Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Donald Trump and the Scouts: Feeding Appetite for Disdain of Targeted Minorities (and, No, the Hitler Parallel Is Not Overblown)

Signposts on the way, which we overlook to our great peril:

Henry Giroux, "A New American Revolution: Can We Break Out of Our Nation’s Culture of Cruelty?":

Traditional liberal and progressive discourses about our current political quagmire are not wrong. They are simply incomplete, and they do not grasp a major shift that has taken place in the United States since the late 1970s. That shift is organized around what Bauman, Stanley Aronowitz, Saskia Sassen and Brad Evans have called a new kind of politics, one in which entire populations are considered disposable, refuse, excess and consigned to fend for themselves.

Joachim Fest, Not I: Memoirs of a German Childhood, trans. Martin Chalmers (NY: Other Press, 2012):

What had come out on top in Germany might occur in darkest Russia or the Balkans, but surely not in their law-abiding country. What had happened? That was the question raised on all sides, but no one had an answer (p. 100). 
On another occasion he [Fest's father] spoke of the main error that he and his friends had fallen victim to, because they had believed all too unreservedly in reason, in Goethe, Kant, Mozart, and the whole tradition which came from that. Until 1932 he had always trusted that this tradition was proof enough, that a primitive gangster like Hitler could never achieve power in Germany. But he hadn't had a clue. One of the most shocking things for him had been to realize that it was completely unpredictable how a neighbor, colleague, or even a friend might behave when it came to moral decisions (pp. 359-60).


Alice Miller, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, trans. Hildegarde and Hunter Hannum (NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1983): Miller (who was a Polish Jew who lived through the Nazi period by assuming a new identity) notes in the preface to this work that Hitler counted on his ability to sway the masses as he stated, "What good fortune for those in power that people do not think." And then she states, 

Witnesses of sudden political upheavals report again and again with what astonishing facility many people are able to adapt to a new situation.  Overnight they can advocate views totally different from those they held the day before—without noticing the contradiction.  With the change in the power structure, yesterday has completely disappeared for them (p. 84).  

Friedrich Percyval Reck-Malleczewen, Diary of a Man in Despair, trans. Paul Rubens (NY: Macmillan, 1970):

I believe that Germans generally are trying to appease their own bad consciences by shifting the blame to a single man. It was Germany itself which overnight tore itself loose from all its old ties, its ideals and its gods . . . (pp. 132-3). 
Really, this people, only yesterday so intelligent and discriminating, seems to have been overcome by a disease of the mind. They now believe everything they are told, provided it is done with sufficient aplomb (p. 162).

So yesterday, the president of the United States encouraged Boy Scouts gathered at a jamboree to boo — to express hatred and disdain for — his political enemies. He instructed the Boy Scouts to be "loyal" to him. People are now rightly looking at the parallels between this indoctrination of American youth via a leading youth leadership organization and what the Nazis accomplished in German-speaking nations with the Hitler Youth:

Why did Donald Trump choose to behave this way? And why did the Scouts, at his command, boo and chant? Various commentators are pointing to the current president's lack of impulse control, to the narcissism that makes him lavish attention on captive audiences (he was speaking to Scouts required to attend the jamboree) that return the lavish attention with adoration, etc.

I think something much more malevolent is at work here. Trump and his cronies have tasted blood after the 2016 elections, and they like what they're tasting, as do their followers. They've learned (but this is not a new lesson: it's to be found everywhere in historical records) that there's a huge appetite in the public for hatred and disdain of targeted minority populations — and that when this appetite is fed, when the public is encouraged to vocalize, exult in, and act out hatred and disdain for "enemies" and targeted minorities, the appetite grows. It spreads. It becomes ever stronger in ever wider circles of the population.

When that happens, those feeding the appetite and stoking the hatred consolidate their power. 

It is not in the least overblown to compare what Trump and his cronies are now doing to American youth with what Hitler did to the youth of German-speaking nations in the 20th century.

We are on an appalling path. And it's going to get worse — unless many of us resist, push back, and speak out as vocally as can possibly do.

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