Danger Signals

The parallels between Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s and the United States today are inexact, certainly, but they’re cause for concern.

After World War I, Germany was a shambles. Unemployment was high, national morale low, the government ineffective. Hitler had initially made serious mistakes (he was thrown into prison at one point), but he was a brilliant and unscrupulous political strategist, and before too long he had risen to the top.

What’s easy to forget today is that millions of Germans loved Hitler. Not all of them, certainly. But he promised to make Germany great again, and the promises struck a deep chord. Indeed, if he hadn’t been an insane megalomaniac, if he had known when to stop, he probably would have succeeded.

We also tend to forget that, until the outbreak of World War II, Hitler was widely admired in the United States, especially by wealthy industrialists. Anti-Semitism was by no means confined to the Nazi Party: A newspaper owned by Henry Ford published the viciously anti-Semitic “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” and Ford himself apparently gave credence to it. So Hitler’s initial mistreatment of the Jews, before the existence of the concentration camps became known — denying them citizenship, prohibiting their marriage to non-Jews, confining them to ghettos, letting your goons beat them up for fun, all that — would not have been viewed as a reason to distance oneself from such a charismatic leader.

I have long suspected, though I’ve never read the theory anywhere, that Hitler’s rise to power was fueled in no small part by his mastery of mass media. He was the first world-class tyrant to arise after the invention and widespread adoption of radio and the public address system. The sound of his voice in mass rallies attended by thousands of people apparently had a hypnotic effect.

Working the technology to get your message across is nothing new. And it’s not clear that Americans today are any better at figuring out when they’re being lied to and manipulated by mass media than the Germans were in the 1930s.

Today the U.S. economy is in a shambles, national morale is low, the government is ineffective. Ordinary people feel powerless and frustrated. And megalomaniacs who crave total social control are arising to exploit the situation.

Today’s anti-Semitism is directed not at Jews but at Muslims. Latino immigrants also face serious discrimination. And the right-wing demagogues are keen to exploit racists’ primitive emotions. Why? Because fear and loathing are powerful motivators. If you can convince millions of voters that you understand and share their fear and loathing, that you have a program that will help rid them of what they hate, they’ll vote for you. In droves.

Faced with a well-financed, well-coordinated propaganda attack from the American Nazi Party (in all but name, that’s what we’ve got), the Democrats are floundering around. They’re about as effective as the Weimar Republic was in providing an alternative to Hitler.

The Democrats have no coherent political philosophy to offer, and no passion for their half-hearted, half-witted solutions to the nation’s deep problems. The Republicans’ political philosophy is insane, but it’s internally coherent and delivered with passion.

The Democrats have no coherent philosophy for a fairly simple reason: They accept millions of dollars in contributions from giant corporations. Any coherent philosophy that they might put forward would be antagonistic to corporate interests. So they’re hamstrung. A few individual Democrats make, from time to time, sensible statements, but as a political force they’re a farce. All they can offer is a slightly less reprehensible, slightly less catastrophic, slightly less vicious form of Republicanism.

And that’s not going to be enough. Because things are going to get worse, economically and environmentally. The worse things get, the more fear and loathing the American Nazi Party will be able to whip up, and the more seats they’ll be able to gain in Congress.

I’ve never actually read It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis. Maybe it’s time to do that.

This entry was posted in politics, society & culture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Danger Signals

  1. Marty Cutler says:

    Thanks for this, Jim,

    The parallels are unavoidable, and I agree that much of today’s antisemitism is directed at Muslims; maybe even the majority of it, but I can tell you from personal experience that Jews aren’t out of those woods yet, though they may be more assimilated into the mainstream these days. And of course, with tacit acceptance from the Right of Israel’s current expansions, the stew gets more complex and conflicting; some on the Christian Right see Israel’s survival as important in bringing on the rapture, but will rail against Jews and Zionists.

