I just got done reading an article by The New Yorker called, When It’s Too Late To Stop Fascism, According to Stefan Zweig. Stefan Zweig (who was Austrian) wrote a memoir called The World of Yesterday which he wrote in essence, according to the author of the article,
“For the benefit of subsequent generations, who would be tasked with rebuilding society from the ruins, he was determined to trace how the Nazis’ reign of terror had become possible, and how he and so many others had been blind to its beginnings.“
Along the same vein is another article called US Holocaust Museum’s “early warning signs of fascism” sign is going viral. Which btw, I was hard-pressed to find any signs on the list that aren’t currently taking place. This is powerful stuff. It should be a wake up call that we no longer live in the world we thought we did.
There were many times in school that I had sat and wondered what it was like to live through the times of Hitler. Did they know it? Was it obvious? Or at what point did it click for the masses that things had indeed slid sideways? Being on the “safe” side of history, it was hard for me to imagine.
However, while reading this article, I started to understand what it was like because with it came the understanding that we may be on the verge of repeating history. I don’t know about all of you, but I did not sit through all of those boring history classes for nothing. I’m taking notes.
I just want to say here, that I don’t care whether you are in support of Trump or not. This message is for everyone. If we can’t figure out how to all get on the same page and put our differences aside, then we may all pay the price. The things that led to the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany are eerily similar to the split I see right now between those who do and do not support Trump. Ignoring the Trump supporters grievances, putting them down, or being self righteous towards them is only helping to pave our way to a mutual hell.
It will help if you’re able to suspend judgement long enough to hear what the author of The World of Yesterday had to say.
Zweig and his colleagues were intellects. Reading about the things he was doing during the rise of Hitler sounds more like a man who lived during a progressive time, and not during one which would produce the likes of Nazi Germany. He was “. . . a renowned champion of causes that sought to promote solidarity among European nations. He called for the founding of an international university with branches in all the major European capitals, with a rotating exchange program intended to expose young people to other communities, ethnicities, and religions.”
The more I read the more I could start to see the parallels of the world he described back then and the world we’ve recently been thrown into. I can feel in me, “it’s trying to happen again. This is what it felt like.”
Nobody was taking Hitler or his followers seriously. They considered Hitler an uneducated “beer-hall agitator”. They didn’t think anything would come of it, “the big democratic newspapers, instead of warning their readers, reassured them day by day, that the movement . . . would inevitably collapse in no time.” This is exactly what so many of us were thinking during the elections. We initially weren’t taking Trump very seriously. There was no way Trump would be the Republican candidate, let alone win, it was ridiculous. And yet he did.
How did someone like him get so much support? Well, there was another insight in this article that felt like an echo of what I’ve heard from Trump supporters. During the elections of 1930, when “support for the party exploded”,
“ —from under a million votes two years earlier to more than six million. At that point, still oblivious to what this popular affirmation might portend, Zweig applauded the enthusiastic passion expressed in the elections. He blamed the stuffiness of the country’s old-fashioned democrats for the Nazi victory, calling the results at the time “a perhaps unwise but fundamentally sound and approvable revolt of youth against the slowness and irresolution of ‘high politics.“
I’ve heard time and again that many people weren’t voting for Trump but against Hillary. You’ve also got a large enough group of people who are tired of the political bullshit taking place in our government(s) and were willing to take their chances with someone as off the rails as Trump rather than vote in one more corrupted government official where we would just get more of the same.
Also, if you’re wondering how there are so many people in America who are afraid of Muslims as a whole, then think back through time since 9-11 what message our government has been shoving down our throats about them and then understand that not everyone is able to distinguish between the extremists and the religion as a whole. The manner in which our government has addressed and handled the entire issue is both childish and shameful as well as a gross misuse of power in which they used it to further their own selfish (disconnected from the people) agendas.
You can’t scare the piss out of a country by taking extreme measures in response to one event and then expect everyone to be so tolerant and understanding of everyone. “Those are extremists, we must take these insane measures as a result.” Which is a fear response. Our government has taught us how to be afraid. So for me, many of Trump’s supporters are coming from a place of fear that was first and repeatedly modeled by our own government. Every time I have to take my shoes off at airport security, or get scanned, or patted down, I am reminded to be scared.
