It's Christmas week - Adolf Hitler's favorite season after he declared an official merger of church and state - and, ironically, conservatives are using the occasion to mount a new and bizarre attack.
They said liberals are out to destroy Christmas. Cobbling together a few anecdotes (unsupportable attacks are always anecdote-based), they managed to imply a vast anti-Christian conspiracy bubbling just under the belly of America, and pushed that frightening implication into the minds of millions of Americans just in time for the holiday season.
Conservatives must constantly attack others (and focus on "morality") to keep hidden their own true agenda, which is no less than a return to the world of Scrooge & Marley, Inc. They're working to bring about a return to Robber Baron feudalism, with a stable, rich, and powerful ruling class, and an impoverished, frightened, and politically impotent working class.
But for conservatives to keep the loyalty of the working-class victims of their policies (which are shipping American jobs overseas, while fighting unions and minimum-wage increases here), they must convince people that there is a "them" out there - liberals in this case - who are out to destroy America's moral fiber and are thus responsible for working-class misery.
This is an old trick, and one the cons know is very difficult to counter. Consider what happened when German militarism in WWI led, through the punishing Treaty of Versailles and then later the Great Depression, to the collapse of the German economy in the 1920s and early 1930s. Hitler couldn't blame the militarists and corporatist conservatives who had led his nation into WWI and mismanaged the economy afterwards, so he pointed to the Jews as the "them" responsible for the problems in German society.
The www.zenpickle.com website (disclosure: Zenpickle is owned by Joe McPherson, a former producer of my radio program) features a spoof book supposedly by Ann Coulter, titled "Mein Kampf, Second Edition." To create "Ann's" book, Joe clipped pieces out of Hitler's original and adroitly made a (very) few replacements, such as changing "Jews" and "Germany" into "Liberals" and "America." Thus, we find on his site:
Chapter 10: Why American Society Collapsed
It must be admitted that all this was partly the result of extraordinary crafty tactics on the part of Liberals on the one hand, and obvious official stupidity or na´vetÚ on the other hand. The Liberals were too clever to allow a simultaneous attack to be made on the whole of their Press. No one section functioned as cover for the other. ...the national papers, also in Liberal hands, knew how to camouflage themselves as model examples of objectivity. They studiously avoided harsh language, knowing well that blockheads are capable of judging only by external appearances and never able to penetrate to the real depth and meaning of anything. ... This form of human frailty was carefully studied and understood by the Liberal Press..
Certainly in days to come the Liberals will raise a tremendous cry throughout their newspapers once a hand is laid on their favorite nest, once a move is made to put an end to this scandalous Liberal Press and once this instrument which shapes public opinion is brought under Conservative control and no longer left in the hands of Liberals and enemies of the people. I am certain that this will be easier for us than it was for our fathers. The scream of the twelve-inch shrapnel is more penetrating than the hiss from a thousand Liberal newspaper vipers. Therefore let them go on with their hissing..
By means of the Liberal Press, the Liberals spread the colossal falsehood about 'American Militarism' throughout the world and tried to inculpate America by every possible means, while at the same time the Democratic Party refused to assent to the measures that were necessary for the adequate training of our national defense forces. .
What soon gave me cause for very serious consideration were the activities of the Liberals in certain branches of life, into the mystery of which I penetrated little by little. Was there any shady undertaking, any form of foulness, especially in cultural life, in which at least one Liberal did not participate? On putting the probing knife carefully to that kind of abscess one immediately discovered, like a maggot in a putrescent body, a little Liberal who was often blinded by the sudden light.
In my eyes the charge against Liberalism became a grave one the moment I discovered the Liberal activities in the Press, in art, in literature and the theatre. All unctuous protests were now more or less futile. ... Here was a pestilence, a moral pestilence, with which the public was being infected..
I was happy at last to know for certain that a Liberal is not an American.
Perhaps Joe went to unnecessary effort in converting "Jews" to "Liberals" in Hitler's screed, since apparently it's again fashionable to be publicly anti-Semitic in America. Last week William Donahue, president of the Catholic League, told the nation on MSNBC, "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, OK? And I'm not afraid to say it."
As you can see, the formula is simple. Identify real problems within a society, such as crime, poverty, and unemployment. Invent a conspiracy responsible for these problems, say it is led by a specific group, and hyperinflate a few anecdotes to make the conspiracy seem vast and powerful. Say they are trying to destroy the nation by weakening its defenses and corrupting its morals, thus causing the economic pains felt by the average person. Rally the people behind you in self-defense to restore military strength, moral clarity, and empower great wealth and corporations to "create jobs again."
As Leo Strauss - the mentor of the Neoconservatives currently controlling much of Washington, DC - pointed out, it's not even necessary that the so-called enemies of the nation really be enemies. The myth of national Victimhood, when wrapped in the language of morality, will elevate a politician to power just as surely as will true national victimhood.
