Sunday, February 7, 2016


A couple posts ago I wrote about how our political process is being affected by the combination of few credible candidates, a preponderance of citizens receiving the majority of their news through late night comedy shows, and above all, anger. My conclusion was that all of the above have turned Americans into cynics, but this op-ed piece in the Washington Post ups the ante a hundredfold. The author, Dana Milbank interviewed Nazi Holocaust survivors who see frightening similarities between the xenophobic, race bating rhetoric of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and other candidates and the reaction from their supporters, to what they heard and saw in the twenties and thirties in Germany.

Now I'm very leery of comments equating contemporary individuals and issues with fascism and the Nazis, and need to state unequivocally that I as much as I dislike their platforms, I don't believe that Trump, Cruz, or any of the other candidates spewing hate speech, espouse to be junior Hitlers. To the best of my knowledge, none of them have published an equivalent of Mein Kamf or have gone on record, as Hitler did, advocating genocide as a solution to the problems of their nation. I'm not even sure they truly believe some of the words coming out of their mouths, they're simply telling people what they want to hear. And what they want to hear is what scares me.

Phrases like "let's take this country back, carpet bomb the enemy, go after their families, then build a fifty foot wall to keep them out", are music to the ears of many Americans who feel threatened by people coming into this country, (and many who've been here a very long time), who have different values and opinions. Of course this feeling has only been exacerbated by the threat, both real and imagined, of terrorism.

Desperate for votes, these candidates find tailor-made audiences in angry, frustrated, predominantly white, Christian Americans who feel that privilege, power and success in this country are their birthright. That birthright they feel, has been stripped of them in recent years, and it doesn't take much reading between the lines to see the slogan, "let's make this country great again", coming out of the mouth of a Donald Trump, as a call to arms to restore that birthright to its proper place.

Trump supporters find their candidate's willingness, even glee in trampling upon currently accepted standards of decorum and decency, refreshing. When he attacked Mexican immigrants calling them thieves and rapists, much of the country was aghast at his insensitivity, but not Trump supporters. When he made his statement that no Muslim should be granted entrance into the United States, even his staunchest right wing critics flinched at the un-American-ness of that idea. Meanwhile his supporters jumped for joy. And most recently, Trump's on-going feud with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly has brought to light the many repulsive and degrading comments he has made about women. One would think that insulting half the population of this country would make a dent in his poll numbers, but not so, in fact a recent profile I read of the Trump crowd claimed a typical supporter of the billionaire real estate tycoon turned presidential hopeful, more than likely is a woman. To those supporters, Trump stands out as a beacon of light amidst a sea of that old bugaboo, "political correctness."

Ted Cruz is going after a different angry crowd, specifically evangelical Christians who in addition to the domestic issues that irk Trump supporters, are particularly upset about moral issues like the legalization of abortion and gay marriage. In his speech after winning the Iowa caucuses last week, Cruz pointed out that his campaign was guided by the "Judeo-Christian values that this country was built upon." However he didn't ingratiate himself too much with the Judeo part of that when he blasted Donald Trump recently for his "New York values", what many consider a thinly veiled reference to Jewish values. 

What both campaigns share is their apparent disdain for government and the characterization of their candidates as political outsiders. It would seem that Trump is the bigger outsider of the two as he has never held elected office, but both try to outdo the other in proudly claiming themselves to be the one most unqualified for the job.

In another Dana Milbank piece for the Washington Post this week,  he wrote:
I followed both Cruz and Trump this week at multiple campaign events across New Hampshire. It was, in a sense, a pleasure to see them use their prodigious skills of character assassination against each other. It was demagogue against demagogue (emphasis mine): lie vs. lie. Both men riled their supporters with fantasies and straw men. 
Getting back to the original Milbank piece I sited at the top of this piece, it is the sheer demagoguery of the candidates that sends shivers up the spines of some Holocaust survivors. Here he quotes Irene Weiss, a survivor of Aushwitz:
I am exceptionally concerned about demagogues, they touch me in a place that I remember. I know their influence and, unfortunately, I know how receptive audiences are to demagogues and what it leads to... 
...“It has echoes, and maybe more so to me than to native-born Americans, I’m scared. I don’t like the trend. I don’t like how many people are applauding when they hear these demagogues. It can turn.
To my ears it's not the demagogues per se that Irene Weiss fears, it is the applause of the audience. I couldn't agree more. This current election season has brought out a tremendous ugliness that once resided just below the surface in our country. The current front running Republican presidential candidates don't scare me very much as their popularity is limited. After all, demographics show again and again that white people will not be in the majority in this nation for very long, and there will always be a lot of white people, myself included, who wouldn't vote for a Donald Trump or a Ted Cruz if their life depended on it. Consequently, appealing ONLY to right wing whites is not a recipe for success in winning an American presidential election anymore. Along those lines, here's a critique from the right of the current Republican  front runners in this article in The New Republic.

What truly scares me is that this country is only one or two terrorist attacks and another financial crisis away from being pushed over the edge. If that happens, it wouldn't take much for a group with truly nefarious intentions to forge a much broader coalition of angry people, focusing upon one or two groups of minorities as scapegoats for all the problems of the country. That minority could be Muslims, it could be black people, or it could be that age-old scapegoat, the Jews. Yes, it could even be white Christians who will soon find themselves in the minority of this country.

We may like to think that could never happen here, as a nation we're better than that. But these last few months unfortunately have proven otherwise.

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