Friday, April 15, 2016

Trump, Hitler and an excuse to post a College Humor video [slightly NSFW]

Even if Trump doesn't get nomination, we're certainly going to have to make it through endless Fourth Reich analogies, many if not most from previously calm and sober institutions like the New York Times and the Washington Post. Most of these will fall into the general Lonesome Rhodes genre -- crude but charismatic demagogue uses his mastery of media to brainwash the gullible and irrational masses while intellectuals and the establishment watch with helpless disapproval.

With so many pundits (as Mr. Pierce might put it) climbing up on the fainting couch, it might be a good time for some perspective on the Hitler analogy.

Let's start with a bit of history from the good people at Cracked.
#5. Hitler Wasn't Swept into Power by a Brainwashed Germany

The worst thing you can say about our favorite form of government (democracy) is that it brought a cockburglar like Hitler into power. It's a sobering lesson in human gullibility and the madness of crowd psychology, one so obvious, even George Lucas picked up on it:

It's a message clear enough that a Star Wars prequel couldn't fuck it up: Charismatic dictators are great at popularity contests, and what is an election but one big-ass popularity contest for control of the police and the best houses? You may not know much about Hitler's rise to power, but you know he body-surfed into the Reichstag over a sea of enthusiastic, brown-shirted German voters.

But guess what? That's not how it went down. The Nazi party never took more than 38 percent of the vote in a free election. Hitler didn't win so much as a presidential election, and even George W. Bush won one of those. Liberty "died" in Germany exactly the way you'd expect it to die: in a series of underhanded backroom deals that saw Hitler appointed chancellor.

Now here's where it gets kind of sad: Hitler assumed power in 1932, and the very next year Germany held nationwide elections. That's the sort of thing dictators everywhere do; there's nothing like a show vote to prove the legitimacy of your reign! He went about "winning" this election with every trick in the toolbox of oppression: violent thugs at the polls, waves of propaganda, ballots that looked like this:

This ballot is actually for the annexation of Austria, but you get the idea.

So what did the Nazis win, 99 percent of the popular vote?

98.2 percent?

Try 42 percent. That's the best the Nazis ever managed, and that's with the repressive might of a burgeoning evil empire behind them. Not even one in two Germans thought this whole "fascism" thing sounded like a good idea. Saddam Hussein held more-competent sham elections, and he's widely considered the Pauly Shore of violent dictators.

Sure, Hitler got way more popular after conquering France and Poland, but the whole idea that he was swept into power by a mass of fanatic brainwashed Germans has no basis in fact. Most Germans were too sane to want to march around like the Demon Boy Scouts and worship racist Charlie Chaplin. The problem was, they were also too sane to start a fight with a bunch of crazy people.
[Not to put too fine a point on this. but a lot of the actual dirty tricks the Nazis used to gain power (harassment, misinformation, partisan use of investigations) resembled, in type if not in magnitude, the ratfcking we've seen of every Democratic presidential candidate in the post-Reagan era. Many of the publications and quite a few of the actual reporters currently crying Hitler were remarkably quiet about and often complacent in Willie Horton/Whitewater/Inventing-the-Internet/Swiftboating/Birtherism/Bengahzi.]

If Hitler was not actually all that great at brainwashing the ignorant masses, how about the other half of the story? How good were intellectuals and the elite at seeing through him?

For the first category, it is not that difficult to find Hitler supporters such as Ezra Pound, but they were certainly in the minority. If, on the other hand, you broadened your definition to include supporters of any genocidal dictator in the mid 20th century, the walk of shame becomes quite crowded indeed.

Hitler supporters were even easier to find among the political and economic elite of the Western world.

Here's Tom Sykes
British high society had a ’30s love affair with Nazism and Hitler which was in many cases just as profound as that which the German people experienced at the same time.

When they looked at Hitler, many who had an affection for Germany liked what they saw. Intermarriage between British and German high society goes all the way to the top; the Royal Family themselves were called the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas until they changed their name to Windsor at the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

Germany seemed to be thriving under the man who had abolished democracy and declared himself dictator in 1933.

And although few could claim to have been unaware of the official German policy of anti-Semitism after the 1936 Olympics in which Jewish athletes were banned from the German team, many were prepared to turn a blind eye in the face of the country’s extraordinary economic and psychic revival from the crushed and humiliated shell of a nation state it had been for all of the 1920s.

By 1938, unemployment was virtually nil—it had been 30% when Hitler took power.

Many of the British upper classes—not, it must be said, universally famed for their racial tolerance at the best of times—were impressed.

We'll give the good people at College Humor the last word.

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