Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Getting Hitler Right

This is spurred by all the Trump-Hitler comparisons, of course, but I hope that this has more general application.  Jeff Jacoby equated overusing the Hitler accusation as a sort of Holocaust Denial.  That's a bit strong in itself, but I take the point.  When everyone is Hitler, then eventually being popular and disagreeing with the writer is equivalent to six million dead Jews; the intent to kill 30,000,000 Slavs; death to all gypsies, developmentally disabled kids, and homosexuals; and the invasion of half-a-dozen bordering countries.

We really shouldn't have to go over this, but when even intelligent people with PhD's and MDivs are suddenly nervous that we have yet another Hitler on the rise, I feel some obligation. These are my people and they are going mad, similarly dangerous to those they so righteously oppose.  Somehow, they've gotten themselves convinced that this is about about COURAGE!  And REFUSING TO BE SILENT IN THE FACE OF EVIL! or whatever.  It's not.  It's about VIRTUE SIGNALLING! And yeah, I'm looking at you conservatives too.

The Nazis drew heavily from the artists, journalists, philosophers, and university students of the day.  Those who the Nazis originally opposed, the communists and some versions of socialists, also drew from those groups. Absorbing this one fact should set the bicoastal elites on their heels just enough to wonder "Hey, maybe it's not all those ignorant people in flyover country who never went on Junior Year Abroad who are the potential pool of tyrant-supporters.  Maybe we aren't the auxiliary possibilities of oppression, but the most likely suspects." Why should the 21st C be different from the 20th C in that respect, after all?

Germany had recently lost a war in devastating fashion and was in economic shambles. Even then, only a revolution-savvy minority, similar to the Bolsheviks co-opting the Russian revolution, were deeply in favor of Hitler. They used thugs, but they were not the thugs.

Hitler was opposed to Jews, a group that had been in the area for centuries, had an extremely low crime rate, had not killed thousands of Germans in the past few decades for overtly religious reasons, had contributed heavily to the arts, sciences, and prosperity of the country, and had largely assimilated. Deciding to send them to work camps and then, aw hell, let's just kill them, is not equivalent to wanting to deport people who are here illegally, or have a high crime rate, or semi-shelter coreligionists who want to kill us, or use an extraordinary amount of government services. If you want to claim that is only a matter of degree, and where do you draw the line, fine.  I grant that. That is an entirely reasonable point to bring up when discussing "Well, what should we do about these illegal Oaxacans, Chinese, Guatemalans, or these Syrian/Lebanese/Yemeni/Somali/Palestinian guys who seem so angry at us?" But it's not a reasonable point when discussing whether American Politician X is Hitler. There are orders of magnitude difference. German Jews were generally harmless.

Hitler's racism was rather thoroughgoing.  It was not some version of not being in favor of affirmative action, or thinking one's own group was a bit special, or not being sensitive to the experiences of the downtrodden.  It was about expelling citizens or killing them. The argument that Hitler started small once, so everyone else who we don't like should be crushed because they could grow up to be big someday eventually means that every molehill irritant is Hitler.  Conservatives work up a lot of outrage that racism keeps getting defined down to mean whatever liberals want it to.  I've ridden that train myself.  But while the counteraccusation of reverse racism may be just in that context, it's just not in Nazi territory. Take a breath.

Nazis were patriotic or nationalist in a quite difference sense than Americans are. They saw Teutons/Aryans as a narrow group, some of whom lived across borders in the Sudetenland or in Transylvania. Americans are nationalist around ideas, not tribes. That some Americans are patriotic when they should consider that there are even higher loyalties than nation, fine. Be loyal to the Church Universal, or to humanity in general, or "all decent people" or whatever. But do not equate the very expansive patriotism of Americans, which includes several races, many nations, a few major religions and a lot of smaller ones, with the tribalism of National Socialism.  American nationalism and patriotism is largely what defeated the Germans and the Japanese in WWII, after all.  So it must have a little something going for it. It just isn't the same nationalism, and it's not close.

Feel free to add (or, I suppose, subtract!) as you wish.

20 comments:

james said...

The French political enforcers were also drawn heavily from the universities. Shirer wrote that the monarchists were one of the biggest groups.

dmoelling said...

