I’m going to go way out on a limb and post something on which I am certainly NOT an expert. Nor, does the subject really fit under “therapeutic writing”. But, here I go, anyway:
Election 2010 is over. The counts are all in. I think. With a few exceptions, of course. In a not-so-surprising upset, the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives and most offices at the State level. The Democrats retained control of the Senate, but just barely. A few Independents were ushered into office. Overall, not the upset the Tea Partiers wanted.
Political pundit I am not. I am not overly versed on politics, although I research carefully those for whom I cast my vote, as does my husband. Like just about everyone else who hasn’t been in isolation the past several years, I have some very strong opinions about what is going on (or not going on) in Washington. I am also a Liberal, falling somewhere between Center and Far Left, if the quizzes and tests available online are any indication. I voted for Obama. I would—I WILL—again if he runs for a second term, which I am almost positive he will, given past elections. Unless someone more liberal comes along. However, in my opinion, he is doing the best he can with the mess left to him. And, of course, compromise is always a necessary part of being an effective leader, at least in a Democracy. If we are, indeed, a true Democracy.
What has bothered me about this election? Not the normal “I want so and so to win and so and so to lose”. Not even, really, the knowledge that, even though there are some new faces in Washington, most of them are the same old faces. Or new faces with the same old ideas, mainly to block the opposing party from getting anything done. Or, that those elected will still put their pet projects before the people. Those things, I expect from every election, although I had more hope in 2008. No, one of the things that nags at me is a sense of familiarity; a sense that we are heading towards a place from which we may not be able to return. A sense that we may be poised on the crucible of a change that may not be for our own good as “the land of the free”.
The Tea Party Movement has been annoying to me from the beginning. Not that they aren’t right in the idea that America needs change (which I’d have to be a complete dolt not to believe), but the way a small, right-wing movement with its own particular ideas about change has grown powerful enough to become a household word and heavily influence an election. Yes, America needs change. America needs a massive overhaul of the established political system. Economically, we are teetering on the brink. We are a mess. People are just fed up with the way things are. Those things are obvious. But I get this strange feeling in the pit of my stomach, like a rock just lying there, when I hear the rhetoric grow more and more inflammatory, louder and louder. When I see my Facebook friends post laudatory statements about fear mongers. About how America needs to get back to the Bible and Christianity, because it was Christian principles upon which America was founded. How a theocracy based upon the Bible is what this country needs. I get that feeling when I recieve multiple emails from my otherwise rational friends that are virulently anti-liberal, or anti-Obama, or anti-Islamic. When I see the child of someone who actually makes his living off the Federal Government with a punching bag that says “Bam, Bam Obama” . A CHILD! I get that feeling when I hear someone talk about the “evils” of Islam, or the evils of liberalism, using malicious, hateful rhetoric instead of reasonable words. Or call our President a secret Muslim. When I see and hear screaming accusations overwhelm common sense. When I hear or read the hatred spewing forth, erupting from the lips and pens (and keyboards) of people who are probably very rational in their everyday lives.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, I’ve been reading The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. I’ve always been drawn to Holocaust literature, even though I become physically ill reading about it. It is almost as if thousands of souls, millions of souls, are literally screaming from the pages. But, I’ve done this since I was an adolescent. Maybe a past-life experience, or maybe just because I’m extremely empathetic. I’m not sure about either one. But, whatever the reason, I know I have to take frequent breaks to force myself back to reality. The other night, as I finished the book, it occurred to me. Much of the history being recounted on these pages was surprisingly familiar. Not that the actual events were familiar, but the pattern was familiar. That is what this political turmoil in America and the rise of an increasingly fundamentalist right wing fringe group reminds me of: the events that played out in the years preceding the Nazi takeover of Germany and, almost, of Europe. The rise of Adolph Hitler. And the murder of millions of the “different”.
It wasn’t just an overnight takeover then, either. Germany was in sad shape economically, still suffering from the results of the First World War. In the early years, Adolph Hitler and his party were just another of several fringe right-wing movements in Bavaria. By 1923, people were completely disenchanted with the Weimar government. Economic woes were at the top of the list. So, in 1923, because of, or as a result of, this social unrest, this small party on the fringes of the right wing swelled in numbers, and the Nazi Party became the leader amongst the extremist right wing groups. Hitler and his party came to be considered the movement which would save Germany and bring her back to economic strength—Hitler considered himself destined to save his country. There is, of course, a lot more to this history than I can put in limited space. But, most people know their history, at least in part. How Hitler and the Nazi Party used the Jews as scapegoats, as well as other groups; homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the mentally and physically impaired. But, most of all, the Jews, who were the largest group to die at his hands. He used his 1923 imprisonment (for trying to overthrow the government) to spread propaganda and further social unrest. He used inflammatory rhetoric at large public gatherings. He played on fears, on poverty, on frustration. He twisted and maneuvered the public. No, this blotch on history didn’t happen overnight. But it happened. My husband and I discussed this one evening. He sees it, too. Perhaps better than I do, as a naturalized citizen. We disagreed, however, on whether or not the United States will end up spiraling downward into a depression great enough to allow a repeat of history. He says he doesn’t feel that will happen. I feel that it doesn’t have to happen. Because the economy is just one aspect of the pattern. The social unrest is already here. Just as it was there.
