A group of rich industrialists are not happy with the direction in which the country is going, so they give money to support and develop a radical party to push their agenda for smaller government and lower taxes and regulation. But the fringe party they support gets into a position to subvert the democratic process and the economy. At the end, even the industrialists who funded them are worried about the actions taken by the suddenly powerful if still small party.
What am I describing? Is it the United States in 2010-2013? Or could it be Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s?
The structural parallels between what has happened in the United States and what happened almost a century ago in Germany are uncanny. Now I’m not comparing the current state of our country to Nazi Germany, nor am I predicting that we are moving in Germany’s genocidal direction. Nor am I comparing the Tea Party Congressional representatives and Senators to Hitler, although there are many similarities between the philosophies behind the two movements:
- Stress on traditional values.
- Hate of the current government.
- Nativism and distrust of foreigners.
- An underlying racism, which the Tea Party denies, but which can be detected in code language, occasional slip-ups and irrational abhorrence of our mixed-race President.
- Willingness to subvert democratic processes.
The big difference, of course, is that the Tea Party wants to shrink government to almost nothing, whereas Hitler wanted to increase government and have government aggressively direct the economy.
Make no mistake about it. The Tea Party would be a minor force in American politics if not for two things: 1) the money that big business threw into their campaigns in the wake of the Supreme Court’s weird but unfortunate Citizens United decision; and 2) the mainstream news media—owned by large corporations—which lavished Tea Party candidates with coverage while ignoring the many progressive and liberal candidates across the country.
But the Tea Partiers could not by themselves have been able to close down much of the government and put us on the precipice of a debt crisis that could plunge the world into economic free-fall. It has taken the craven and self-serving actions of Speaker of the House John Boehner, who has refused to release Republicans to vote their consciences on the budget and debt issues. Does that sound like a decrepit and ineffectual Paul von Hindenberg turning over the German government to a former house painter named Adolf?
When I learned that the Republicans want to cut some $40 billion from food stamps I was befuddled and sickened at how little empathy this relatively small group of mostly privileged people had for the challenges facing the poor and near poor. I had the same feeling when I learned that 26 Republican-led states decided not to extend Medicaid coverage to millions of people who are without health insurance. Don’t they understand how much sicker people get when they don’t go to the doctor because they can’t afford it or take half their dosage of medicine to make it last longer?
And I have the same feeling now. Why don’t these people feel the pain of the many federal workers who have already been ordered to stay home or the businesses that serve them? Why don’t they feel the fear of the many federal workers whose jobs have been declared essential, which means they’ll have to keep working even when the government won’t be able to pay them, starting in about two weeks? What about the people waiting for Social Security disability forms to be processed? Or people who work for government vendors and will be laid off? Don’t the Republicans care one little bit about the collective pain and economic loss already inflicted on American individuals and families?
The sheer lack of empathy for their fellow women and men, their willingness to plunge so many into suffering—their hard hearts—frightens me as much as the Tea Partiers attack on democracy and our democratic system.