Check out the 2015 German Movie (on Netflix) "Er is wieder da" (English title "Look whos' back). In it Hitler is teleported from the berlin bunker in 1945 to 2014 Berlin. Mistaken for a street comedian he is sucked up by a reality TV show network and becomes a national hit. The actor playing Hitler is very good at bringing out his talent for engaging the public without disguising the underlying menace. The TV network is spot on (I hear German TV is over the top with reality shows). The ease to which they promote a dicey character is realistic. It is a comedy and their is a great reference to the "Downfall" meme on the internet.

This was done in Germany pre-trump but you easily pick out the tools that a shameless promoter can use to gain visibility. Trump's hot button pushing and reality TV star mannerisms are just like this. The message is how fears and feeble current politicians can be used by less scrupulous people to gain power. Trump is much more like Silvio Berlusconi in Italy than Hitler of course but the path to failure is the same.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Sounds marvelous.

Christopher B said...

To add to james' comment, despite the propaganda that poverty breeds terrorism the majority of terrorist acts are committed by the relatively well-off and well educated.

Christopher B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grim said...

Engineers are apparently especially dangerous.

Texan99 said...

I don't fear Trump's adopting Nazi views on ethnic purity or that sort of thing. The similarity to Hitler that bothers me is the public urge to vote for a clown because he's new and refreshing, and all the old ways of doing things aren't producing adequate results, and we need to blow things up in order to hope that something new will take their place. Those attitudes take away the usual safeguards that lead people to refuse to elect a very powerful leader about whose principles they know almost nothing, and that little is disquieting.

Edith Hook said...

Republicans and regular people, have been called Hitler or fascist for as long as I can remember. Is there supposed to be something special about Trump in this regard?

I suspect that the support for Trump is wider and deeper than is realized and that many voters have been concealing their beliefs. In the meanwhile, I am baffled that the usual dirty tricks and smear campaigns haven't gotten much traction, why? Certainly the credentialed ankle biters are as glib and snarky as they have ever been, but this election cycle they have just been impotent, tone deaf; it's been a real failure in imagination. It is no wonder they hope for the return of Colbert and Stewart, yet I wonder if they would do much better. So, what do you think, is it something about Trump, does he somehow out do them in outrageousness? Has there been some change in the electorate that leaves them immune, ie are they burned out on the cr@pola, the hectoring, the lecturing and the "sky is falling" stuff? Or, is the pendulum swinging? Did Trump somehow identify and tap into a deeper shift, like occurred when Woodrow Wilson's presidency ended.

jaed said...

the usual dirty tricks and smear campaigns haven't gotten much traction, why?

Because they're the usual dirty tricks and smear campaigns. They have gotten old, the curtain that hides the hand has gotten tattered. People no longer take them seriously.

(Well, Trump voters don't. This may be one thing that separates Trump voters from the rest of the electorate. I am not saying here that non-Trump voters don't see through this nonsense, but that perhaps a much higher percentage of Trump voters do. Indeed, the disgust with it may be one defining factor that makes someone a Trump voter.)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Grim - seeing that the bulk of my male friends are engineers, including readers of this blog, I'll have to ask them about this. Looking at the book blurb I narrowed my eyes at the phrase "right-wing extremism" when comparing it to Islamic extremism, as a great deal of mischief has been written equating "those who disagree with me" with "those who blow things up." However, the next sentence references "left-wing extremism," which is often unacknowledged, so there may be some balance in this. I would attribute the preponderance of engineers in Islamic terrorism to a couple of other factors - those countries need the practical skills and encourage their brighter lads to go into the sciences, I imagine. They don't produce a lot of art history majors and acting schools. There is a further distillation in the needs of the terrorists of the same practical skills as well. In a word-based, advertising, video-using culture, nonviolent arts have more value. Needs for hierarchy and structure may be secondary factors. Still, the right wing doesn't seem to include those sorts or persuaders - and we need them. It is further odd considering the abundance of good sci-fi writers in the last three generations, and the testing tendency that those who do well on quantitative tests seldom do poorly on verbal, while the reverse is less true.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Edith - I think Trump has tapped into something deeper. There are lots of people who were never much affected by the "credentialed ankle biters," but they just resentfully went about their business, either not voting or voting for Republicans by default. All of a sudden they are alive, like Ents, noticing they have power.

If only Trump were Treebeard.

Edith Hook said...

