September 20

Why Donald Trump is Not Adolph Hitler

After listening to the Republican debates, watching some of the speeches given by Donald Trump, and reading a bit about his platform and position, I began to worry about the direction his campaign was going. It seemed very familiar. It was a page out of Germany of the 1930s, or so I at first thought. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that the comparison was unfair and inaccurate. Here are some of the things I realized that made things now different from Hitler’s rise to power.

  1. First, Hitler did not come from wealth. His father tried his hand at farming, and, failing that, started a career in the customs bureau. Trump’s father was financial success, a real estate developer. Where Hitler had to deal with the death of his siblings at a young age, Trump’s siblings are also all successful. One is even a federal judge. Although both seemed to clash with their fathers, young Adolph rebelled and when his father died, it steeled his resolve. Trump, on the other hand, bent to the will of his father, who sent him to a military school.
    Adolph grew up on orphan benefits, where Trump was smack in the crotch of luxury. Latching on to German Nationalism to help form his identity and ingratiate him with his peers, Adolph grew to love his adopted country of Germany (He was Austrian, originally), even serving in the German military in World War I. Trump avoided the draft in a variety of ways, and never served.
    In other words, their backgrounds were stunningly different. Adolph, who wanted to be an artist, didn’t have the talent for it and failed. If Trump had any creative desires, they were buried under his desire for money, and he made his first million before he even left college. Of course, the half million dollar investment from his parents helped. Adolph’s parents were dead by the time he was 18.
  2. The environment of post-World War I Germany and the present day United States could not be more different. Germany was in an economic free-fall, brought on by a devastated economy due to war reparations and horribly managed, well, everything by the German government. Hitler joined a small political party, and energized its young members to grow to eventually take over the government, blaming much of the ills of Germany on the Jews.
    Trump, on the other hand, has latched on to the Republican party, literally called the “Grand Old Party”, and allied himself with the racist base of the party, blaming non-whites for the ills facing the country. The problem is that the United States isn’t a country in economic free-fall, not really. We’re solidly on the road to recovery from the mismanagement at the hands of the last GOP president. So, instead of a single propaganda front (It’s the Jews fault our economy is broken!), Trump has to make up his propaganda from whole cloth (Our economy is bad, really it is! And it’s the immigrants fault! And the Muslims!). In addition, in Germany, the real problem was multifaceted, from harsh war reparations to poor economic management by the Weimar Republic. In the US, the problem was lack of regulation of the banking industry which led to risky and ultimately disastrous  investment strategies.
  3. Germany was a country that had lost its core identity. They had lost a war, they had lost their government (It was less than a decade and a half since their government had fallen to revolution), their economy was in the toilet, and they needed direction. Hitler arrived with a fiery energy and revitalized the nation. Of course, he also had a scapegoat to blame, and the country set off on one of the most recognized genocides in world history.
    America, on the other hand, is sharply divided, but the core identity remains intact. Yes, there are issues which polarize our people, from marriage equality to abortion, but we can go out to the market and buy a loaf of bread without needing a wheelbarrow of cash, the rich are still rich, the trains are still running, and we don’t have any black eyes from lost wars any time in the recent past. We are still Americans.

So, even if he thinks he is using Adolph’s playbook, the board is not set for the same type of game, so I do not think Trump will get the same kind of result.

September 8

When Atheists Become Disenchanted with the Atheist Community

I’ve been an atheist for about five or six year now; at least, identifying as an atheist. I could make the argument that it has been nearly thirty years, but let’s go from the point at which I said, “I am an atheist.”

In that time, I spent much of it running a religious debate group on Facebook. It’s gone now, taken down by Muslim activists (A story for another day), but one thing I tried very hard to maintain was fairness for all, regardless of their position. I found this was a very hard thing to do. It was not just from the theists who refused to abide by the rules; there were some atheists that couldn’t play fair, either.

Which brings me to my point. I have found that there is a range of atheists, from the comfortable, “live and let live” non-believer to the rabid, foaming at the mouth anti-theist. To be honest, I was expecting a bit more cohesion in the atheist community than what I found. I suppose it was my own foolish hope, thinking that a group thinly tied together by a single attribute would somehow be more homogeneous than other groups I had been in. What I did find, though, was interesting.

Many atheists who were theists keep the same emotional level that they had as theists. Rabid fundamentalist theists become rabid anti-theists, comfortably introspective theists become comfortably introspective atheists. Some very few go through an evolution, especially if, as theists, they were not a single type of theists. Pagans who become atheists seem to be the most even keeled, perhaps because they have already worked through their anger at major religions when they were pagans.

But, like the theist community, and most communities, it is the loudest, most aggressive atheists who end up being up in front, and being the most noticed. There are a few exceptions, like the ACA which runs The Atheist Experience, but people like Richard Dawkins end up being the face of atheism to people who don’t know much about the community.

And therein lies the rub. I don’t particularly care for Mr. Dawkins. He’s a great scientist, but he tends to shoot his mouth off without much care as to the consequences of what he is saying. Like many atheists, he doesn’t see atheism as anything more than an attribute, even though theists see it as a movement, a menace, a cohesive whole. And that means that what he says tends to reflect onto atheists. When he goes off on a sexist rant, it looks bad when I am trying to have a conversation with a fundamentalist woman. Never mind that her religion is ten times worse towards women; she’s learned to deal with that. I’m the bad guy because Dawkins said something bad. I’m not saying Dawkins and others should not speak out, it is just that moderate atheists need to speak out, too. And we need to bridge gaps, even with theists.

Many atheists see all religion as being bad. However, there are many religions which do not have all of the horrible baggage dragging along behind. Take, for example, earth based religions such as Wicca, Druidism, and the like. For the most part, relatively innocuous, and rarely evangelical, yet some atheists attack them just the same.

I say that it is time for moderate atheists like myself to reach out to moderate religions and form friendships, alliances, and bonds. I think that we will be able to temper each other, and both end up better in the long run. We must do so without derision, and without fear or anger. If we don’t I fear that the atheist community will become merely reactionary and extremist.

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