Saturday, December 12, 2015

Of Trump and Le Pen and Populism, Xenophobia and Neo-Nationalism

Not even the Globe's Margaret Wente can imagine Donald Trump winning the Republican presidential nomination much less the White House. I would like, for once, to think Maggie is right but there's a lingering unease to this question.

Many countries experience the phenomenon that results when populism mates with extremism resulting in a hyper-nationalism blended into a particularly vulgar xenophobia. Usually these things run their course and then get rejected, spat out. Think 'Tail Gunner' Joe McCarthy. Every now and then, however, the extremist seed sprouts and is nurtured and grows into fruition, an event that often leads to persecution, oppression and wars.

There seems to be some tipping point, past which a new (yet carefully contrived) reality supplants, even erases the past. It's not evolution but revolution and the past is utterly eclipsed, its values and precepts and institutions swept aside. These things of the past have to go because they're incompatible, irreconcilable with or even simply repugnant to the new order.

You'll find plenty of histories recounting the transformation of the German republic when Weimar was eradicated to make way for the Third Reich. What is less well recounted is how the German people were harnessed to this new and incredibly powerful ideology.

German POWs, Juno beach

I caught a glimpse into this by reading a couple of cheap Kindle books that contained interviews of German soldiers who had participated in the Allied invasion of France on D-Day, 6 June, 1944. These interviews were conducted ten years on when West Germany was beginning its economic revival. The subjects were infantrymen, tankers of the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS, and just one Luftwaffe pilot.

By the time of the interviews the war was over and the subjects had probably spent a year or two as prisoners of war before being released. They were no longer being fed NAZI propaganda but it was clear they still held to a lot of their engineered beliefs.

Of all the subjects one, just one, accepted the moral justification of the Allied landings. That individual was reconciled to the monstrous brutality of the NAZI regime, especially the murder of millions of Jews. None of the others mentioned it. The exceptional veteran saw in the Normany invasion the liberation not only of occupied Europe but also of his own Germany.

As for the others, they saw no moral justification for D-Day. Many of them saw themselves as actually defending France against the territorial ambitions of Britain, American "bankers" (code for Jewish financiers) all in league with the Bolsheviks to crush Germany.

About half of the interview subjects were insistent that they had a legitimate cause, the defence of what they saw as "United Europe." To them, Hitler hadn't conquered and occupied old Europe. He had bestowed a benevolent unity to these other countries to the benefit of all. They fashioned their Fuhrer as a latter day Napoleon. To their mind, the Allies were the enemies not just of Germany and the Axis powers but of all the occupied countries of Europe. The British and Americans were merely sapping Germany's ability to defeat and destroy Stalin's Communists. It was all a grand conspiracy.

The hypocrisy in their observations and criticisms was just phenomenal and it became obvious that required an intensely warped perception of reality cloaked in a pretty nasty ideology to sustain. It was almost as though it was constructed in multiple layers, each building on others and becoming ever more brittle and strident as Germany's wartime fortunes collapsed.

Perhaps the lesson in this is that, once that ideological tipping point is passed, the narrative can metastasize until reality - fact and evidence-based - is discounted to the point of irrelevance, replaced by a dark and deeply embedded delusion - something, anything to cling to as desperation overwhelms and nihilism takes hold.

Update:  Somewhat off topic.  Among the interview subjects were a number who were captured by Canadian soldiers at Juno beach. While Germans captured by the Americans or British recounted instances of their captors gunning down surrendering soldiers, those captured by Canadians were uniformly high in the praise of their captors. They all said that the Canadian soldiers fought like animals but once the need for shooting was over, the murderous animus simply left them.


LeDaro said...

Mound, Donald Trump is an idiot and crazy man. I hope our American friends understand that he is a dangerous man. He is stupider than even Hitler.

The Mound of Sound said...

Trump is a classical demagogue, LD. He's in an exploratory mode, trying to see how far he can push before the cost/benefit analysis goes negative. It's the people who flock to him that I fear.