Michele and I saw The Monuments Men, a story about trying to save art looted by the Nazis, a couple of days ago. I kept thinking, How did these thugs take over Germany? As I type that question, it seems more rhetorical than an actual question because I do know the rough outline of how Hitler went from the failed Beer Hall Putsch to Chancellor. I somewhat know the facts, but I have a hard time understanding the undercurrent. They were thugs, afterall, and used the language of thugs; acted like thugs.
I really only know Germany through her artifacts; Audis, BMWs, and Mercedei, Leicas and IWC watches. The Germany of refined passion, of Bach and Run, Lola, Run. Her artifacts are so thoughtful, for lack of a better word. How did that Germany let itself be taken over by thugs?
One of my main tenets is that cultures are different but that people – worldwide – are more or less the same. I have a much better sense of The United States than I do of Germany and it doesn’t seem possible that thugs could take over here. It seems impossible that the Ted Nugents or the Duck Breath guys could gain real power. But, when I really think about it, I think that the first step – to take them seriously – is already here.
Why does the press – what we call The media, now – even acknowledge the ravings of a Ted Nugent? He is like a lunatic screaming in the street – the kind of guy we scurry by, heads turned away – except that he is not in the street, he is on the radio or TV. The media acts as if he actually had something to say. Part of it, I think, is that the media loves conflict, even manufactured conflict. It sells newspaper and airtime.
However, there is something deeper going on here. Huge numbers of Americans – and people worldwide – feel that their lives are getting worse and there seems to be no governmental plan as to how they will improve. Our government seems to be incapable of solving the problems. Problems that I consider real problems; income inequality, gun violence, and climate change. But also problems that I consider phony problems or, even, actual improvements – but lots of people consider them real – like the diminishing influence of the Bible and Gay Marriage.
I listened to Nancy Pelosi on Jon Stewart and he kept asking her what were the systemic reasons that resulted in income inequality, the failure to control gun violence, and climate change, she kept blaming the Republicans and Stewart kept coming back to the question of the systemic reasons. I don’t think she even understood what he was asking, she just seemed completely befuddled. The crowd even booed her, this is the Daily Show crowd who are liberal, who should be her constituency. I like Nancy Pelosi – in March of 2010, I wrote With all the credit that should go to President Obama – and he has done an extraordinary job of getting the Health Care Bill pushed through – without Nancy Pelosi it wouldn’t have happened. Period! – and I was embarrassed, even pissed, and turned off the TV thinking She is not the solution.
When government loses people like me, when I lose confidence that government is going to solve income disparity or set a rational gun policy or forge a coalition to end destroying the world, it is easy to imagine, that people that didn’t like government in the first place, will look someplace else. Someplace where the people with answers are not part of The Establishment. Somebody who has answers that are easier to understand.
All over the world, people are finding those people. We see it in the anti-gay votes in Arizona and the Stand Your Ground laws in Florida. We see it in the resurging Nationalism movement in Hungary and Vladimir Putin being illegally reelected, in the new wave of persecution and harassment of the Roma in Europe . We see it in the rise of Old Testament-hate-Christianity and old-time Mormonism, in Fundamentalist Islam and ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Against all that I would have predicted, growing up in the 50s and 60s, a growing minority is becoming more religious and superstitious, less scientific. They are more willing to accept the simple, clear answer over the complex muddled answer.
We are herd animals, it is in our DNA, and we want leaders, most of us want to follow somebody. When our leaders leave a void, the screamers in the street, the Ted Nugents, the Pat Robertsons, the Rush Limbaughs, have room to move in. They get taken seriously.
What I kept forgetting, as I watched The Monuments Men, is that thugs can be smart. Being nasty is not the opposite of being smart, they can go hand in hand. Also going hand in hand with thuggery is the crude – as in simple – answer.