Recent visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Schindler’s Factory in Poland have deepened my personal fears about where my country, and the world at large, are headed.
It may be too early to credibly define the current president of these United States as a fascist. But the warning signs are clear and present. In an essay titled Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt, Umberto Eco presents a list of features that he believes are typical of Eternal Fascism (Ur-Fascism). He claims that the features do not have to exist together and that some even contradict each other, but “it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.” Below is an outline of a few of his items that may invite coagulation today.
- Traditionalism: The rejection of the modern world disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life. The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrational.(How irrational that one of the richest men in America has walked over the backs of the poor but now claims to be their only hope?)
- Cult of action for action’s sake: Action is beautiful in itself. It must be taken before or without reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. (Think early morning Tweet fests?) Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism.
- The critical spirit: In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason. (Think science-bashing?)
- Fear of diversity: Ur-Fascism grows and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders.(Think Mexicans, Muslims, LGBTQs, Uppity Women . . .?)
- Individual or social frustration: the most typical feature of fascism in the past has been the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation. (Think promises to bring jobs back to America, to Make America Great Again?)
Well, the list goes on, but you get the idea. It seems to me that parallels between pre-Holocaust Germany and present world conditions have never in my lifetime been so closely aligned.
Adolph Hitler was a powerful speaker who promised “the disenchanted a better life and a new and glorious Germany. … He appealed to the unemployed, young people, and members of the lower middle class. When he was appointed chancellor in 1933, Germans believed that they had found a savior for their nation.”
Donald Trump rose to power by leveraging his celebrity with folksy speech that appeals to lower middle class Americans. He promised a better life to the disenchanted, a regulation-free corporate environment, and vouched to “Make America Great Again.” His inarticulate proclamations combined with the promise of an unfettered business environment effectively harnessed two disparate electorates.
Hitler waged war on intellectuals, artists, and scientists, all of whom posed a threat to his proclaimed white supremacy theory and his unabashed power grab.One of Donald Trump’s first actions after taking office was to muzzle scientists and news organizations.
Donald Trump has vowed to “drain the swamp.” Exactly which swamp he is draining and what he is growing in its place is a puzzle:
- Steve Bannon – Chief Strategist & Senior Advisor: Has published as “news” articles proclaiming that birth control makes women unattractive and crazy. Is an unabashed white nationalist and anti-Semite.
- Scott Pruitt – EPA: Climate change denier. Has sued the EPA over environmental regulations, a fox in the chicken house.
- Jeff Sessions – Attorney General: Blatant racist whose only problem with the KKK is that they smoke pot, believes the ACLU is un-American, and that the Voting Rights Act is intrusive.
- Sonny Perdue – Department of Agriculture: solution for drought is to pray for rain, favors agribusiness and their overuse of chemicals over American farms.
- Rick Perry – Department of Energy: while campaigning for president called the DoE worthy of elimination.
As a distraught adolescent studying the Holocaust, my wise elders counseled that this could never happen in America. “We have a free press here. The three branches of the US government will deter tyranny,” they told me. How long will we have a free press when the President cherry picks who will attend press conferences and when public funding is stripped from public broadcasters? Who will have the balls to stand up to The Donald’s “You’re fired!” rhetoric? How effective is a three branch government when all three branches are controlled by one party?
Auschwitz-Birkenau. http://auschwitz.org/ Accessed on March 24, 2017.
Jewish Virtual Library: A Project of AICE. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/timeline-for-the-history-of-judaism. Accessed on March 24, 2017.
Scientific American: Policy & Ethics. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trump-administration-restricts-news-from-federal-scientists-at-usda-epa/. Accessed March 25, 2017.
Sebastian, Michael; “A Close Look at Donald Trump’s Cabinet” Marie Claire http://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a23922/donald-trump-cabinet-appointments/?zoomablej March 2, 2017. Accessed March 24, 2017.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Introduction to the Holocaust.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005143. Accessed on March 24, 2017.