Part 3: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 2: The Politics of Virtue

Content note for antisemitism, Trump, eliminationist rhetoric.

Hitler managed to persuade a German court to hand him a mild 5-year sentence for treason, rather than deporting him or imprisoning him for life. But he’d had to tone down his bigotry for the courts, and his followers were upset.

They needn’t have worried.

Hitler, once his future was secure, was more than happy to return to spouting his poisonous antisemitism. He assured them that his earlier ideas about the Jews were, if anything, “too mild.” He cast the conflict between Jews and Germans as “a question of life and death.” He turned his attention toward spewing venom to Rudolph Hess, who compiled his ravings into the book that would become Mein Kampf. He amped up his exterminationist rhetoric, describing Jews as parasites, freeloaders, “a dangerous bacillus,” maggots, and poisoners. He called for their extermination.

So, remember: if a Nazi or other bigot dials back their rhetoric in the face of legal trouble or social sanctions, don’t trust their change of heart until it’s backed up by subsequent, sustained actions. Watch for them to return to and possibly intensify their previous hateful speech and actions. Once the coast is relatively clear, they will revert to their true selves.

Hitler spent a mere ten months in prison, and once he was released, he set about unifying his followers before reaching out for new ones. He’d learned how to dog whistle. Because more educated people wouldn’t respond as favorably to overt bigotry, and because fomenting hate and violence could get him silenced or deported, he resorted to a more veiled antisemitism. He would speak about “one single enemy.” He used racist humor and metaphors. Continue reading “Part 3: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 2: The Politics of Virtue”

Part 3: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 2: The Politics of Virtue
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Part 2: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 2: The Politics of Virtue

Content note for antisemitism, Trump, eliminationist rhetoric.

I think that where Trump and Hitler really diverge from each other is in their sincerity. Trump has always been a con man and a reality show personality. There’s no doubt he’s a bigot and a racist, not to mention a complete misogynist, but those things weren’t tied to his political ambition from the beginning. In fact, he seems to have pursued politics only to revive his failing brand. And the outrageous shit he spews on an hourly basis is calculated to pander, to shock, to get people buzzing. He’s discovered it’s very easy to get his ego fed to bursting by being the most “politically incorrect” politician possible. He hasn’t spent his life dreaming of Muslim registries and letting the religious right overthrow our Constitutional rights. These just happen to be a few of the things that get people sleazy enough to follow him excited, so he pushes them.

Hitler, on the other hand, pursued political power early on. And from the start, he intended to slaughter as many Jews as he could manage.

“Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews.”

This is a goal Hitler never lost sight of even when circumstances forced him to dial down his overt antisemitism. But when whipping up his followers, he knew hate sells. He used it freely. He spent years blaming all of Germany’s woes on Jewish people. And Germany, defeated and humiliated in the first World War, had plenty of woes. They were far worse off than we are. Desperate people need scapegoats; Hitler offered them up.

Hitler shouldn’t have been around to provide them. After fomenting hatred of the Jews for several years, he made a premature attempt at revolution that ended with him facing high treason charges. He should have been tossed in prison for life or deported. But he figured out what he needed to say in order to gain the court’s sympathies. He learned that with people outside the Nazi party, it was best to dial back the rabid bigotry and appeal to ethnic pride.

Over the next six weeks, Hitler, the uncouth agitator, remade himself into an innocent patriot who had been betrayed by a democracy too weak to defend Germanic honor…. Hitler transformed his public self from a raging antisemite into a resolute tribune of the Volk who captivated audiences with his vision of “cleanliness everywhere, cleanliness of our government, cleanliness in public life, and also this cleanliness in our culture… that will restore our [national] soul to us.”

Of course, “cleanliness” meant purging the Jewish people, but he wasn’t so crude as to actually say that in front of non-Nazis whose esteem he had to win. Instead, he attacked more widely despised and impersonal things: the Versailles Treaty, Bolshevism, and liberals. He cast himself as the doughty patriot willing to sacrifice anything to protect his beloved volk. He sprinkled in appeals to Germany’s proud military past, and finished with an appeal to “the goddess of the eternal tribunal of history.”

He’d found all the right buttons to push. And so, instead of spending the rest of his life moldering in a Bavarian prison or thrown out of Germany with no hope of returning, he received a mere slap on the wrist: five years in prison without subsequent deportation.

