Tag Archives: Hitler

Civic Lethargy

Max Boot had a recent column in the Washington Post bemoaning poll numbers that seem to show most Americans brushing off the growing danger signals to our democracy. Boot was formerly a Republican; he now considers himself an Independent, and he is appalled by the extent to which the GOP has been co-opted by authoritarians of various varieties.

He is especially baffled by the widespread dismissal of the reality that is before our eyes.

A year after the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol, a CNN poll asked whether it’s likely “that, in the next few years, some elected officials will successfully overturn the results of an election.” Fifty-one percent of Republicans and 44 percent of Democrats said it’s not at all likely. Only 46 percent of Democrats and independents said that U.S. democracy is under attack, which helps to explain why Democratic candidates aren’t campaigning on defending democracy.

Boot finds this optimism difficult to understand, especially given the constant stream of damning details that emerge daily about Trump’s bizarre behaviors as President, and especially about his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.  The former president “remains the dominant figure within the GOP, which means that most Republicans have tacitly accepted that inciting an insurrection is no big deal.”

Look at what just happened in Ohio’s U.S. Senate primary: J.D. Vance, who had been languishing in third place, won the nomination after Trump endorsed him. A fervent, born-again Trumpkin, Vance told a Vanity Fair reporter that Trump supporters “should seize the institutions of the left” and launch a “de-woke-ification program” modeled on de-Baathification in Iraq. (That worked so well, right?) He says that if Trump wins again in 2024, he should “fire … every civil servant” and “replace them with our people.” If the courts try to stand in the way, ignore them. As Vanity Fair noted, “This is a description, essentially, of a coup.”

Given Trump’s continued popularity within the GOP–some 70% of self-declared Republicans believe the “Big Lie”–and given Biden’s sagging popularity, Boots thinks Trump would easily win the nomination in 2024. He then sketches out a horrific–and all-too-plausible scenario:

His “trump card,” so to speak, is the House, which is likely to be under GOP control after the midterms. CNBC founder Tom Rogers and former Democratic senator Timothy E. Wirth point out in Newsweek that controlling the House would allow Trump to steal the presidency if the election is close.

Republican state legislatures in swing states that Biden (or another Democrat) narrowly wins can claim the results are fraudulent and send in competing slates of electors pledged to Trump. The House and Senate would then vote on which electors to accept. Even if the Senate remains Democratic, a GOP-controlled House could prevent Biden from getting the 270 electoral votes needed to win. It would then fall to the House to decide the presidency.

If that scenario sounds hyperbolic, Boots reminds us that a Russian invasion sounded hyperbolic to most Ukrainians before Feb. 24. He concludes that the only way to avert disaster is to vote Democratic in the fall. It no longer matters if you have policy differences with the Democratic Party, as he has–he says that a vote for the GOP is a vote to dismantle American democracy (or what remains of it).

The question Boots asks, but doesn’t answer, is why so many Americans who haven’t “drunk the Kool-Aid” are nevertheless sanguine about the ability of the nation’s institutions to withstand the fascism growing within. That question reminded me of the mindset of many Germans during Hitler’s rise. With a little Googling, I found a fascinating–albeit very disturbing– interview conducted shortly after the war with a German scholar who lived through that time. The interviewee explained how daily events distracted the population from recognizing the larger trajectory of political authority, and how the accumulating deviations from decency were normalized.

To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head….

You really need to click through and read the entire interview. it’s chilling–and it could happen here far more easily than most of us ever imagined.

Boots concerns are not hyperbolic.

 

 

From Soup To Nuts

Gazpacho..Gestapo… let’s call the whole thing off….

In case you missed it, The Guardian has the story.

The extremist Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene triggered a wave of viral jokes on Wednesday after ranting about the “gazpacho police” patrolling the Capitol building in Washington DC.

Greene was apparently mixing up the famously cold Spanish soup gazpacho with the Gestapo – the brutal Nazi-era secret police in Germany….

“Not only do we have the DC jail which is the DC gulag, but now we have Nancy Pelosi’s gazpacho police spying on members of Congress, spying on the legislative work that we do, spying on our staff and spying on American citizens,” she said, referring to the Democratic speaker of the House.

