Read Some History and Call Me in the Morning

The party out of power tends to run on the idea that things are terrible. The party in power tends to run on the idea that things are fine and only going to get better.

These statements make sense. “Vote for me because I want the job” and “Vote for me because I want to keep the job” are not compelling campaign slogans.

We’re at a strange place in history right now. The party that controls both houses of Congress is making the case that things are falling apart and about to get worse, despite the fact that they wield quite a bit of power.  The party that controls the White House insists we are heading in the right direction, while their candidate promises fundamental changes in direction in areas like trade.

The Democrats have got a decent case. Without writing the 2,976,912th blog post about what a terrible human being Trump is, and how he is a uniquely unqualified candidate for anything other than Assistant to the Village Idiot.

But does Trump represent the end of society? The School of Life doesn’t think so.

When I heard this line, I backed up the video and listened again:

It makes no sense, and is a form of twisted narcissism, to imagine that our era has any kind of monopoly on idiocy and disaster.

This statement provides a huge helping of perspective.

Trump’s rhetoric sounds like that of past dictators, and I’ve written a lot about how our times bear a resemblance to the doomed Weimar Republic.

But we’re not there yet. Trump is a demagogue that has taken advantage of a fractured party’s feckless leadership. He’s trailing badly in the polls, and there’s a compelling case for him only doing as well as he is because he opposes by a very unpopular candidate who has done a good job of sabotaging herself.

Does this mean everything is fine? Do we have nothing to worry about? Of course not. But it’s not time to despair. It’s time to take action.

Voter Intimidation Then and Now

Voter intimidation via a sign showing the polls are closed.According to Donald Trump, if he loses the Presidential election it will be because of a rigged election.

The New York Times has called these statements hedging. Most credible polls show Clinton with leads that indicate a shellacking in November. Claiming that the fix is in seems like a very Trumpian thing to do.

On the other hand, this looks like the beginnings of something much darker: voter intimidation.  Consider what Trump said in Pennsylvania.

“We’re hiring a lot of people. … We’re going to watch Pennsylvania, go down to certain areas and watch and study, and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times,”

Trump has expanded on this rhetoric. In classic Trump fashion, five times has become fifteen times.  He’s also asking for volunteers to sign up online to become “election observers.” If supporters of one candidate parked at polling places to “make sure no one cheats” isn’t voter intimidation, what is?

The United States has a history of voter suppression and intimidation, and one of the drivers for Trump’s message seems to be recent rulings against some states’ efforts to deny voting rights to the poor and minorities.

But yet again, Trump’s ideas bear a resemblance to the Third Reich too.

Hitler became Chancellor in January of 1933, not by winning an election, but by appointment. In March, Germany held its last contested election until after the war, and the NSDAP (Nazis) seized power with legislation that effectively gave Hitler full dictatorial power.

In November 1932 the NSDAP drew 33% of the vote, a drop from 37% from elections held five months earlier. While the NSDAP were gaining the highest percentages, they faced significant resistance from the other parties and the turmoil repeatedly lead to the dissolution of parliament, and new elections.

Despite reducing the number of seats the NSDAP held in the new government, the November election resulted in them seizing power. After a great dealing of political maneuvering, Hitler was finally able, with explicit consent (acquiesence?)  from Reich President Hindenburg, to take over as chancellor.

This appointment immediately led to widespread violence and intimidation by the NSDAP, even before Hitler called for a new election. Voter suppression was violent and rampant during the new election in March 1933. The Nazis faired much better in the March election but still failed to gain a majority. But as we know, this didn’t slow them down for long.

The NSDAP had a paramilitary arm, the Sturmabteilung (SA, the “brown shirts”) in the 1920s, well before they took power. The infamous Schutzstaffel (SS) was originally a part of the SA before it established itself as a separate organization. Both the SA and SS were instrumental in the violence surrounding the elections in 1933.

Trump lacks such an organization, and it’s doubtful he’ll ever have one. He isn’t willing to put in the effort to build a presidential campaign, let alone a movement like the NSDAP. Throwing a sign-up form and stirring the voter intimidation pot seems to be the limits of his capabilities.

But remember the anti-government militants that occupied Malheur Refuge? Ruby Ridge? Oklahoma City? The change offered by Trump’s candidacy, not to mention his racism, has attracted armed militants and white supremacists.

There was at least one situation where Trump retweeted a status from white supremacists. He famously pretended not to know who David Duke was, and then there was the Jewish Star controversy.

Does it seem reasonable that these groups might answer Trump’s call to “monitor” voting? Will just the possibility that they might keep some voters home?

What’s important here is not just whether or not Trump succeeds, but who he attracts and what they do after the election.

It looks more and more like Trump will lose in November. But will that be the end of the violence and hatred he is stirring up? Not by a long shot.

Image Credit: Democracy Chronicles. CC License.

