Fascism By Any Other Name

 

If I wasn’t seeing it with my own eyes and experiencing it myself, I would not believe it.  My country that I love has been turned upside down with the type of hate and fear that I only previously knew from history books.  When I learned about the terrible atrocities in history like slavery, Native Americans forced onto reservations, the Holocaust, Japanese Internment camps…etc., I felt a sense of distance when trying to understand how they could occur.  I couldn’t visualize the circumstances where it could happen in present times, so it seemed tangential, something to be considered in retrospect.  I could never comprehend how someone like Hitler could come into power.  How could the Germans support someone so evil?  How could they hate other human beings, the Jews, so much? Did they realize how evil Hitler was in the beginning or was it a slow process? Over the past few years and even more so the last few months, I feel like I have a front row seat to the phenomena that creates exactly the type of environment where such evil can thrive.

Looking back to when I really saw a dramatic shift in the tone of political discourse, I go back to the 2008 Presidential election.  Obama v McCain.  I’ve usually held Senator McCain in good regard, but he made a decision during that election that had repercussions that continue to be felt,  the choice of Sarah Palin as a VP running mate.  Beyond the fact that she was purely a political pandering choice and that she was woefully unqualified, it was her bold use of “otherness” as a weapon against then Senator Obama that had continuing effects.  The not so subtle insinuation that “he isn’t one of us” i.e. a Muslim, not born in this country, he “pals around with terrorists”, when done by a Vice Presidential candidate on a main party ticket gave credence to the bigotry and xenophobia that has always laid beneath the surface of our society.  You could hear those types of ideas in private discussions or on Talk Radio and Fox News, but to hear it come from a Presidential running mate, gave people who already had those type of leanings license to bring those ideas into open public discourse.  I’m not saying that all people that didn’t like or vote for Obama are bigots and xenophobes.  What I am saying is there are a number of them that are and Sarah Palin gave them a voice and power to speak louder.

Fox News et al. has spent a great amount of time and money for many years now trying to scare Americans.  I’m not one that has an affinity for conspiracy theories, but in my view,  Fox and other right wing media seem to be part of a well orchestrated plan for power, especially actors like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.  I’m not implying that other media doesn’t have power to influence people, but the difference I see is right wing media uses fear to motivate and facts are optional.  They are constantly stoking a low burning fire of anger and bitterness.  The introduction of Donald Trump has been the fuel that has taken that fire to a new level.

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Above are just two of the outrageous and FACTUALLY WRONG propaganda that Trump feeds his mainly white supporters.  He feeds them this diet of bigotry because he knows that they already have fears of “The Mexicans” and “The Blacks”.  In the case of the bogus crime statistics, he passed these lies on with an illustration of a black boogie man with a gun. (Although a white man with a gun would be a second amendment patriot.)  Then he talks about how he will be “the BEST on stopping crime!”  He continuously makes sweeping platitudes about how he will solve all of Americas problems (namely violent black people and “illegals) because, well, he’s “The Donald”.  Again, people are made into “others”.  They’re not like us.  When you start to view people as less than you, it becomes much more easy to say things like….round up families that have lived in this country for decades and sent them to Mexico.

I’ve seen Trump compared to Hitler a number of times recently.  I don’t think he is Hitler, but I do think he uses many of the same propaganda and manipulation tactics as historical fascist demagogues in general and Hitler specifically.  Hitler came on the scene after the Germans lost WWI.  They were hurting and angry.  Hitler was very charismatic and seemed to offer them solutions for their problems to “make Germany great again”, if you will.

“The Nazi Party was attractive to the majority of the German people because  Hitler and his party proposed a solution to nearly every problem that was facing the various segments of the population.  For example, the Party agenda addressed the problem of Germany’s loss of WWI.  The Nazis exploited the popular myth that Germany’s army was “stabbed in the back” by the Weimar Republic’s first politicians.  In this way they seduced the German people into associating the loss of the war with Democracy.  ” 1

More importantly though, he gave them scapegoats to blame for their problems.  He capitalized on the already simmering sentiments of anti-semitism of the time.  

