Adolf Hitler liked leather and crypto-military costumes, too, and the build-up to the Third Reich was all about colorful pageantry. Make no mistake – to borrow a favored presidential locution, if I may – Sarah Palin’s campaign is all about shame, about being a nation of losers and feeling bad about it. Adolf Hitler’s career was all about him feeling like a loser at a peculiar moment in history when his whole country felt like a loser nation. His feelings resonated with the crowd’s. Germany had just lost the First World War. The victors (England, France, The USA) had imposed a harsh peace, including massive cash reparations. Germany was broke, demoralized, and humiliated. Hitler had fled to Germany from his own loser homeland, the fading empire of Austria, after a shiftless decade in Vienna of living in rented rooms and homeless men’s shelters, having failed twice to get into the national arts college.
Hitler loved the First World War. It energized him. The German army was the first club he was comfortable being in. When the war was over, he stayed on the army’s payroll as long as possible, even as he became active in Munich’s post-war extremist politics. The emergent Nazi party was the second club he felt good being a member of. And it was in the years 1920 to 1923 that he discovered his theme: playing on Germans’ feelings of humiliation and promising deliverance back to lost greatness.
This is exactly the theme of Sarah Palin’s campaign. A large segment of the American public has entered the dark wilderness of loserdom. They’ve lost jobs, incomes, and even their homes. They can’t support a family, can’t afford to gas up their God-given cars, can hardly even afford to buy food – though many of this group have been programmed, tragically, to get much of their food from hamburger and taco dispensaries that “free market” America has generously dotted the landscape with. They are ashamed, especially living in a nation where liberty is supposed to enable you to get a leg up in the world, to be self-reliant, to make something of yourself. Hence, they imagine themselves to have somehow been deprived of liberty (and honor!) which they must now get back.
They have even lost their racial standing now that the role of president is occupied by a half-African man (who, they suspect, is not even a legitimate citizen, but rather an alien opportunist!). This is very hard for them to articulate, because racism is also something to be ashamed of, and they are already overwhelmed with shame – but nonetheless the old tribal-ethnic feelings dog them. So they express it in a convoluted way as the hobgoblin of “socialism” – the government lavishing money on people who don’t deserve it.
But wait a minute. What money for whom?
Not people on Medicare (“keep your hands off my Medicare!”).
Not people on Social Security (“ditto Social Security”).
Not Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street banks (“ditto Free Market Capitalism”).
Not the futility of endless war (“Support our troops!”)
Not people on food stamps (over 40 million Americans)
Not people on extended unemployment (10 percent official unemployment; probably more like 16 percent in reality).
So, who’s left? (“Do we have to say?”)
So, the Sarah Palin campaign – and, make no mistake (I love that phrase!) it is a campaign – trafficks in code and buzzwords about the shame of being losers. Her bus tour rolls heavy under the rubric: “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Recognize those phrases? They are from the national oath that we are all trained to recite in the first grade. Most of Sarah Palin’s followers got through the first grade – and are proud of it. The phrase that really rings out, though, is “justice for all.” For a nation of tattooed, hopelessly fat, angry people without jobs or incomes, filled with shame, this phrase resonates. How come no justice for us?
Hitler was more direct. From his emergence out of obscurity in the early 1920s, he made no bones about how come there was no justice for his followers: because it was stolen by the Jews, along with their honor and their greatness. Sarah Palin may never get as explicit, at least not without igniting some kind of new Civil War in the USA. So the bad feelings her followers nourish about being swindled out of their livelihoods and their honor are liable to be expressed indirectly and perversely. One avenue is the idea of “American Exceptionalism” that Palin is retailing to her followers. It is not unlike Hitler’s idea that Germans were a “master race” who were different (exceptional) from other people (and ought to rule them).
I prefer to be direct. Sarah Palin represents a dangerous force in American culture that is startlingly similar to the grandiose hyper-patriotic militarism that Hitler brought to Germany during his rise to power. We have better things to do in this nation than go down some twisted path of vengeance-seeking in the name of lost glory. I hope that Sarah Palin’s competitors on the right will stand up to her American fascist themes and call her out for what she is: a half-educated TV performer unqualified for high political office. The true shame of this country is that we have to take a clown like Sarah Palin seriously.
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