To the Editor:
Following World War I, Germany was hit with the burden of repaying the Allies for the cost of the war. On top of that, there was the Great Depression worldwide. When Hitler came into office, he played on the victimization of Germany, not only by the Allies, but also by the Jews.
For centuries the Jews were persecuted. A dynamic in that persecution was the fact that the Catholic Church forbade lending of money, but the Jews were not bound by that restriction. If was common for the wealthy and powerful, who were in too much debt to Jews, to find a reason to destroy their ghetto and synagogue. The debt disappeared with the Jews.
Germany, which had lost the war an its national pride, fell into blaming others for its plight. This ploy is as old as history. If a ruler wants to consolidate his power, he has to create an enemy outside his support group. What is different in modern history is that the powerful create laws to persecute or diminish the power of the “enemy.”
The Nuremburg Trials of German accused of war crimes were revealing that Hitler had, in a very sophisticated way for the time, used the media and passing of laws to demonize Jews. Looking back, it is hard to believe that a nation would tolerate the destruction of Jewish shopkeepers’ property or burn books in support of the Father Land or Arian pride. But we have done similarly.
Jim Crow laws were passed to exclude African-Americans from the political process. Gerrymandering of voting districts to eliminate or dilute the power of voters who you think would oppose your party. Now we use laws to justify arresting those coming across our borders, even if they are requesting asylum, and describing them as murderers and rapists.
Every authoritarian government in the 21st century uses these processes to consolidate power: Control the press, demonize some outside group and pass laws to consolidate power.
America’s vulnerability is the stagnation of wages following the financial meltdown, where many people feel it is hard to get ahead. Corporate America has done OK, but it isn’t OK in the rust belt, West Virginia coal fields and auto industry in Michigan.
The question now is whether America will continue on its path to destroy its own democracy and trade it in for an authoritarian government that is assuring security for those who are blindly repeating history, following the leader.