It was the formula Hitler used, and it still works today. It is, in fact, the most consistently reliable way for demagogues to gain power. It works because it's gradual but relentless, and progressively absorbs - and then intimidates or co-opts - both government and the media.
For example, Milton Mayer, an American Jew and writer who extensively interviewed German Jews who survived Hitler's era in his book They Thought They Were Free, noted that:
What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if he people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security....
As a friend of Mayer's noted, and Mayer recorded in his book:
This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter. ...
To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it - please try to believe me - unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, "regretted," that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these "little measures" that no "patriotic German" could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.
In this conversation, Mayer's friend suggests that he wasn't making an excuse for not resisting the rise of the fascists, but simply pointing out an undisputable reality. This, he suggests, is how fascism will always take over a nation.
"Pastor Niemoller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing: and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something - but then it was too late."
"Yes," I said.
"You see," my colleague went on, "one doesn't see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don't want to 'go out of your way to make trouble.' Why not? - Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.
"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, everyone is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there will be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, 'It's not so bad' or 'You're seeing things' or 'You're an alarmist.'
"And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can't prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don't know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. ...
"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That's the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and the smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked - if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in '43 had come immediately after the 'German Firm' stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in '33. But of course this isn't the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.
"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying 'Jew swine,' collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in - your nation, your people - is not the world you were in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God." ...
Mayer's friend pointed out the terrible challenge faced then by average Germans, and today by peoples across the world, as governments are taken over by authoritarian, corporatist - fascist - regimes.
"How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men?" Mayer's friend asked rhetorically. And, without the benefit of a previous and recent and well-remembered fascistic regime to refer to, he had to candidly answer: "Frankly, I do not know."
This was the great problem that Mayer and so many in his day faced.
As Mayer's friend noted, "I do not see, even now [how we could have stopped it]. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice - 'Resist the beginnings' and 'consider the end.' But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men?"
And here we are.
Sinclair Broadcast Group runs right-wing editorials on its stations over public airways with no pretense of balance.
Former MSNBC producer Jeff Cohen tells me that he was ordered to always have at least two conservatives on the Donahue show whenever one liberal appeared, "and three conservatives to Michael Moore." Apparently the Moore Rule at MSNBC now also extends to Amy Goodman - a few days after Cohen said this on my radio program, I watched MSNBC's Chris Matthews position Goodman against three conservatives, and then dismiss her before the show ended so the remaining three could make their final points.
Hundreds of hours a day of right-wing programming pour out of radio stations nationwide, and conservative extremists are the most common "guests" and "experts" on network news and weekend political TV shows.
The 2004 election may have been stolen with massive nationwide fraud - the statistics in New Mexico, Ohio, and Florida are truly startling - and Alliance for Democracy lawyer Cliff Arnebeck has filed a lawsuit against Bush, Cheney, Rove, et al, suggesting that Kerry actually won Ohio. The story was only covered in any depth by C-SPAN.
The possibility that the election of 2002 was also stolen - particularly in Georgia, where Max Cleland losing his seat to Saxby Chambliss gave Republicans control of the Senate - has never been seriously investigated.
And when a consortium of news organizations recounted the Florida 2000 vote and it was found that Al Gore actually won the entire state - and thus the presidency - no matter what standard was used to count the ballots, the corporate news organizations of America buried the story (although the New York Times and Washington Post at least did report it on 09/12/01).
Our Attorney General-designate calls the Geneva Conventions "quaint"; our Secretary of Defense stands accused of ordering torture; our President and Vice President knowingly lie to us and the world in order to lead an election-year preemptive war; and Congress passes national security bills without reading them - eerily like the German Parliament passed the Enabling Acts after the Reichstag was burned.
So how to counter it?
The experience of 20th century Europe demonstrates that those abusing power must be confronted with equally vigorous power.
In the 1930s, Germans who believed in republican democracy were overwhelmed before they realized how completely their civil liberties and national institutions had been seized.
We must not allow it to happen in our nation.
And, fortunately, there are now groups and people working hard to push back against the growing forces of corporatism - fascism - here in the United States. They range from web-based news sites, to progressive magazines and newspapers, to liberal talk radio programs, to groups outing media bias and holding both corporations and government accountable.
But if American democracy is to survive, we must all participate.
Whether it's standing in a vigil like the Ukrainians did, joining a political party, sending money to your favorite reader-supported websites and groups, or forwarding articles to friends and speaking out in our homes and workplaces, we all must all "consider the end" and "resist the beginnings." And we must do so now, today.
In this holiday season, can we give this gift of democracy to our children and our world?
Please say yes.
Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com) is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection," "We The People," "The Edison Gene", and "What Would Jefferson Do?."