    As for the Democrats, yes–with them, it’s a slower walk off the cliff. It’s disgusting to me to hear the consistently lame position on the Muslim cultural center from Dems who “support religious freedom” but then ask the builders of the center to be a little more sensitive to the traumas of 9/11 and move their proposed site somewhere else. No Christian or Jew would stand for bullshit like that. Antisemitism is reprehensible whoever is on the receiving end.

  2. Aaron says:

    Hitler’s rise to power was more mastery of politacal positioning than mass media control. Remember he was never actually elected to his highest position, rather he was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg only after the Nazi party won 230 seats in the Reichstag, which by the way was still less than majority control. To put things in perspective, Hitler was voted against by 70% of voters in his first election and only got 36.8% in the runoff election. After being appointed chancellor and given control of the State, he then began to gain control over the media later.
    The problem we are seeing with this current control of our government is that the policies of spending during the last four years of democrat control over the house and senate and the spending bills this president has proposed during the last two years are destroying any want of earning money for fear of having it confiscated through taxation. Yes the Republican party has failed, however the reason is not because their philosophy is wrong. No the reason is because they act and vote like the democrats. This is why conservatism is needed especially now to stop the reckless spending by both parties and reduce government so that businesses can grow and allow the economy to grow. The people have realized this and have learned more about our Constitution and history to help them recognize the best people to vote for. This is why the Tea Party candidates have been gaining so much support and why Democrats need to talk like conservatives in order to win votes. Think about how Obama won the presidency. He ran on a platform of streamlining government, lower taxes, and less spending. Of course most conservatives saw through this so he only managed to get 52.7% of the popular vote against an unpopular candidate with no real campaign to speak of!
    As far as the racism part of this, there is none. In fact there are Mosques within the same radius of Ground Zero as the proposed community center. The wars in the middle east are being fought to give freedom to Muslims in those countries. That being said, it was Muslims that flew those planes into the twin towers and the man who wants to build this community center (Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf) said that: America was at least partly responsible for the attack, Osama Bin Laden was made in America, America should be more Sharia compliant, and that the Constitution and Declaration of Independance have a lot in common with Sharia law. All that is being asked is to move this further away and not in a building that was hit during the attacks (one of the landing gear from one of the planes fell through the roof of that building). We would ask the same thing if a Japanese person wanted to build a community center on Pearl Harbor. This is not racism. Racism would be if we decided that no Mosques could ever be built on U.S. soil, all exsisting Mosques be torn down, and Muslims should be imprisoned or killed. That kind of thing only happens in Muslim countries but against all other religions and people. Isreal can’t even build an apartment building on their land without somehow provoking the wrath of Islam! The fact is that there is no “anti-semitism against Muslims,” Democrats constantly destroy this country through taxation and any opposition is called racist or sexist or xenophobic because they have no real argument for it, the media while not necessarily controlled by the democrat party does nothing to check their power, and the Republican political philosophy protects and promotes all people regardless of class gender or color rather than creating enmity between various groups of people in order to get more votes!

    • midiguru says:

      Aaron, you’re a great guy, but you have no idea how the real world works. You’ve been fed a line of bullshit by Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh, and you’ve swallowed it whole.

      To respond to only one point in your extensive post (maybe more later), let’s take a look at this: “…the policies of spending during the last four years of democrat control over the house and senate and the spending bills this president has proposed during the last two years are destroying any want of earning money for fear of having it confiscated.”

      While you know some European history, you seem to be forgetting more recent events. When Bill Clinton (a Democrat) left office, there was a budget surplus. During the following eight years, George Bush drove the economy into the dumper with a ruinous war and by refusing to raise taxes to pay for it.

      But that isn’t the worst mistake you’re making. You’re actually saying that the current government’s tax policies (which have meant, I believe, few or no changes for people like you and me) have the power to cause people to STOP WANTING TO EARN MONEY. Do you seriously believe this? Have the current tax policies caused you personally to stop wanting to earn money? Do you personally know anyone on whom the changes in tax policy have had this effect? Or are you just buying a line of hooey that a bunch of extremely wealthy conservative commentators are peddling?

      I’d bet it’s the latter.

