by Arlen Grossman
(revised and expanded April 17, 2019)
“If you aren’t outraged, then you just aren’t paying attention.”
― Lisa Borden
I regularly check on President Trump’s approval rating, waiting to see it go down, but I’m wasting my time– it never does. The country is burdened with an incompetent, angry, narcissistic leader, and no matter what crazy or cruel thing he says or does, there are many Americans who think he is doing just fine. His approval ratings never seem to fall below the low-40s. In other words, a single-digit bounce and the majority of the voters might be inclined to re-elect our current president!
To understand this phenomenon, it helps to examine some historical perspective. Many of us have wondered how a modern, civilized European country like Germany could fall under the spell of a hateful, murderous leader like Adolf Hitler, who launched World War II and the Holocaust, resulting in the torture and death of tens of millions? And how could Italy tolerate their fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini? I have often wondered how it was possible, but now I’m starting to understand.
German fascism developed for a number of reasons, among them economic turmoil, political instability, profound social change, and of course, a charismatic, evil, strong-willed leader. Toss in the tolerance and promotion of hate, and a large dose of patriotic, militaristic nationalism and the result is the Nazi Party.
The story was only slightly different in Italy, the first fascist country, led by the strong-armed despot Mussolini, with his jutting out jaw (does that sound familiar?). Their rigid ideas appealed to the political right, and like their German allies, Italy’s fascists were anti-abortion, anti-socialist, strongly corporatist, and believed in the rule of elites. They also valued strong nationalism and a powerful authoritarian leader.
Do the same ideas and conditions once found in Italy and Germany exist in America today? Let’s start with our economy. Everyone can see that the wealthiest Americans have benefitted the most, while the Federal Reserve reports that four in 10 American adults say they don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense, and nearly 80 percent of workers say they’re living paycheck to paycheck. In addition, the aforementioned political instability and profound social change here is palpable.
Compare pre-WWII Italy and Germany with modern day America and note today’s volatile conditions. Ask yourself: do we have a society in which fascism could develop and grow? Does the George Santayana quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” apply here?
It may be that today’s United States of America is quite a bit different than the emerging fascist/Nazi nations of the early 1930s. But I am haunted by the similarities. And if you are paying attention, you should be, too.