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Sick Heil: Racial Paranoia, White Victimology and the Hitlerizing of Obama

If you get a chance, today or perhaps tomorrow, do yourself a favor. Look up some file footage, perhaps on YouTube, of Adolf Hitler, addressing his followers. I know, it doesn't sound like the best way to spend your day, or even a few minutes of it, but trust me, there's a point to the recommendation. While you watch, notice the unhinged shouting, the wild eyes, the veins on his neck, the psychotic bodily gesticulations. Then, take a look at footage from yesterday's town hall meeting, called by President Obama in New Hampshire, in which he sought to lay out his case for health care reform to an audience that included supporters and opponents of his plan. Notice: no shouting, no wild eyes, no bulging jugular vein, no apparent sociopathy whatsoever. Indeed notice as the President actually seeks out questions from people who disagree with him, and then thanks them for making good points and raising legitimate concerns, even when the premises of their questions are dead wrong, and largely originated in crazy town. 

Then ask yourself, is this the man that much of right-wing talk radio would have us believe is a Nazi? The political reincarnation of Hitler--ya know, the lunatic I asked you to watch first? Really? Really? Wow. Sometimes, it's hard to know where to begin.

On the one hand, the comparisons seem literally bat-shit insane. Especially when considering that at the same time folks are comparing Obama to the world's most infamous right-wing fascist, they are at the same time calling him a Marxist, and a left-wing radical. Oh sure, they try and say that Hitler was really a leftist, ya know, because the Nazis were National Socialists. Of course. And hot dogs are made from puppies.

Anyway, it seems at first blush to make no sense. Any reading of the Nazi era makes it all too clear how far afield from the Third Reich the Obama administration is. After coming to power, the Nazis moved to outlaw all opposition parties, suspend the nation's constitution, round up and detain their political adversaries (or better yet, kill them), and destroy the trade unions. All this, well before initiating the murderous campaigns against Jews, Romany, homosexuals and others deemed "life unworthy of life." Needless to say, Obama has done none of this, has proposed none of this, and only the most truly unstable person could really believe such things were just around the corner. Although there are such persons to be found in the body politic, such as Ron Paul acolytes, Ayn Rand devotees and real estate agent/dentist/professional whack-a-doodle, Orly Taitz, surely even the most cynical would have to agree that the numbers of persons who seem to buy into this rhetoric far and away exceed the likely national percentages of the truly mentally ill.

And those propagating the comparisons--the Limbaughs and Becks and Savages, and Hannitys (who have the top four radio talk shows in the nation right now)--despite their fervent commitment to right-wing ideas, surely cannot believe that an American Reich is on the horizon. In short, they can't possibly be serious.

So why then, do they keep saying it? It is this question that I've been pondering for the past few days. What could possibly be the purpose of making an argument that has so little intellectual validity; so little indeed that it can be easily shot down by the average 12th grade European history student (who, it should be noted, would have as much education as either Limbaugh or Hannity)? What would be the value, symbolically speaking, of putting forth on protest signs this Obama=Hitler meme, and visually representing that meme, straight down to the little mustache, side-swept hairdo and swastika adornment? 

And then it struck me. This analogy, as absurd as it is factually, and as offensive as it is historically, makes almost perfect sense politically, to a movement that is trying desperately to create a groundswell of support behind the notion that white people are the new victims of massive discrimination, the new victims of the Obama era: the ones who don't get picked first for the Supreme Court, and who can no longer take for granted their hegemonic power. And that is precisely the kind of movement they are trying to build, what with their equally facile rantings that white men, according to Limbaugh, are being sent to the "back of the bus" under Obama, because he literally hates white people, and that white men are now experiencing, to hear Pat Buchanan tell it, "exactly what black folks" experienced during the days of Jim Crow. Within a politics of white resentment and white victimology, the Hitler meme works. After all, Hitler was not just a fascist, but is understood to have been a racial fascist: one whose dictatorial and murderous schemes were directed at a distinctly racialized "other." So to make the black man atop the U.S. political system into Hitler, is to plant the idea in white minds that he too will be a racial fascist. And if that is the case, the question is quite obviously begged, which race will he be coming for? Ah yes, white man, see? Now are you scared?