So what are we seeing? That a clever fascist will tailor his appeals to his audience. All it takes to rally nascent fascists who won’t respond to overt bigotry and racism is an appeal to be the hero fighting those things they abhor: liberals, socialists, Marxists, and other assorted lefties. Sprinkle in a hefty dose of national, ethnic, and military pride, and you can get conservatives to bless even outright treason.

Sound familiar? It should. Trump is far cruder, but he plays the tune Hitler wrote. Not surprising, considering how much he reportedly admires the genocidal shit.

We’ll see next how Hitler reassured his followers that yes, he still hated Jews. It’s a reminder to never take Trump at his word when he dials back his hatred to pander to less hateful audiences.

Image is the cover of The Nazi Conscience. It shows a brown-uniformed man digging while a man in traditional German folk costume holds a pole that has a swastika banner on it.
We’re studying The Nazi Conscience as a way to prepare for what’s happening now. If you want to read along, you can pick up an inexpensive used copy at Amazon. Buying through that link also supports my blogging, so thank you!

Intro • Prologue1.1 1.21.32.1

Part 2: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 2: The Politics of Virtue

Part 1: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 2: The Politics of Virtue

I call Trump Cheeto Hitler (Chitler for short), but the first paragraph of Chapter 2 shows what a cheap imitation of Hitler he really is. The original Hitler, at least, presented himself and his vision of the German volk as something of virtue: “the epitome of selfless devotion, humble origins, and abstemious tastes.” Trump is just a crass flim-flam man appealing to base greed, xenophobia, and bigotry.

But both of them know how to work their audience. Both enjoy preaching to crowds. Hitler thought highly of his own ability to influence an audience, bragging that he could bring his naysayers around within just a few hours. He sold them Nazi ideology by figuring out what they wanted to hear. Like Trump, he was a huckster.

Hitler seized upon technological advances to get his message out. “Without the loud speaker,” he said, “we never would have conquered Germany.” I’m reminded of Trump using his reality shows and Twitter to conquer America.

Of course, neither of them win over as many people as they claim. Most listeners aren’t swayed: they hear the vitriol, and know it’s dangerous. But both men give their followers something to convince themselves they’re good, sensible people, not bigoted assholes.

Opponents of Nazism heard only hatred as Hitler ranted against the Treaty of Versailles, Communists, rival politicians, and democracy. But they overlooked the pattern of Hitler’s speeches in which he counterpointed every outburst of fury with the exalted rhetoric of a higher purpose.

I think Koonz isn’t giving hatred enough credit. Spite is a powerful motivator, as we’ve so recently seen. Many Germans, like many Americans today, felt hard done by. I don’t doubt they were all too ready to lash out. And folks looking for scapegoats are quite happy to grab the most wilted fig leaf of “higher purpose” offered to incompletely cover up the fact that hatred is driving them: hatred of the religious minorities, the people of color, the women, and the queer folk who have the audacity to demand a place at the table. They’re only too happy to blame their disappointments on those uppity others. They’re only too willing to follow a leader who promises to put those others in their place.

Next, we’ll see how Hitler and Trump diverge. For all their similarities, I do believe they differ in important ways. And we’ll see that those differences won’t prevent Trump from doing things as bad as or worse than Hitler. Whether you end up trying to exterminate an entire ethnic group because you truly believe they’re evil, or start a nuclear war because your feelings got bruised, you’re still responsible for immense suffering.

The terrifying thing is, Hitler appears to have had more self-restraint.

Image is the cover of The Nazi Conscience. It shows a brown-uniformed man digging while a man in traditional German folk costume holds a pole that has a swastika banner on it.
We’re studying The Nazi Conscience as a way to prepare for what’s happening now. If you want to read along, you can pick up an inexpensive used copy at Amazon. Buying through that link also supports my blogging, so thank you!

Intro • Prologue1.1 1.21.3

Part 1: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 2: The Politics of Virtue

Part 3: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 1 “An Ethnic Conscience”

We’ve seen that the Nazi’s antisemitism was not a deal-breaker for the German people, although the voters themselves were largely not antisemitic. They were interested in “the Nazi’s promise of a radically new order under Hitler’s control.”

If we take Trump voters at their word, they’re not anti-Muslim bigots. They’re not misogynists or racists. They just want change. Okay: if that’s so, they need to be aware of how easily they can be persuaded to cross the line. If bigotry is not something that bothers you enough to reject the people spouting it, you are perilously close to being caught up in their hate.

The Nazis, after coming to power, expended quite a bit of effort to bring people around to their views on “unwanted” people. Anti-Jewish bigotry was the big one, but they also included Romani, gays, disabled people, and prisoners of war in their campaign to eradicate impurities from their volk. And they convinced alarming numbers of their fellow citizens, whether those citizens had voted for the Nazis or not, to go along.