There is a popular myth among conservatives in America that Hitler was a leftist—although history tells us otherwise. I’ve argued this point with conservatives, albeit fruitlessly. What really matters, however, is not the sameness of events, or circumstances, or names. What matters is the pattern. The following are just some of the patterns and similarities that concern me:
- That the party was named the “National Socialist Party”, and Socialism promotes worker ownership and control of the means of production (considered to be Leftist thought) is fact. On the other hand, Hitler and his ilk believed in patriotism and a strong military, long considered a position that is “Right”, although those two are really all over the board. However, Hitler’s form of government was not, in truth, socialism. True Socialism requires ownership and control over the means of production by the people, the workers, though means of the vote. The old way, the way used for centuries, was that the aristocracy, the ruling elite, controlled all means of production. The serfs and the poor were required to work for these elite, and had no recognized rights. Capitalism, with private individuals owning the means of production, replaced the aristocracy with individuals from a larger pool. In Nazi Germany, the Nazi Party—considered the “elite”–had control of businesses via private individuals who supported and/or had ties with the Party. Jews were required to turn over their businesses, to “sell” them (although there were many times that no money exchanged hands) to a member or a family member of the Party. The “Charter of Labor” makes clear that the elite, deemed elite because they were approved and controlled by the Nazi Party, controlled the means of production and labor. The Charter reads: “The leader of the enterprise makes the decisions for the employees and laborers in all matters concerning the enterprise.” So, in Nazi Germany, it was a combination of aristocracy and Capitalism, not true Socialism. In Nazi Germany, the Labor Front then replaced the trade unions, and the right to strike was abolished. Hitler was able to put this into place because of social unrest among the working class (sound familiar?). He exploited this unrest by promising stronger trade unions and a better standard of living; promises he did not keep. Eventually, he completely abolished trade unions, took away the right to strike (as already stated), and eliminated collective bargaining. There were, essentially, no protests—he HAD improved the economy, after all. Those promises put him into a position where he could do what he intended to do all along: allow the State and the Nazi elite control over the means of production. The Right Wing supports individual business, especially large businesses, under the guise of a belief in Capitalism. But, the price has been a rise of the middle class into what is, effectively, a ruling elite– who control the means of production. Sure, it has allowed people to, with freedom, rise above their birth class. But, what happens when they do so with great success? And few scruples? Do they become same elite who almost bankrupted America, and forced thousands from their homes? The same elite who outsource jobs, shutting down factories and leaving the masses unemployed? The same elite whose businesses are protected by the Right Wing?
- Segregation over tolerance. I think that requires no explanation at all. The Jews, over a period of decades, were slowly stripped of their rights as citizens, eventually segregated into, not only forced labor camps, but ghettos. Citizenship rights were stripped. Papers were required, only to be rescinded as many tried to leave Europe. If you were different, you were screwed. The Tea Party, at least its evangelical fundamentalist members, intends to convert the masses to their own ideas. I have been told, personally, that this is the INTENT– to convert all to Christianity. That the government be made a Christian government. Through inflammatory and accusatory rhetoric, this fringe group has convinced thousands of people, millions of people, that America’s biggest threat is Islam. They use out of context scriptures from the Qur’an to support themselves. A few Muslim extremists attack America and ALL of them, as a group, are guilty to these people. Extremist politicians and talking heads play on these themes. They play on fear, and ignorance of different belief systems in the EXACT SAME WAY Hitler played on the fears of the Christians of Europe. It did NOT happen overnight. It was a gradual process. First one small thing, then another small thing, until the small things became the big things. It was—it IS– like boiling a lobster. At first, just a small inconvenience to the lobster. Then, that lobster is dead. And consumed.
- Reproductive rights: Nazi Germany had intact a policy of Eugenics. Rhetoric on this issue is found in Mein Kampf. Reproduction was demanded of a good citizen, for the purpose of a strong military and a strong gene pool. Anti-Choice is anti-choice, whether it orders reproduction or halts reproduction (remember that only the physically perfect Aryan was supposed to reproduce). Anti-Choice became, in Nazi Germany, the elimination of reproductive freedom. The issue is freedom of reproduction, which was not to be allowed under a Nazi regime, and is not to be allowed under a right-wing State. Pro-life also does not allow for choice. Pro-choice is not anti-life. It is just what it says it is: the right to choose. The freedom to choose. I know pro-lifers will disagree with me on this one, but I see it as I see it. And, this is how I interpret it.