By playing upon white fears--fears of a black President with a funny name, fears of a country that within about 30 years will no longer be majority white, fears of the inability to take for granted that our Leave-it-to-Beaver, Norman Rockwell, Boy Scout-approved national narrative will continue to predominate--the right hopes to prove resurgent, and the GOP hopes to remain a living entity. They have all but abandoned any hopes of attracting large numbers of people of color. The writing in that regard is on the wall and they seem to very much know it. So they have retreated into the laager--South African imagery very much intended here--and decided to go all in as the party of nostalgia, a white nationalist party, in effect, whose only hope is to claim that the nation has lost its greatness, and that everything that made America, well, America (ya know, back in the days of segregation) has been lost. And that such a transformation, from a formal white supremacist state, to a multicultural society, is of course a bad thing.

In addition to rallying the troops of white backlash, the Obama/Hitler analogies also serve another function, one that would be immediately recognizable to most any psychologist. That function is called projection: when someone recognizes a trait within themselves, and then, ashamed of that trait seeks it out in others and locates it there, displacing the shame and self-hatred that might otherwise manifest onto someone else.

For these right-wing louts to accuse President Obama of being a racist, let alone a potentially genocidal one at that, is the ultimate in projection. After all, it is the right whose authors regularly publish books with hateful and prejudicial comments about racialized others, not Obama, whose own writing reveals a deep and abiding love for his family--all of it, including the white half. 

It is the right that channels Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebells, every time they spew lies about the health care bill's euthanasia provisions, or about how Obama is going to confiscate all the guns, or casting doubt on Obama's citizenship, or about how Mexicans are looking to "reconquer" the American southwest, or about how illegal immigrants are a major source of leprosy and disease. All of these things have been debunked, time and again, and yet they are repeated daily, as if facts don't matter. Because to anti-intellectual brownshirts, they don't.

It is the right channeling the thuggishness of the Nazi bullies by sending folks to public forums to shout and disrupt, and to intimidate people by carrying weapons.

It is the right that would like to smash the trade unions.

It is the right that stood by while the last president circumvented the Constitution on such matters as wiretaps, torture, the primacy of international treaties to which the U.S. is a party, and the suspension of habeas corpus for suspected "terrorists."

It is folks like Michael Savage--perhaps the most truly psychotic of the right-wing radio set--who has staked out positions of overt racism and even murderous intent. To wit, his comments of May 11 and 12, 2004, to the effect that Arab Muslims are "non humans," who should be either forcibly converted to Christianity or slaughtered. Or his statement of April 17, 2006, to the effect that the United States should kill 100 million Muslims. Or his more recent comment to the effect that he hopes "far extreme, violent motorcycle gangs" show up at the health care town hall meetings around the country. Or his statement about liberal advocacy groups, suggesting "they have no place in America," and that he would like to "round up every member of the ACLU and of the National Lawyers Guild and...put them in a prison in Guantanamo and...throw the key away" Or his pithy paraphrasing of a statement previously made by Nazi leader Hermann Goering, to the effect that when he "hears that someone is in the civil rights business," he "oils up (his) AR-15," and presumably not so as to have an intelligent conversation.

And speaking of Nazis, it was Pat Buchanan who said, in a 1977 column that the early Adolf Hitler--the one who suspended civil liberties, murdered his political opponents inside Germany, and set about to invade surrounding countries so as to broaden the boundaries of the Reich--was for all intent and purposes, a model leader. Prior to initiating the Holocaust of European Jewry, Hitler seems to have done little with which Buchanan could find fault, thus his claim: "If Hitler had died in 1937 on the fourth anniversary of his coming to power, he would undoubtedly have gone down as one of the greatest figures of German history." Hitler was, to hear Pat tell it, "an individual of great courage, a soldier's soldier in the Great War, a political organizer of the first rank" whose "genius" was in having such an "intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path."