And the folks who went along weren’t just the blatant bigots. Continue reading “Part 3: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 1 “An Ethnic Conscience””

Part 3: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 1 “An Ethnic Conscience”

Part 2: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 1 “An Ethnic Conscience”

So. America. Beacon of freedom and example to the world. Nazis must’ve hated us, amirite?

When responding to critics, Nazi racial experts muted the distinctiveness of their aims by noting analogues elsewhere…. While rabid antisemites praised the lynch mobs that kept African American’s “in their place,” more sober but equally determined racial policy makers expressed the hope that one day Nazi racial codes would be as widely accepted as U.S. immigration quotas, anti-miscegenation laws, involuntary sterilization programs in twenty-eight states, and segregation in the Jim Crow South.

We inspired the very monster we later fought. And we as a nation have a terrible time admitting our faults, much less fixing them. We see the outcome of that denial. Nazis do as we do, not what we say. A toxic stew of racism and bigotry simmers as we play the great white knights. And now we find tens of millions of our fellow citizens looking fascism in the face and deciding to hand the keys to the country over to it. We were never as good as we claimed. We never lived up to our aspirations. We never really tried. And now we’re perilously close to repeating a part of Western history that never should have been allowed to repeat.

We knew better. We refused to do better. We refuse to be better. Continue reading “Part 2: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 1 “An Ethnic Conscience””

Part 2: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 1 “An Ethnic Conscience”

Part 1: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 1 “An Ethnic Conscience”

This chapter begins with a brief history of conscience. Perhaps the most important line is this:

But, although every major culture honors the injunction to treat others as you hope they will treat you, the ideal often collapses in practice because the meaning of “others” is not always clear.

Who are the others we should treat as we wish to be treated? Koonz quotes Freud on the difficulty of loving strangers. And then she points out that “who deserves moral consideration” is defined either by religion or experts. In Nazi Germany, experts did the shaping.

The story of a Hitler Youth member is a klaxon, warning us what happens when those experts place a specific subset of others as enemies of the rest. He’d had the belief that the Jews were an immediate threat to Germany drummed into him. When his Jewish best friend was taken by the Gestapo, he didn’t protest. Despite knowing his friend was a good person and no threat to anyone, he “accepted deportation as just.”

And before we say it could never happen here, we must remember that it already has. We identified an enemy “other” (the Japanese citizens of our nation) and placed them into camps. Had we begun losing the war, had our experts stressed their supposed threat to us just a fraction more, we may have thought killing them would also be just. Continue reading “Part 1: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 1 “An Ethnic Conscience””

Part 1: The Nazi Conscience Chapter 1 “An Ethnic Conscience”

The Nazi Conscience: Prologue

Would it surprise you to learn that the Nazis had a conscience? It shouldn’t. Most people do. The murderers who shoot abortion doctors have a conscience – a mis-aimed one, but in their minds, they’re heroes saving babies. They are heroes, and we are monsters.

This is important to understand. Even people on the wrong side believe they are right. Continue reading “The Nazi Conscience: Prologue”

The Nazi Conscience: Prologue

The Nazi Conscience: Introduction

We do ourselves a disservice in the way we talk about atrocities. When I was in school, genocide and totalitarianism were taught as things that happened “long ago” or “far away” (or both). Dictators, we piously pretended, could never rise to power here in America: our robust systems of checks and balances, plus red-blooded freedom-loving citizens, would never allow it. Genocide was presented as something done by very different people than us. Of course Americans would never ever do that! (Never mind what happened to indigenous Americans, that was all war and disease and totally different because reasons.)

Atrocities committed by white people were considered aberrations. Something extraordinary must have caused them to happen. My teachers were very uncomfortable trying to explain the Holocaust. They had to turn the Germans into people strangely hypnotized by an exceptionally evil man. The whole thing was a regrettable freak occurrence. Ordinary Germans weren’t really involved – it was those monsters in the SS. They didn’t actually know the extent of what was happening until after the war, when the camps were liberated. Ordinary people could never do such things, would never condone such things.

Only, they could. And did.