Greene seems unperturbed by the fact that she’s become a joke–a punch line–for  previous, widely-reported accusations that being made to wear a mask is equivalent to what Jews suffered during the Holocaust, and that California’s forest fires were started by “space lasers” funded by George Soros.

What is truly sad is that she is not an anomaly in today’s GOP.

The RNC has just labeled a violent insurrection meant to overturn an election as “legitimate political discourse.”

A Republican Congresswoman has quoted Hitler–approvingly–in a recent speech.

Billionaire Peter Thiel, a Trump ally, who is funding an effort to elect Trump-aligned candidates in 2022 says he “no longer believe[s] that freedom and democracy are compatible,” and has deplored the extension of the franchise to women.

In one of her recent “Letters From An American,” Heather Cox Richardson detailed the increasing hysteria of  statements issued by various Republicans as the investigation into the insurrection tightens around them.

Richardson reports that Peter Navarro responded to receipt of a subpoena from the committee investigating January 6th with “a fire-eating statement “calling the members of the January 6 committee “domestic terrorists” engaged in a “partisan witch hunt.”  He also tried to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi  and the Capitol Police for the violence on January 6, and accused Mike Pence of treason for saying he lacked authority to overturn the election.

it isn’t just at the federal level.

In Nevada, that state’s “most notorious pimp” just won a Republican  primary in a campaign for the state legislature.

In Utah, a bill to create a digital driver’s license program was derailed when dozens of protestors flocked to a House committee to share fears that the measure would result in a United Nations takeover or establishment of concentration camps.

One woman invoked the New Testament’s Book of Revelation when she called digital driver’s licenses “moving one step closer to the mark of the beast.”

In Florida, Senator Marco Rubio has apparently decided to join DeSantis in pandering to the GOP’s irrational and racist base.

On Face the Nation, he said: “This commission is a partisan scam. They’re going after—they’re—the purpose of that commission is to try to embarrass and smear and harass as many Republicans as they can get their hands on.”

Yesterday, he released a video saying “Biden is sending free meth & crack pipes to minority communities in the name of ‘racial equity’…. There is no end in sight for this lunacy.“

Well, there certainly doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for GOP lunacy.  No one--and certainly not Biden–is sending “free meth and crack pipes” to anyone, and suggesting that such items are being directed to “minority communities” is clearly intended to play to the Republicans’ increasingly racist base.

Per Richardson:

Exaggeration and demonization of their opponents has been part of politics for years, as Republicans tried to fire up their base by describing their opponents as socialists, lazy “takers,” baby-killers, and so on. Now, though, these over-the-top attacks on the committee and on the Democratic administration seem to be part of a new political project.

The frantic edge to them suggests concern about what the January 6th committee might uncover.

But statements like those yesterday of Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who claimed the Department of Justice was reading his mail; Nehls, who claimed that Pelosi was using the Capitol Police to spy on him; and Greene, who claims Pelosi has a “Gestapo,” normalize the practices of authoritarian government.

“Back in the day,” as we old folks might say, it would simply have been unthinkable that embarrassments like Greene, Gohmert, Gosar, Boebert and numerous others of their ilk would be elected to Congress. There were certainly undistinguished, patently ignorant and even evil people who brought shame and disrepute upon that body, but I am aware of nothing approaching the current multitude of profoundly unserious, bat-shit-crazy bigots that has aptly been dubbed (by former Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, if memory serves)  “the lunatic caucus.”

From soup to nuts…..

 

I Guess It Can Happen Here–In Fact, It’s Beginning

The reports from Portland have been more than frightening.

Armed men in unmarked camouflage uniforms have been jumping out of unmarked vans and arresting–kidnapping might be a more accurate word–peaceful protesters.  Thus far, they have subsequently been letting them go, but only after a demonstration evidently intended to terrify and disorient.

Trump insists that he is sending “troops” to Portland to “help” local officials quell violence. Presumably, he is signaling to his cultish base that he’s a “strong leader”able to take on (nonexistent) violence in America’s cities, perpetrated by “those people”–and not so incidentally, distracting from the mounting death toll caused by his mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There has been considerable blowback.

