By SEYLA BENHABIB Photographs by ESPEN RASMUSSEN, The New Republic September 29, 2017

Topics: Commentary, Civics, Existentialism, Politics

The current First Lady of the US stoked controversy at the border wearing a provocative and cheap $39 jacket with the following phrase tagged on the back: "I really don't care. Do u?" Tawdry and pathetic to wear such a jacket at her advertised station as a supposed billionaire's current trophy wife, pundits were scratching their heads for a "hidden meaning." It couldn't be more obvious, really.

The Italian phrase me ne frego ("I don't care" or "I don't give a fuck") popped up in memes that are in dispute as to their authenticity, but me ne frego was an adopted slogan by Benito Mussolini's fascist party.

Richard J. Evans is provost of Gresham College, London. His essay at The Nation: A Warning From History, appeared on the site in 2017. It is as haunting as it is bedeviling.

What is haunting, what is compelling is how we've descended down that long, dark road again. "Birtherism": started by Orly Taitz and co-opted by the current resident in the executive mansion installed as a puppet by his Russian benefactor. The internal nefarious agents are in the party that coincidentally also begins with the letter "R".

During free media (to the tune of ~ five billion dollars) campaign stops, chants of "Lügenpresse" - lying press - were shouted between "lock her up" at his pep-style rallies, resembling a chapter in the dystopian novel "1984: The Two-Minutes Hate":

"The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp." Wikipedia

Some excerpts from "A Warning From History":

Hitler won mass support between 1928 and 1930 because a major economic crisis had driven Germany into a deep depression: Banks crashed, businesses folded, and millions lost their jobs. Hitler offered voters a vision of a better future, one he contrasted with the policies of the parties that had plunged the country into crisis in the first place. The poorest people in Germany voted for his opponents, notably the Communist Party and the moderate left-wing Social Democrats, but the lower-middle classes, the bourgeoisie, the unorganized workers, the rural masses, and the older traditionalists—Protestants and evangelicals who wanted a moral restoration of the nation—switched their votes from the mainstream centrist and right-wing parties (save for the Catholic Center Party) and gave them to Hitler instead.

Whereas other politicians seemed to dither or to act as mere administrators, Hitler projected purpose and dynamism. They remained trapped within the existing conventions of political life; he proved a master at denouncing those conventions and manipulating the media. The first politician to tour the country by air during an election campaign, Hitler issued an endless stream of slogans to win potential supporters over. He would make Germany great again. He would give Germans work once more. He would put Germany first. He would revive the nation’s rusting industries, laid to waste by the economic depression. He would crush the alien ideologies—­socialism, liberalism, communism—­that were undermining the nation’s will to survive and destroying its core values.

Few took Hitler seriously or thought that he would actually put his threats against the country’s tiny Jewish minority, his rants against feminists, left-wing politicians, homosexuals, pacifists, and liberal newspaper editors, into effect. Fewer still believed his vow to quit the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations. But within a few months of taking office, he did all of these things—and much more.

Once in power, the Nazi regime was run exclusively by men: Only heterosexual white males, the Nazis thought, had the required detachment and lack of emotional connection to the issues at hand to make the right calls. Nazi propaganda mocked disabled people; within a few years, they were being sterilized and then exterminated. Hitler railed against the roving bands of criminals who were destroying law and order and called for the return of the death penalty, effectively abrogated under the Wiemar Republic. Within a short space of time, the executions began again, reaching a total of more than 16,000 during his 12 years in power, while Germany’s prison population rocketed from 50,000 in 1930 to more than 100,000 on the eve of the war. Feminist associations were all closed down, the law forbidding homosexual acts between men was drastically sharpened, vagrants were rounded up and imprisoned, illegal Polish immigrants were deported. Germany pulled out of international organizations and tore up treaties with cynical abandon, dismantling or emasculating the structures of international cooperation erected after World War I and freeing the way for rogue states like Italy and Japan to launch their own wars of conquest and aggression.

I could go on. There is so much more at the link.

Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid's Tale, a book that has never slacked in public interest, nor ceased in relevance (now in its second season on Hulu) detailed how she came to write the disturbing tale of the overthrow of liberal democracy in the United States for a totalitarian, Christian Sharia she sir named: "The Republic of Gilead":

Nations never build apparently radical forms of government on foundations that aren’t there already; thus China replaced a state bureaucracy with a similar state bureaucracy under a different name, the USSR replaced the dreaded imperial secret police with an even more dreaded secret police, and so forth. The deep foundation of the United States—so went my thinking—was not the comparatively recent 18th-century Enlightenment structures of the Republic, with their talk of equality and their separation of Church and State, but the heavy-handed theocracy of 17th-century Puritan New England—with its marked bias against women—which would need only the opportunity of a period of social chaos to reassert itself.

Like the original theocracy, this one would select a few passages from the Bible to justify its actions, and it would lean heavily towards the Old Testament, not towards the New. Since ruling classes always make sure they get the best and rarest of desirable goods and services, and as it is one of the axioms of the novel that fertility in the industrialized West has come under threat, the rare and desirable would include fertile women—always on the human wish list, one way or another—and reproductive control. Who shall have babies, who shall claim and raise those babies, who shall be blamed if anything goes wrong with those babies? These are questions with which human beings have busied themselves for a long time.

There would be resistance to such a regime, and an underground, and even an underground railroad. In retrospect, and in view of 21st-century technologies available for spywork and social control, these seem a little too easy. Surely the Gilead command would have moved to eliminate the Quakers, as their 17th-century Puritan forebears had done.

I made a rule for myself: I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist. I did not wish to be accused of dark, twisted inventions, or of misrepresenting the human potential for deplorable behavior. The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights—all had precedents, and many of these were to be found, not in other cultures and religions, but within Western society, and within the “Christian” tradition itself. (I enclose “Christian” in quotation marks, since I believe that much of the Church’s behavior and doctrine during its two-millennia-long existence as a social and political organization would have been abhorrent to the person after whom it is named.) Lit Hub: Margaret Atwood on How She Came to Write The Handmaid’s Tale

The elements are here.
They have always been here.

We're deluded by constantly referencing to ourselves as a Democratic Republic as if that mantra somehow blots out our puritanical history, this nation's psychotic massacre of Native American tribes; its kidnap and centuries uncompensated slave labor of African tribes and the erasure of all history, culture, indigenous religions, language; its sexism, its homophobia and dehumanization of all other-than-white-males as "unpersons." A Republic is an ideal born of The Enlightenment as imperfect as it was, but it requires an intelligent and active citizenry, more moved by critical thinking than irrational fears. Some would rather not think and make "rules" - coincidentally "blessed" by a god of their own look and design as "divine"; for everyone (except those "others") to follow in a hierarchy of faux racist and cisgender "theory," conveniently crafted for the self-proclaimed chosen to be at its apogee, a kingdom...with a strongman at its helm. The American Revolution, the Scientific Enlightenment would appear of no consequence to such a dark philosophy, and "Hamilton" would just a creative and expensive Broadway show.

I end with the phrase that means "setting the scene and presented the givens of the play." It has come to mean the future is set on the foundation of the past, somewhat akin to George Santayana's admonition: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Whether convolution or genuine definition, we ignore this nightfall of bigotry and ignorance across the planet to our coming peril.

What's past is prologue. William Shakespeare, The Tempest

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