View of the old synagogue in Aachen after its destruction during Kristallnacht 07.
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Today is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and is also the day after 45 Republicans in the Senate voted that Trump's attempt to turn America into a fascist state was just fine with them.
How does this kind of horror happen in otherwise civilized, advanced countries?
Back in the 1980s, my family and I lived in Germany doing international relief work. I knew and worked with several Germans, then in their 60s, who'd been soldiers in Hitler's army.
A close friend and colleague of mine, Armin Lehman n, was the 16-year-old courier who brought Hitler the news that the war was lost, and stood outside his door while Hitler committed suicide; we traveled the world together and I encouraged him to get his autobiography into print.
My mentor Gottfried Mueller, about whom I wrote a book, had been such a true believer that he parachuted into the Kurdish area of Iraq to help the Kurds seize the oil fields for Hitler (and designed the flag still used by the Kurdish resistance); he spent the rest of the war in a British prison cage in the desert waiting to be executed, and when he escaped at the war's end became a vegetarian and committed his life to peace, as had Armin.
People wonder how the Nazis took over that country so rapidly, just like they wonder how Republicans in the US Senate could justify Donald Trump whipping up a crowd to go kill five people and try to overthrow the US government.
Turns out, in both cases, it's the seductive lure of authoritarianism.
All of us have, to a greater or lesser extent, a deep-seated, childhood-rooted need to be taken care of. To have somebody else make sure that we are safe. For some it's a faint whisper; for others, it's the force that drives their lives.
It apparently comes out of the developmental stage of childhood when we're completely dependent upon our parents; some of us didn't feel completely safe through childhood, and when such people grow up they spend their adulthood looking for parent-like figures who promise to protect them and guarantee them safety.
Such people are called "authoritarian followers," and they just want the world to be safe, predictable, and orderly. No ambiguity or complexity; these people want simple answers, a strong leader, the reassurance of weaponry and macho symbology, and swift and harsh "justice" for those who frighten them or they don't understand. Thus, they're open and vulnerable to authoritarian leaders.
And it's not just limited to "average people" or even those suffering poverty or oppression; even billionaires are vulnerable to authoritarianism.
This doesn't just explain why Germans would follow Hitler; it also explains why Americans would follow Charles Manson and Jim Jones. And Donald Trump.
We're all capable of following characters who play the role of parent figures who'll take care of all the crises, solve the problems, and make everything better, whether for good or for ill, whether George Washington ("The Father of Our Country") or Donald Trump.
This is not a novel idea. Entire books have been written about it, like Robert Altmeyers The Authoritaria ns, Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitariani sm, and John Dean 's Conservatives Without Conscie nce.
Authoritarianism, the impulse at the core of fascism, is simple, and that very simplicity is what makes it so seductive.
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