Thursday, July 27, 2006

Seeing the Forest

Polls continue to show that a large number of Americans believe our country is on the wrong track.We're bogged down in what a majority believe is a costly and ill-conceived war being waged stupidly, gasoline now costs $3 a gallon across the country, wages are stagnant, and Congress seems too caught up in silly election politics to deal effectively with a host of national problems. Frustration and cynicism seem to be at all time highs, followed closely by anxiety.

The mood of the country is not unlike that of 1920's Germany, according to sociologist Brian E. Fogarty. The author of "War, Peace, and the Social Order", Fogarty has written an interesting op-ed column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

In Germany of the 1920s, as now in 21st-century America, appeals to reason and prudence were no way to get votes in times of crisis. Much more effective were appeals to the anger and fear of the German people. A politician could attract more votes by criticizing the government than by praising it, and a vicious negative campaign was usually more effective than a clean one. One of the problems of democracy is that voters aren't always rational, and appeals like these could be very effective.

As usually happens in times of distress, the Germans became a people for whom resolve was valued more highly than prudence, daring more than caution, and righteousness more than discretion. In many ways, they were a people not so different from today's Americans.

What was needed, the Germans thought, was a strong leader -- someone who would put an end to politics as usual; most of all, someone who could unite all the divisions in Germany and dispel the clamor. They found that leader in Adolf Hitler, and for a time, most Germans were glad they did.

Of course, America is not 1920s Germany, and we are certainly not on the verge of a fascist state. But neither have we experienced the deep crises the Germans faced. The setbacks of the Iraq/Afghan war are a far cry from the devastating loss of the First World War; we are not considered the scourge of the international community, and we don't need wheelbarrows full of money to buy a loaf of bread. But even in these relatively secure times, we have shown an alarming willingness to choose headstrong leadership over thoughtful leadership, to value security over liberty; to accept compromises to constitutional principles, and to defy the opinion of the rest of the world.

...We Americans have had our flights from democracy -- the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, the Red Scare and the McCarthy era, Watergate -- but we have always pulled back from the brink and returned to normal.

The time is coming for us to pull back from the brink again. This must happen before the government gets so strong that it can completely demonize opposition, gain complete control of the media, and develop dossiers on all its citizens. By then it will be too late, and we'll have ourselves to blame.
[Emphasis added]

While I would argue that in fact the US is considered "the scourge of the international community," and that in fact we are "on the verge of a fascist state," I think Mr. Fogarty's analysis hits the mark with startling and timely clarity. Because it is clear that the current crop of politicians (on both sides of the aisle) don't quite 'get it,' it is up to the citizenry to right the ship. Hopefully someone will rise to the task and appeal to the better nature of the electorate. We've got until November.


Post a Comment

<< Home