October 29, 2010

Thoughts on the New Reichstag Coming to a Capital Near You

American self-loathing gets as tiresome as American self-love, it's just that the first followed pretty naturally on the heels of the second. The idea of American Exceptionalism was a misperception based upon a faulty appreciation of the simple fact that the country was founded on third base and had an easy walk home. Latitude, diverse geography, climate, resources, two oceans - America was unique. The fact that all we could come up with was suburbia and a car culture says more about human beings than it does about anything uniquely American. Given the same advantages, other groups of homo sapiens would have screwed it up just as badly. They just didn't have the chance.

Now that we're way down the list in everything constituting the "quality of life" among civilized nations, it's slowly becoming apparent that our day has come and gone. I suppose that's why the analogies to Germany under the Third Reich are sort of fascinating to me. That was their story, too. Under the guidance of the Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, Germany was united and held sway over all of Europe in the late 19th century. Then after a disastrous World War I, an even more disastrous peace settlement at Versailles, the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic beginning in 1922, and Germany arrived at that point where it could see it all slipping away. The Nazis saw a chance to seize the initiative by promising the Germans they could be great again. It wasn't the fault of the true German, they were told, it was the presence of "parasites" and "undesirables" in their midst.

There were a lot of dumb and unimpressive people leading the National Socialists during their rise to power. The purges of Jewish Germans from academic, professional and artistic positions in Germany after passage of the Nuremberg Laws guaranteed the mediocrity of the movement. It took a fearful toll on the country's competence, but they replaced excellence with violence and intimidation, and (it has to be admitted) with ruthless discipline and organization.

Under the analogy, Barack Obama becomes a kind of von Hindenburg character in the piece. Well-intentioned, not very forceful, a little clueless about what he's really up against. Obama keeps thinking, against all evidence, that he can cooperate with the increasingly Rightist Republican Party and "get things done." This is a total illusion. The Republicans will enforce their iron determination to give him nothing.

What the Republicans are missing, at present, is a Hitler character. They're an organization of second bananas. They have no one who really lights up the national stage. Well, analogies are never perfect. What is similar is the sense of national humiliation, and the reaction against it. For some reason, humans seem to think the answer is always in uber-nationalism and reactionary movements. By Tuesday night, the lower Haus of the Reichstag will be solidly Republican, on the order of 230 to 205. The Senate will still be in Democratic "control," but only by counting the fellow travelers of the Right Wing, the sell-outs and the closet Republicans. Obama will have no trouble getting money for war, but everything else will be a hopeless struggle.

Another area where the analogy breaks down is that Hitler saw himself as a new Napoleon, and under the guise of seeking Lebensraum, he set about conquering the Old World. It's best to remember that he had an awful lot of support right here in the United States. Contrariwise, the Tea Party and ultra-Rightist Republicans do not appear interested in conquering Mexico and Canada. Their motivations seem equal parts theocratic and anti-government, although in truth there is no coherent philosophy that leaps out at you from their various slogans and war cries. They're against Obama, they're clear on that. They don't like health care, science, big government, deficits, the EPA or the Department of Education. I think if they could be assured they would always have the right to carry guns into bars and churches, they would feel that 90% of their program had been enacted.

Things have been weird and they're going to get weirder. People who were unthinkable as candidates even four or six years ago, racists, idiots, are being taken seriously as political leaders with an excellent chance of election to the highest positions in the country.

I take some comfort in remembering that the Third Reich lasted only twelve years. But then, it had a very different America to put it out of its misery.

1 comment:

  1. hammerud3:04 PM

    Being "well-intentioned" can be good or bad depending on what core beliefs one holds. In the context of his own warped views, Hitler must have thought he was well-intentioned. As an evangelical Bible-believing Christian, I personally disagree with Obama on almost everything. He might be well-intentioned, but I don't share his core beliefs and I don't like his policies or the direction he is trying to take our country. I see the potential results of November 2nd as a hopeful sign for a country that appears to be coming apart at the seams.