My father was 86 when he died almost thirty years ago. He was born in 1900, came of age in World War I, survived the Nazis and the Communists in Prague, came to New York with two suitcases and my mother (and me), and finally retired in southern California.
Just before he died, he became very disillusioned by the United States. He had written to the President, first as a former economist in Czechoslovakia between the wars, and then as Treasurer of an international travel agency, saying that the national debt was out of control and that the middle class was being squeezed — and that the corporations and the wealthy needed to pay their fair share.
He received a polite response thanking him for his input. This was just before 1986 and he said to me, sadly, that “This country is crying out for a dictator.”
My father knew what he was talking about. The German SS had thrown him out of a first floor window when he first applied for a visa to leave Prague, telling him “Jews don’t travel, Jews die.”
My mother, who survived Auschwitz and lived out the war welding German airplanes in a slave labor camp, told me of her father who had returned from a trip to Berlin and described what he had seen: “Something horrible is happening in Germany.” But it was too late. They were trapped.
The forces that shaped the Nazi success, first at the polls and later with ruthless internal terrorism, are very similar to today, and their propaganda machine was state of the art; you can watch the newsreels of the time and the documentaries of Leni Riefenstahl.
The Nazis extolled and aggrandized wealth, power and “will” – which meant subjugating others.
The attacks of 9-11 were the first time I felt a dread that my parents’ nightmare world might reappear in my own very privileged reality.
And now, in the current political climate, I am afraid I am seeing the public relations tactics of the Third Reich on American television, the “big lie” and vitriol against the “others” who are not like “us.”
But that is the easy comparison.
The more subtle aspect is that the true people responsible for this grab for power are the same corporations, many of them American, who first supported Hitler and his successors.
This was the gist of my father’s warning about dictatorship: that the corruption and greed of the upper class would become so pervasive and lead to such suffering by the general population that they would lose faith in their institutions, and welcome a savior who could “make the trains run on time.”
To restore order and the “old ways” at any price they would offer up their souls. Just to get things “back to normal.”
And of course, the elite would exploit this fear and rage, enrich themselves further through war and financial corruption, and leave the rest of the population with even less of “the pie.”
I constantly think of Orwell’s classic 1984, where the population has to focus on the video screen and see the enemy and have a period of hatred directed at the “others.” I remember in 1984 the mass media joked at how “off” Orwell had been. Oh really?
Has anyone watched cable news lately? This is precisely what we have. Packaged opinions that tell people who to hate, what to think and buy, and who to vote for.
The only truth teller on the current scene is of course Bernie Sanders, the “crazy Socialist.”
My father despised the Communists, perhaps even more than the Nazis, but his description of Czechoslovakia between the wars echoes the Sanders platform: free education and medical care for everyone and fair taxation across the board. Everyone worked, everyone earned, everyone prospered.
Was it Socialism? My father referred to Czechoslovakia as a socially conscious evolved democracy.
He believed that Western Civilization became threatened by gangster/corporations after the crown Prince Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was assassinated – Google it. It led to the Bolsheviks and eventually to European Fascism supported by companies like Ford and IBM.
At the time of this event – eerily similar in some ways to “Brexit” in terms of the climate of the times – my father was 14 years old. He gained a bit of perspective over the next 72 years.
So what do we do?
The most important immediate step is to defeat Donald Trump. Not because of his offensive language but because of the threat that his form of leadership poses to all of our freedoms.
I have no idea whom he represents – if anyone other than his own ego. It doesn’t matter; his methods are so transparently Fascist that they must be nipped in the bud.
But ultimately, we must turn our attention to the conditions that have made this possible, who is responsible, and what can be done.
The reality of economic inequity and the class rule of an economic and media elite has bred incredible resentment and hatred. Somehow all citizens must be afforded a reasonable standard of living if they are able to work, and the weakest among us cannot be bankrupted by illness or die for lack of care. That is human decency.
Consciousness needs to reconnect with the organic reality of this planet, not the abstract material values that are being foisted upon us.
Human values must replace shareholder value. A fair and democratic, socially conscious, evolved capitalist economic and political system must emerge that makes “winners” out of innovators, educators, and productive citizens.
The financial and insurance “industries” – and any business that does not directly create actual humanly measured value – needs to be disrupted. The technological power of the Internet will be the true arbiter of a free market, not manipulators, bullshit artists, and debt merchants.
Can the political establishment of this country adapt and evolve to clean its own house?
The jury is out. But let’s be clear. The Barbarians are at the gates.
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