It’s The Zeitgeist Stupid
Though I’ve been writing about the underlying conditions giving rise to fascism in America since George W. Bush’s presidency, well before the “hope and change” president was elected, this encounter bears retelling.
About a year after 9.11, I met an old German fellow in the big park that’s the pride of this town. The regular users of the park, which runs along the creek from the college up into the canyon beyond town, agree it’s a lifeline in this small, complacent California city.
The octogenarian fellow retained his German accent, though he had lived in the States for many years and was a US citizen.
The conversation turned to the terrorist attacks on the United States about a year before, and the warmongering reaction even in so-called progressives. War was a fait accompli, though the US and Blair’s lapdog UK were more than a year away from invading Iraq.
So I had a bad feeling about where things were headed, both in America and the world. And as a student of history, it didn’t escape me that I was talking with a man who had lived through the most devastating war in the history of humanity, which his native country, under Hitler, had started.
After we had established a degree of honesty and trust, I asked, “How old were you in 1933?” That was the last year of the Weimar Republic, the year that marked the rise and takeover of Nazism in pre-war Germany.
“Sixteen,” he said, with a sharp look that indicated he still had his full faculties and wondered where I was headed.
“Do you remember the atmosphere, or to use a commonly used German word, the zeitgeist, well?”
“I certainly do,” he replied.
Then came my central question: Do you feel that the atmosphere in the United States now is like the zeitgeist in Germany in the early 1930’s, and if so could the same thing happen here?
An astute look on the old German fellow’s face indicated he immediately grasped my question.
“That’s exactly what I feel, and fear,” he replied.
As glad as I was to see an African American become president, I was sorely disappointed in Barack Obama’s lack of vision, misreading of the American people, and devotion to the status quo. Obama could have made a difference, but instead helped pave the way for Donald Trump.
Reading the polls now, Barack is advising President Biden to sharpen his attacks against Trump. That’s rich, since Biden would have beaten Trump in 2016 if President Obama had backed his Vice-President rather than another Clinton.
When asked why he governed so conventionally after he campaigned and won the presidency on the promise of radical change, Obama’s response is: “Campaigning is one thing and governing is another.”
For a man that wanted to follow in the footsteps of Lincoln, and was initially compared to him, that approach didn’t cut it then, and doesn’t cut it now.
Many wonder millions of the same people who voted for Obama turned around and voted for Trump. But Obama Republicans were so angry at being fooled and let down that they lost all faith in the American system, and elected a man embodying their anger and revolt.
In refusing to hold Bush and Cheney accountable for their crimes abroad, America rendered itself incapable of holding Trump accountable for his crimes at home. Though they deny any part in America’s precipitous decline, Democrats are complicit in the rise of Trumpist fascism.
All this would be ancient history, except we’re stuck in the rut that Bush-Cheney burrowed the body politic into, a rut that has become so deep that its walls are now threatening to collapse in on us.
Can the calamity of a second Trump presidency – for the United States and the world – be prevented? The moronic malevolence is boasting about how he’ll be a dictator “on day one,” and that he’ll issue orders for the USA, which has become the world’s biggest oil and gas producer, to “drill, drill, drill.”
Forget about 1.5C; Trump’s demented promise means the planet will shoot past the catastrophic 2C threshold.
(As James Hansen, considered by his peers to be the leading climate scientist in the world, said recently, “We are not moving into a 1.5C world, we are briefly passing through it in 2024.” Another climate scientist, Drew Shindell, put it bluntly: “We have to change course immediately or we’ll lose our ability to keep below 2C the same way the 1.5C goal has now become out of reach.”)
The threat another Trump Administration poses to the planet is drowned out by American media’s obsession with preserving what has passed for democracy in the United States.
The foreseeable future of humankind rides on an election in America in November, and the rest of the world doesn’t get a vote. What needs to happen to end this malignancy, and send the malicious bastard to the hell he serves and deserves?
Two things. The first is a sufficient minority of Americans facing the truth that the American people aren’t just “polarized;” we are no longer intact as a people. In short, “the people” are inwardly dead. That goes for Democrats as well as Republicans, Buddhists as well as Christians.
That’s the underlying reason why the same pattern that surprised nearly everyone in 2016 is being repeated this year, and why many African Americans and other people of color, young voters, and Muslims are turning toward Trump.
Even so, there’s a latent urge, across the cultural and political divides, for restoration, healing and reunification as a people. But the diagnosis of necrosis has to be acknowledged before regeneration can be the prognosis.
Biden’s repeated assertions of American exceptionalism (“We are the United States of America for God sakes”) can only make matters worse. For it too represents a corrosive and destructive denial.
It’s futile and foolish to “fight for the soul of the country” when it was lost decades ago. Darkness and deadness have to be faced before a psyche can be restored.
Can enough people in America confront the ascendance of evil without psychologizing or theologizing it, and stand against its takeover without trite and tired calls for “resistance?”
I don’t know, but it means first looking within ourselves, rather than indulging in the self-satisfying externalizations and escapes of activism, however passionately felt.
For as the old German fellow indicated, all the institutions of society, as well as the vast majority of its citizens, become complicit in one way or another as the “banality of evil” is normalized.
America threatens to become the engine of authoritarianism starting to steamroll around the world. Everyone will be swept up in its hellishness if fascism fully manifests again, in the United States of America for God sakes.