Transcript: The Origins of Totalitarianism and the Trump Administration - 26 January '17

Thom Hartmann excerpts both Milton Mayer's "They Thought They Were Free" and Hannah Arendt's "The Origins of Totalitarianism" and lays out the warning signs we all need to look out for under the current administration.

Well, they're trying with logic, right? Donald Trump says there's 3 to 5 million illegal voters, I get a note here from a friend in New Mexico, he says in New Mexico we face the same fraudulent voter claims that Donald Trump is making about illegal voting by illegals, our Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran claims that her office had analyzed voting records and found 117 illegals were registered, of whom at least 37 had voted. The claim was covered by Fox News, of course.

ACLU sued Secretary Duran to see the list of illegal voters, couldn't provide the list, ultimately her office conceded that the list didn't even exist. They were unable to prove that even one single illegal immigrant had voted.

In the meantime her office turned over 64,000 names to the New Mexico State Police to investigate voter fraud by illegal immigrants. The state police found no evidence to support the claim.

In summary, the US has experienced bogus claims of immigrant voter fraud. That's it.

So, here we have people trying to respond to Trump's lies with logic. I want to speak to this and I want to speak to the direction this country is going and how this is an old story. We have seen this story before.

Hannah Arendt wrote this book called The Origins of Totalitarianism. We did a book review of it this morning, you can find it on Youtube, where I read from one of her chapters.

Yesterday Elliott Lusztig (@ezlusztig *) put out an amazing tweet storm. He said:

"1. Hannah Arendt in her book The Origin of Totalitarianism provides a helpful guide for interpreting the language of fascists.

2. She noted how decent liberals of 1930s Germany would "fact check" the Nazis' bizarre claims about Jews like they were meant to be factual.

3. What they failed to understand, Arendt suggests, is that the Nazi Jew hating was not a statement of fact but a declaration of intent.

4. So when someone would blame the Jews for Germany's defeat in WW1, naïve people would counter by saying there's no evidence of that.

5. What the Nazis were doing was not describing what was true, but what would have to be true to justify what they planned to do next."

And then he comes to this moment. He says...

"6. Did 3 million "illegals" cast votes in this election? Clearly not. But fact checking is just a way of playing along with their game.

7. What Trump is saying is not that 3m illegals voted. What he's saying is: I'm going to steal the voting rights of millions of Americans."

Which is essentially what I've been saying for several days since this thing floated up. Which brings us to Milton Mayer.

Milton Mayer wrote this amazing book back in the 1950s and I'm not even sure it's still in print but I'm sure you can find used copies if it's not in print. It's called They Thought They Were Free and it's the story the Germans from 1933 to 1945. Milton Mayer was a reporter for the Chicago newspaper, I forget what it was called, back in the forties. I think it might have been the Chicago Sun. But in any case he was a Chicago reporter. He was Jewish. He had lived through World War Two in the United States and his assignment and his curiosity - I mean he sought out this assignment - was to go to Germany after the war and find ten "average Germans", people who were not the military, who were not gung-ho Nazis, who were not anti Nazis. Just average people who just lived their life through the war, who just tried to make it through - and ask them what was it like and how could you have possibly gone along with this?

And Mayer writes, and by the way, I've shared this with you a number of times but I think it's really worth revisiting right now. Mayer writes, "I liked them", as he met these 10 people. He says:

"I liked them. I couldn't help it. Again and again, as I sat or walked with one or another of my ten [Nazi] friends, I was overcome by the same sensation that had got in the way of my newspaper reporting in Chicago years before [in the 1930s]. I liked Al Capone. I liked the way he treated his mother. He treated her better than I treated mine."

And then he goes on to talk about how Nazism could happen. He said:

"Now I see a little better how Nazism overcame Germany - not by attack from without or by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler. It was what most Germans wanted - or, under pressure of combined reality and illusion, came to want. They wanted it; they got it; and they liked it."

"I came home a little bit afraid for my country, afraid of what it might want, and get, and like, under combined pressure of reality and illusion. I felt - and feel - that it was not German Man that I met, but Man. He happened to be in Germany under certain conditions. He might be here under certain conditions. He might, under certain conditions, be I."

"If I - and my countrymen - ever succumbed to that concatenation of conditions, no Constitution, no laws, no police, and certainly no army would be able to protect us from harm."

And then he goes on to talk about his actual conversations with these guys and he quotes from them and this is a conversation that he had with a fellow who was ... he talked to a university professor, a baker, a bricklayer, just a bunch of average people, right? This is the university professor. He said:

"This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too)

so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter. ..."

"To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it - please try to believe me - unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, "regretted," that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these "little measures" that no "patriotic German" could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head."

The fellow goes on. He says, "Pastor Niemoller", you know, the guy who said "first they came for the for the trade unionists and I was not a trade unionist"...

"Pastor Niemoller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing: and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something - but then it was too late."

"You see, ... one doesn't see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don't want to 'go out of your way to make trouble.' Why not? - Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.
"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, everyone is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none.

Now, he's talking about the later years of the Germans. In '33 there was a giant, a million people in Berlin protesting the Nazis. That was all gone within a year or two. So this is like a couple of years from now here, if you want to draw that parallel.

"One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there will be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, 'It's not so bad' or 'You're seeing things' or 'You're an alarmist.'"

"And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can't prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don't know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. ..."
"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That's the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and the smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked - if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in '43 had come immediately after the 'German Firm' stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in '33. But of course this isn't the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D."
"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying 'Jew swine,' collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in - your nation, your people - is not the world you were in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God." ...

And then Mayer said, "well, what do you do?" And he says, well, you know "How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men?" "Frankly, I do not know." He said:

"I do not see, even now [how we could have stopped it]. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice - 'Resist the beginnings' and 'consider the end.' But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men?"

And how is this to be done? And here we are. So this is Milton Mayer from his book They Thought They Were Free.

And then we have the 14 defining characteristics of fascism. This is just classic.

  1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
  2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
  3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
  4. Supremacy of the Military
  5. Rampant Sexism
  6. Controlled Mass Media
  7. Obsession with National Security
  8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
  9. Corporate Power is Protected
  10. Labor Power is Suppressed
  11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - is any of this starting to sound familiar?
  12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
  13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Scott Pruitt, Tom Price
  14. Fraudulent Elections

And we saw on this last election the suppression of at least seven million votes because they were people of color, because they were people who lived in cities, because they were people - young people - they're going to college, because they were old people of Social Security age and no longer needed driver's licenses.

And there's just a tiny, now we're seeing a tiny bit of resistance, right? People, you know, Trump is going to Philadelphia, the protesters are out in Philadelphia.

Trump last night, yesterday he issued his decree about the border wall and all this kind of stuff. Big protests in New York and Washington, DC.

And the National Park Service has gone rogue in response to this and now there are now at least 14 "rogue" Twitter accounts from federal science agencies.

So this, by the way, this is not unlike the early days of the Nazis. There was resistance. There was lots of resistance ... for a while. And then people started getting thrown in jail and, like the protesters here, I mean, a couple hundred people. I mean there was only, we saw there's only maybe a dozen guys were involved in the real smashing windows. A couple hundred people here in DC including six journalists charged with a 10-year felony.

* The account appeared to have been deleted by the time of the show but has since been restored.

Transcribed by Sue Nethercott.

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