We've Been Here Before

"The fear of speaking ill of Putin is so great that when Vlad killed his chief critic, Alexei Navalny, the only mention from Donald J. Trump was to compare his legal troubles to Navalny. One more reminder, Mr. President, Navalny is, uh, dead."

We've Been Here Before
Not Nuremberg but New York.

I had the great good fortune to interview the noted astronomer Carl Sagan 5 times in my career. Usually it was a new book of his, or promoting the 'Nova" program. But to call him simply an astronomer, I think, is to do him an injustice. We often strayed from talk of stars, planets and UFO's to religion, politics and a host of other things. That's why the quote I most remember was not about the universe, but human nature.

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back. ~Carl Sagan
After our first interview in 1994.

And these days, the bamboozle usually comes in the form of politics. In the old days, when communication was slow, charismatic speakers could sway a crowd with soaring and mean-spirited rhetoric and hope the word would spread through newspapers. Preachers in southern pulpits in the first half of the 19th century could convince you that black men were simply inferior in all ways, save their ability to labor in the Mississippi sun. And all your neighbors felt the same way, so if you had a twinge of guilt occasionally, you just ignored it and kept reading secessionist news articles.

Ignore it long enough and, who knows, some politicians might convince you to take up arms against your own country. And when it was all over, 700,000 of your fellow Americans lay dead.

I can still hear echoes of that particular bamboozle on Facebook and in the rantings of white-nationalist chinless nits, as the Brits would call them.

With the advent of radio and TV, the bamboozlers didn't even have to depend on papers. Radio radicals like Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest, spouted the kind of antisemitism during the depression that was also being used in Nazi Germany to foist all the economic problems both countries faced on the Jews.

“We have lived to see the day that modern Shylocks have grown fat and wealthy, praised and deified, because they have perpetuated the ancient crime of usury under the modern racket of statesmanship.” 
Father Charles Coughlin, leader of the antisemitic Christian Front, delivers a radio broadcast. [LCID: 90522]

Well, both countries looked for a way out of the worldwide depression. The Germans chose Hitler and we chose FDR.

Coughlin initially supported Roosevelt but the President essentially ignored that and pushed through the New Deal. And Coughlin turned against him. And as Europe was on the edge of another war, those folks in his camp got organized and formed the German-American Bund (federation) under the leadership of a Naturalized American, who fought for Germany in WWI, Fritz Kuhn.

Gerhard Wilhelm Kunze, the Bund's National Public Relations Officer, criticized  President Roosevelt by repeatedly referring to him as "Frank D. Rosenfeld", calling his New Deal the "Jew Deal", and denouncing what he believed to be Bolshevik-Jewish American leadership.

The founder, Kuntz, organized virtual Hitler-Youth camps for young people around the country, and in February of 1939, a gigantic rally in Madison Square Garden.

Seven months later, Hitler invaded Poland.

Wonder how George would have felt about the swastikas on each side.

In the meantime, the America First Committee (that has a familiar ring to it) was organized with aviation hero Charles Lindbergh as its most prominent member. He even visited Germany, and was given an aviation medal by Hermann Goering. He was later so ashamed that he volunteered to teach fighters tactics in the Pacific theater and even flew a few unauthorized missions.

File:Hermann Goering gives Charles Lindbergh a Nazi medal.jpg
Yeah, pretty tough to explain this one away.

But, in 1938, twenty years after World War I had ended, 70% of Americans polled believed that the United States' participation in that war had been a mistake. In fact, the United States had only been involved in the final nineteen months of the bloody conflict, between April 1917 and November 1918. America had passed the Neutrality Act. We just didn't want to be involved.

Roosevelt cajoled the congress into approving Lend-Lease in 1941 so we could help the beleaguered allies with the equipment they needed to fight the Nazis. As Churchill famously said, "Give us the tools, and we'll finish the job."

Of course, Pearl Harbor ended the fantasy that the richest country in the world could retire to a neutral corner as the world was going up in flames. But as you see, there were plenty of folks who thought we could and plenty of Americans who agreed with them.

So we come to today. And for some reason, dictators are back in fashion. From Trump’s bromance with the brutal ex-Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to the fawning enthusiasm of many on the US right for the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, apparently because he's pretty anti-gay, or the invitation to ex-Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro to speak at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference – contemporary Republicans’ admiration for right-wing authoritarian leaders is no secret.

