaki days later, bringing the total death count to well over 140,000 and possibly as high as 226,000. This figure does not include those who died of their injuries later or the ones who perished from cancer caused by the radiation.
          The myth that these bombings stopped the war and saved millions of lives persists to this day, thanks to historical revisionism. But by multiple historical accounts, including American ones, the Japanese were on the brink of surrender. There were peace overtures that the Americans simply ignored. The Japanese Empire committed atrocities themselves prior to and during the war, primarily against the Chinese. But this in no way justified the murder of over 140,000 civilians. It was merely a show of force to the Soviets. It proved to the world that the American Empire would replace all others.
          After this horrendous crime, the US went on to bomb the Marshall Islands and irradiate the native population, as well as expose US soldiers to deadly radiation without their knowledge, in tests done in the Nevada desert and in the Pacific.
          Today, the world continues to face the existential menace of nuclear war and annihilation thanks to reckless American militarism. Smaller, more “usable” nuclear arms have been designed by the US in recent years, showing a willingness to use them on any nation that dares defy their hegemony. Other nations are now racing to keep up. But to think nuclear war can be contained is the height of ignorant hubris. The very definition of madness.
          Humanity is facing its ultimate nemesis with climate change and nuclear annihilation. And if we are unable to stop the madness of ecocide and empire, we shall face our quietus. From the maw of cruel history, the ghosts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki cry out.
–  Kenn Orphan  August, 2020
Title artwork is “Fire II” (1950) by Iri Maruki and Toshi Maruki. Paper, Indian ink, coloring. Artworks courtesy of Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels