Republicans get indignant when comparisons are made between Hitler and Trump, and between the Nazis and the Republican congress. Actually, I don’t know how upset Trump gets, as I doubt he has enough understanding of history to even be insulted by the comparison. At any rate, it motivated me to look back through history at Nazi Germany and see how Hitler was able to get gentiles on board with his agenda and Jews to be, at least initially, lulled into a false sense of security that made them easier to manage. I discovered that irony played a role in his success in this regard; he used ironic names and labels to effectively mask what was really going on. And coincidentally, so do the Republicans and their clownish leader.
Above the gates of the infamous death camp Auschwitz and other concentration camps was the phrase ‘Work Is Liberty.’ It sounded hopeful and promised a happy ending to what otherwise looked like a terrifying experience if the prisoners would just work hard for their Nazi captors. But, as one survivor has said, the Jews were told by soldiers who pointed to the smoke pouring out of the chimneys that the only way out was through those chimneys. And they were generally right, at least in the case of six million souls. But the irony of the sign helped control hundreds of thousands of confused and dazed prisoners.
And then there was the process of ‘selection’ in which prisoners were forced to run past the camp commandant who made the determination, by signaling left or right with his thumb, who would be ‘selected’ to live another day and who would be ‘selected’ to die. The Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda was another German label that misled on purpose. Although this one almost sounds contradictory within itself: propaganda generally doesn’t ‘enlighten.’ And, of course, the so-called enlightenment was contrived to, once again, further Hitler’s agenda of hate and control.
There was more, of course, but you get the idea. It reminds me of author Shirley Jackson’s story ‘The Lottery’ in which the ‘winner’ of the annual town lottery gets stoned to death. Not much of a prize, just as being ‘selected’ could be a death sentence. And just as these examples illustrate a masterful use of irony, so we have right here in our midst our own examples of irony, many of which are also about control. In these cases, controlling U.S.voters is the main agenda.
The so-called Right to Work law has been pushed over the heads of voters by the Supreme Court as far as public unions, such as the teachers unions, go. But here in Missouri, Right to Work is on the ballot next month for voters to determine whether it will go into effect for private sector unions. And who wouldn’t want the ‘right to work,’ right? Without going into the ins and outs of this legislation, it effectively lowers wages in states where it has been implemented, while it benefits the business owners. Benefits can be cut and workplace safety takes a back seat to profit. Workers can be fired without cause. The ultimate goal of Right to Work is to kill the unions, those pesky organizations who negotiate for fair wages, benefits, and safe working conditions. It really has nothing to so with anyone’s ‘right to work.’ But it’s a very skillful ruse and, yes, a masterful use of irony.
Pro(tect) Life is another ironic label, although I’m betting that the irony, while useful to its perpetrators, is probably lost on the president. Pro-lifers protect the baby in the womb but not once it’s born. And women with a medical need for abortions could be denied them. Pro-life is far from what its name suggests.
Citizens United is also an ironic name for a group of wealthy conservatives with various axes to grind and the dark money to sharpen them. The citizens who are ‘united’ are only the wealthiest and, ironically, many citizens really are united in an effort to get rid of Citizens United.
The Defense of Marriage Act doesn’t want to defend anything; rather, it seeks to stop marriage between same-sex couples. But the name sounds so noble, doesn’t it? And the Internet Freedom Act has one goal: to take freedom away from Internet users and place it in the hands of Internet companies, who have made large contributions to the legislators who are so determined to protect our ‘freedom’ on the Net by getting rid of Net Neutrality.
Donald Trump’s presidency at the moment is riddled with ironies that his clueless supporters have swallowed, and keep swallowing as they drink Trump’s koolaid:
He is anti-immigrant and the son of an immigrant. He has the full support of evangelical Christians while obviously clueless about the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as well as the Bible. He’s strong on the power of the police while standing accused of assault, fraud, and a host of other crimes. He’s so high on patriotism that he continuously derides NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem even as the noose tightens on charges of his possible treasonous activities. He claims to be a self-made man, but much of his money came from daddy. He wants to protect the sanctity of marriage as evidence of multiple affairs comes out and it’s becoming clear that there is little respect for wife number three. He accepts the endorsement and support of white supremacists but has a Jewish daughter and son-in-law. Trump uses these ironies to control his supporters much as circus great P.T. Barnum used whatever was necessary to bring in the crowds. And whether or not Barnum actually said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” both men counted on the truth of the statement to keep the masses happy.
The Nazis were less transparent, at least until it was too late for their victims, than either Trump or his Republican minions, but while the Republicans have just enough of the Nazi in their approach to be more subtly ironic, Trump just doubles down on the irony. I can see why Trump supporters get irate at the Hitler comparisons. After all, Hitler and the Nazis were very bad people. But, ironically, so is their self-proclaimed Christian leader who considers himself above needing forgiveness from the Lord for anything even as he pays hush money to strippers and Playboy models and cozies up to murderous dictators. The writer H.P. Lovecraft said, “From even the greatest of horrors, irony is seldom absent.” Like it or not, that pretty much applies to both the Nazis and, to an extent, Trump and his party. And that, for the record, is not ironic to most of us.
Other commentaries by Gail Barth:Trump-Putin Loyalty Program
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Real Fake News
Donald Trump: Clueless Idiot or Amoral Serial Killer?
Daughters in the Time of Trump