Thursday, December 10, 2015

Heil History

I’m not book smart. I pick up things by watching and doing, less by studying and memorizing. This resulted in my being a mediocre student but a smart-ass wise-aleck in the classroom. Even though I learn a little differently than many, I have a deep appreciation for history. I agree with poet and philosopher George Santayana who said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (Thanks Wikipedia!) This has never been more true than today.

Adolph Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician who was leader of the Nazi Party, NSDAP), Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and Führer ("leader") of Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1945.
  • He was a decorated war veteran from World War I
  • He gained popular support by attacking the Treaty of Versailles and promoting Pan-Germanism, anti-Semitism, and anti-communism with charismatic oratory and propaganda.
  • He denounced international capitalism and communism as being part of a Jewish conspiracy.
  • His Nazi regime was responsible for the genocide of 6 million Jews and millions of other victims whom he and his followers deemed sub-human and socially undesirable.
  • He was responsible for the killing of an estimated 19.3 million civilians and prisoners of war.

Adolph Hitler was evil incarnate. World War II constitutes the deadliest conflict in human history and he is responsible for it. Thankfully there are few like him. Making comparisons to this guy should be done carefully and deliberately.

Presidents have been likened to Hitler going back decades to John F. Kennedy. More recently comparisons of George W. Bush and Barak Obama to the German leader have been staples of opposition propaganda and have diminished the impact of the allegation. Much of the hyperbole comparing somebody to Hitler seems to be less about who Hitler was and what he did and more about that Hitler has become a catch-all symbol of something awful.

Donald Trump is the latest to be compared to Hitler. The bombastic real estate and reality television show star who is seeking the GOP nomination has said many things that can be easily and legitimately aligned with the Fuhrer’s approaches and statements. Trump’s latest proposal to ban Muslims from the United States has kept him at the top of the news and is the key driver of the latest comparisons.

Combined with Mr. Trump’s other policy proposals and public comments about women, Mexicans and other groups make him toxic to the “politically correct” crowds and they’re like crack cocaine to television and the internet who luxuriate in the extremist statements.

Hitler came to power by being popular and by demonizing groups. Trump is popular and is seeking power by demonizing groups. Therefore they are the same? Seems to be a faulty equation – way too simplistic – though lots of the media are doing so. Trump may be a buffoon, a blowhard and a bad idea for President for innumerable reasons (including his fascist beliefs) – but he’s not the Führer in a toupee.

The United States in 2015 is not Germany in the 1930’s. The legislative branches of the U.S. Government reflect the nation: they’re split. President Obama is stymied at nearly every step in passing any of his progressive agenda. Would such a divided Congress ever permit a President to seal the borders and toss out tens of millions of people based on their race and/or religion? Aside from the logistical impossibility of such an action – the system of government in place and operational just wouldn’t allow it.

It doesn’t mean we should ignore such statements or be complacent about their implication – but if we laser focus only on the wild comments, we miss what’s really at risk.

With the political narrative dominated by such absurdities making for good and entertaining discourse, the more serious issues get ignored.

In May 2015 a U.S. appeals court ruled that the NSA’s spying program into people’s phone records is illegal. The NSA continued to operate the program until December 13, 2015 and kept the data until (at least) February 2016 – in absolute and direct violation of the law. (Nobody’s gone to jail and nobody’s being called to account for the breach. The administration’s justification has been “national security” and “terrorism” - arguments that failed in court and aren't supported by their own facts. Yahoo News reports: “A presidential review committee concluded the surveillance regime did not lead to a single clear counter terrorism breakthrough that could be directly attributed to the program.”

Starting after the "shutdown" the NSA launched a ‘scaled back’ program which collects the same information but with a court order instead. Really no change then. As of 2013 the court has rejected 12 requests. Out of 35,529. As a percentage it’s 0.003% that are denied or 99.997% are approved. It’s basically a rubber stamp and it will take years for the real judicial branch to catch up again. (The FISA Court is not part of the US Justice system, it’s appointed by politicians and the Chief Justice and is part of the PATRIOT ACT and its successor the FREEDOM ACT.)

The launching of a separate judicial track also seems to be an important issue that there’s little discourse on. The main judiciary has determined over and over that the peeking into Americans records and lives is an overt violation of the U.S. Constitution. Yet it continues. No punishment and no consequence. In America! This breach by the government of the rule of law, the stripping away of constitutionally guaranteed rights is appalling. It is scary. It is actual fascism taking over actual democracy. It has to stop. Now THAT is where a comparison to Nazism is worthwhile.

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