Many times I have wondered how in 1933 a deranged madman like Adolph Hitler could have convinced the Germans, one of the world’s most highly educated, highly cultured and devoutly religious people, that their nation was going to hell in a hand basket (it actually was) and that only he could save it (he couldn’t).
Hitler also convinced them that the Jews, who had made so many positive contributions to German cultural, political and economic life far out of proportion to their population numbers, were also the cause of most of the nation’s ills.
The result? The Holocaust and the most destructive war in human history. The war resulted in untold millions of deaths and billions of dollars in destruction. But can we be certain that in our democratically-elected constitutional republic a similar seduction and hijacking of the electorate could never happen here?
When times get tough people begin searching for something or someone on which to blame their ills (anything but themselves) and for a leader, a “man on horseback,” to guide them out of the wilderness.
The period following World War II was the Golden Age for American blue-collar workers. They could get respectable, decent-paying jobs after high school, buy a home, educate their kids and retire, often with a company pension and benefit package. This was truly the American workers’ golden age. But then along came the microchip and unprecedented technological progress.
In a little more than a generation automation began to replace human labor with faster, cleaner, safer operations that made fewer errors. At first the jobs that were eliminated generated more new jobs created by the increased economic activity. But then US companies began to move manufacturing operations to off-shore locations in search of lower wages, lower taxes and less regulation. In short order American workers became victims of their country’s technological successes. But they couldn’t hate, fear or organize against an inanimate thing like automation. But Donald Trump gave them a real flesh-and-blood enemy against whom to vent their anger and frustrations: illegal immigrants, aliens who were supposedly taking their jobs. Crop harvesting? Landscaping? Construction helpers? House cleaning?
In winning the 2016 election Trump took two pages from Hitler’s book. He created an enemy against which his followers could vent their wrath and frustrations — Hispanic immigrants. And he adopted the page on repeating lies loudly enough and often enough until people began to believe them. “Crooked Hillary! Crooked Hillary! Lock her up! Lock her up!”
Think we’re immune to such Nazi-style tactics? That it could never happen here? During the worst times of the Great Depression years Huey Long, a Louisiana senator and demagogue, proposed to confiscate the assets of the wealthy and divide them among the rest of us. “Every man a king!” was his mantra. And he had a following large enough to unnerve the Roosevelt Administration. During that same time, in addition to an active Communist Party, particularly among organized labor and the intellectual elite, we also had a German-American Bundt advocating and spreading Nazi-style propaganda and tactics. Let’s not be lulled and seduced by the dubious surety that such things can never happen here.
We will have an opportunity this November that we may never have again to turn things around and take back our country. The choice is ours.