And from the man leading the race for the nomination, his admiration for Presidents Kim, Xi, and Vlad himself is well-known and publicly stated. With the help of modern Lindberghs, only without the courage, like Tucker Carlson, we come full circle. The fear of speaking ill of Putin is so great that when Vlad killed his chief critic, Alexei Navalny, the only mention from Donald J. Trump was to compare his legal troubles to Navalny. One more reminder, Mr. President, Navalny is, uh, dead.

And the battlefield now is online, a medium Father Coughlin could have only dreamed of. In his must-read book "The Road to Unfreedom" Yale professor Timothy Snyder says that in 2016, Facebook alone shut down 5.8 million fake accounts right before the election.

These were used to promote political messages and that year, about a million sites used a tool to artificially generate tens of millions of "likes" thereby pushing certain items and absolute fiction into the newsfeeds of unwitting Americans.

At a Los Angeles World Affairs Council town hall, Snyder said this...

“If we were having this discussion in Moscow right now, we would very quickly find ourselves on the floor with men pointing guns at us,” said Snyder. Speaking to a LAWAC Global Café breakfast, Snyder said that Russians don’t trust their own media, but they are constantly told that the foreign media is full of lies too, “so you might as well prefer our lies to their lies.” And although Russia expends enormous effort on its cyber campaign against the West, “their entire cyber budget costs less than one F-35 – which do you think changes the world more?”

I watched a Sky News reporter talking with people on the street in Moscow about Ukraine. They, to a man and woman, bought into the Putin line that this was, in essence, a rescue mission and that Nazis and fascists had taken over in Kyiv. When the reporter in her lovely British accent, reminded them the President of Ukraine is a Jew and the vice president a Muslim, they waved it off as propaganda.

So how many dunderheads over here believe the same thing? Or, as in the late 30's, we can just sit here fat and happy and let the world sort itself out without us. We saw in the aftermath of WWII what was really going on in the camps, for instance. It still would be had we not intervened.

Add to that our newfound affection for dictators. After Trump said he'd only be dictator for a "day," the Washington Post asked folks what they thought of it.

Maybe it's just me, but does that worry any of you?

I watched a documentary recently about the men who made up the Einsatzgruppen, which were Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary death squads of Nazi Germany that were responsible for mass murder, primarily by shooting, during World War II. Psychologists and historians tried to figure out how simple, working men or farmers, who were otherwise decent, religious people, could carry out these mass killings of men, women, and children. Oh, some enjoyed it, but most were sickened. But, and here is the key, they didn't want to show weakness in front of their peers.

This kind of mass lunacy may be no more unreasonable than teenagers daring each other to smoke. So when some radio ranter says Joe Biden is the devil incarnate, well, all your neighbors agree so there must be something to it. The most interesting critique I used to get when I did talk radio, Lord forgive me, is, "Well, all my friends agree that you suck." And, frankly, they probably do. Because we all have retreated to our political corners, we only hang out with like-minded friends and we are all pissed.

Anger is the common currency of modern politics and life itself. I have a very long commute to my news job, and in the winter, my drive home is at night. I notice that all new car headlights, in addition to being far too bright, look angry. I find out it's not a coincidence. Designers say that people like a front facia that looks aggressive. Furrowed brows above inward slanting headlights.

Infiniti Tries to Scare Us with New Q50 Sedan's Angry ...

Really? Is it any wonder that a favorite video game in the last few years is called "Angry Birds?" Even my happy little goofy Jeep front end, which they've had since WWII, can be made mean with a plastic cover. You can turn this familiar face...

Jeep Grille Insert | Over 50+ Colors | Under The Sun – Under The Sun Inserts

Into this...

2019-2023 Jeep Wrangler JL Gladiator JT Carbon Creations Predator Grille 1  Piece - CarbonCreations.com

So, the key is to keep us angry, even on the road, but especially in the voting booth. The other guy is the end of civilization as we know it, and will tax you into the poorhouse and import migrants to kill you, not cut your yard and change your kid's sex in the bargain. Or, alternatively, they will allow Putin free reign, force you to pay child support for IVF embryos, and give all your money to Elon Musk. And there will be plenty of peer pressure on the internet to agree with both.

I wish you luck. You've been warned.

Roger Gray has toiled at the journalism trade since 1970 and his first radio news job at KTRH in Houston. Over those woefully misspent years, he has worked in radio, TV and written for magazines. He was twice elected President of the Texas Automobile Writers Association and was elected to the Texas Radio Hall of Fame. He covered the first Persian Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany, Oslo Accords in Israel and peace talks in Ireland. He interviewed writers, actors, politicians and every President from Ford to George W, and none of them remember him.Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.
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