LIVING LARGE IN CARSON CITY: HISTORY IS A BITCH PART 2 EDITION

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Part 2

Bruce Loebs Hitler’s Rhetorical Theory is a thumbnail sketch of the making of a tyrant, a  fascist and a view of how Hitler played the German people into submission. Submission that would lead to one of the most repressive and dangerous regimes the world has ever seen. His sheer audacity, will power and talent for plugging into the German nationalistic pride changed the world forever. Yet, oddly, Loebs notes that Hitler had an unbridled contempt for the German masses. A contempt that he did little to hide or sugarcoat,

Hitler had contempt for his German audiences declaring,“the masses are slow moving and always require a certain time before they are ready even to notice something, and only after the simplest ideas are repeated thousands of times will the masses remember them.”

In today’s highly partisan political landscape of America, Trump focuses his contempt on the Democrats or others who have the temerity to question his flamboyant style which is hardwired directly into his monumental ego. He has no compunction in demonizing any group in the country if he feels that he can extract a bit of advantage from the encounter. He has repeatedly accused Democrats of being proponents of “open borders”, supportive of lawlessness, obstructionist within the Congress and personally attacks anyone he feels threatened by at any given time.

The recent Maxine Waters (D-CA) dust up is a prime example. Waters injudiciously called for Democrats to call out administration officials they encounter in public places. While resistance has its place, Waters may have gone over the line in her comments. Trump, however, saw her comments as a gift from heaven.

“Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low IQ person, has become, together with Nancy Pelosi, the Face of the Democrat Party,” Trump tweeted. “She has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement. Be careful what you wish for Max!” Business Insider

Trump’s attacks on Waters which he has renewed daily since her comments were made highlight yet another trait both Trump and Hitler share. Both men’s disdain for women is palpable, yet different considering the shift in cultural norms and mores of the times. Trump has a long history of treating women as objects is centered more in patriarchal disdain than dealing with them as equals in a world dominated by men. Loebs suggests in his essay that Hitler’s disdain was more of a practical approach, if not sheer bafflement, on how to deal with them in public discourse,

Hitler was especially condescending toward women: “to convince women by reasoned argument is always impossible.”

Hitler’s talent beyond his personal oratorical gifts, Loebs states, was in propaganda. His ability to move the masses was directly related to his ability to latch on to the ideas that would appeal to the greatest number of Germans. Trump is no different. What liberal hasn’t taken exception with the slogan, “Make America Great Again”. Beyond his base, most people understand that America is one of the greatest nations on earth. Similarly, “Drain the Swamp” implies that Washington is a place badly in need of restructuring to be able to serve the masses, preferably according to terms dictated by Trump. While both statements may hold a kernel of truth, Trump and his minions’ desire is to return to a time when white privilege was secure and not under attack by forces unlike themselves.

Loebs notes that Hitler’s use of propaganda was based in his belief that the average German was limited in their ability to absorb the “big picture” due to their lack of intellectual expertise, but as Loebs notes, “their power of forgetting is enormous”. Therefore, repetition becomes an important tool in swaying the masses beliefs on any give topic.

“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is born in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. Propaganda must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over again.”

How often have Americans witnessed Trump rallies where chants of  “Lock her up, The media is the enemy of the people, Drain the Swamp”, “Crooked Hillary” and other equally offensive terms are repeated again and again. In may ways the repetition of these phrases becomes the foundation off which Trump whips up his audiences into a fever pitch which has in the past incited his audiences to violence, both real and projected.

Of course, repetition spills over into the structure of the political organization. Just like Trump’s cabinet often sound like talking myna birds as they repeat talking points either of the current Republican political philosophy or Trump himself, Hitler’s own leadership did much the same. For both, the approach is often based on lies, or in Joseph Goebbels,   the German Reich’s Minister of Propaganda, the “whopper”.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Trump is a master of the big lie. From claiming the “zero tolerance” fiasco was based on a Democratic law when it was actually his own policy to claiming the Democrats want open borders and support allowing rapists, killers, gang members and other “undesirables’ to enter the United States have all been repeated over and over again in both the media and in the halls of Congress. Trump’s “big lies” are all encompassing depending on the current scandal which he becomes embroiled week after week. This week it’s child and parent separation on the Texas border. A couple of weeks ago it was the infantile assertion that Americans can sleep easy because the nuclear threat from North Korea was ended. Over and over the lies are repeated which become red meat for his base who, shamefully, have no idea or inclination to know what the truth actually is.

