Americans flirt with ‘Nazism-Lite’

  • President Donald Trump AP PHOTO/EVAN VUCCI

Published: 7/11/2019 9:31:09 AM

In August 2015, right after Donald Trump announced his candidacy by labeling Mexican immigrants as “rapists and murderers,” I wrote a My Turn for this newspaper comparing him to Adolf Hitler. I did so after careful thought and as a Jew who had taught and lectured periodically on how a liberal democracy like Germany could have degenerated into Fascism and saw many of the same symptoms appearing in my own nation.

There were some Franklin County readers who were outraged by my comments but four years later, the comparison still stands. If I would change anything in my perspective, I would label Trump-ism as “Nazism-Lite.” It is no coincidence that the United States has established squalid concentration camps for those who have been scapegoated by a would-be dictator.

To be clear, concentration camps were first used not by the Germans, but by the British during the Boer War in South Africa to control the Afrikaner civilian population. Over 25,000 women and children perished in these camps from starvation and disease. Needless to say, the Nazis took this a step further.

Growing up, I believed like many that the Nazi phenomenon was an exclusively German phenomenon; that there was something latently sinister in the Teutonic psyche that once liberated, would rampage into the world to destroy and exterminate. That myth, nourished by the Holocaust, was shattered by the genocidal massacres in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia. We know now that anyone can fall into the cloying abyss of totalitarian thinking because there is a certain attraction to it.

When one views photos of a typical Trump rally, it is easy to see a mob mentality at play. It is a common tactic for demagogues to rile a crowd into mindless hatred and have them behave in ways they would never consider when on their own. During the 2016 campaign, Trump infamously mocked a disabled reporter to the joyous howls from the crowd. And yet, if encountering a disabled person on the street, these same people would never think of insulting them. They would feel sympathy and remember that they had at least one friend or family member in the same condition. Likewise, denigrating a decorated combat veteran like John McCain, a standard Trump trope, would be unthinkable in the morning light of day.

These changes of behavior occur because Trump displays nothing but contempt for his followers who exist only to boost his insatiable ego. He treats them like particularly slow children who will swallow the most blatant lies that wouldn’t fool a smart fifth-grader. Trump has put the prophecies of George Orwell’s “1984” in stark relief by his twisting of the truth and his labeling of the actual truth as fake. He is abetted by unscrupulous enablers in the right-wing news media and the halls of Congress whose lust for power far exceeds their honoring of American principles.

“Nazism-Lite” is an easy trap to fall into. If you feel powerless and disenfranchised, believe you have no say in the powers that control you, then the voice of the strongman is a siren call to follow. It promises empowerment and a place in the sun. One can then jettison one’s personal moral authority, that Jiminy Cricket voice that tells right from wrong.

But if there is one rule about strongmen it’s that they eventually ruin the nation they dominate. Stalin’s murderous purges of the 1930s destroyed the Red Army and allowed the German invasion to succeed for years at the cost of millions of Russian lives. Because Hitler, like Trump, knew more than anyone else around him, he not only plunged his nation into World War II but, in an observation of sheer irony, lost the war because of his constant meddling. Trump’s best friends, Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin control shabby, dilapidated dictatorships that are little more than huge prison camps.

In the meantime, we have a leader who places children in squalid concentration camps, gives approval to white supremacists, attacks the Free Press, allows an enemy power to manipulate our elections and runs a corrupt crime family that Tony Soprano would envy. My dislike of him goes beyond the political. I have learned to shun egomaniacs, bullies, pathological liars and those who practice deliberate cruelty on others. The odd thing is that most Americans feel the same way. Why they would elect someone who encompasses those ugly values is a mystery that will be explored by future generations to come.

Daniel A. Brown lived in Franklin County for 44 years and was a frequent contributor to the Recorder. He currently lives in Taos, NM.


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