Final Response: On Tyranny

After Trump was elected, Timothy Snyder tweeted that “Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.” It turned out to be a quote from the prologue of his book On Tyranny.

As a math and political science student, I had not taken a history class since high school. It never felt like an important subject. It was just something you memorized for the exam and then forgot the day after. But, this class has helped me realize how wrong I was and On Tyranny is the perfect conclusion to the message. Not only is knowledge of history essential but knowledge is only half the battle, actions are required.

Snyder also helps you focus your actions. While he wrote his book for an American audience, and Canada does not face the same threats to our institutions, his suggestions can help us keep it that way. Lesson 12 stuck with me most as it seems so simple. It also reinforced how weak societies can be when people don’t trust each other, and I believe that political divisions have eaten into that trust too much for comfort over the past few years.

However, I still found a few criticisms. Snyder’s lessons lacked consistency in the level of difficulty and complexity. For example, as mentioned before lesson 12 is a simple as smiling and making small talk. Yet, lesson 6 discusses the intricacies of paramilitary groups and such. He also does not give a suggestion of how to deal with these groups. He just states that you should be worried when they become the military and police, which appeared a bit obvious to me.

But on the whole, it is worrisome that a historian felt the need to write this book, but it is comforting that at least some people have been paying attention to the democracies of the world while I wasn’t. Let us hope we never need to use these lessons other than discussion in history class.

Sweeper: When Authoritarian Rythmes with Convenience

For this week, our discussion returned to Europe to discuss how populism and authoritarianism have begun to rise again in some Eastern European states. We discussed several reasons for this, such as the states choosing to undertake “decommunization” instead of seeking real justice for the crimes committed.

However, the reason that stunned me the most was how some in the population were nostalgic of being ruled by an authoritarian. The dancing bear metaphor profoundly stuck with me. It reminded me just how fragile democracies can be because of how fragile people are. Poles are only willing to believe that Poles were not involved in the Holocaust willingly because they do not want to think that their ancestors were evil. So they elect the government that disavows Polish involvement in two horrendous massacres of Jews. It’s convenient to say that they had nothing to do with it.

There lies my fear. It is convenient for people who lived under authoritarians in the past and were not prosecuted for wanting that life back. They fear change, and so they flock to the politicians who promise that everything will return to normal. So, it is convenient to overlook the anti-semitism if it is a means to return to a better time. The only question is can this occur to countries with legacies of democracy?

 

First Response: Brexit Wasn’t Built in a Day

For this week, the readings focused on Brexit. More specifically, it focused on whether Brexit is a phenomenon with its root causes stretching back into the 20th century, if it is a more recent phenomenon, or if it has both current and historical roots.

To answer this question, we must first know what Brexit was about. Why did people vote to leave the EU? The readings generally agree that it was due to the populations feeling that they have been left behind by the economy and their negative feeling towards immigration and immigrants. Likewise, these feeling can be traced back to the 1960s when Enoch Powell made his famous Rivers of Blood speech. In it, he quoted a constituent who suggest that it is not long until the white English man no longer has the power in England. Immigrants would have replaced them.

The second reason would be the economic and regulatory issues that some believe the UK faced when in the EU, which can be traced back to the same year that the UK joined the EEC which would become the EU.

While reading the articles I kept asking myself, why did these feelings stay controlled for so long? In other words, why did it take about 50 years for anti-immigration sentiment to push the UK out of the EU? What was unique about the cultural and political situation in 2015? The articles address these parts but I do not feel that the Eurozone collapse could have been enough to push these to the surface. Hopefully, we can tease out the short term causes more in class.

Is Pompeo the Second Coming of McCarthy?

Mike-Pompeo-swearing-in-getty-640x480On Tuesday, March 13th, 2018, Trump fired his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, announcing that he would replace him with the current CIA director Mike Pompeo. But, before assuming his new job, Pompeo has to be confirmed by the Senate. Senators, please do not confirm Mike Pompeo!

Before becoming CIA director, Pompeo represented Kansa in Congress, so we have had time to find most of his views. During his career, he has made several negative comments about Muslims. But, while disparaging remarks about  Muslims would not make him unique (remember Trump said he saw Muslims cheering after 9/11 and more), it is the conspiracy nature of these comments that are problematic.