    • midiguru says:

      Aaron, on reading further in your reply, I’m afraid I won’t enjoy seeing you at the symphony this fall. You have some serious maturity issues in the political awareness department.

      • Aaron says:

        Jim, I hope that’s not true. You are a good person and I was hoping after reading your other posts that you would be inerested in a political debate. I sincerely don’t want a political discussion to ruin a friendship. I just happen to believe that no one person or group of people knows better how I should live my life than I do and I believe that when people are able to keep more of the money they make, those people are more happy. This discourse was only intended for this website and I would still like to play in the symphony with you. If you would like, I won’t post any more replies or talk about politics with you privately.

    • midiguru says:

      Sigh. I really should do something more productive with my day. Trying to explain reality to a rabid Tea Party adherent is a waste of time, but I’m only half finished with my morning mug of tea, so let’s look at one more interesting passage in your rant:

      “Racism would be if we decided that no Mosques could ever be built on U.S. soil, all exsisting Mosques be torn down, and Muslims should be imprisoned or killed. That kind of thing only happens in Muslim countries but against all other religions and people. Isreal can’t even build an apartment building on their land without somehow provoking the wrath of Islam!”

      Aaron, as you may or may not be aware, there ARE people in this country who feel that Islam should be banned. I’ve read that at least one conservative pastor has been burning the Quran. And in the news last week, a guy whose beliefs were probably very like yours stabbed a taxi driver in New York because the taxi driver was Muslim. So you’re entirely wrong to assert that this “kind of thing only happens in Muslim countries.” In fact, this is the way human beings usually behave, and always have, throughout the world.

      With respect to Israel building an apartment building (and by the way, wouldn’t that be socialism, if Israel is doing it rather than some private concern?), I’m wondering whether “their land” in this case was land that was taken away from the former inhabitants by military force.

      Of course it was. All of the land in present-day Israel was taken away from the former inhabitants by military force. But you’re probably talking about land that Israel annexed more recently, while sending its former inhabitants to wretched concentration camps. I’m not aware of the specifics of the apartment building you’re talking about, but I can tell you that my sympathies are entirely with the Palestinians, who have been treated and are still being treated savagely and despicably by an occupying military power.

      That’s not to say that I approve of the Palestinians’ tactics. They would have been far better advised to learn from Gandhi. But I do entirely understand their fury, and so do most civilized people.

  3. Marty Cutler says:

    Aaron writes:

    “As far as the racism part of this, there is none.”

    1: “. That being said, it was Muslims that flew those planes into the twin towers”

    2: “We would ask the same thing if a Japanese person wanted to build a community center on Pearl Harbor.”

    3: “That kind of thing only happens in Muslim countries but against all other religions and people.”

    QED, Aaron–look it up.

    “Think about how Obama won the presidency. He ran on a platform of streamlining government, lower taxes, and less spending.”

    Not in my dimension, he didn’t. The conservatives saw through nothing–they simply obstructed Democrats for partisan, political advantage, to make them look innefectual (admittedly, Dems didn’t need much help in that department)Republicans and the Tea Party have put the country in a state of permanent campaign; that is, they want to derail all Democratic agenda, good, bad, or indifferent, and that’s four years of suffering and decline for no other reason than political infighting and the Tea Party’s mindless sense that something’s not right here, therefore, it must be Obama and the Democrats.

    Grow a conscience and a brain.

  4. Marty Cutler says:

    I started to regret my final comments, and then I read this:

    “Democrats constantly destroy this country through taxation and any opposition is called racist or sexist or xenophobic because they have no real argument for it, the media while not necessarily controlled by the democrat party does nothing to check their power, and the Republican political philosophy protects and promotes all people regardless of class gender or color rather than creating enmity between various groups of people in order to get more votes!”

    Do you really believe this? Do you really believe that the media’s responsibility is governmental checks and balances?

    “Republican political philosophy protects and promotes all people regardless of class gender or color rather than creating enmity between various groups of people in order to get more votes!”

    Two words: Sara Palin. Two more: Louis Gomert.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s