Shades of an American Kristallnacht?

Tonight at dinner the conversation turned to politics, although it seemed that everyone at the table was reluctant to mention the name “Obama”—a sign of the deep disappointment in our erst-while hero.

There was some enthusiasm for the political satire of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, who are probably doing more to educate young people in politics than most high schools in America today.

There was derision for the spectacle of the Republican primaries, which I, for one, have been unable to stomach watching—not even for a moment.

And there was deep sadness over the unavoidable truth that now, in the wake of Citizens United, it has become totally legal for rich people to run politicians the same way they might run horses or greyhounds.  Just like that.

Maybe that’s what provides the eerie, zombie-like atmosphere in politics these days. You really have the sense that most politicians, especially the ones at the top echelons of power, are like old-fashioned Kabbalistic golems, animated out of clay by skilled magicians who can control them from afar.

Of course, that’s been going on for a long time.  Remember George Bush, a wind-up man getting remote control instructions through his earphone in the 2004 Presidential debates?

But it’s getting worse and worse.  That’s why I can’t stand to watch Gingrich and Santorum and all the other Republican wax model men mouth their lines on the stage these days.  You know they’ll say whatever they’re told…whatever they think it will take to win.

There is certainly a good chance that one of the Republicans will win.  The Democrats are dispirited and grumpy, not much in the mood to get all fired up about yet another election.

The Republicans, on the other hand, are rabid to take back the White House.  They’ve been busy as hell redistricting to try to gain every electoral advantage, and I have absolutely no faith in the electronic voting machines that they’ve been installing in every town and city in the land.

It’s very possible that Mr. XY Zombie Republican could seize power in November, with the backing of endlessly deep pockets like the Koch brothers, Big Energy, and Big Finance, and the blessing of the Supreme Court.

What then?

If the Republicans controlled all three houses of government, they could ram through the legislation they’ve been concocting during the past decade or so: legislation powering up the assault on the environment, on health, on social services, destroying any kind of safety net for people, animals or the environment.

They could escalate the war on dissidents (like me), who dare to oppose their plans.  In short order, the United States could turn into just another big banana republic, with a military-backed regime of elites governing through the indiscriminate use of fear tactics, with violence applied as necessary to keep the people in line.

Lately I have been re-reading Margaret Atwood’s marvelous sci-fi novel The Handmaid’s Tale, and finding it chillingly prophetic.  In Atwood’s dystopia, environmental catastrophe has rendered the elites infertile, and pushed them to withdraw into gated communities where food shortages are common, and people are regularly hung in the public square to keep everyone fearful and docile.

The narrator remembers how just before her world fell apart, there were signs of repression: books being banned and burned, identity cards being issued and required, mobility restricted, media censored.  All of a sudden, one fine morning, it was no longer possible for her and her family to get in their car and drive away to seek safety in Canada.  All of a sudden, they were trapped in a nightmare that went quickly from bad to worse.

Augusto Pinochet of Chile

This reminds me also of the many testimonials I have read from Latin America—true stories, not fiction—from the 1970s, when wealthy politicians wielding military power and complete control over the ballot boxes ruled their countries with iron fists, “disappearing” anyone who might remotely be a threat, including thousands of innocent students.  This happened in Chile and Argentina, in Guatemala and El Salvador and many other countries.  Often the shift from democracy to fascist dictatorship happened literally overnight.

As in Germany before the Kristallnacht, none of us here in the U.S. wants to believe that anything could happen to destroy our cherished freedoms, our vaunted  “American way of life.”  We don’t want to admit, even to ourselves, the extent to which our freedoms are already being encroached upon, day by day.

Just last week, for example, there was an outrageous episode in Arizona, where the government declared a whole long list of books by Mexican Americans to be unsuitable for school use, and went so far as to direct the school librarians and teachers to pull them from the shelves, box them up and put them into deep storage.

Among the authors banned are some of my favorite writers—Gloria Anzaldua, Elizabeth Martinez, Paulo Freire.

Paulo Freire

Yes, that Paulo Freire, the famous Brazilian educator and free thinker who wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a brilliant analysis of the way that traditional education indoctrinates students into conformity and submission to authority.

Freire proposed that instead of a banking style of education, where knowledge is deposited into students, who are then required to spit it back upon demand, education worth its salt should empower students to think for themselves.