Yet Pat Buchanan, who also called for the U.S. to annex parts of Canada back in a 1989 column, so as to expand the size of our nation's "white tribe"--an idea that Herr Hitler would have no doubt found exhilarating--remains a commentator in good standing on major networks. And so the right, which regularly espouses ideas resonant of the very fascism they would ascribe to Obama, gets a free pass, as they project their own darkest authoritarian desires onto others, with whom they cannot intellectually compete. And so they must bully. They must shout. They must drown out reason with volume.

And beneath it all, they hope that just enough people will listen. Just enough to build a movement rooted in white anger, white fear, white victimology, and the reassertion of white nationhood that they feel has been taken from them. 

The question is--and it may be the only one that matters right now--what are we going to do about it, and by "we" I mean especially those of us called white? Are we going to let the hateful throngs define us, for us? Are we going to sit back while they seek to organize a politics of racial backlash in our name? Are we going to merely laugh at them and then move on, figuring that the threat they pose is minimal? Or will we stand up, demand that there are other ways to live in this skin, and choose to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our black and brown brothers and sisters who are, as they have long been, under such attack in this nation? Will we choose the road of antagonism or allyship? 

Make no mistake, the future of the country may very well depend on how we answer.

Tim Wise is the author of four books on race. His latest is, Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama (City Lights, 2009).    

Comments
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*sigh*

The process you identify is made easier because, for a lot of the audience of the Rush Limbaugh types, "Hitler" is some vague foreign bad guy from some other weird place.

What I find especially ironic is that it was these same vitriolic asshats who began to spew spittle anytime someone on the Left argued that the Christian Right was "proto-fascist", to use Paul Street's turn of phrase, or that Bush in flouting international law, practically declaring war on the globe, engaging in rampant torture, declaring that the Geneva Convention no longer applied to us, etc. was behaving somewhat like Hitler. We just got done with a President who invaded other countries in violation of international law, killed more than a million people in Iraq, abrogated civil liberties, backed dictators and maniacs like Islam Karimov, and attempted to secure a permanent corporate oligarchy while slamming the poor, and now have a President who, whatever his sharp limitations, is doing LESS of all that.

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Thank you for the dose of sanity; it was much needed

Tim, I'd been reading some pretty depressing news about these town-hall protesters, particularly the one who was packing the gun, when I decided to check and see if you had any new posts. I'm glad I did. Your assessment of the current predicament was spot-on, as always. It really is about race, at an incredibly fundamental level, for these angry white people. As a white man who was pretty angry at his government during the Bush years, I know the emotion well. What I have trouble fathoming is how people can be so deluded as to perceive Obama as a Hitlerian figure. It's just so insane and wildly off-base as to be pitiful. If only we were talking about children who hadn't read their history assignments. Sadly, these are fully grown citizens with whom we need to find some way of co-existing.

(FYI, if you can edit your post, there's a typo. "Goebells" should be spelled "Goebbels" in the 11th paragraph).

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Jim Crow, and Slavery by Another Name

It bothers me when any modern day white man seeks to equate his experiences today with the experiences suffered by black men during the Jim Crow era.
Even the little taste of racism that John Howard Griffin suffered could not even come close to the indignities blacks experienced on a daily basis.

If you haven’t read Douglas A. Blackmon's book entitled, Slavery by Another Name you all should. http://www.slaverybyanothername.com/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLSJbdGs8DA
It can make you cry sometimes to read of the experiences of black men in a time when it seemed as though being black was against the law. It is a thoroughly good read, and I would challenge Mr. Buchanan to read it from cover to cover, and then examine himself more thoroughly in the mirror.

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“The question is--and it

“The question is--and it may be the only one that matters right now--what are we going to do about it, and by "we" I mean especially those of us called white? Are we going to let the hateful throngs define us, for us? Are we going to sit back while they seek to organize a politics of racial backlash in our name? Are we going to merely laugh at them and then move on, figuring that the threat they pose is minimal? Or will we stand up, demand that there are other ways to live in this skin, and choose to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our black and brown brothers and sisters who are, as they have long been, under such attack in this nation? Will we choose the road of antagonism or allyship?”

This is a brave and noble call to arms Mr. Wise, but I’m afraid there just aren’t enough of you gifted and determined white men/women to make a dent in the overall mindset of whites. You will always be vilified by your own for your stance on race- and should a revolution come about and whites take back the country by force, you- and others whom share your convictions would be the first casualties (forgive me) as what some would term race traitors. It’s a sad sad commentary that some of the very people who are denying that they have a racist bone in their body are motivated primarily by racial fear in these town hall meetings. The denial is staggering to say the least.

To take back the country as a lot of these angry whites are calling for, one must first admit to oneself that you have been in control of the country all along- and hence this is the core basis of your fear. Obama is one black man in power- but his power may not be enough to sway the white soldiers and generals sworn to serve under him. Consequently- he is on an isolated and shaky foundation. Should he make it through his first term and continue to alienate more whites; more and more citizens will anticipate a great white hope to put this country back on track. He could essentially be our nation’s first and only black president. Whites would never- ever allow a black man to take that office again, based upon the actions of this one. Obama would not be able to enchant with speeches and slogans, for his tenure is now a matter of public record.

His opponents would seize the opportunity, stirring the pot of dissent with every dirty trick at their disposal. A racially motivated coup is not that far-fetched as it would seem, as more white citizens and soldiers become disenchanted with the man who called for change. If you had one or two soldiers who shared the same convictions as Timothy McVeigh- men willing to be martyrs for the cause; then our democracy is on very shaky ground indeed. Whites have spent the last 40-plus years or so denying that race was ever a problem; that we blacks are basically a race of whiners, sponging off of the system and causing most of this country’s ills. This belief is steeped in racial denial and a deeply-seated fear of the other. It is passed on to white children through osmosis and their teeth are set on edge. Some whites would have us to believe that racial segregation wasn’t that bad- and slavery had its good points. That the civil war wasn’t about slavery; but simply- a disagreement between a few states.
That's what we're up against.

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"This is a brave and noble

"This is a brave and noble call to arms Mr. Wise, but I’m afraid there just aren’t enough of you gifted and determined white men/women to make a dent in the overall mindset of whites. You will always be vilified by your own for your stance on race- and should a revolution come about and whites take back the country by force, you- and others whom share your convictions would be the first casualties (forgive me) as what some would term race traitors. It’s a sad sad commentary that some of the very people who are denying that they have a racist bone in their body are motivated primarily by racial fear in these town hall meetings. The denial is staggering to say the least."

That assumes that the amount of courageous, enlightened whites is a constant. But it's not. Our job as activists is to appeal to both whites on the fence and even those whites who have become unrecognizably twisted by racism.

"To take back the country as a lot of these angry whites are calling for, one must first admit to oneself that you have been in control of the country all along- and hence this is the core basis of your fear. Obama is one black man in power- but his power may not be enough to sway the white soldiers and generals sworn to serve under him. Consequently- he is on an isolated and shaky foundation. Should he make it through his first term and continue to alienate more whites; more and more citizens will anticipate a great white hope to put this country back on track. He could essentially be our nation’s first and only black president. Whites would never- ever allow a black man to take that office again, based upon the actions of this one. Obama would not be able to enchant with speeches and slogans, for his tenure is now a matter of public record."

That's desperately premature, isn't it? This is the first year of his term. His approval ratings, while fluctuating, are still nowhere near Bush's lows. Noticing the influence of a few crazies and where their twisted comparisons come from is not the same as saying that those people are a majority. They're not.