- Merit over Equality. From Mein Kampf: “It must not be lamented if so many men set out on the road to arrive at the same goal: the most powerful and swiftest will in this way be recognized, and will be the victor.” Wall Street?
- Gun Control. Germany, Post WWI: Law on Firearms and Ammunition, 1928. This law tightened restrictions on gun ownership in an effort to curb the street violence occurring between Nazis and Communists.. The law was ineffectual, poorly enforced, and replaced 5 years after Hitler came into power (1938) with The German Weapons Law, which relaxed restrictions. Huh? So, the citizens were allowed weapons, disarming (pardon the pun) the right wing argument that if the citizens of Germany had been allowed firearms, Hitler would not have gained power.
- Hitler was anti-intellectualism. How many times have we heard that the colleges and public schools are hot-beds of left wing intellectualism? Why are some people so afraid of THOUGHT? Why are some people so afraid of DIFFEERNT thought that is NOT Western, NOT Bible oriented, NOT Capitalist oriented, NOT Christian, that they want to completely shut down discourse? On anything from evolution to different belief systems, to different forms of government, to different forms of family—why are they afraid? Because that is what the extreme right wing leaders play on: the fear of the different. Lack of truth, lack of information, allows for easier control over the masses.
- Religion over Secularism: Hitler was raised a Catholic (he never renounced Christianity, NOR was he excommunicated) even though he called himself an atheist. He frequently invoked the name of God in his writings and his speeches. Indeed, he envied the Christian Church its power over the masses. So, he used the Church—the Catholic Church, in particular—in his schemes. He used the anti-Semitism that had simmered and oftentimes boiled over in the European cauldron for centuries. He used the fear of European Christianity against “communist atheism”, again, the Catholic Church in particular. He advocated freedom of religion within Christianity; however, only within Christianity. And, using political maneuvering, he effectively silenced Pius XII (for the privilege of power) in regards to what was happening to the Jews. Religion being the opium of the masses Hitler knew it to be, it was not all that difficult to raise the intensity of anti-Semitism to heights that exceeded even that of the Middle Ages. “But that was the Catholic Church”, I can hear a fundamentalist right wing extremist say. “They aren’t ‘Christians’” (I’ve never been able to figure that one out). Okay, let’s compare the pattern, and fast forward to today. America is basically considered to be a “Protestant” nation. The history behind how America believes is long and interesting—too long for a layperson’s blog. But, it doesn’t take a genius to see that Evangelical Fundamentalism has become the Catholic Church of Europe expressed in America. Fundamentalism is the “power” religion in America today, even though there are multitudes that belong to mainstream Protestantism, as well as other belief systems. However, Evangelical Fundamentalism is the loudest, and the squeaky wheel tends to get the grease. Fundamentalism is expressed in Tea Party politics, extreme Right Wing rhetoric, through “motivational” speakers, in Independent Fundamentalist sermons, on television (FOX). From the pulpit to the podium. All playing on the fear of the secular, the fear of the “different” (in this case, Islam), using religion to recruit the masses. I’ve had more than one right wing fundamentalist tell me that their goal, as ordained by Jesus, is to have the entire WORLD believe as they do; one even went so far as to suggest a Biblical Theocracy. He has also convinced himself that he should not vote, because his kingdom is the kingdom of Heaven. Just as dangerous as one who votes for taking away as many freedoms as possible in the name of “values” is the person for whom the process, itself, is useless. There goes Democracy, or what is passing for a Democracy. The promotion of apathy is as dangerous as the rhetoric of what the far Right considers “American Values.
I’m going to stop now, although I could go on and on with this. No, the fringe right wing did not win overwhelmingly this time. And, it might be that this was, indeed, an election to see if there would be changes, as some pundits have observed. A “last chance” election. The far right fringe may not grow in proportion to dissatisfaction. This might all be just the fears of an overactive imagination. But, as a non-Christian, left-wing citizen of the United States of America, the pattern makes me nervous. And, I will no longer be silent to appease my right-wing fundamentalist friends and/or family members.
The following sources I found most often referred to in an online search:
- William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1960).
- Bullock, Allan. Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, abridged edition, (New York: HarperCollins, 1971).
- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. by Ralph Manheim (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1962).
- The History Place, “The Rise of Adolf Hitler: Success and a Suicide,” http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/riseofhitler/success.htm
- Guenter Lewy, The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany (London and New York, 1964).Friedrich Heer, God’s First Love (New York: Weybright & Talley, 1967)