I'm not one to readily use the Adolf Hitler/Nazi analogy, but a front page article in today's New York Times about this exhibition at the German Historical Museum in Berlin gave me pause to think about the current political climate in America. The exhibit, as I understand it, examines the idea that it was not simply a matter of Hitler and his Nazi henchmen enslaving the German people, but equally a matter of the German people empowering Hitler and his Nazi henchmen. When I look around me in America today, I'm distressed to see a significant number of people who are willing to surrender the power of their own minds to the nationalist slogans, platitudes and easy answers of demagogues and xenophobes.
Would a Hitler be possible here? I like to think not. But the example of Hitler and the German people of the 1930s is a chilling reminder that all it takes is an excess of fear and paranoia, along with a sense of disentitlement and self-pity, for people to be herded into acting against their rational interests and instincts. We have reached a pitch, now, where loudly promoted lies are too readily mistaken for the truth, and rhetoric too often for genuine discourse.
The election process in which we are currently engaged is frightening because it has been reduced, in too many instances, to shouting matches where neither side listens to the other; and because the undercurrents of racism, nationalism and blind allegiance to ideology go unacknowledged.
So, much though I dislike the easy analogies and glib aspersions, it seems to me that we have something important and urgent to learn about ourselves through an honest and clear-sighted look at what we human beings allowed to happen back then. Kudos to the German Historical Museum for initiating it. Any chance the show could travel to, say, Washington?