Loebs makes several other points about Hitler that are similar to Trump’s way of thinking. “Black/white reasoning” emphasizes there is only one way of looking at an issue. This would be, of course, Trump’s way of thinking. Any deviance is a slap in the face of his agenda and is not tolerated. “Passion over reasoning” is predominant in the way Trump Tweets, speaks to his base and parrots ever time news crews are filming him in the normal course of his work week.

Finally, the concept of “consolidate(ing) enemies” has become one of Trump’s primary ways to discredit people like Democrats, the Canadians, Europe, and a long list of others. In Trump’s world, the Democrats are in league with MS-13 gang members. The G-7 along with the European Union, NATO, China and others are all in league to inhibit his ideas from being implemented on a global scale. For Loebs, this was rooted in disdain for the German people by Hitler. He wrote,

Hitler cautions against attacking multiple enemies because “as soon as the wavering masses are confronted with too many enemies objectivity at once steps in and the question is raised whether actually all the others are wrong and your movement alone is right.”

This is a tactic Trump struggles to incorporate into his message although he tries. The reason is Trump’s ego is so large and fragile he sees offenses everywhere. Currently, however, it’s safe to say that “enemies” are separated into domestic and foreign, which describes his current “enemies” base. It will be interesting how he develops this tacit going forward.

One other trait that Hitler became adept at was “scapegoating”. For Hitler, of course, the Jewish people were the perfect category of Germans to focus his rhetoric and ire upon; a message the German people were quick to embrace. Loebs cites a quote by Robert Waite who wrote,

“Who stabbed Germany in the back? Who signed the armistice? Who had accepted the ‘Treaty of Shame’? Who caused the inflation and the Great Depression? The answer was clear and compelling; ‘always and only the Jew’.”

Trump’s scapegoat is, of course, illegal aliens, most notably, immigrants crossing the American southern border. As mentioned above, his modus operandi when dealing with this topic is to vilify all aliens crossing the southern border as vile and unworthy and by lumping them all (consolidate enemies) together as “Mexicans”. This includes everyone from children and their parents coming to the country for a better life to asylum seekers who have a legitimate reason for fleeing repressive conditions in their own countries to save their families and themselves from death or slavery.

Trump is no Adolph Hitler. He isn’t smart enough to be . . . yet. However, his habit of emulating the repressive tactics of one of the world’s most infamous dictators is frightening to all sane and patriotic Americans. Where will it end? Oddly enough, the answer may lie in the hands of the Republican Party and the hope they will decide to thwart their party leader’s grandiose display of buffoonery and stop him before he does any real danger to our democracy. Other than that, there is Robert Mueller or the ballot box.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Large In Carson City: History Is A Bitch Part 1 Edition

Business People: Charismatic Retro Speaker Businessman - Stock Illustration I5109492 at FeaturePics

This past week into the weekend gave us a new perspective of just how damaging Donald Trump is to civil discourse in the nation. The optics of his incredibly insane and harmful family separation policy at the Texas border just seemed wrong. In many ways for some Americans, it was one step over the line that left people feeling the pain of small children snatched from their parents’ arms and placed in cages in the middle of the border desert. What could go wrong?

For some on the liberal side of the equation, it was too much to bear. Director of Homeland Security, Kristjen Nielsen, found out just how riled up Americans are on the topic as they heckled her out of the Mexican restaurant where she was dining. Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced much the same fate as she was asked by the proprietor of the Red Hen located in Lexington, Virginia to leave her restaurant. The harbinger of all things evil in the Trump administration, Stephen Miller, architect of the “zero tolerance” policy that created the border crisis, has been confronted in a restaurant and by protesters outside of his posh D.C. apartment.

The talk of “civil discourse” has been a popular topic on the morning and evening cable networks from Fox to CNN. U. S. House of Representatives, Maxine Waters (D-CA) went so far as to prompt supporters to accost Trump administration officials in an over-the-top tirade stating,

“Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere. We’ve got to get the children connected to their parents,” Waters said at the Wilshire Federal Building, according to video of the event. CNN

Where do we draw the line? All Americans believe that they should be able to eat wherever they choose without the hassle of a group of hecklers shouting out the truth about their questionable actions and associations with (in this case) an out-of-control administration. Does the actions of a group of people really have all that much of an effect on policy decisions made by a president who wears his racism and bigotry on his proverbial sleeve? It does and here is an obvious but toxic example I have been reluctant to make until now.