Local officials insist that they can handle any incidents arising from the protests–and note that the activities were subsiding until the appearance of these storm troopers. Portland’s mayor has demanded that he withdraw these forces, evidently part of Homeland Security. The Governor of Oregon has demanded that he withdraw them. The Oregon Attorney General and the ACLU have sued. 

The House Judiciary Committee issued a statement questioning the legal basis for this use of force.

Frankly, it is not at all clear that the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary are authorized to deploy federal law enforcement officers in this manner. The Attorney General of the United States does not have unfettered authority to direct thousands of federal law enforcement personnel to arrest and detain American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. The Acting Secretary appears to be relying on an ill-conceived executive order meant to protect historic statues and monuments as justification for arresting American citizens in the dead of night. The Administration’s insistence on deploying these forces over the objections of state and local authorities suggest that these tactics have little to do with public safety, but more to do with political gamesmanship.

The blowback has even included self-identified moms, wearing yellow shirts, helmets and masks. Reportedly, several hundred women, calling themselves the Wall of Moms, formed chains between the officers and the protesters. 

This resistance–and the very negative press coverage–has evidently not deterred the administration. According to Huffington Post, 

The Trump administration is preparing to roll out a plan this week to send military-style federal assault squads already in Portland, Oregon, into other cities, warned White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who only named locations with Democratic mayors.

Attorney General William Barr is “weighing in on that” with acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, Meadows said Sunday on Fox News.

“You’ll see something rolled out this week, as we start to go in and make sure that the communities — whether it’s Chicago or Portland or Milwaukee or someplace across the heartland — we need to make sure their communities are safe,” he added.

All three cities named are run by Democrats.

President Donald Trump also indicated that federal squads would likely target cities run by the party that opposes him. He said on “Fox News Sunday” that “violence” was on the increase in “Democrat-run cities.”

Yesterday, there were reports of similar activities in Columbus, Ohio.

This is eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s SA.

The SA — Sturmabteilung, meaning ‘assault division’ — also known as the Brownshirts or Storm Troopers, was a violent paramilitary group attached to the Nazi Party in pre-World War Two Germany.the SA functioned as a ‘security’ force at Nazi rallies and meetings, using threats and outright violence to secure votes and overcome Hitler’s political enemies.

The Germans who objected were obviously unable to mount an effective resistance to the use of extra-legal thugs to subdue Hitler’s political enemies. 

 Americans have long believed “it can’t happen here.” We’re now testing that belief.

Demagoguery

The Washington Spectator arrives via my snail-mail (many thanks to Gerald Stinson!), so I can’t link to the article, but the most recent version contained a fascinating essay by one Patricia Roberts-Miller, who is a Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Texas at Austin.

She begins by acknowledging a recurring question posed by most sane Americans: why in the world hasn’t Trump’s obvious incompetence, constant lying and childish language and behavior undercut his standing with his base?

One answer to that question–an answer that research continues to confirm–is that the base shares his racism/White nationalism, and for his base, that animus outweighs everything else. But Roberts-Miller provides a different–albeit not inconsistent–analysis, involving the language of demagoguery.

She cites to a rhetoric scholar who analyzed Hitler’s use of language and characterized it as a “relentless repetition” of the “bastardization of religious thought.” The “religious ways of thinking” that lent themselves to bastardization included identification of a common enemy, allied with scapegoating and projection.

Demagoguery, she points out, “displaces policy argumentation with praise of “us” and condemnation of “them.”

Roberts-Miller also says we should not be surprised by Evangelical Christian support for Trump, since conservative Christian Germans overwhelmingly supported Hitler and conservative Christian Americans previously supported slavery, segregation and lynching.

Although she takes care to say that Trump isn’t Hitler, she admits the parallels are troubling. Hitler railed against a socialist Parliament, internationalism (what we would call globalism), the presence of aliens, rampant immigration, liberalism and the liberal media (which he claimed was “stabbing him in the back”).

And of course, he promised to “make Germany great again.”

Roberts-Miller says that Trump’s use of demagogic rhetoric is less important than the fact that his “rise to power was fueled by a demagoguery that reflected the racist, xenophobic, misogynist and authoritarian values” of today’s iteration of the GOP. As she notes, Trump didn’t bother with dog whistles; he just came right out and said shocking things–“and the GOP media machine didn’t condemn him for it. They justified it, promoted it, and repeated it.”