Stabs In the Back and Big Lies

Stab-in-the-back PostcardBy the end of September 1918, the Germans were beaten.  Earlier that year Chief-of-Staff Erich Ludendorff commanded the “Kaiserschlacht”  offensive that briefly seemed to turn the tide, but the Germans lacked the resources to support the effort. Ludendorff himself told the Kaiser and Germany’s Chancellor to ask for a ceasefire on September 29th.

But the myth that Germany’s civilian leaders betrayed their military started to spread before the Treaty of Versailles was completed.  It said that the army had won but was forced to surrender by Jews, or Bolsheviks, or Socialists. This story later became known as the Dolchstoßlegende, the “stab-in-the-back myth,” after Ludendorff said that the civilian government in Germany “stabbed him in the back”. Despite the fact that he had admitted defeat, and later recommended accepting the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles.

This myth is no small thing. It’s not “spiders eggs in Bubble-Yum” or “Paul is dead”. Even “FDR knew Pearl Harbor was coming” is trivial compared to this one. It was a central belief of the Nazi Party, and I’m sure you noticed the part about Jews being behind it. Ludendorff himself, who obviously knew it was false, went on to support Hitler.

The myth is strong enough that still around today. I’m not going to link to the sites, but a search yields a few “truther” sites that blame it for just about everything bad that’s happened since 1918. Which of course means that, you guessed it, the Jews are responsible. Think about it: if you believe this myth you can draw a straight line from the end of World War I to 9/11. Or, if you believe 9/11 was a conspiracy than this myth is a no-brainer. (Literally.) I’m sure there are more than a few people that hang out at Trump rallies that are very familiar with the Dolchstoßlegende.

There is, of course, absolutely no historical basis for it. I’m not going to bother debunking it any further. It’s just bullshit.

The stab-in-the-back myth is hardly the first big lie, and it’s certainly not the last. Today we have Muslims celebrating 9/11 in Jersey City, Benghazi, Obama the Muslim, and the murder of Vince Foster, to just name a few. There’s even a modern variation of the stab-in-the-back myth for Vietnam.

My book deals directly with the stab-in-the-back myth. The antagonists are right wingers that will eventually become prominent members of the Nazi Party. They believe the myth, or at least contribute heavily to spreading it. Even though I based the characters on real people, I’ve struggled a bit with bringing them to life. It’s tough to write someone who believes these things without making them seem like a cartoon character.

But today’s current events remind me that sometimes cartoon characters come to life. I can usually pick up some inspiration by checking the day’s current events.

Sigh.

Hate, Bigotry, and Writing About It

As of right now my book opens with a young boy harassing another because he is Jewish.

I’m writing about a time in Germany where Antisemitism was not yet the law of the land, but was still widespread. The story is set in a place where it is historically documented to be very deeply felt, and almost undoubtedly on public display. I’ll need to portray several characters that display varying degrees of bigotry and hate, and they’ll need to be more than just cardboard and slogans.

But even as I write the book, I wonder: since it will be labeled fiction, will I be criticized for this? I don’t really care: there’s a story to tell, and bigoted and hateful people played a tremendous part in it. That’s a fact, and telling the whole story (or even an approximation) means portraying those people.

The battle over “political correctness” and the right to never be offended is marked by two very extreme sides. On one side we have Trump and his ilk who proudly parade their bigotry and wear any criticism as a badge of courage and validation. On the other we have those who want to decorate the world with rounded edges and padded walls to protect everyone from contrary opinions and “microaggressions.”

This video covers my opinion rather well.

Research on Liedolsheim

Greetings from LiedolsheimMy grandfather’s story starts in his home town, Liedolsheim, moves to France for World War I, and then returns to Liedolsheim until he is forced to leave before members of the NSDAP (Nazis) try to kill him. Again.

So of course, writing about this involves a lot of research about Liedolsheim. Liedolsheim has always been present: pictures of the Village Church were always visible in my grandparent’s home, and I heard the name many times in my childhood. I visited there a few times in the 80’s when I was in Germany too.

But writing about it, and especially writing what I want to be more historical fiction than just fiction, is a different story. Especially when the story starts in 1914 and ends in 1928.

There’s a lot of information easily available about this period in Germany. The transition from the German Empire before the war, to what was effectively a military dictatorship by the end of the war, to the doomed Weimar Republic, has been studied quite thoroughly, and the information is readily available.

Liedolsheim has a Wikipedia page under it’s new name, Dettenheim. (The German version is better.) the Wikipedia even contains some information about the period I want to write about. And of course the village is still there. Visiting again will help me a lot.

But how do you learn what it was like to live in a small village 30 kilometers from “the city” before cars and trucks were common? Before even radio was readily available? This has been my challenge the last few weeks. I should have started this project 30 years ago…but too late for that now.

Fortunately I have family still there, and the process of reaching out has begun. But there’s still that but that’s hard to quantify: thinking like a man born and raised at the turn of the last century.

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