Thursday, February 25, 2016

Donald Trump and the Rise of an American Reich

Let those with eyes see. Let those with ears hear.

Donald Trump and the Rise of an American Reich
by Jaime O'Neill | February 25, 2016 

"If you wish the sympathy of the broad masses, then you must tell them the crudest and most stupid things."
— Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf

"I love the poorly educated."
— Donald Trump

If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times. Comparisons between the Nazis and anything occurring on the current political scene in America are bogus, fatuous, extreme, or hysterical exaggerations. Similarities between the rise of the Third Reich and the increasingly thuggish right wing here in the United States are without foundation, based on faulty analogies and ugly misreadings of both history and current events. We are, we're told, nothing like those people in Germany in the late 20s and early 30s. Our system is nothing like theirs, nor are our values, our traditions, or our founding documents.

And while it is certainly true that the similarities don't align perfectly at every point of comparison, there are more than enough patterns and pathologies to give us pause, and to make us worry about our future as much as the Germans should have worried about theirs as Hitler was making his rise to power, and their countrymen were being swept up into a vortex of madness.

As I watch the gatherings of Trump supporters, it's hard not to see the dangerous echoes of the rise of Nazism in Hitler's Germany, a time when a charismatic leader tapped into a deep well of hate and fear that had filled up in that country due to the harsh conditions imposed on the Germans by the treaty that ended World War I, a disastrous war that led to a disastrous peace that set the conditions for a new disastrous war, and more horrors than had been seen in the first one.

A demagogue arose in Germany, a man with the ability to rally big crowds of angry and brutish people, and to turn that amalgamation of anger toward the Jews. He also promised to make Germany great again, and he promised victories everywhere against all the forces that had been making things hard for Germans—the devastated economy, the loss of national pride, the runaway inflation of their currency. An odd looking orator with a funny mustache and an odd way of combing his hair became the wholly unexpected leader of a movement to take their country back, to make Germany a power to be feared by other nations. As his following swelled, the promises became more expansive, along with the pervasive idea he promulgated that the Aryan race was superior to lesser peoples.

Now flash forward some eight decades, to another distressed country, to 2016, and to Donald Trump, another demagogue with an odd hairdo and a message of hate, fear, and the promise of a return to greatness, a mythical past reimagined, repackaged, and resold to a population avid to believe in it, but too intellectually inert to sort out the truth from the lies. Instead of Jews, this hate-peddling demagogue offers Mexicans and Muslims as scapegoats for all his nation's problems, and he vows to bruit the power of the nation throughout the world, to slap down the Russians, the Chinese, and any other country that displays the audacity to stand in the way of his vague but apparently limitless imperialistic dreams.

The attack on the World Trade Center nearly 15 years ago seems to have spun the United States off its axis in much the same way Germany's defeat in the First World War eventually put that country on tilt. The terrorists who flew those planes into those New York towers hoped that we would react much as we did, and the threat of terror we've been manipulated by ever since seems to have driven us around the bend, a hard right crook in our historical stream. That flow of craziness was pushed to the flood by an economic collapse, by trade and tax policies that transferred vast amounts of capital to the richest 1%, and by a black president whose very residency in the "white" house has increased the undercurrent of racism deep in this nation's cultural groundwater. These things all combined to create the Tea Party, and the brown shirt brigades that now show up at Trump campaign events like the crowds at NASCAR events, hoping to see something bad happen. Our daily news brings us words and images of high-profile ugliness that call to mind the streets of Munich in 1933.

Now, in another century, Donald Trump's campaign events look more and more like Bund rallies. The appeals to violence grow louder as he tells his crowds how he longs for the days when protesters were carried out of rallies on stretchers, and how he'd like to punch them in the face. One in five of his supporters think it was a mistake to free the slaves, and also think white people constitute a "superior race." Trump appeals to blood lust, promising that if he is elected, he will do "far worse" than waterboarding, and that he will not only kill suspected terrorists, but will wipe out their families as well. And the more trash he talks, the more the crowds cheer. The more they cheer, the more wild his rhetoric, the more extreme and dark his vision is revealed to be.

He wants a country in which government serves the corporations, operating on a business model little more sophisticated than being the biggest kid in the sand box, and using that size to assert childish dominance through threats and intimidation.

If none of this seems fascistic to you, if the cries of "U.S.A., U.S.A." don't bring to mind the soundtrack of an old Nazi propaganda film, then you and I aren't watching the same news programs, hearing the same Trump speeches, or watching as our pundit class, even on the left, weakly and slavishly do this monster's bidding, chuckling over his antics and downplaying the volatility of the even more terrifying monster he is awakening in the darkest corridors of the American psyche.

If Mussolini could watch a Trump speech, he would recognize a kindred soul. When Trump libels an entire nation to the south, Hitler would know that appeal, and he would approve.

So, are there no comparisons to be made between then and now, between Germany in the 30s and America in the era of Donald Trump? As the saying goes, those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And when it comes to history, most Americans don't know jackboots from jack shit.