What People Don’t Get About Talking About Hitler

He was preventable. He was human. He was desperately flawed

Could this guy have become something else or was he foreordained to commit genocide (Photo)

My husband and I just had a huge fight. He said I was coddling Hitler. That’s patently ridiculous. Since I learned all about Hitler during a college semester spent in Germany, I know how similar he is to Donald Trump in speaking style. Trump’s speech in Pennsylvania slammed hard against my memories of my college class, the Rise of Nazism.

Instead, my point to my husband was that we see the same circumstances that allowed Hitler to flourish, allowing Trump to flourish. And those circumstances are better described by umair haque a few times a day on Medium in pieces like the one below than by me (I can’t get my husband to read Mr. Haque’s observations).

But I do have something important to add to the conversation about whether providing a stable economic foundation (perhaps universal basic income) under everyone might reduce authoritarianism. I got to learn about the rise of Nazism from someone who lived it firsthand.

My professor grew up under Hitler. He wasn’t Jewish. He was in the Hitler Youth. He had to include Hitler in his prayers when he was tucked in at night. His parents were in the Resistance, and they could not risk their child being loose-lipped.

When we got to Germany in 1990 just after the wall fell, Professor Liermann became excitably and animated in a way I had never seen back home in Iowa. His job was to oversee our semester there with classes in German Language, and religion and history, but his mission was to make us understand why Hitler rose to power.

By Jansiemering — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61295852

He took us back to the First Reich, the Second Reich, and then honed in on a young Adolf selling his art in Vienna before the 1920s when he left for Germany. We learn of Adolf’s perception that the Jewish art establishment is keeping him from success. The picture above is one of his pieces. There are hundreds that he managed to sell.

If you can sell hundreds of pieces of your art to anyone, anyone at all, is your art career really going so badly? Indeed, when you learn about who bought his paintings, his patrons were most often Jewish. Considering this fact always breaks my heart.

His real problem is probably going to end up making us all grimace. Art does not pay. It didn’t then. It doesn’t now. People don’t appreciate artists until after they die. There is truth to that. I said that and my husband said I was coddling Hitler.

I heartily disagree. This presumes that Hitler was a foregone conclusion. That he was inevitable like a demon sent from Satan. He wasn’t. He’s not magical. He didn’t have special powers. Discussing him in human terms or comparing him to other humans is actually not a violation of a law of nature.

Hitler was preventable. Every dictator is. Circumstances allow them to rise. Their own life path. The context in which they seize power. Weak constitutions. Eager crowds. Personality disorders. Cults of personality. Plays on authoritarianism. If we understand it all by studying it all, we may be able to control it better.

One of the keys to understanding why people turn to fascist thinking is to know their motivations. One of them is a sense of personal shame. Another is economic anxiety. Another is a desire to gain control over chaotic circumstances in one’s life.

Our class took a bit of a deep dive into Adolf’s psychology for a moment in class. You kind of have to. First, Adolf has Jewish roots. Next, he was angry at the very people who were patrons of his art. You learn how mentally unstable the guy really was. He sounds eerily similar in a general wackadoodle profile of qualities as most dictators and wanna-be dictators.

And I don’t say this to stigmatize mental illness, as a person who has one. I say this to point out these guys have a certain anti-social bent to their alleged social goals. They’re psychopathic on some level. Narcissism writ large. No regard for others. Something went wrong in childhood, folks.

So you have to have a weak personality like Adolf did as an ingredient. Yes, absolutely. But you also have to have perceived economic distress. He had this personally. He also saw it all around him. He figured out that he could channel his own rage into fiery speeches based on feelings other people had, too.

A story Ivanka Trump tells provides an open window into how Donald Trump perceives his economic situation. Apparently, Donald Trump once pointed to a homeless man on the street in front on Trump Tower and said he was a billion times richer than the Trumps. This was because of debt and leveraging of assets, of course. The notion is ridiculous on its face. But Donald perceives he is economically distressed and given his penchant for riding debt, he really is putting himself at risk.

The next thing Herr Liermann did when we were in Germany was play Hitler’s speeches which played in venues ranging from barrooms to stadiums. Hitler started small and got bigger. His crowds would respond uproariously to his seemingly barked tirades. Professor Liermann would point at the screen, almost apoplectic, and say “See, see, what a bad speaker he is, yet they cheer madly.”