According to the Washington Post, he has suggested that Muslims were “potentially complicit” in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and their silence “casts doubt on the commitment to peace by adherents of the Muslim faith.” Even though they were in fact not silent. Also, Pompeo co-sponsored a bill in Congress that would have banned the Muslims Brotherhood. These comments are dangerous because they suggest that Muslims are un-American.

Yet, Pompeo doesn’t only implicitly suggest this. He allies himself with anti-Muslim who explicitly indicate this. According to the Atlantic, Brigitte Gabriel, who has called Pompeo a “steadfast ally,” said that a “practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.” She runs ACT for America which is attempting to remove all comparisons of Islam to Christianity and Judaism in textbooks and has suggested protesting the sale of Halal food. Also, in 2016, her organization gave Pompeo their highest honour.

Furthermore, according to the same article, “Pompeo is also a steadfast ally of Frank Gaffney.” This is problematic because Gaffney has suggested that following Muslim law should be judged “an impermissible act of sedition, which has to be prosecuted.” Pompeo has also appeared on Gaffney’s radio show at least 20 times where he suggested that Obama was disloyal to Christianity and to the US in favour of Islam. Finally, Pompeo said “there are organizations and networks here in the United States tied to radical Islam in deep and fundamental ways. They’re not just in places like Libya and Syria and Iraq, but in places like Coldwater, Kansas, and small towns all throughout America.” Thus, Pompeo allies himself not only with conspiracy theorists but also with people who believe Muslims should be prosecuted.

Now all of this should already disqualify someone from being any nations top diplomat because they need to interact with Muslim countries. However, I have a sad feeling that it is not enough in the current American climate. But it is crucial that someone who holds views (or allies himself with people who hold views) that Muslims should be prosecuted have no power in the United States government.

It would not be the first time that someone was in power believed that people who he deemed un-American should be prosecuted. Let us look back at the Second Red Scare and McCarthyism.

The Second Red Scare lasted from around 1947 to 1956, and it involved hundreds of Americans being accused of being communist or sympathizers. Senator McCarthy conducted such hearings and investigation which is where the name came from. The accused lost jobs, some of their careers were ruined, and some went to prison. It is true that McCarthy alone would not have been able to ignite the red scare, but Americans were in the right mindset to allow their fear to get the better of them.

So, if Pompeo would have been the only one with these views, then he would have less to worry about. But, Trump has had many conspiracy theories of his own as mentioned above. Also, according to Pew Research Center, 25 percent of American Adults believe that half or more of Muslims in America are un-American and 50 percent think that Islam does not have a place in mainstream American society. Thus the public is closer to the beliefs of POMPEO AND trump that we would like to think. So they might be convinced to follow them. Pompeo might not be the second coming of McCarthy, but if he is, he will have all the tools to begin McCarthyism 2.0.

So, Senators have the power to stop Pompeo. The question is whether they will be on the right side or the wrong side of history?

 

Sweeper: Europe’s People Problem

During the discussion, our group mostly focused on Europe’s current “refugee crisis.” I put it in quotation marks because our team could not agree on the correct definition of the problem. I and others believed that a large part of the influx of people coming into Europe are trying to escape Isis or other deadly situations in Africa. Others believed that the majority of these people are leaving by choice not because they fear for their life.

This became important when discussing the multicultural nature of the problem. We agreed that an immigrant has a particular responsibility to integrate into his new country. Therefore, the nations can stay similar and evolve by immigrants partly integrate and adding to its culture and beliefs.

However, this integration responsibility is not inherently present for refugees due to their inability to choose which country they wish to go. Unlike immigrants, they do not have the opportunity to stay. Therefore more relaxed rules of integration should apply.

Thus, when discussing Europe’s multicultural problem, we must discuss whether the individuals and families coming in have the responsibility to integrate and if so how much do they need to integrate.

However, we must first agree whether immigrants are coming here by choice or being forced to come here. Furthermore, we need to decide how generous we grant people refugee status. We were not able to get into all of this during our discussion. But I believe we should air on the generous side. Hopefully, Europe will be able to diagnose its problem so that it can solve it.

