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.

October 26, 2010

Our very own Sturmabteilung

English words never sound quite as sinister as their German equivalents, which is one of the reasons that American Fascism just seems like a lot less fun than the Italian and German versions. I mean, really: Tea Party? I enjoyed reading Johnny Tremaine as much as the next young patriot when I was a kid, and the Boston Tea Party seemed like a thrilling caper that really showed those stuffy Brits that we had arrived on the world stage. Thus, what a come-down that the movement which borrowed the name has nothing to do with the American Revolution but is mostly just a religiously-inspired, regressive, Christian-revanchist goose step down memory lane. (Patent pending on that sentence, btw.)

As proof that we can't do anything right, including mob violence, here's a picture making the rounds of a Rand Paul supporter stepping on the head of a MoveOn.Org troublemaker who showed up at one of Rand's Klan meetings. Point one: the SA would never have worn white sneakers. Das ist so lahm. Although Rand Paul's supporters do utilize the main technique of the Brown Shirts, the Sturmabteilung, which is violence to make a point. Let's face it, there simply comes a time when you know you're so damn right that anyone who disagrees with you needs to get their head stomped. Rand's supporters have become sick and tired of all these intellectual digressions, these "discussions" and whatnot. So get out of here or we'll throw you to the ground and stomp on your head.

Such an approach does discourage the expression of opposing points of view. We should be under no illusions about that. Hitler's National Socialists never actually achieved an electoral majority in Germany, either (as the Tea Party will fail here to do as well), so to compensate for that shortfall, that "delta" between where Adolf wanted to be and where he got through the electoral process, Hitler used what you might call his political Irregulars, enforcers who kept the whole open debate thing from getting out of hand. The young woman who showed up at the Rand Paul rally with an offending placard no doubt got off lightly compared to the Brown Shirt treatment circa 1936, say, but we've got to give the Tea Party a chance. They're learning, after all. Hitler did not perfect the art of violent intimidation overnight either. These things take time.

Turning the country into an open-air asylum takes time, too, but we're getting there. I note with singular satisfaction that the First Amendment is now under open assault from the Tea Party gang. Ken Buck, who is leading in the Colorado race for the U.S. Senate as the Republican/Tea Party candidate, does not like the idea of separating church from state, although he likes the idea of forbidding the government from "establishing" a religion (because, for example, what if a Jewish president were elected? Or a Muslim? Okay, another Muslim, the TP's would say.) Then America, obviously a Christian nation from the get-go, could find itself in a messy situation, with the Koran calling the shots instead of the Ten Commandments as God intended.

Buck has a half percent lead, and Nate Silver thinks he's got a 54% shot at getting elected. One of Ken's concerns is that he finds it "scary" how "secular" the country is becoming. Well, we can't have that. It's the secularists (Sekelar Hoomanists, as the church of my childhood used to call them) who advocate ideas such as science, with the dire threat it presents of a detailed and accurate understanding of reality. Science has produced such ridiculous red herrings as global warming and evolution, for example, ideas so pernicious and subversive that one poll showed that 14% of Tea Party people themselves believed in man-made climate change! Only 86% of the Party is cleaving to the Party line! Fortunately, as any student of history can tell you (that is, most people not in the Tea Party), Hitler knew how to deal with dissidents within his own party as well.

So anyway, just picking up the pace of posting in advance of next Tuesday. Heh heh. After which, I think a dissenting view like mine, contrary as it is to the general drift of the country, might place my head more or less where that young lady's is in the picture. And thinking about the steadily deteriorating educational system in this country, I would not think that the tendency of the populace is going to be away from superstition, religious intolerance, anti-intellectualism, obscurantism and that whole constellation of crazy stuff. Quite the contrary. Might not be a bad idea to develop at least a contingency plan for moving somewhere else, some country where the rule of law, high intellectual and educational standards, open debate, freedom of artistic and political expression - where all such things are common and revered.

You know, someplace like Germany.

The sign post up ahead reads Twilight Zone

It's never true until Nate Silver says it's true, so I guess it's now the case: the Republicans are going to take the House of Representatives. Nate's done his "Monte Carlo" simulations (at least 100,000 of them), and the tumblers keep falling in the same place: about 230 Republicans, 205 Democrats. A gain of 50 seats in two years.

I liked it better when Nate ran a stand-alone blog (his "538" site) instead of as a prognosticator for the New York Times, but his work looks much the same. He tends to be scary accurate. In the Senate, it appears likely the Democrats will wind up with about 51 or 52 seats, and the current odds favor the election of Sharron Angle over Harry Reid, although it's a very close race. A world without Mr. Mumbles - I just can't imagine it.

Thus endeth the days of Democratic hegemony, of the powerful dominance in the House and the near "veto-proof" advantage in the Senate. We will have a completely divided government. A Republican House, a Democratic Senate, a Republican Supreme Court and an undeclared White House. I imagine that President Obama will move from irrelevant to invisible, but at least he will have the consolation of a ready-made excuse: what can he possibly do with a divided Congress, one house of which is implacably hostile to any of his ideas and the other saddled with the "60-vote" rule?

We will thus transition from the era in which almost nothing was accomplished to an era where nothing whatsoever gets accomplished. In some ways, if your mind is partial to controlled experiments and the scientific method in general, this will present an opportunity for learning. The USA, instead of being primarily a place where the conflicts are internal, will now face two new foes: the rest of the world's population and Mother Nature. This should be interesting. I'm as bored as the next person listening to all the usual formulations, the "Progressives" against the "Conservatives," et cetera. Keith Olbermann versus Bill O'Reilly (although now that I've discontinued cable television, I don't see much of that). The American electorate seems so absolutely devoid of new ideas that it is simply, and reflexively, going to return the Republicans to power because they're the other choice. That's what the Republicans have going for them: they're not the Democrats. What a creative society!

While Obama was President with a Democratic Congress, he was unable to do anything. He couldn't get any global warming legislation passed. The costs of healthcare are as sky high and unaffordable as ever. Wall Street is still running amok, with the pace of wealth-concentration in the upper one percentile undiminished. Unemployment, realistically speaking, is about 20%. The dark shadow of Peak Oil hangs over everything, and we didn't do a thing about it. The value of everything continues to deflate, other than the stock markets pumped on Federal Reserve money-printing operations. In about one year, about 30 to 40% of all houses in America will have loans against them greater than the value of the house itself. Homelessness and poverty will continue to proliferate. And meanwhile, the world at large, which has gotten extremely tired of American currency manipulation and systematic fraud as its main economic outputs, is steadily reorganizing itself for the post-American future.

On issues such as climate change, the USA will increasingly play the role of world pariah. Using about 25% of the world's fossil fuels (with 4% of the population) and producing 20% of the world's greenhouse gases, America is being left behind by countries which are facing the truth about the need to change to sustainable energy, including, oddly enough, the People's Republic of China. The wars we keep fighting and fomenting (and which we ask other countries to finance) irritate the hell out of the rest of the world.

So against this backdrop, we will switch gears from 2nd down to 1st, forgoing even the appearance of adaptation in favor of theocratic distractions, witchcraft, Rand Paul-like Luddite racist reaction, gay-bashing and other stuff which was last this popular during the Dark Ages. America, I think, will be more like a howling mob controlled by corporate bastions behind security gates, bastions which employ people in other, poorer (but not for long!) countries to make stuff and produce their wealth, with the occasional invasion of another country to remind us that we're all patriotic Americans being "kept safe" by the Pentagon.

An Armed Madhouse, as Greg Palast described it. This should be interesting, in a macabre way.