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You mentioned "projection"

You mentioned "projection" in your essay, and this sums up the Obama-as-Hitler phenomenon that has pervaded the airwaves in the last few months.

Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Micahel Savage and Rush Limbaugh are amongst the very worst of these right-wing lunatics and they are merely projecting their innermost desires. If they TRULY had their way, black people would be slaves again, women would be barefoot and pregnant, never again having control of their bodies, lives or destinies, ALL religions other than far-right, ultra-conservative fundamentalist Christianity would be banned forever, ALL Jews, gays and lesbians would be exterminated, free speech would be abandonded, all political parties except the Republican party would be banned and ONLY white, straight, conservative, Christian, Republican males would have any rights to anything ever. Sound too extreme? Only to those not really paying any attention. I also say this as a liberal, white, Jewish male, whose "whiteness" has been questioned my whole life by those who lay exclusive claim on what constitutes "whiteness".

The election of the first black man as POTUS has caused psychotic shock waves through much of white America and the haters on FOX and right-wing radio jocks have gleefully stepped up to both serve the REAL corporate masters such as Rupert Murdoch and Richard Mellon Scaife and mainuplate ignorant, racist whites into frenzies not seen since the height of the Civil Rights movement. Truth matters not, nor common decency, just the ability to get their "troops" to disrupt Town Hall meetings, support the "birther" movement and do anything they can to ensure the defeat of health care reform, destroy Obama's Presidency and ensure the Republican takeover of Congress next year and take over the Presidency in 2012.

Millions of people can suffer and die as a result, they care not. Raw power and exploiting racism are the only real agendas.

FOX and ALL radio haters need to be held responsible for their lies and slander, and I would suppport boycotting EVERY company that advertises on these shows. NOT as a way of undermining free speech, but of simply holding them to the same standards that they claim everyone else should adhere to.

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craziness

Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Micahel Savage and Rush Limbaugh are amongst the very worst of these right-wing lunatics and they are merely projecting their innermost desires. If they TRULY had their way, black people would be slaves again, women would be barefoot and pregnant, never again having control of their bodies, lives or destinies, ALL religions other than far-right, ultra-conservative fundamentalist Christianity would be banned forever, ALL Jews, gays and lesbians would be exterminated, free speech would be abandonded, all political parties except the Republican party would be banned and ONLY white, straight, conservative, Christian, Republican males would have any rights to anything ever."

Sure, by that logic if Jesse Jackson had his way, all "whites" (what are they, a single monolithic group?) would be enslaved (hey, black folk are kinder, perhaps they don't have the proclivity to *exterminate*), their assets confiscated and redistributed to worthy black folk, etc (why go on?). Silly nonsense, but your take is appropriate for this forum. But to caricature your political "opponents" in such a way merely harms your own cause and lets the middle of the road moderates know that you are just as flakey as those whom you oppose. . .

But this is not really a place for thoughtful debate and consideration. Clearly it is a forum for venting about a narrow (but important) slice of US life. So have a good time and rant away. Enjoy, i know ihave!

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Strawman About a Strawman

"Sure, by that logic if Jesse Jackson had his way, all "whites" (what are they, a single monolithic group?) would be enslaved (hey, black folk are kinder, perhaps they don't have the proclivity to *exterminate*), their assets confiscated and redistributed to worthy black folk, etc (why go on?). Silly nonsense, but your take is appropriate for this forum. But to caricature your political "opponents" in such a way merely harms your own cause and lets the middle of the road moderates know that you are just as flakey as those whom you oppose. . ."

Too bad you can't cite anything remotely resembling claims like that from Jesse Jackson, but we can cite claims that indicate that Glenn Beck apparently hates women's suffrage and the end of Jim Crow and that Ann Coulter thinks we should nuke people for fun. Nice try.