First Response: Chile’s Lazy Denial

I will admit that I did not enter this week’s reading with much knowledge of fascism and populism in Chile or South America generally. My knowledge mostly focused on the so-called “global north.” Therefore, I assumed that most countries dealt with past human rights violations a similar way. At a most simplistic level, they either attempted to deny it like the Armenian genocide, downplay it like slavery in the US, or build monuments and learn from it like in Germany.

However, Chile did none of these. In Teresa Meade’s article, she spoke of how the mass torture and killings in Chile have partly been swept under the rug. The right-wing party does not want to mention them so as not to need to take credit for the deaths, and the left-wing parties would like to govern without confrontation and admitting torture and murders without prosecuting them would be untenable. Thus, they have simply disregarded it, like a story that is neither good not bad, simply forgotten after reading it. It was unbelievable to me that this could be swept under the rug for convenience. How will Chile and the world learn from its past if it is not mentioned? If they had actively been denied like the Armenian genocide, then there would be a public discourse about them. This could be used as a method of education.

Luckily, It is true that some groups have attempted to bring these actions into the spotlight. However, they do not have the funding or the institutional aid in Chile for them to be very successful. For example, I had never heard of them before this week’s reading.

It is essential for us to know there past so that we do not make the same mistakes twice. Hopefully, Chile will continue moving in the correct direction. Yet, there is still much work to do. Chile is a demonstration that we cannot be ambivalent in the search for truth. We must actively educate ourselves and others about the past so that we may have a better future.

Op-Ed: Even Trump’s Infrastructure Plan is Authoritarian

Trump has finally released his plan for infrastructure spending. He released it along with his budget proposal. In both documents, Trump suggests privatization of some public assets, which increases his similarity to other authoritarian figures.

While I am personally against privatization, I understand why some might believe it is beneficial in specific scenarios. However, I think Trump is using privatization in a more sinister way. He is attempting to use privatization to enhance his political power, and he is not the first leader to do so. After all, Hitler privatized when he got into power. Now usually comparing someone to Hitler is a cheap method to undermine them but in this scenario it has a purpose. Trump is nor merely attempting to privatize the International Space Station (ISS), or Dulles airport, or even air traffic control centres, he is acting more and more like an authoritarian leader.

Now do not misunderstand my point, wanting to privatize industry does not make one an authoritarian, a fascist, or a Nazi. It is the reasoning for the privatization that is important. The Nazi’s did not privatize enterprises for a single motive. According to Germà Bel, in his article Against the mainstream: Nazi privatization in 1930s Germany, the Nazi government privatized because they believed that it would give them more political power with industrialists and because they thought that it would aid Germany in its economic recovery. Bel states that “the Nazi government used privatization as a tool to improve its relationship with big industrialists and to increase support among this group for its policies.” Bel specifies that the economic context in the 1930s is very different from the one seen today and therefore it cannot provide us with understanding about the current privatizations. However, that is not what is important here. The critical issue is that the Nazis used privatization as a political tool. This tool allowed them to gain more support from the industrialists. And it would have been harder for the Nazis to govern without this support.

Thus, if we were confident that Trump’s reasoning was innocent, this topic would merely be about our economic difference. However, if we observe Trump’s record as president, there is a reason to be worried. Trump has attempted to befriend businesses since before he was inaugurated. It is true that most Presidents attempt to have good relations with business. Yet, most do not go to the extremes that Trump has. He keeps bragging that he has cut the most regulations of any administration at this point in their administration. He also passed a tax bill that gave huge tax cuts to businesses.

Furthermore, Trump has punished those companies that he believes have wronged him. For example, there are reports that the reason that the Trump administration is suing to block the merger between AT&T and Time Warner is because Time Warner owns CNN, a media company that Trump has derided as fake news many times. So, Trump is both aiding corporation and hurting those who he believes are against him. Thus, he has shown a history of using other political tools to win the support of corporations and we can assume that he is doing the same with privatization.

However, these actions in a vacuum would not be terribly worrisome. Trump is not the first president to privatize public assets. However, he is the first president with authoritarian tendencies to use privatization to gain political power from the most influential companies in the US.

Thus, in a time when Trump’s administration created scandal after scandal, it is important to remember that there is nothing new under the sun. Privatization was one of the tools that allowed Nazis to consolidate and grow their political power, and we must be vigilant that we do not let that happen again.

Sweeper: Must populism be racist?

