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May 23, 2005

What is Here Now, Part II

Two years ago I went to the Holocaust Museum for the first time a day before I was due to attend an Emily’s List Conference in Washington D.C. It wasn’t until we got hungry that my friend, Alison, and I realized we’d been there for four hours. The entire experience was compelling. We saw the artifacts of the lives of the individuals and communities who would be swallowed up by the horror of the holocaust and went with them into the camps, saw their cells and their bones and the dolls and purses the littlest girls left behind.

 

Among many other exhibits, I was particularly taken with a relatively simple one about the events leading up to the Holocaust: a corridor with newspaper stories about the systematic dismantling of the rights of Communists, Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, handicapped and non-traditional church people. Laws were passed by the Reichstag starting right after Hitler was elected Chancellor in 1933 that curtailed peoples’ rights and it kept getting worse year after year.

 

The articles, categorized by year, were pasted on the wall. 

1933

  • Nazis "temporarily" suspend civil liberties for all citizens.

  • Jews are prohibited from working as civil servants, doctors in the National Health Service, and teachers in public high schools.

  • Trade unions are closed.

  • Books with ideas considered dangerous to Nazi beliefs are burned in public.

1934

  • The non-Jewish wife of a Jew is sentenced to four months in prison for “race-defilement”

1935

  • Jews are deprived of their citizenship and other basic rights.

  • The Nazis intensify the persecution of political dissidents and others considered "racially inferior" including "Gypsies," Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals.

1936

  • Nazis boycott Jewish-owned businesses.

1938

  • On Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass," Nazis terrorize Jews throughout Germany and Austria- 30,000 Jews are arrested, 91 are killed. Thousands of shops and businesses are looted and over 1000 synagogues are set on fire.

  • All Jewish children are expelled from public schools in Germany and Austria.

  • Nazis take control of Jewish-owned businesses.

1939

  • Hitler orders the systematic murder of the mentally and physically disabled in Germany and Austria.

  • Jews are required to wear armbands or yellow stars.

And so it went. I was fascinated and horrified by the systematic tightening of the repression and the lack of widespread resistance.

 

It was not until I was thinking about that particular exhibit two weeks later at home that I realized that every article on that wall had been in English. I thought I remembered that it was primarily articles out of the New York Times. So there were people in this country who had to have known what was going on. Those people who read the national newspapers had been reading these pieces. Why didn’t they talk about what was coming in Germany? It did not arise out of nowhere, just as the rise of the Taliban and the crushing of women’s rights in Afghanistan was out in the open for us to see. Hitler and the Nazis had been systematically decimating the rights of an enormous number of people. The violence against these folks was rising dramatically.

The next thought I had was “I read the New York Times everyday. What do I know now about what is happening in this country?”

It was not a hard question to answer.

I had just finished reading a book entitled, “Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential” and I knew. James Moore and Wayne Slater, the authors and veteran Texan journalists, have written about both the Texas political scene and the national presidential campaigns for decades. They watched and wrote about how Karl Rove worked for over twenty years prior to Bush’s election to upturn the political landscape in America and lay the groundwork for Bush’s presidency. He was instrumental is changing the face of Texas politics between the mid 80’s, when every statewide office was held by Democrats, and 2000, when every statewide office was held by Republicans.

Rove was the master of dirty tricks. He took any number of Texan politicians down by a masterful combination of brilliant strategy and excellent polling and analysis along with outright lies, shameless use of willing FBI conspirators, well-placed leaks to reliable reporters, whisper campaigns and far worse.  He took down the well-known, such as Ann Richards and Jim Hightower. He also took down a number of less-well known but rising stars in the Democratic pantheon in Texas. He mentored, groomed and ran campaigns for Kay Bailey Hutchison, Rick Perry, Priscilla Owens and many others in addition to George W. Bush.

He was working all the angles – cultivating business and using their contributions to finance campaigns to ensure the election of candidates favorable to business. Just like he’s doing now, with help from a lot of people he has since trained and collaborated with.

And that is what I thought of when I asked myself the question about what is happening right now in this country. Our rights are being constrained as a result of the tightening grip of big business paying to install the candidates who will then pass the legislation or make law from the bench that benefits big business.

Even two years ago I could not have foreseen how far Karl Rove and this folks would go. They have been breath-taking in their audacity. At the national level, minority rights are being trampled. At the local and national levels across the country, business has control of the laws that govern how business is done. This impinges greatly on the ability of communities to control the quality of the conditions that impact their health and welfare.

The other day, while trolling around the Internet, I came across something on Digby’s site that clarified the thinking I’d done two years earlier about what is happening to our country. It was a speech delivered by Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia on the Senate floor on March 1st this year. The entire speech was awe-inspiring in its clarity. The excerpt that jumped out at me, though, related to how the legal system could be used systematically to deprive people of their rights. Here’s what he said:

“But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends. Historian Alan Bullock writes that Hitler’s dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single law, the Enabling Law. Hitler needed a two-thirds vote to pass that law, and he cajoled his opposition in the Reichstag to support it. Bullock writes that “Hitler was prepared to promise anything to get his bill through, with the appearances of legality preserved intact.” And he succeeded.

"Hitler’s originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the State: the correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his revolution. Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal."


I’m not saying that Bush is going down the path that Hitler went down. Fascism can wear many coats. I am saying that just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s right or even that it’s based in the Constitution. That is hard to wrap our minds around but it is becoming increasingly truer and it is something we have to figure out what to do about before we lose even more of our rights.

 

Posted by Lynn Allen on May 23, 2005 at 10:20 PM | Permalink

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