“Hitler used the Jews as a scapegoat, blaming them for Germany’s economic and social problems. The Nazi party promised to resolve these issues, and in 1932 won 37% of the vote. The persecution of the Jews began systematically, shortly after Hitler came to power. The Nazis introduced anti-Jewish decrees, which gradually eliminated the rights of Jewish citizens. Jews were regularly persecuted and humiliated. Many members of the German public were bystanders and did nothing to condemn the Nazi racial policies. This may have been due to the fact that they were content with other Nazi policies, which appeared to improve the disastrous financial and economic conditions in Germany. People were also afraid to speak out, as they were terrified of the brutality of the Nazis.”2

Although Trump and his ideas are reprehensible, they aren’t ultimately what pose the biggest threat to our society.  The biggest threat is from the people that he and others like him are whipping into a frenzy of fear and anger.  My jaw literally dropped when I saw the video of Jerry Falwell, President of Liberty University, a Christian school, encouraging an arena full of his students to bring guns to school.  He said, “I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in, killed them……..I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course.  Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”  Falwell didn’t say end those shooters or murderers.  He said, “end those Muslims.”  He later indicated that he was just talking about Muslim terrorists, but that isn’t what he said was it? And the students there certainly had no problem with his unedited version as they gave loud applause and shout outs of affirmation to his statements.

Then there was the Black Lives Matter protester that was attacked at one of Trump’s rallies by a rabid mob of his supporters, beating and screaming at the man.  When Trump was asked about this the next day he indicated that the protester “maybe deserved to be roughed up” because he was obnoxious.  A leading Presidential candidate vying to be leader of the free world advocated violence on his behalf because someone was “obnoxious”.  Unreal.

Actually Trump is right, we have a lot to be worried about.  Yes, there is terrorism and that is something we need to fight diligently and decisively, but the bigger threat to the United States is the hate and division within our own borders. Because if this continues, we will be so fractured as a country that we can’t fight an enemy like ISIS.

We not only have a responsibility to save our country from this man and his divisiveness, but as a nation that has taken the position as a global leader, we have a responsibility not to unleash him onto the world.

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“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”  George Santayana

  1.  Understanding the German People’s Participation in the Third Reicht, Theo Bailey.  http://itech.fgcu.edu/&/issues/vol2/issue1/german.htm
  2. British Library: Voices of the Holocaust  http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/voices/testimonies/life/backgd/before.html

 

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A Culture of Fear

Over the past two decades especially, the political climate in the United States has become extremely divisive.  I think I can pinpoint 9/11 as the beginning of that change.  When that horrific tragedy happened, Americans came together like at no other time.  How we recovered from the tragedy is what has separated us.  One way has been to become more fearful and less trusting of others.  I think that is probably the most automatic human reaction.  It’s understandable to go into a mode of protection when one has been hurt. As time goes on though, if we stay in that mindset we begin to think that everyone wants to hurt us.  The “us vs them” is further entrenched into our culture. That mindset is contrary to the culture that the United States was founded on.  A quote from Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  That is the idea that has made the US great.  The one filled with hope, strength and charity.

Germany has a different history and culture, but I see them struggling with some similar values.  They have never been the “melting pot” of the United States.  However, in their history, many Germans were the refugees after WWII.  I speculate, but I wonder if that is what leads them to be as welcoming as they have been to the current Syrian refugees.  All Germans however haven’t been so happy about the acceptance of refugees to their country.  The interesting thing to me as an American studying German current events and culture, is that there are so many similarities between the anti refugee crowd in the US compared to those in Germany.  The common theme is fear.

Being concerned about hundreds of thousands of people from war torn countries with a different culture/language and many with a different religion isn’t surprising and doesn’t make one a xenophobe.  With that said though, the vitriol I have read online from some Americans and Europeans about this subject has been really disturbing to me.  There is a lack of humanity in their rhetoric.  Fear that has been carefully cultivated and refined by propaganda.  These are a few of the comments I have read today about the refugees….

“Go home terrorists. Nobody wants you but fools.”…..American

“not migrants not refugees but invaders & criminals”…UK

“Now we know when and how our civilization will end.“… Canadian

Although i reject statements like these, it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand concerns that people have.  The reality is that we live in a world where we have had violence levied by radical Islmamic extremists.  We have also endured much tragedy and violence by radical Christian extremists.  Extremism is destructive.  No one knows that better than Germany.  However, I refuse to allow fear to override my humanity.  I will also not allow it to override my logic.  Logic tells me that since there are 1.6 BILLION Muslims in the world and up to 12 MILLION of them in the United States, that if they were all violent terrorists the world would see much more terrorism than it does now. My religion tells me that even when culture and religion differ, we are all God’s children. My humanity tells me that I have a responsibility to help others when I can.  When I can look at families fleeing across oceans and hundreds of miles on foot to live somewhere safe and I don’t feel compassion for them, I no longer want to live in this world.  When we are so consumed by fear that we lose our humanity then the terrorists have won.