They have gotten old, the curtain that hides the hand has gotten tattered. People no longer take them seriously.
Yes, they have gotten old, not to mention tedious, but they are not just now getting old; they were already old decades ago. Maybe it has something to do with the internet. Is it the hoaxes? I know that every time I hear either a ludicrous report or a politically inflammatory story, I shelve it for a minimum of a week, sometimes for a few weeks waiting for the actual facts to dribble out. You all know the drill: the withholding of the information when the drunk driver is an illegal alien or the coyness when there is a terror attack. I operate on the assumption that virtually every soundbite is taken out of context and more often, than not, deceptively edited. Not only that, it is very clear that we have a whole lot of people who make a career and great living, out of the following skillsets: hype, spin, deflection, deception, misrepresentation, hoaxing, aka Grubbering.

Edith Hook said...

I think Trump has tapped into something deeper. There are lots of people who were never much affected by the "credentialed ankle biters," but they just resentfully went about their business, either not voting or voting for Republicans by default. All of a sudden they are alive, like Ents, noticing they have power.


I have heard a similar idea expressed. It went along the lines, people stolidly endure because they believe that they are the odd man out and that everyone else is just fine with everything. The Revolution comes when people realize that most everyone else is fedup and feels the same way.

Christopher B said...

I read another blog written by a very anti-Trump guy who sees a racist under every bed and I think he's seriously missing what's actually happening. After the last seven years of 'racial healing', a majority of whites (Trump+Bernie) have simply decided they are going to vote as an interest group.

Christopher B said...

I read another blog written by a very anti-Trump guy who sees a racist under every bed and I think he's seriously missing what's actually happening. After the last seven years of 'racial healing', a majority of whites (Trump+Bernie) have simply decided they are going to vote as an interest group.

james said...

Try this wild and woolly model:

One reason engineers might be over-represented is that the field is one that smart people are encouraged to get into, in the hope that they will come back and help build the local economy.

Some fraction of them are going to be at least fairly devout. Alien vices are more shocking than home-grown ones, even if the home-grown one (e.g. corruption) hurts you more. We're the Great Satan--seducing the faithful away from the truth--and the smart folks studying here are going to see this very clearly. Our elite don't bother to even hide their disdain for religion, but even the ordinary principles of our society are Enlightenment-based and antithetical to sharia. The residue are largely Christians who also want to draw them away from Islam.

And engineers look for solutions. Often technological solutions.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ james. Wild and woolly? I think it's brilliant and simple enough to get one's mind around.

I don't have a solution...

GraniteDad said...

He's an authoritarian who seems to have no concept that there should be restrictions on the power of the state. He does not seem to have a good grasp of how our system of government works, does not seem interested in learning, and seems openly dismissive of the pieces he does understand. He advocates unconstituonal restrictions on personal liberty.

He's no Hitler, but I see why people leap to that conclusion. He is a gifted communicator and authoritarian. On the left, they are going to assume because he is a Republican that this is 50% of the way to being a Nazi anyway. On the right, they are going to understand that unbridled state power led by a demagogue who is fairly leftist in his leanings, sounds a lot like the Nazis. I'm not saying they're right, but he ticks everyone's boxes on the "is this a Facist" checklist.

His alt-right followers on Twitter revel in anti-Semitic "jokes" and anti-miscegenation rhetoric (see Jonah Goldberg and David French's Twitter mentions for examples). They focus on identittarian ideas and the rhetoric of a white genocide. I'd guess Trump doesn't agree with them, but he is certainly using them to gain power.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

But they are negligible in amount. What he says only slightly worries me, because what he says is ephemeral, it has no hold on his mind. You are right that he doesn't understand how our system works - yet Hitler did understand. He's a buffoon, which is dangerous, but not the same thing. He wants to do things that he will actually have no power to do. I am not that worried about a president who thinks he can declare unicorns exist.

I am worried that he will try half-a dozen of these cockamamie ideas and one will tie up a lot of anger and time before burying it in the ground. In fact, that is my prediction. But he doesn't actually want to invade Mexico, or kill 6M Muslims, and is just trying to figure out the best way to do that.

GraniteDad said...

A solid point, and it's why he's not Hitler. But he is an authoritarian who seems to revel in the idea of punching back. To me that raises the worry of needless conflict domestically and internationally, and the potential for widespread executive actions to accomplish what he is stymied from doing by Congress.