Such a simple idea, but so powerful, too.  Education should teach people to think for themselves, and to work with each other to come to consensus on issues of importance to the larger society.

Isn’t that just what the Occupy movements have been trying to do?  If Freire were alive, he would be out there in the thick of the Occupy action, inspiring the young to shake off the false animation of Zombiland, and insist on dancing to their own authentic beat.

This reminds me of another beloved science fiction book, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, where the sinister IT controls all the inhabitants of a city by forcing them to conform to ITS rhythm.  Their hearts pulse to ITS rhythm, their eyes twirl to ITS rhythm, their thoughts are entirely subsumed by IT.  The only way to break ITS control is to think for oneself, to be creative, resilient and determined.

The children Meg and Charles Wallace succeed in rescuing their father from the clutches of IT by dint of their own powers of creativity and love, with a little help from some eccentric and freethinking guides.

Will the science fiction tale we’re living through now have that kind of happy ending?

Oh yeah, it’s not fiction, is it.

Leave a comment


  1. leavergirl

     /  January 22, 2012

    “It’s very possible that Mr. XY Zombie Republican could seize power in November, with the backing of endlessly deep pockets like the Koch brothers, Big Energy, and Big Finance, and the blessing of the Supreme Court”

    Oh. So unlike Mr O, right? 😦

  2. Myles Hoenig

     /  January 22, 2012

    Written by a true Democrat who totally ignores how her party is just as bought and her (our?) president signed into law NDAA, which will give legal protection for Kristallnacht.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  January 22, 2012

      No, I’m not ignorant of the NDAA or how the Democrats have sold out. Just think that they’re marginally better than the GOP. Over on Common Dreams there was quite a discussion about this today, you might want to check it out. Many are calling for a third party candidate. Having seen how this failed in the past, I’m nervous about it. But then, I’m nervous about the whole scenario, and there seem to be very few options. If you have suggestions, I’m listening!

  3. Myles Hoenig

     /  January 22, 2012

    Thank you for responding. A third party is the way to go and we have to accept that in the very near future the picture will be bleak, regardless of a 1%Obama win or a 1%GOP.
    I’ll check out CD as I occasional post there and have had an article published by them. I’m more often in Dissident Voice. If you see any of the articles you’ll see where I’m coming from.

    I look forward to other postings of yours.


  4. leavergirl

     /  January 23, 2012

    Third party. Sheesh. Anybody who makes it all the way up will be corrupted on the way. If they refuse, they will not make it.

    Besides, the whole system is massively skewed against third parties. Revolution! 🙂

    • Myles Hoenig

       /  January 23, 2012

      I was a high school 60’s child but still maintain my idealism. I’ve worked for many years with the Greens (not affiliated with them anymore; member of the Socialist Party USA). I’ve run and I’ve run a state-wide campaign. But here’s one point to leave with you about the ‘practicality’ of a 3rd Party win and corruption. A 3rd P win would be such a radical notion (even if it were to be coming from the far right) that the winner could easily claim a mandate and pull the other people along with him/her for the fight.
      Can you imagine if Obama actually supported health care for all and away from the health insurance industry (a la Romney) by going on the bully pulpit and comparing the insurance industry to the equivalent of Al Qaeda? It could have worked but his spinelessness and his being owned by them wouldn’t have permitted it.
      So have hope. It takes a real leader with real vision. He or she has got to be out there.

      • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

         /  January 23, 2012

        There’s danger in pinning our hopes on the emergence of “a real leader,” though. The leader can easily be eliminated–one carefully aimed bullet will do it. I am more interested in broad-based organizing a la Occupy as a strategy, though ultimately several leaders would have to come forward to get the job done–

  5. Myles Hoenig

     /  January 23, 2012

    I agree. I’m not looking for a ‘white knight’ and the Occupy strategy is the grass roots approach to take. When it comes to ‘taking’ power though, a Party or an individual within a Party, needs to be out front and both leading and following the masses. Mutual power sharing.

  6. leavergirl

     /  January 23, 2012

    Myles said: “his being owned by them wouldn’t have permitted it.”

    Well, there you have it. That’s why no third party candidate is a solution. Those who rise come to be owned. Period. Shouldn’t this be the lesson from the Obama debacle?

    I am not pinning my hopes on no leader, nohow. I am pinning my hopes on all of us working together, creating group intelligence out of the grassroots.


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