Making fun of demagogues like Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh has become a kind of parlor game, an escape valve to let out some of the frustration of impotent rage. This was brought home again when I read "Defying Hitler" by Sebastian Haffner. Writing between 1933 and 1939, he came of age during Hitler's rise to power. His observations are so searing it's still hard to believe that someone could see this clearly while the spirit of his times was morphing into a broad and deep spirit of evil. Once the Zeitgeist had changed, all kinds of murderous and insane actions became logical means toward transforming German culture into its Nazi metastasis.
"Avatars of Julius Streicher" doesn't sound quite sober - hardly anyone recognizes his name today, but Streicher's spirit is alive and well in Beck, Coulter and Limbaugh. Streicher was one of the 11 Nazis sentenced to hang by the Nuremberg Trials on October 16, 1946. Only ten were hanged because Hermann Goering committed suicide with some cyanide capsules the night before. Of the 11, Streicher was the only one who was not in the military, not in any significant position to command anything regarding the treatment and execution of millions of people who didn't fit the Nazi mold. But Streicher may have been the person most responsible for implanting the spirit of anti-Semitism that let Germans dehumanize and slaughter millions of people. Between 1923 and 1945, Streicher published "Der Stuermer" ("The Stormtrooper"), and spoke wherever he could to instill this deadly spirit into everyone he could reach. He especially liked to address schoolchildren, and would get them so conditioned that when he asked if they knew who the enemy of Germany was, they would shout, "The Jew! The Jew!" Streicher was hanged with the Nazi leaders for publishing this fact-free newspaper that did more than anything else to prepare the way for the Nazi death machines. A typical issue of "Der Stuermer" was described as "nothing but an incitement to the people of Germany who read it, an incitement to murder. It is filled with pictures of murder. It is an encouragement to all who read it to avenge themselves in the same way."
At his trial in Nuremberg, the prosecution said that while Streicher was not directly involved in the physical commission of these deadly crimes against humanity, "his crime is no less worse for that reason.... It was to the task of educating and poisoning the people with hate, and of producing murderers, that Streicher set himself. For 25 years, he continued unrelentingly the perversion of the people and youth of Germany. He went on and on as he saw the results of his work bearing fruit. In the early days, he was preaching persecution. As persecution took place, he preached extermination and annihilation and, as millions of Jews were exterminated and annihilated in the Ghettos of the East, he cried out for more and more.
"The crime of Streicher is that he made these crimes possible, which they would never have been had it not been for him and for those like him. In its extent Streicher's crime is probably greater and more far-reaching than that of any of the other defendants. The misery which they caused ceased with their capture. The effects of this man's crime, of the poison that he has put into the minds of millions of young boys and girls goes on, for he concentrated upon the youth and childhood of Germany. He leaves behind him a legacy of almost a whole people poisoned with hate, sadism, and murder, and perverted by him. That people will remain a problem and perhaps a menace to the rest of civilization for generations to come."
Against that historical background, consider just a few of these sound bites:
We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. [Her suggestion for dealing with the Middle East.]
Liberals are always against America. They are either traitors or idiots, and on the matter of America's self-preservation, the difference is irrelevant.
"I don't really like to think of [the murder of Dr. Tiller] as a murder. It was terminating Tiller in the 203rd trimester.... I am personally opposed to shooting abortionists, but I don't want to impose my moral values on others." [On the murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller, FOX News interview, June 22, 2009.]
"We just want Jews to be perfected, as they say." [Arguing that it would be better if we were all Christian.]
"If I'm going to say anything about John Edwards in the future, I'll just wish he had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot."
"Liberals love America like O.J. loved Nicole."
"There are a lot of bad republicans; there are no good democrats."
"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building."
"God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.'"
"I think the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East and sending liberals to Guantanamo."
"I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it.... No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out of him." [Responding to the question, "What would people do for $50 million?," "The Glenn Beck Program," May 17, 2005.]
"When I see a 9/11 victim family on television, or whatever, I'm just like, 'Oh shut up' I'm so sick of them because they're always complaining." ["The Glenn Beck Program," September 9, 2005.]
"The only [Katrina victims] we're seeing on television are the scumbags." ["The Glenn Beck Program," September 9, 2005.]
"This president I think has exposed himself over and over again as a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.... I'm not saying he doesn't like white people, I'm saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist." [On President Obama, sparking an advertiser exodus from his FOX News show.]
"Progressivism is the cancer in America and it is eating our Constitution, and it was designed to eat the Constitution, to progress past the Constitution."
"The difference between Los Angeles and yogurt is that yogurt comes with less fruit."
"The feminist movement was created to allow ugly women access to the mainstream of society"
"Women were doing quite well in this country before feminism came along"
"When a gay person turns his back on you, it is anything but an insult; it's an invitation."
"Take that bone out of your nose and call me back"
"They vote with their vaginas"
"If we are going to start rewarding no skills and stupid people - I'm serious, let the unskilled jobs, let the kinds of jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do - let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work."
The spirit of these three Americans is the same spirit that filled Streicher. It is a spirit of hateful bigotry, preparing the way for these vulgar sentiments to become deadly atrocities. The overwhelming majority of Americans, like the overwhelming majority of Germans, are far better than this. We need to respond, not by stooping to the same level, but by reminding ourselves that the better angels of our nature call us to a higher standard. A great nation is at stake.