We are not well served by the way history is taught in America. The national myths pounded into our brains are adept at covering up our bloody hands. We did bad things in the past, but it was a different time. We did bad things in the past, but they weren’t that bad. We did bad things in the past, but we fixed them and everything’s fine now. We did bad things in the past, but that was just a few bad apples. We did bad things in the past, but those other people did things that were so much worse, and so we are good and noble. Let us talk about how good and noble and just we are, and how because we are good and noble and just, we fixed the bad things, and liberated the oppressed, and are the best in the world. By no means let us talk about the bad things we are still doing. We are good people, and good people don’t commit atrocities.

Only, they do. We are. And these myths we’ve told ourselves prevent us from seeing that.

We believe that nothing like the rise of Hitler and the horrors of the Holocaust could happen here in America. And because we believe that, we refuse to see the parallels between us and the Germans in the early 20th century. Because we refuse to tell ourselves the truth, we have left systems in place that arose from oppression, and rely on oppression, and those systems have now been utilized by a fascist con man and his white supremacist friends and followers to seize power. Because we refused to be honest with ourselves, admit we are just as fallible and racist and prone to do terrible things as those infamous others, we let the conditions here breed the kinds of beliefs necessary to make people think a bigoted blowhard is just the man this country needs to make it great again.

And now we’re in a situation where survivors and historians of Nazi Germany are experiencing a horrible deja vu.

We like to believe, perhaps need to believe, that only monsters can commit atrocities, and because we don’t see a monster when we look in the mirror, we’re fine.

The Germans who allowed – often helped – the Nazis seize power didn’t see monsters in the mirror, either. Continue reading “The Nazi Conscience: Introduction”

The Nazi Conscience: Introduction

Remember: They’re the A**holes – How to Survive Holidays with Your Tr*mp-Loving Family

The Cheeto Hitler-in-Chief-Elect didn’t win the popular vote, but he’s quite popular with ISIS and various bits of the American electorate: neo-Nazis, the Klan, your relatives…

In the past, we’ve often stayed silent to keep the peace when various aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, etc. have spouted racist nonsense. We’ve agreed to disagree about politics. We’ve let things pass.

Well, white folk, we can’t do that anymore. Letting it slide is part of how we got here.

So, when you go home this holiday season and your family passes the praise for Chitler* along with the gravy, remember: you’re not the asshole for pushing back. They’re the assholes for bringing it up to begin with. And they are very much assholes for voting for someone who wants to dismantle American democracy and rob the country. And before you get all sympathetic and think they’re victims, just remember that signs this shitheel’s a con man were everywhere for literal decades, and there’s no damned excuse for not knowing exactly what he is. He just had to settle a lawsuit over his fraudulent university, for fuck’s sake. There are no victims here. Just willing dupes.

With that in mind, here’s a brief guide to surviving the holidays with Chitler-loving relatives, and how to push back against their isms and bigotry. Continue reading “Remember: They’re the A**holes – How to Survive Holidays with Your Tr*mp-Loving Family”

Remember: They’re the A**holes – How to Survive Holidays with Your Tr*mp-Loving Family

To The People Trying to Claim We’re Not Racist Because We Voted for Obama

I’ve seen some very oblivious white people in my Facebook feed claiming that this election couldn’t possibly have anything to do with race, because people voted for Trump who voted for Obama. Why would they vote for a black man and then a white supremacist??

Gosh, fellow white people, I dunno. Why don’t we stop denying we’ve got racist as fuck tendencies and start thinking of the reasons, eh? It’s actually pretty simple.

CN: racial slurs, racism, bigotry

You can vote for a black man and still harbor racist thoughts and tendencies. Trust me. I know white people. I know conservative white people – I was raised in a house and community full of ’em. And I know how they think. They’ll swear they haven’t got a racist bone in their body as they call their Iranian coworker a sand n*gger. They’ll claim they’re not at all prejudiced in one breath while they bleat about all those foreign brown people sneaking into our country and taking  our jerbs – complete with slurs like w*tb*ck and ch*nk. They’ll all have that one black friend, but they’re super nervous around black people and steer clear of black neighborhoods, because everybody knows that’s where the thugs live.

Even those of us who have friends of color and really try not to ever use racial slurs and are pretty embarrassed by our more openly racist relatives and really admire a select few people of color are scared of what’s going to happen to white people when the brown folk outnumber us. And we may not admit it to ourselves, but we think affirmative action means some lesser human is going to get the job we deserve, and that more brown people getting college educations and entering the workforce means fewer opportunities for us, and so we’ll support policies that keep that from happening. We may not consciously realize we’re doing that. But we’re doing it all the same. Continue reading “To The People Trying to Claim We’re Not Racist Because We Voted for Obama”

To The People Trying to Claim We’re Not Racist Because We Voted for Obama