There was a very revealing story that made it in the news recently, but did not get the attention one would expect. A DNA test was performed on 39 living relatives of Adolph Hitler. And the results were stunning: The Haplogroup E1b1b1 chromosome was found in the samples, which is rare in Western Europe, and is usually found among the Berbers of North Africa, and Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. So, if we put two and two together, we may conclude that the ultimate "Aryan" leader of the Third Reich was himself of Jewish heritage, if not a person of color.
So, the most loathsome figure of the twentieth century-- responsible for the Holocaust, the genocide of 6 million Jews, as well as millions of others, including Roma, homosexuals, political prisoners and people with disabilities --was himself conceivably a Jew. The madness and brutality of this man was daunting, as was his apparently high degree of self-loathing. And yet there is much we can learn from the Fuhrer's legacy of death and destruction. Indeed, we must learn if we are to avoid revisiting the tragic mistakes of the past. People say "never again" because the idea is to ensure that such inhumanity does not repeat, lest we conclude in our smugness that "it could never happen here."
And yet genocide, and the ritual scapegoating that society perpetrates against a defenseless minority, has happened in the six and a half decades since Hitler's demise--and more than once.
As for Adolph Hitler, warped, delusional and paranoid as he was, he had a lot of help. Criminally insane as he was to conceptualize a final solution and then carry it out to the utmost, he had in Germany a nation of willing executioners that was more than willing to oblige. After all, it was a country suffering from hyperinflation and economic deprivation, with a predisposition for virulent anti-Semitism and an unhealthy respect for authority. And what do you do when an entire nation, or most of it, is literally insane? As I remember my Harvard professor, Holocaust survivor Erich Goldhagen, saying over twenty years ago, it was as if the entire German society was under a spell, or some type of fog that was lifted when the regime was brought to an end.
The Third Reich, we must remember, was democratically elected at first. Hitler had a mandate, perverted as it was. People needed a boogeyman to blame for all of their problems, and the fascist narrative was made to order. Nazis wanted to restore Germany's honor, return to some nonexistent glorious past, the good ol' days I suppose. And they would deal with those segments of the population they believed were the root cause of their social ills.
It began with mob violence, the lynch mob if you will, with acts of physical assaults, vandalism, desecration of property, and the burning of "un-German" books. Racist propaganda with offensive media images helped to soften up the populace and normalize society's hatred towards the scapegoats. The next step was to codify and fully legitimize the hatred--that is, utilize the legal system to marginalize Jews from every facet of society, remove them from civic life, and neutralize them. Jews and so-called Aryans were forbidden by law to marry. Jews could not own property, attend school or hold professions, and were stripped of their citizenship, their voting rights and their personhood. And they were deported, ghettoized and thrown into concentration camps.
But could it happen again?
People of good will who observe today's America cannot help but react with concern, if not alarm. The U.S. economy is a basket case, or at least will soon become one if President Obama does not channel his inner FDR and bring on the second New Deal many are waiting for. In any case, Americans are in pain, with massive unemployment, poverty and homelessness on the rise, and 40 million people on food stamps. Many folks out there are looking for someone to blame. The Patriot movement, including militias, neo-Nazis, Minutemen, Oath Keepers and other armed hate groups are proliferating and boosting their membership, united in a hatred of Latino immigrants, people of color and President Obama. And political extremism has entered the mainstream. The Republican Party-- almost completely purged of moderate voices-- and the corporate-sponsored Tea Parties are comparing notes, if they aren't one in the same. This, as the GOP hopes to score major political points via an updated Southern Strategy of hating Muslims, mosques, Mexicans and marriage equality.
Meanwhile, as two billionaire brothers bankroll this nascent fascist movement to suit their narrow business interests, another rich guy serves as its propagandist, inflaming racial, ethnic and religious tensions on the airwaves, and setting up groups and individuals to be the victims of hate crimes. There is a cable network that articulates the frustration of low-income, low-information whites who are angry that this neighborhood called America is changing, browning up to be more exact, and that is the Fox News Channel. Fox News and Glenn Beck--that opportunistic and delusional little jester of "restoring honor" fame-- would make Goebbels proud.
And I use the term fascism, indeed creeping fascism, to describe what is happening because no other words will suffice. Now is the time that we refrain from dancing around the problems here in America. Burning the Holy Qur'an, bombing and burning mosques, banning houses of worship on private property, widespread denial of the president's citizenship, efforts to nullify the Fourteenth Amendment, states scrambling to enact punitive, unjust laws to target Latinos--these are the ingredients of which fascism is made.
The crises outlined above are far too complex to be resolved in this commentary. However, it must be said that these forces of right-wing extremism are able to exploit the desperation of hard economic times and seize the moment. Reforming America's dysfunctional casino-shell game economic system in fundamental ways, making people whole, and restoring a sense of equity and justice are the things we need. Tweaking at the edges will not do. President Obama, are you listening?