So here’s where we are in today’s America. In a country and an era where the structures of democracy no longer work, we are governed–thanks to vote suppression, gerrymandering, and the current operation of the Electoral College–by a minority of our fellow citizens who subscribe to a set of pernicious beliefs and act out of a set of visceral resentments that are inimical both to America’s founding values and to human rights. Rather than finding Trump’s inarticulate use of language bizarre and repulsive, his language actually speaks to them. It reinforces their sense of grievance and their belief in their own victimization.

We’re getting a master class in demagoguery.

It Can Happen Here

Legal scholar Cass Sunstein recently reviewed two books on Nazi Germany for the New York Review of Books.   (It was a timely review; even Godwin of “Godwin’s law” fame is on record saying that comparisons of contemporary events to the rise of Hitler may be appropriate.)

As Sunstein notes, the accounts of the Nazi period with which we are familiar seem barely imaginable. They portray a nation so depraved–so indifferent to evil–that we think it can’t happen here. The books he reviews–including Milton Mayer’s 1955 classic They Thought They Were Free, recently republished–suggest otherwise.

But some depictions of Hitler’s rise are more intimate and personal. They focus less on well-known leaders, significant events, state propaganda, murders, and war, and more on the details of individual lives. They help explain how people can not only participate in dreadful things but also stand by quietly and live fairly ordinary days in the midst of them. They offer lessons for people who now live with genuine horrors, and also for those to whom horrors may never come but who live in nations where democratic practices and norms are under severe pressure.

Mayer’s book focused on the lives and experiences of ordinary Germans–people who, like ordinary Americans today, found themselves living through events they had little individual power to affect. That focus was, Sunstein writes, a “jarring contrast” to Sebastian Haffner’s “devastating, unfinished 1939 memoir, Defying Hitler.” Haffner

objects that most works of history give “the impression that no more than a few dozen people are involved, who happen to be ‘at the helm of the ship of state’ and whose deeds and decisions form what is called history.” In his view, that’s wrong. What matters are “we anonymous others” who are not just “pawns in the chess game,” because the “most powerful dictators, ministers, and generals are powerless against the simultaneous mass decisions taken individually and almost unconsciously by the population at large.”

Trump’s grudging (and incomplete) retreat in the face of the public outrage against separating children from their parents underscores the validity of Haffner’s point. In a different way, so does Mayer’s book.

Mayer interviewed ten people who had been members of the Nazi party; those interviews took place over a considerable time-period, and were friendly rather than confrontational. Mayer concluded that Nazism took over Germany not “by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler.” Many Germans “wanted it; they got it; and they liked it.”

Mayer’s most stunning conclusion is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects “saw Nazism as we—you and I—saw it in any respect.” Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects “did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.” Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives.

Mayer’s interviewees spoke of Hitler much as the GOP “base” speaks of Trump; the rhetorical similarities are chilling.

And what of “the final solution”?

Mayer did not bring up the topic of anti-Semitism with any of his subjects, but after a few meetings, each of them did so on his own, and they returned to it constantly. When the local synagogue was burned in 1938, most of the community was under only one obligation: “not to interfere.” Eventually Mayer showed his subjects the local newspaper from November 11, 1938, which contained a report: “In the interest of their own security, a number of male Jews were taken into custody yesterday. This morning they were sent away from the city.” None of them remembered seeing it, or indeed anything like it.

The killing of six million Jews? Fake news. Four of Mayer’s subjects insisted that the only Jews taken to concentration camps were traitors to Germany, and that the rest were permitted to leave with their property or its fair market value. The bill collector agreed that the killing of the Jews “was wrong, unless they committed treason in wartime. And of course they did.” He added that “some say it happened and some say it didn’t,” and that you “can show me pictures of skulls…but that doesn’t prove it.” In any case, “Hitler had nothing to do with it.” The tailor spoke similarly: “If it happened, it was wrong. But I don’t believe it happened.”

Fake news. Alternative facts. “Those people.” The incremental nature of the Nazi takeover. The daily distractions that allowed ordinary people to become habituated to the unthinkable. It’s all terrifyingly familiar.

Read the whole essay.