July 28, 2006

What Are These People Thinking?

I often wonder what even strong critics of the Bush administration and of the general direction of our country are thinking. In a column in the Star Tribune, Brian Fogarty carefully traces the similarities between the United States today and Weimar Germany of the 1920s, parallels that many others have noted -- and with very good reason.

Fogarty then writes:
In Germany of the 1920s, as now in 21st-century America, appeals to reason and prudence were no way to get votes in times of crisis. Much more effective were appeals to the anger and fear of the German people. A politician could attract more votes by criticizing the government than by praising it, and a vicious negative campaign was usually more effective than a clean one. One of the problems of democracy is that voters aren't always rational, and appeals like these could be very effective.

As usually happens in times of distress, the Germans became a people for whom resolve was valued more highly than prudence, daring more than caution, and righteousness more than discretion. In many ways, they were a people not so different from today's Americans.

What was needed, the Germans thought, was a strong leader -- someone who would put an end to politics as usual; most of all, someone who could unite all the divisions in Germany and dispel the clamor. They found that leader in Adolf Hitler, and for a time, most Germans were glad they did.

Of course, America is not 1920s Germany, and we are certainly not on the verge of a fascist state.
Where has this man been? A fascist state is exactly what we're on the verge of: a corporatist, authoritarian dictatorship.

At the end of his column, Fogarty wonders how we would react "if things got worse" -- whether we would "cling even more fiercely to our democratic ideals":
Or would we instead demand greater surveillance, more secret prisons, more arrests for "conspiracies" that amount to little more than daydreams, and more quashing of dissent?

Our history suggests the latter. We Americans have had our flights from democracy -- the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, the Red Scare and the McCarthy era, Watergate -- but we have always pulled back from the brink and returned to normal.

The time is coming for us to pull back from the brink again. This must happen before the government gets so strong that it can completely demonize opposition, gain complete control of the media, and develop dossiers on all its citizens. By then it will be too late, and we'll have ourselves to blame.
Yes, indeed, Mr. Fogarty. Of course, it would help considerably if there were a strong, courageous, principled opposition. There isn't, on top of which we have a press that has voluntarily and enthusiastically neutered itself, and placed itself in unquestioning, obedient service to those in power. It would also help if intelligent critics of the current administration wouldn't keep pulling their punches. They seem to believe, like people who put credence in magic spells and incantations, that if they don't state how profoundly dangerous current trends are boldly and without qualification, then they aren't really that bad.

They are that bad, and worse. People had better wake up and speak up before it's too late, which it may be already. Meanwhile, we stumble toward the abyss, desperately hoping that something or someone will "save" us -- while most of us don't do a damned thing.