I am not a Trump supporter. But I am also not for putting down Trump supporters. There are extremists among his supporters, but that does not make the whole group bad. You know, just like how the Islamic terrorists do not represent the whole of Islam. Meaning, don’t do to them what you’re accusing them of doing to Muslims. Slippery slopes ahead.
But regardless of your views on all of this, there is a warning in here that I’m trying to communicate which is further illustrated in this next quote from the article:
“Prideful of their own higher learning and cultivation, the intellectual classes could not absorb the idea that, thanks to “invisible wire-pullers”—the self-interested groups and individuals who believed they could manipulate the charismatic maverick for their own gain—this uneducated “beer-hall agitator” had already amassed vast support. After all, Germany was a state where the law rested on a firm foundation, where a majority in parliament was opposed to Hitler, and where every citizen believed that “his liberty and equal rights were secured by the solemnly affirmed constitution.”
I think we’re at least ahead of the game this time in that we’re aware of the invisible wire-pullers. We see the people that Trump is isolating and surrounding himself with. At least I *hope* we’re seeing it. Right? You’re seeing that? Okay. So, what I mean is that while you may not agree with Trump and his people, don’t think they can’t flip the country on it’s head. And also I think what I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t work simply to be against his supporters. There needs to be some sort of meeting of the minds, so to speak. They have fears and concerns and throwing them out into the cold isn’t really in the nation’s best interest.
We need to transcend and do something differently this time. Maybe be grown ups about it and say, “Hey sorry we haven’t been taking you seriously, can you tell us what’s really going on with you?” You know? Like maybe help provide another avenue or solution OTHER then pushing them into the arms of the current Cheeto administration.
Because look at what that last paragraph is saying. The intellectual classes didn’t quite grasp how much support he had. The majority of parliament was opposed to Hitler. Every citizen thought their rights were secured by their constitution. How well did that work out for the German people and how closely does this fit with where things are at in the US?
Then there was the propaganda spread by the administration:
“. . . in the autumn of 1914, Zweig observed that, at that point, “the world still had power. It had not yet been done to death by the organization of lies, by ‘propaganda.’ “ But Hitler “elevated lying to a matter of course,” Zweig wrote, just as he turned “anti-humanitarianism to law.”
The lies. So many lies and for so long that it begins to blur and confuse everyone’s senses. What do you do if you can’t keep straight anymore what is really happening? How do you know what action to take or who the enemy really is? There is a definite threat here, and it’s not just Trump. Removing Trump won’t remove the invisible wire-pullers or what’s currently being put in place behind the scenes.
And then the last part of the article that stood out for me and is in reference to the burning of the national parliament building in Berlin in 1933:
“That fateful conflagration took place less than thirty days after Hitler became Chancellor. The excruciating power of Zweig’s memoir lies in the pain of looking back and seeing that there was a small window in which it was possible to act, and then discovering how suddenly and irrevocably that window can be slammed shut.“
So no, we haven’t had a symbolic government building go up in flames, but the emphasis on how small of a window there is to act before it can slam down and we’re all buckled in for the ride of our lives.
What I took from this is that very smart and intellectual people missed the signs leading to Hitler’s rise. They under-estimated him and his popularity. There was a web of lies and propaganda. There were enough people to elect him into office who didn’t feel heard or understood by the stuffy old government or the prideful intellectual communities. The people who could’ve done something, didn’t do something because they couldn’t believe it possible in their day and age.
I don’t have to wonder anymore how it felt like to live during that time, because I can imagine it to be very much like this. Now I understand. Now I get it. The only problem is that we’re being given these warnings from history (thankfully), but what we don’t have is directions or guidance on how to avoid it or how to do it differently. What do we do? How can we take this information being given to us from our ancestors and use it to learn from their mistakes? How do we break this cycle of violence? How do we grow up as a whole as a collective and for everyone’s benefit?
I don’t bleeping know. Is it solely by activism? What if you’re not an activist type? To me there is no one answer, but I do believe that we all have talents, skills, things we’re good at that we can somehow put to use to help. Some people are communicators and share things, some people are the go-getters, the activists. Some people are the paperwork people and the process people. You know? I think the answer is in our diversity and pooling those skills together as a whole to change what’s happening. What are you good at and how might that be helpful for these times we are in? Let’s do something different.