The truth was, I wasn’t even twenty yet, and I couldn’t tell exactly how his speeches were bad given that they were in a foreign language. I had been taking German for years, but it didn’t help.

Herr Liermann would remind us time and again, “He was a lousy speaker. He didn’t even speak German well as an Austrian man with a dialect. But mainly, he was prone to ranting and self-aggrandizement.” I just shrugged and figured our professor was exaggerating. His speeches must have been decent enough to draw such crowds, right?

Herr Liermann wanted those of us in the classroom to understand on a visceral level how jaw-dropping it was that a ranting, raving antisocial man was so popular with crowds and I don’t think we as students ever gave him the full awe he desired. Herr Liermann, if you’re still alive, I get it now. I completely get it.

I guess I am not the only one to notice these speeches come from another time, another era, another country

The speeches at Trump rallies have always been bad. Rambling. Self-aggrandizing. Childish. Vapid. Belitting. Sniping. Lowest Common Denominator. But somehow he manages to keep hitting new lows. His media-sponsored Pennsylvania rally was horrible by every standard of speechmaking including the butchering of the English language.

But it was popular with the crowd. He tells them what they want to hear. Racist, nativist things. Applause!! Sexist things. Applause!! Attacks on the free press. Applause!!

People are once again rallying around a madman. There is a neon sign flashing, “Cult of Personality” in his aura for people who believe in that new age malarkey. For many of the rest of us, it is just clear from observation that a cult of personality consumes the room. Okay, so we’re piling up the ingredients of authoritarianism quick rapidly.

We have a dangerous man in charge. He uses emotional rhetoric that appeals to the worst in people to consolidate his power. He and his currently very cooperative lackeys have access to heavy weaponry from the armed services to law enforcement. They have the weight of the Russian government behind them. Some of the goals of the sycophantic administration including Christian dominionism, dismantling the social safety net, and privatizing public services. Authoritarianism is a price followers of these various movements are either willing to pay outright or excuse.

As the nearly brand new 2003 ICE agency conducts business within our borders like the Gestapo, citizens consider it radical to upend the agency for its cutthroat ways. The Department of Homeland Security already has morphed INS into something else much more sinister.

This stepped-up rate of deportation is not even consistent with immigration rates and patterns. Migration to the U.S. peaked in 2000. There was a slight resurgence seen in 2014, but not enough to justify the panic about immigration.

It could be that news outlets like Fox News or Lou Dobbs all by himself have pumped propaganda into the country about immigrants for a couple of decades that freaks mostly white Americans out.

Source: Pew Hispanic

Throw on that the economic existential crises that Umair Haque is so good at discussing and we have a lit match. It is not just an American problem, but it is definitely an American problem being exploited by enemies foreign and domestic.

I learned at the knee of an expert how to spot an authoritarian leader. If I thought it would change your mind in some way, I would attach the texts I exchanged with my brother before the election pleading with him not to support Trump. Making every comparison between Trump’s techniques and tricks and those used by the man so evil, people are afraid to use him in everyday comparison to other men. But, folks, Hitler was just a man.

He spoke to ordinary citizens. And not that many of them, overall. Only a maximum of 35% of Germans EVER voted for a Nazi. The rest of the population was a population either determined to call themselves apolitical or an ineffective resistance. Learning about why their Resistance was ineffective has never seemed to cross the mind of the current Resistance. C’est la vie.

Hitler used a state of emergency to seize power from a democracy. It was a democracy with a constitution that had flaws in it, not unlike ours does. Working within the system to defeat him failed. Working with violence outside the system didn’t penetrate defenses. Hmm, their Resistance certainly needed Twitter.

Ongoing emotionally-charged rallies that simmer a base of support bent on authoritarianism is not a good sign. It’s a sign of societal distress. Professor Liermann only told us how to spot authoritarianism and what it looked like when it unfolded. I don’t think he ever knew how to prevent it. He only pointed to economic stagnation as its lighter fluid.

Percentage of Americans with debt in collections, by U.S. county. One in three Americans hold debt in collections, and they owe a median amount of $1,450. Source: Urban Institute

Economic stagnation among the masses seemed to be the spark that lit the fire. Maybe that’s how forever-rich Trump can get away with being “one of us” in a roomful of working class people — he just talks as if he’s been screwed, too. I wonder if Godwin’s Law 2.0 will disallow anyone from comparing people to Trump.

Chances are I have a migraine. My spirit guides are Voltaire & Bierce. Considering making SJW into a religion. Genealogist

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