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Posts Tagged ‘Hitler’

For those not yet convinced of the danger Trump presents to American democracy, here are words written by Eberhard Bethge about the beginning of Hitler’s tyranny in 1933:

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The day before the Reichstag fire, it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s turn to preach. Taking as its text ‘The people with you are too many for  me’ (Judges 7:2), his sermon on Gideon remained imprinted on the minds of his students:

    Do not desire to be strong, powerful, glorious and respected, but let God alone be your strength, your fame and your honor . . . . Gideon, who achieved faith in fear and doubt, kneels with us here before the altar of the one and only God, and Gideon prays with us: ‘Our Lord on the cross, be thou our one and only Lord.  Amen.’

    “Out of this controlled chaos, within a short time Hitler had changed the legislature into a tool of his will. In the wave of enthusiasm for the new national era, the German people submitted to one decree after another, one law after another, in the illusion that they were experiencing a new freedom. In fact, they were being deprived of numerous rights.
    On the night of 27 February [1933], behind an impenetrable police cordon, the Reichstag was burned to the ground. The following morning Hitler declared his most ominous emergency decree, the ‘Reich President’s Edict for the Protection of People and State.’ To remain in force ‘until further notice,’ the edict remained in effect until 8 May 1945. It abolished virtually all personal rights protected by the constitution. It made the concentration camps possible. In the 5 march election, the majority of Germans accepted de facto the terms of paragraph 1 of the edict of 28 February 1933:

    Therefore restriction of personal freedom, of the right of free speech, including the freedom of the press, of the right of association and of public assembly, intervention in the privacy of post, telegraph and telephone, authorization of house searches and the confiscation and restriction of property, beyond the hitherto legal limits, will henceforward be admissible.

    This gave Hitler the supreme powers he desired. All that remained to be seen was whether he would have the necessary basis to implement them or would fail to exploit them.

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Here in the US, we are as stunned as were the British in the days after the Brexit vote. The election of trump just did not seem possible. His flaws seemed too obvious and his qualifications to be non-existent. Unfortunately, his main opponent, Hillary Clinton, was simply not liked by very many people so, rather than cast a vote for an unpopular candidate, too many people stayed home.

Clinton got more votes than did trump but his were more strategically placed, so he won what we call the Electoral College. (It is an antiquated system that made sense 200 years ago but now, in a age of extremely rapid transportation and communication, just seems bizarre.)

Hitler became Chancellor of Germany not by election but by appointment by President Hindenburg. Bonhoeffer and a few others saw from the beginning how evil he was but in the eyes of most people he was merely unlikable, like trump. When Hindenburg died a year later, Hitler declared himself both Chancellor and President. He then called for an election in which he suppressed opposition and won the vote.

In the meantime, however, he had shown two things about himself. One was that, just as Bonhoeffer had seen, he was a cruel tyrant, bitterly vindictive and strongly xenophobic. The other was that, just as he had promised,he created jobs, greatly reduced crime, and raised the morale of the German people.

Or, to be more precise, he raised the morale of those who did not see that he created jobs by starting a major military buildup and re3duced crime by ruthlessly punishing anyone even suspected of a crime. As we have sometimes seen in this country, when the government fights for law and order but not justice, the result is cruelty.

So, as America moves into a period when we are led by someone who is much like Hitler was in the beginning, I would ask all of you — including and maybe especially those of you in other countries — to pray for us. Would you please?

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“The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.  As soon as you sacrifice this slogan and try to be many-sided, the effect will piddle away, for the crowd can neither digest nor retain the material offered. In this way the result is weakened and in the end entirely cancelled out.”  (Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1, chap 6, sect 4)

These are the words of Hitler in 1924. In 1942 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was writing about the lessons learned after ten years of resisting Hitler. He wrote that it is impossible to deal with stupidity, the willful stupidity of a people who have surrendered to a tyrant who rules by intimidation, hatred . . .and slogans.

We know that the proto-tyrant of 1924 became the real tyrant of 1942, with the year 1933 being the pivotal year. That was the year that Hitler became Chancellor and thus began to have the power to enact the ideas he had written nine years earlier.

A people, such as the millions of trump supporters, who willfully surrender their minds and hearts to a tyrant become stupid. Sometimes that stupidity is dangerous and damaging. In Germany it led to a terrible war and a Holocaust whose immeasurable cruelty we still can’t quite grasp.

The danger right now for America is that, for the sake of his own ego, trump may be unleashing the forces that return us to the unfinished Civil War. Hitler was deliberate. trump, I believe, has simply been made stupid by his own thoughtless self-manipulations. It is as if, feeding solely off the noise of the crowds, he is simply mesmerized. His is not a studied evil, as was Hitler’s, but it is extremely dangerous nonetheless because he is unleashing the dark side of an America he can’t begin to understand.

