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EDITORIAL: Understanding How It Could Happen Here

I used to wonder how the citizens of a country like Germany could let the Third Reich happen. How, in the late 1920s and early '30s, could they not see what was going on around them? Unions suppressed. The media villainized. Minorities abused. Sudden, even random, arrests. Paramilitary forces taking over city streets and neighborhoods. Political opponents demonized. How could people not see that? How could they not care?
     Now I think I'm understanding better. It's not that they didn't see it. It's not that they didn't care. It's just that life got in the way. A job to go to. A family to raise. Taxes and rent and mortgages to pay. Groceries and water bills and electric bills. Illnesses. Friends and relatives to visit and be visited by. Repairs to the car. Annoying bosses or neighbors. Church and school and sports and favorite TV shows and a new towel rack for the kitchen. It all takes up time and energy, and is much more present and urgent than what's happening in the big city miles away, or even to the family down the street.
     Even with the Covid-19 shutdown, for most people these things are what their lives are focused on, and there isn't a whole lot left over to pay attention to what is happening to strangers. And 99%+ of the world is made up of strangers.
     I know so many people who say they just don't have time to keep up with politics. That was my attitude, to a large extent, before I retired. I tried to keep aware, but with teaching and coaching and being a part of a family, with all that requires, I had neither the time nor the energy to be an activist. I get it.
     That's pretty much how it was in Germany as Hitler was rising to power. He was an expert at rousing anger and hatred, especially among the less well educated and economically insecure. Most Germans either ignored him or thought he was kind of a joke. He was brought to a position of power with something like a third of the popular vote. Most Germans were too busy with life to be much concerned.
     I see that happening in the United States now. Just too busy and tired to get involved. And political activism can be kind of boring, too. Life's too short to invest in such marginal things.
     The things the Trump administration is doing now are similar to what Hitler's government did in its first months of power. (Read Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich".) Many of us notice it, but many are just too busy. Besides, the affects are not being felt directly by most of us, so we don't feel a sense of urgency in responding to them.
     I'm not confident that the United States can survive another Trump administration as a pluralistic democracy. Our country today is not like Hitler's Germany. But in a few years, it could be. I hope we can learn something from the complacent and "too busy" Germans of 90 years ago, and not make their mistake.
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