The Tea Party's Toxic Take on History
Ignore it at your peril.
These swastika nuts look ridiculous. But words matter, sometimes in a life-and-death way. Take for instance the Tea Party demonization of "federal regulation" as the instrument of the tyranny that's been imposed on them. I would like every Tea Partier who has denounced federal regulation to write a letter to the widows and children of the coalminers in West Virginia who died because of the failure of "federal regulation" of mine safety.
Tell the weeping survivors that such regulation is tyranny, that their husbands and fathers had to die, but for a good cause: lowering federal spending so the T.P.ers could save a few pennies on taxes. That's worth 29 lives snuffed out in a mine blast, isn't it? They either don't see the connection or don't care.
Indeed the demonization of "federal regulation" could prevent cowardly legislators from strengthening protections for miners and other workers imperiled by unsafe conditions. But the happy T.P.ers will still go out with their swastika and Hitler-mustache signs, whining about tyranny. Wouldn't it be great if there were a liberal politician who, in the wake of the mining catastrophe, had the courage to stand up and say that federal regulations are often a very good thing? Don't hold your breath.
This is just one example of the toxic effect of Tea Party ignorance on the lives of their fellow citizens. But the damage done by the injection of fraudulent history into the body politic by Tea Party ignoramuses and their enablers will be more profound and lasting than one tragedy.
That's because ignorance of this sort isn't inconsequential. Historical fraudulence is like a disease, a contagious psychosis which can lead to mob hysteria and worse. Consider the role that fraudulent history played in Weimar Germany, where the "stab in the back" myth that the German Army had been cheated of victory in World War I by Jews and Socialists on the home front was used by the Nazis to justify their hatreds.
It's a historical lie, but it caught on, and Hitler rose to power on it, asking Germans to avenge the (nonexistent) stab in the back! It may be true that the Tea Party will disintegrate before it acquires any real power, as more and more of its leaders are revealed to be fanciers of racist jokes and bestiality videos. But one can't be assured of it. It's important to expose the lies for what they are before they further debase the language with their false use of words.
By the time of my serendipitous used-bookstore discovery—more on which in a moment—I was already troubled by the Obama/Hitler/socialist/fascist comparisons. But it was the ignorant trivialization of the Holocaust—the identification of Hitler as a "socialist"—that really got to me.
It took me back to the month I spent in Munich's Monacensia library archives a decade or so ago, looking through the original flaking and yellowing copies of Munich's anti-Hitler Social Democratic Party (socialist!) newspaper, the Munich Post. I devoted a chapter of my book Explaining Hitler to the courageous efforts of the Munich Post reporters to investigate the nature of Hitler's evil in the years before he came to power. Their investigation led to a kind of war with the Nazi Party: The Socialist reporters produced revelation after revelation, were met with vicious reprisals, and then produced new, more disturbing revelations.
One of the things these reporters were obsessed with was disproving the "stab in the back" myth, because they knew its sinister propaganda power. They even provoked one of Hitler's cronies who was propagating the "stab in the back" myth to sue them for libel. They called him a "political poisoner" and added that "if he were only an idiot his writing would make him look ridiculous, but he's worse than idiot." (If only some politicians and pundits would have the courage to say something like this about the T.P. poisoners of history.) They wanted him to sue so they could lay out the evidence against the "stab in the back" in court. In the end, they won the argument but lost the suit because the judge was a Nazi sympathizer.
These reporters lost a lot to the Hitler-friendly police and legal establishment in Munich, including a lot of their own blood. But they finally reached the heart of darkness, the ultimate hidden Hitler truth, when they were able to obtain and publish a secret Nazi Party plan for the disposal of the Jews after a takeover, a plan that contains the first known use of the phrase "final solution."
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.
Photograph of Nevada rally by Ethan Miller/Getty Images. Photograph of New York rally by Spencer Platt/Getty Images. Photograph of Tea Party members in Washington, D.C., by Win McNamee/Getty Images. Photograph of Tea Party protester in Chicago by Scott Olson/Getty Images.