Saturday, March 5, 2016
"He's/She's like, you know, HITLER!"
I've mentioned here from time to time that my father (1913-1999) was a Republican. He'd loved Eisenhower (and had actually met him one cold morning in France in a mess tent during WW II), and to the end of his days he would snipe about Democrats--though never viciously, just, well disdainfully. My mother, a Democrat, took it pretty well.
I've also mentioned that since his college days my dad's best friend was a Democrat. When political issues would come up, they would debate a little, smile, but stay pretty much inside the partisan hut each had created for himself. Live and let live. Perhaps you've noticed this: Not too many minds get changed about politics in anything but a cataclysmic way.
My father-in-law, for example. When I first met him (summer 1969), he was a firm Republican, but, later, he switched when the rubber company he'd worked for virtually his entire life tried to get rid of him just before his pension fully kicked in. (What a coincidence!) The URW (United Rubber Workers) went into action, saving all, and he sailed, fully funded, into the retirement he'd earned. It had been a cold awakening for my father-in-law: He'd believed that the company had genuinely had his interests at heart. (You can read about this in full in Joyce's wonderful book Gum-Dipped: A Daughter Remembers Rubber Town, 2003.) (Link to the book on Amazon.)
In recent years--in recent political debates--I've noticed how easily the Hitler Card comes out of the deck, how easily and quickly commentators and political opponents and social-media devotees plop it down on the table. Often it comes down to this: If I don't agree with your politics, well then, you're like Hitler.
During the campaigns of 2008 and 2012, I saw (online and in the news) people carrying posters showing Obama-as-Hitler. (I just Googled "Obama Hitler" and got 27,000,000 results!) Here's the sort of thing that pops up.
And now it's Trump's turn (just 23 million Hitler-Trump results so far).
It seems as if Hitler is the default image which we produce when we want to impugn a political opponent.
My dad and his friend never did that, by the way. Both of them had fought in World War II and had seen the devastation that Adolf Hitler had wreaked on an entire continent (on the world, really), the untold millions of human lives he had destroyed. My father was part of the U. S. Army unit that helped liberate Dachau, that foul concentration camp. Dad had seen some things, and I never heard him compare anyone with Hitler. For--in Dad's view--there simply was no one.
Of course, there are political views (and behaviors) we find troubling--those of us all along the political continuum. And these days we love demonizing folks who are too far on our left or right to please us. And of course we find worrisome the political plans (and behavior) of the candidates we don't like--or abhor. And to say that our media are polarized--and have contributed, greatly, to the polarization of the rest of us (and have made it their business to make us afraid of one another)--is almost too obvious to be worthy of mention.
But I hope--perhaps Pollyannaishly?--that no such monster can arise here. Can it?
Novelist and Nobel laureate Sinclair Lewis wasn't so sure. In 1935 (while Hitler was running wild in Europe) he published It Can't Happen Here, a novel (with an ironic title) about how fascism rises in America. And, I confess, some of the events Lewis imagined do sound eerily familiar these frightening days.
So we must be vigilant, of course, and not be fooled ... and not leap to compare with Hitler someone who is simply sitting on a political fence a bit distant from us.
Though I do wish our politicians would appeal to our better angels--don't you?--and not to the darkness in our souls. Such appeals might be less "newsworthy" in these dying days of competent journalism, but they would provide a bit of comfort to me in my dotage.