The obvious problem, of course, is that those forces are now unleashed and will bear some sort of awful fruit whether or not trump wins the election. America is in a lose-lose situation. The Republicans, especially once they were goaded on by the Tea Party, paved the way by their recalcitrant opposition to Obama. Even they are shocked by what they have created.

The problem in the Republican Party goes back at least as far as Reagan. He, like Hitler, lived and worked on the basis of a small handful of slogans and cliches. His “trickle-down” economics, so favored by the economists who bought the thinking of Milton Friedman, turned out just as one should have expected: The rich got richer, the middle class experienced a temporary boom, which the wealthy quickly squeezed and strangled because they were now empowered to gain unlimited wealth.

Even as they preyed upon and nearly destroyed the middle class, the wealthy continued to increase their wealth and did so at an ever-increasing pace. It ought to frighten us that the wealth of the 1% grew even faster during the economic meltdown of 2007-08. If we do not act soon to curb the growing income equality gap, the damage may escalate drastically.

Thanks for favoring greed, you dear Republicans.

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It is 1942. Bonhoeffer is writing to a couple of close friends, musing on lessons learned after ten years of resistance to Hitler and the Nazis. His paragraph on “Trust” is  very personal.

“Few have been spared the experience of being betrayed. The figure of Judas, once so incomprehensible, is hardly strange to us. The air in which we live is so poisoned that we almost die from it. But where we broke through the layer of mistrust, we were allowed to experience a trust hitherto utterly undreamed of. There, where we trust, we have learned to place our lives in the hands of others; contrary to all the ambiguities in which our acts and lives must exist, we have learned to trust without reserve. We now know that one can truly live and work only in such trust, which is always a venture but one gladly affirmed. We know that to sow and to nourish mistrust is one of the most reprehensible things and that, instead, trust is to be strengthened and advanced wherever possible.
“For us trust will be one of the greatest, rarest, and most cheering gifts bestowed by the life we humans live in common, and yet it always emerges only against the dark background of a necessary mistrust. We have learned to commit our lives on no account into the hands of the mean but without reserve into the hands of the trustworthy.”

It is hard for me to read that sowing mistrust is reprehensible without thinking of donald trump. He rejects personal accountability at every level, yet dares to expect us to entrust our nation to him. He is truly reprehensible.

 

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In “After Ten Years,” the small set of brief essays written by Bonhoeffer in 1942 as he reflected back on a decade of resisting Hitler, one of the most important passages is entitled “On Stupidity.” It’s point is simple: When fighting against evil, the most difficult opponents are the stupid ones. They may have normal or even high IQs but for one reason or another they have chosen stupidity in the face of evil. Often they have committed themselves to a person or cause, probably for the wrong reasons, and then choose to be senseless rather than to change. Their problem is not in their head but in their heart and must be addressed at that level, if at all.

Try to read the opening paragraph of the mini-essay without thinking of donald trump’s followers:

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed – in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.


This paragraph is taken from Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in English, vol. 8.

 

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In the essay called After Ten Years, in which he reflects on lessons learned in their decade of resisting Hitler, Bonhoeffer includes a section called “On Success.” He is thinking of the fact that Hitler had rid the country of crime (except his own atrocious crimes), restored the economy and restored military strength to Germany. He had even fulfilled his promise to return Germany to a habit of winning.

Hitler was, by his own standards, a success. And success, argued Bonhoeffer, is not “ethically morally neutral.” That is, while success may be morally neutral in the short term, in the long term it actually changes what people think is morally acceptable.

That certainly was the case in Germany. People got so used to Hitler’s brutal ways of doing things that they willingly surrendered their own sense of responsibility and simply participated with a clean conscience in the most inhumane cruelties. They simply – and quickly – got used to evil.

In much the same way, we can already see in America that supporters of Donald Trump are so accustomed to his outrageous lies, irresponsible accusations, and utter nonsense, that they cheer him for his trumpiness, as if being Trump were a self-determining good in and of itself.

It happened in Germany and it is happening here. Scary!

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Paul Ryan said yesterday that it is his duty to support his party’s candidate for president. Does he forget that he is third in line for the office himself? However much the politicians may have twisted things in Washington, the fact remains that the position of Speaker of the House is first and foremost a national, not a political office. If something awful had happened in Philadelphia last night and we lost both Obama and Biden, Paul Ryan would be president this very minute.

He had better expand his sense of responsibility beyond his political party. He is bright enough to recognize that trump is the enemy of democracy and owes it to America to stop him. It is not enough to think that he could influence trump after the election. That’s what they thought about Hitler, too. People who are completely narcissistic cannot be influenced. And that makes them very dangerous when they get any sort of power.

Ryan, at best, is forgetting his real responsibility. At worst, he is betraying the American people.

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