Most of our discussing this week focused on the definition of populism. The term is thrown around a lot but finding a definition is not an easy task. Linda Gordon, in her article, suggests that populist movement will often display 13 attributes. Our group did not have any problem with her definition, but Gordon’s thesis that the second Klan was the most prominent populist movement, was more controversial. The conversation came down to the question: Must populist movements be racist? We arrived at that question because Gordon suggests that demagoguery normally characterizes populism. And the only movements that she attributes as populists are racists, such as the Klan and the fascist movements in Europe between the wars.

Must a movement be racist to be able to pass all 13 attributes?  Some argued yes as extreme nationalism, one of the 13 attributes, breeds racism. Furthermore, defining the larger society as victims while also facing authoritarian leadership, two more attributes, is a ground ready for the marginalization of whatever group is making “the people” victims, such as the Catholics and Jews in the view of the Klan.

However, I argue that this is not the case. It is possible to meet these attributes without having a racist movement. For example, occupy wall street meets most of these characteristics. It is true that they do not meet them all. And it would be difficult to imagine occupy wall street with an authoritarian leader. Furthermore, it is more difficult to establish a mass movement when there is nothing to make the masses fearful off. Thus our discussion fell into a stalemate. Maybe one day a genuine populist campaign, according to Gordon, will grow and racism will not be its defining factor. However, until then, we can only theorize.

 

German Women’s Holocaust Guilt

Can genocide occur without the support of the society? Most of the research suggests that this is impossible. Therefore, some women must have been part of the sizeable genocidal system of Nazi Germany. Thus, why is genocide viewed as an only male business? This is the topic that Wendy Lower undertakes in her book Hitler’s Furies. However, knowing that women took part in the genocide, how much blame should they face for it?

The underlying theme of Lower’s book describes women either witnessing or actively partaking in the Holocaust due to two reasons. The first is that they were merely attempting to take advantage of the new economic situation in Germany. The economy was terrible so women had to get employed and the drafting of men into the army meant that the government needed women to help with administrative jobs. The second reason was that they believed that they were aiding the party and that it was their German duty, as the wife of an SS officer or other position, to partake in these atrocities.

Were women intended to participate in the genocide? Was it just by accident that women became accomplices and witness to the Holocaust? Lower mentions nurses who euthanized undesirable members of the German society. However, they could have been the exception to the rules as teachers were only supposed to teach children. Yet, teachers still needed to report Jews and other “undesirables.” So how much responsibility should they hold?

According to Lower, “refusing to kill Jews would not have resulted in punishment” (202). Attempting to help the Jews would have been punished severely. Thus, can all the women be treated as indirect or direct murderers? Or should the Nazi regime, a patriarchal one, face the blame.

Sweeper: Societal Nostalgia

Throughout the readings and discussion this week, nostalgia was brought up a few times. Nostalgia was a topic that focused on in my group for part of the debate. However, the analysis always focused on personal nostalgia. But, no one living today was alive anytime near the Middle Ages or even the 19th century. However, “Make America Great Again” only applies if you believe America was ever great. So, what made America great? And when was it great?

I believe that life was not better for anyone back then. It is true that the wealth and rights gap between whites and other races was huge, but even the wealthiest people then could not buy themselves a life expectancy or the items people have today. Therefore, that message resonated because people believed it was better, even though for someone living now to have been alive during the second coming of the KKK, they would have to be just under 100 years old. Thus, it is not personal nostalgia that sold this message; it is societal nostalgia. It is the actions of groups like the Daughters of the Confederacy who, according to Amy S. Kaufman in her article Medievalism and the KKK, “sponsored the very Confederate monuments we’re still fighting about today.”. They also published works defending and even praised the Klan. I believe this distinction is important because it changes how best to address the problem. If someone were merely nostalgic, it is theoretically possible that demonstrating that life was not better then would lead to them accepting that conclusion. However, societal nostalgia is more difficult as a society only began believing it because a specific portion of society found sources and information that they considered credible enough for them to form this opinion. Thus, merely demonstrating that they are wrong is not enough. One must prove that their sources are also wrong, and this is harder as can be seen in the fights to take down Confederate statues.

Therefore, while it might seem a simple technicality, it must be specified that while some might be intentionally overlooking history, others have fallen victim to a society that allows for negative nostalgia to flourish.