The author of The Brave New World expressed many prophetic images in his science fiction piece that still remains a classic and required reading for many high school students from my generation to my daughter's. My point here is not to discuss high school reading lists (although a great topic for later), but rather to highlight the current political climate in this country. As someone who actively follows political topics and a self-described progressive, I can't help but notice the change in the air with decidedly extremist tones.
The History Channel yesterday afternoon seemed to have a "Hitler theme" of programming. I watched for a bit and started to wonder, how on earth did the German people get to THAT point?? History shows us that extremist politics only flourishes in societies of truly weak and lost desperation. Hitler's rise to power did not happen overnight and it certainly would never have occured if the country was in a state of true prosperity. Throughout history, dictators and totalitarian regimes rise into power but only when the masses are hungry, poor, and desperate. Extremist politics is gaining popularity here in the US lately. But is it the true voice of the people? Simultaneously, the gap between the poor and wealthy is growing. Extremism seems to be a parallel function of both rhetoric and lifestyle.
The hot topics of today revolve around the current economic crisis/ federal budget negotiations, jobless rates, healthcare (universal or otherwise) costs, public eduation and immigration just to name a few "biggies". And yet some of the hottest topics that gain the most of our time and attention are those "newsworthy nuggets" that impact our lives the least- such as Charlie Sheen, American Idol, Jersey Shore and the birther debate of our President. While President Obama received over 65 million votes in the last presidential election, so did Kelly Clarkson on American Idol and that show continues to garner tens of millions of votes each season. So while more Americans seem to know who Snooki is than could tell you who the Secretary of Health and Human Services is (my state's former governor, Kathleen Sebelius), it should be no surprise why so many buy into the hype, fear-tactics and flat-out lies of the extremist talking heads. Lately, there are some obvious Tea Party darlings within the extremist talking heads categories: Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Sen. Paul Ryan and Sen. Michele Bachmann. These power-hungry folks make their agendas and targets clear, grabbing the media's attention with not-so-subtle rhetoric that caters to the Snooki-loving masses. The most startling outcome of this recent political climate of these newly appointed "Celebrity Extremists," is the rather blurred lines of fact vs. lies-for-the-purpose-of-brainwashing-the-masses. In modern media journalism, there is rarely time or effort spent on fact-checking first before social media channels can send politically-charged rhetoric into mainstream and the Celebrity Extremists know it. Case in point: Donald Trump's continually arrogant assertion that his hired investigative team is working to unearth some unsettling development regarding President's Obama's birth in Hawaii and thereby natural citizenship. Does it matter that the President's birth in US state of Hawaii has been clearly and repeatedly proven? Apparantly not. According to many recent polls, a slim majority (51%) of primary Republicans do not believe it: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1357581/Not-born-USA-Majority-Republican-primary-voters-think-Obama-isnt-American.html And so, the birther movement continues.
The most outrageous account of the Celebrity Extremists' ongoing birther movement is Marilyn Davenport's racist email in which she depicts the President of our country as the face of a baby chimpanzee with a 2 parental chimps with the tag line, "now you know why- no birth certificate." When asked why she depicted this racict image, the Tea Party activist and Republican official claimed she had no idea it would be considered racially motivated. She stated according to the OC Weekly, "I simply found it amusing regarding the character of Obama and all the questions surrounding his origin of birth."
Another case in point: In Sen. Kyl's recent attack on Planned Parenthood as he addressed the Senate Floor, he confidently asserted that over 90% of the services that Planned Parenthood provides is abortion. When in fact a mere 3% of what Planned Parenthood provides in services is abortion. And the fact that legislation was passed in the 1970's blocking federal funds from being used for abortions seems to be blindly ignored. His office's official response to this 87% blunder? "His remark was not intended to be a factual statement."
So, where do we stand in this pivotal time when extremism is King? Where actual facts and truth is no longer a requirement and not near as sexy as hype, fear and lies? Where so many Americans are hungry for jobs, hungry for a brighter future and just plain hungry? We need to learn from past history to better navigate our future. At the end of that History Channel piece regarding the Hitler regime, immediately after the end of the war, they revealed footage of German citizens being forced to walk throught the death camps and see massive and horrific carnage just miles away from their homes. They made these citizens, not just the Nazi military mind you, bury the dead. While I watched that shocking old footage of German women in their 1940's era dresses picking up the dead bodies of skin and bones, dead bodies of their fellow German neighbors; and shoveling the dirt into the mass graves, a prophetic voice-over played recounting a German woman's tale of being in that moment. She says that she knows why they made them bury the bodies. To make them feel responsible; to feel accountable for this. She goes on to say that she did not do this but then admits that all of Germany would be and should be held responsible. "Germany is finished," she adds. That German woman, like so many other German citizens at that time, may not have worked in the death camps but with 20,000 death camps and millions of people captured and killed, there is no way a single citizen was blind to what went on.
Fortunately we do not live in a Nazi state. However, there was a time of weakness and desperation prior to Hitler's rise. There was also a pivotal time of change when German citizens chose to look the other way while their neighbors were being ethnically targeted (racially profiling in Arizona anyone?), while extremist rhetoric was growing in popularity and the people are desperate for a brighter future. An extremist example? Perhaps. A cautionary tale, for certain.