I have more questions than answers about what should be done about the refugees running for their lives.  I agree that there must be checks and safeguards and that one country can only do so much.  I do expect the leaders of the world to come up with a solution to this.  The US has a responsibility.  We have had a hand in the Middle East for many years now.  The destabilization of the Middle East is in part a result of ousting Hussein in Iraq and the vacuum of power that created.  These are difficult problems that require wisdom and diplomacy and can’t be driven purely by fear of what might happen.  What I hope is that we all remember that much of our good fortune is that of chance and grace.  There but for the grace of God go I.

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“Go Back to Africa!”

“GO BACK TO AFRICA!”, he yelled.   I was shocked and angry and hurt and ashamed, each an individual feeling, but all experienced at the same time.  It was our first day in Karlsruhe, Germany.  The sun was shining brightly and my husband (CH) and I had just left the hotel, excited to explore this beautiful new city on foot. We had the promise of new possibilities in our minds and I was acutely aware that we might be walking through our new home for the first time.  After a few blocks, we stopped to check out a menu posted outside a local pub.  It was, of course written in German, so I was staring intently at the words, trying to translate when I heard the man yelling.  I turned to CH and asked him what was said because I didn’t hear it clearly.  I saw this man still looking at my husband angrily as he walked away.  He was an older German man of fairly slight stature.  We were instantly transported from our carefree day into a place neither of us wanted to be.  How dare this man do this to us. How dare he verbally assault us this way.  But he wasn’t really directing his anger toward me, only my husband. My white skin protected me from his scorn.  That even made me more angry.  Why would this man feel it was OK to call out another person like that in broad daylight in the middle of the street?  After talking for a few minutes about how much the situation sucked, we both decided to “let it go” and continued on trying to enjoy our day.  It kept nagging at me though.  I couldn’t help but wonder if that could happen again at any time.  I was now on guard.

What bothered me the most was that someone had tried to hurt my husband.  That man doesn’t know how caring and loving my husband is.  He doesn’t know how smart and successful he is.  He doesn’t know that my husband is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met.  He didn’t even know that my husband is not African, not that it mattered.  The fact is……that man knew nothing about my husband, except that he has darker skin.

I often hear on the news and in social media people saying that they are sick of hearing about race….wondering why people of color can’t just stop talking about it, thinking about it.  What I have learned by being the caucasian wife of a black man is that when you aren’t white, society requires you to think about race.  Not thinking about race can put you in questionable situations at best, dangerous situations at worst.  You could be walking down the street with your wife in a fabulous new country and BAM!  you are reminded that your race is a problem for some folks.

I certainly don’t think this bigoted man is representative of Germany.  I met many wonderful Germans on our trip and overall we were treated very kindly.  Racism and xenophobia know no borders.  Something similar happened to CH in our neighborhood in the US a few years ago.  We live in a nice upper middle class community that is more racially diverse than most and only 25 miles from from the center of liberalism, Berkeley, California.  CH was out walking our little dog one night and a group of young white men drove by yelling, “Go Home N!#*$r!”  I was blown away that something like that could happen in our neighborhood.  It still breaks my heart.  Just as on the street in Karlsruhe, I was shocked….shocked that it happened a block from our home and that young people in our community would do that to another human being.  I was angry that my comfort in our neighborhood was being challenged.  I was angry that someone would target a member of my family. I was hurt that the man I love was treated in such a degrading way.  I was ashamed because people that I share a heritage with could be so cruel.  I know that those young men in the car also aren’t representative of our community as a whole.  That is important to keep in mind, but it still stings when such an ugly experience happens.  To pretend that black people just bring race issues onto themselves and that if they only stopped thinking and talking about it, everything would be fine, is a lie.

So the world is imperfect….this is no revelation. We move on and don’t let others’ negativity determine our reality. I try to do what I can to be a good person and reflect the change I want to see.  However, you can’t deny it leaves a mark.  We are all a sum of the vast experiences imprinted on us.  As humans we are fortunate when we are still net positive.

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My Top 10 Expat Resources for Germany!