First of all, let’s talk rhetoric. For those of you who were forced to suffer through formal English composition classes in your first and second years of college will be familiar with Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle. The three junctions of the triangle he labeled like this:

Drawing of the Rhetorical Triangle

Source

These three categories are essential to any well-argued argumentative essay, better

known as the Cadillac of essays. Logos is the foundation of any argument. It

basically means the logic the author uses to make their points of proof. Pathos is

the emotional makeup of the audience. Often overlooked by budding writers, it is

actually a potent tool that can be used to pacify, incite, instill emotion or simply

become a bridge between the author and audience. An example would be you

would not give the same speech on the merits of the Vietnam War to a group of Boy

Scouts as opposed to a group of disabled Vietnam Veterans. Both would expect

totally different information based on their emotional attachment to the subject.

Finally, ethos is the gravitas the writer brings to the argument. Ethos represents the

authority, experience or knowledge the author has on the topic.

Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail is the best example of an argumentative essay using Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle. He begins by telling the audience why he is there and the credentials he brought with him. He then goes on to lay out his logos citing examples of actual events, history, his own personal story and both the good and bad side of the situation as it existed when the march on Birmingham took place. He ends with an appeal to the eight clergymen the letter was addressed to for a unification of efforts to bring the crisis to an end. If you haven’t read it, give it a try. It’s quite remarkable. LFBJ

King’s letter could be seen as the shining light of the rhetorical world of persuasion. However, just like there is good and bad in everything, there is the dark side of persuasive speaking as well and my third rail example.

Bruce Loebs, Professor Emeritus Communication, Media, and Persuasion of Idaho State University penned a remarkable essay titled Hitler’s Rhetorical Theory that is both succinct and informative about how logos, ethos and pathos were used by Hitler to shape both the German people’s and his own fate through the use of speech. I am not attempting to equate Hitler to Trump, however, the similarities between what went on in Nazi Germany and the events unfolding in America today are astonishing and a little frightening.

In the opening pages, Loebs gives a bit of background on how Hitler honed his message to fit his evil aspirations. He makes no bones about Hitler’s motivation and accomplishments:

Hitler was evil incarnate. For Hitler a fitting epitaph would be: “Because Adolf Hitler

lived, 50 million people died.”

The second attribute Loebs points out is Hitler made himself indispensable both to

the Nazi party and to the future of the German people. He quotes historian Robert

Waite as saying,

“Hitler was Nazidom. Seldom in the history of western civilization has so much depended on one man’s personality. He created his own political theory and a government that could not exist without him.”

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but the phenomenon and mercurial rise of Trump’s popularity to his base has been pretty incredible. This extends to the Republican Party as a whole. How many times have you heard over the past year and a half that Trump has become the Republican Party or certainly the face of the party. Think about how Trump is a grandstanding cheerleader for all of the things that are anathema to most thinking Americans who oppose his nationalistic message. Without Trump personality and his rallies, his message would have long ago gone stale and forgotten. Yet, by being a bigger than life presence on the political stage, he has singlehandedly changed the trajectory of American foreign and domestic policy, trade, and foreign relations as a whole. For all intents and purposes, he has become America.

Three things Loebs stresses that led to Hitler’s success were the fact he was a great orator, tireless campaigner and his remarkable ability as a speech writer. To the “basket of deplorables”, Trump is an incredible speaker. His use of pathos is actually quite startling. Ever watch the people that are seated behind Trump at one of his rallies? The near rapt attention of these people as he goes through his spiel is a sight to behold. They are literally hanging on the edge of their seats and respond like a covey of marionettes alternately booing, hissing or chanting any number of oldies but goodies like Build the wall, Lock her up or expressing their ire at the “evil media”.

Connected to this is the fact that Trump has never left the campaign trail. Almost weekly he can be found in the American heartland whipping up the faithful to do his bidding. He is always in campaign mode.  The fact that Hitler was an effective and persuasive speech writer seems to break the link between him and the Orange One. However, when at a rally, Trump rarely stays “on topic”, but rather, approaches his audience in a freewheeling tirade that is the equivalent of slinging red meat over the podium into the waiting mouths of his supporters. While Hitler labored over each word of his speeches as Loebs points out, Trump is more of a throw shit on the wall and see what sticks. Unfortunately, a lot sticks and is gobbled up by the Make America Great Again crowd.

End of Part 1