Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
And so we remain vigilant for our own Reichstag fire, our singular dramatic event that accelerates the slide into totalitarianism and from there into greater catastrophe. It could very well have been the shooting at the Congressional baseball game, except we live in a time of easily accessible podiums. The swell of media, social and otherwise, means we exist in a constant, swirling communications storm–it is more difficult now than it was in the 1930s to craft a completely overwhelming narrative that Communists or Democrats or Socialists or Greens or whomever are such a clear and present danger to the nation that they must essentially be outlawed.
Those working to create a dictatorship in 21st century America are not relying on one disaster to provide cover for their agenda. They have been planting the story seeds for years instead, brightly colored yet toxic blossoms that grow best in the shade.
They lobby for and advance a paradigm in which the same open communication apparatus that hinders their ability to shape the story to their advantage should instead be placed under the aegis of market forces in the name of freedom and enterprise, choking out the voices who have neither the resources nor the funds to remain heard. Lacking arguments rooted in logic, reason, or compassion, they opt for noise and fury, aiming to keep their enemies off balance and grasping for purchase. They brand peaceful protests as riots and celebrate hate groups as oppressed, legitimate purveyors of rational thought.
They tell you that the press is corrupt and deceitful when it reports on corruption and deceit. They tell you that your leaders are supported by a significant majority of your fellow citizens, that the crowds at their rallies are historically large and that millions of their Twitter followers are real people. When journalists suggest otherwise, their attorney general suggests from behind the presidential seal that journalists may need to be prosecuted, should they continue to report on information that we, as the nominal overseers of a representative government, are in fact entitled to know about those we granted power in the first place.
They tell you that the legislative or judiciary bodies that are meant to provide a check on executive power are either ineffective or outright harmful, placing your life and the lives of others at great risk. They demand that longstanding parliamentary rules be either changed or ignored to provide a clearer path towards goals that expand their own influence while limiting the ability of others to act against them. They issue unilateral edicts without the prior awareness of the offices that will be charged with enforcing them, then falsely claim a sustained and successful period of passing law and reform. They gradually begin to suggest that these entities have no business being involved in governance at all, that they should instead be relegated to a consultation role that acts at the pleasure of the autocrat. They install lackeys and lieutenants in departments once established to be independent of executive pressure and excoriate those who fail to march in lockstep.
They tell you that voter fraud is rampant, specifically voter fraud among the ethnic and economic minorities who voted for your opponents. They send grotesque, grinning men in front of cameras to demand proof from every person that they are in fact allowed to participate in the process, suggesting without outright stating that there will be penalties for nebulous, broadly interpreted crimes. They groom their loyalists with tales of hostile aliens among us and empower the most unstable among them to begin planning for purges and persecution of these aliens. If somebody suggests as mere hypothetical to these loyalists that perhaps free elections should be suspended, until the problems of voter fraud and insidious elements have been curtailed, far too many of them find the prospect acceptable.
After Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor in 1933 the first thing he asked President Hindenburg to do was dissolve the Reichstag, Germany’s legislature–a request that was refused. After the Reichstag building burned one month later, the first thing Hitler requested and received was a sweeping decree that suspended the majority of Germany’s civil rights, including freedom of press, association, assembly, and expression, and the right to privacy; this decree was used to cripple the Nazi Party’s political enemies through arrests and raids. After elections failed to give Nazis the absolute power they required in the Reichstag, Hitler requested and received the Enabling Act, which gave his cabinet the power to draft laws on their own, bypassing the legislature entirely–including laws that defied the German constitution. The Reichstag itself went along with this plan based in part on a constructed expiration date of four years; they either failed to consider or chose not to believe that once the Nazis had such complete power they would be loath ever to relinquish it, and that the damage they could do in four years might be the sort that redefines infamy.
These things do not happen exactly the same way each time they happen–they occur at different speeds and shapes, with different players culpable and complicit–but they hold enough similarities that we should be willing to name them and resist them when they have been named. Due to the all-encompassing evil that the Nazi Party came to represent in history, we are reticent to compare them directly to any political movement that came after, vulnerable to forgetting that they achieved their iron grip through both legal means and normalization of their philosophies, in what was once a constitutional democracy.
We are not watching the Reichstag burn. We are watching the match falling towards the puddle of fuel on the floor, and curiously debating amongst ourselves whether the initial burst of warmth and light might be worth the death and destruction that follow it.