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When faced with the prospect of picking up your life and moving to another country, it’s hard to know where to start or where to focus your mind.  In general, I believe there are two types of people and ways they handle life’s changes…..free spirits and planners. Many people are somewhere in the middle, but I think we all tend to identify more with one side or the other.  If you’re the type of person that just lets the situation guide you and are easily adaptable without much preparation, this blog post might not be as important to you.  However, if you’re like me and you’re the type of person that looks up restaurant menus before going out to eat, plans daily itineraries for vacations and/or spends hours scouring yelp reviews, I’ve got you covered. (Control freaks Represent!) Here are my Top 10 Expat Resources for Germany! (not in any order of importance)

  1.  Duolingo  https://www.duolingo.com  Visiting or moving to a country where you don’t speak the language can, at the very least, be a challenge and inconvenient.  There are a number of options to learn to speak another language.  Many apps/programs are easy to navigate.  Some of them are pretty pricey, but I found the FREE option of Duolingo to be a great start to give you some basic understanding of German.  The phrase I most frequently used when I recently visited Germany was no surprise….”Sprechen sie English?”  Most people do speak at minimum, some English, but Germans (and I think most people) appreciate it if you at least are making an attempt to learn and speak their language.
  2. Germany vs USA YouTube Channel  https://www.youtube.com/user/AlexandJim  Alex (German) and Jim (American) met through student exchange and their videos are really helpful and a lot of fun.  They have a perfect chemistry between them with friendly banter and exchange of ideas that make you hope that you find a great friend like that in your new country.  They touch on subjects like Stereotypes, Cultural differences, Food, etc.
  3. Get Germanized! YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/user/MeisterLehnsherr/featured Similar in concept to Germany vs USA, Get Germanized provides short videos explaining Germany from the perspective of a German.  Most of the videos are done by one guy, but at times he has guest spot videos.  He mixes information and comedy in a casual way that is both entertaining and useful.
  4. Expat BLOGS!  Look to the people who have gone before you. Expat Blogs are a wonderful way to get an idea of what other people in similar situations have experienced and learned.  Of course experiences may vary and you have to understand that, but I definitely found the blogs I read to be helpful.  It was the reason I started this blog.  I have some of my favorites listed on my page under “Blogs I Follow”.
  5. Country Specific Expat Websites  http://www.expatica.com/de  http://www.internations.org/germany-expats/guide These websites provide a broad range of content and links to other resources that can keep you busy researching for hours.
  6. Local Expat Websites http://www.expat-karlsruhe.com  This website is specific to the area where I am moving, but I’m sure there are others for different communities within Germany.  These websites provide access to local festivals, schools, shopping, customs and much more. It also connected me with the most valuable resource of all.  See number 7.
  7. Relocation Service  http://www.move-in.info/index.php?id=3&L=1  Again, this resource is specific to the Karlsruhe area, but I am sure similar service is available in other communities.  Trying to find an apartment, set up residency ( I hear the US DMV pales in comparison to the maddening and tedious German bureaucracy), connect utilities, open a bank account, etc in a foreign country with a language that you don’t speak is daunting at best.  We connected with with the owner of move-in.com, Carmen Sax, and she and her staff have been awesome so far.  They showed us around the area and quickly found a wonderful flat for my husband very close to his office.  Without their help, there is no way we would have been able to accomplish that in the short time we had before the move.  There is a cost involved and it’s not cheap, but neither is the assistance of a realtor (in Germany realtors usually charge 2 months basic rent as a commission).
  8. Expat Social Media Groups  Like I mentioned earlier, there are many groups of people out there that have already gone through this and are a wealth of information.  I found Facebook especially helpful.  Just search the term “expat” or “expatriate” and the country (or even city if you are moving to a large city) that you are moving to on Facebook and you will most likely come up with many options.
  9. MeetUp.com http://www.meetup.com/karlsruhe-meetup-group/  One of the things that I worry about when moving to Germany, is not knowing anyone.  We all need friends and social interaction.  Meet-up is a good website to look into to find some like minded people in your area, expat or not.  I was able to find a local English Speaking group near my new area.  They have regular social functions.  I will certainly check them out when I arrive.
  10. Google Translate Functions  When doing online searches for information in Germany you need to actually search in German if you want the best data.  If you use Google Chrome as your web browser, it has a great translate option at the top of the page. By clicking “translate” it will translate all or most of the page for you.  Of course for small amounts of text you can just google “German to English” and a handy translation text box will appear at the top of the page.

I hope you find these tips helpful and if you are a planner like me, I hope it helps keep your blood pressure in check! 😉

Tschüß