Yesterday, I wrote some comments about what Mitt Romney had said in his “Faith in America” speech. Today, I want to say a few words about why he said it – or, more specifically, about the type of political strategy his efforts fall into.
Romney’s Hitleresque Political Strategy
Romney’s strategy for the speech was, for all practical purpose, the same political strategy that Hitler used to obtain power. The recipe is to take some subgroup of the culture that is not very popular – that there is a history of vilifying, accept any and all lies and sophistry that are used against this group, and tell the people that “we” must pull together under a common leader who recognizes how bad “they” are and is willing to stand up to “them” for the sake of “us”.
It was, in fact, quite fitting that Romney was introduced by the senior George Bush. Bush himself is quoted as saying:
“No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.”.
However, there is no primary source available for this quote – just the word of the reporter who asked the question.
In Romney’s case, we have a primary source. Romney’s assertion that atheists should not be considered patriots, that this is one nation under God, was broadcast on prime time throughout the country.
Of course, in Hitler’s case, the enemy – the people that Hitler targeted were the Jews (among others). This was the easiest target for him to use, since it allowed Hitler to draw upon hatreds that the Christian community had cultivated for hundreds of years. This is not to say that Hitler himself did not hate the Jews and that he merely played off of everybody else’s hatred. Hitler, himself, probably learned this hatred from the Christian culture in which he grew up. None of this changes the fact that this history of hatred of Jews existed, and that it was easy for Hitler to exploit.
To do this, Hitler needed only to give voice to the prejudices and bigotries that were already active within the community – lies that blamed the Jews for all of the troubles that the German people had suffered. To follow Hitler’s example, Romney needed only to give voice to a pack of lies that have been leveled against ‘secularists’ over the years – lies that his target group were likely to accept without question and without evidence.
Secularists, according to Romney, are anti-American and anti-freedom who rightfully deserve no voice in government.
It is important to note that in Romney’s speech, he identified his opponent as a religious minority. Many secularists would deny that secularism is a religion. However, this blog post is about Romney’s strategy, and in this context it is important to note that Romney described secularism as a religion and anticipated that his audience would accept this claim. That it is just another one of the lies that he used to vilify his target group does not change the fact that he used this lie.
Anyway, by calling secularism a ‘religion’ he makes the case that his strategy was like Hitler’s significantly stronger. Romney was targeting a religious subgroup. Though he did this in the context of a speech that talked about the importance of freedom of religion and of respect for differing religious beliefs, he also made it clear that the religion of secularism was “wrong” and that the practitioners of his religion were anti-American, anti-freedom, and unworthy of any respect or consideration. Though Romney made reference to the constitutional prohibition against any religious test for public office, he made it clear that those who belonged to the ‘secularist religion’ had no place in public office, or even in America.
Romney also repeated the common libel that secularists are out to remove all mention of God from the public square – a charge that has as much merit as host desecration did against the Jews.
Though one might be able to find an isolated instances of a secularist arguing for a prohibition on all mention of God in the public square, just as one might be able to find an instance of a Jew who desecrated a communion wafer, one can find no evidence that this is a regular secular proposal (or Jewish practice). Secularists wish to eliminate all government endorsement of religion, and certainly have reason to protest claims that a person has to be under God or trust in God to be patriotic (these claims are inherently insulting and denigrating), I do not know of a secularist who would ban private citizens from standing on public property professing their private belief in God.
The claim that secularists are trying to remove all mention of God from the public square is a lie; a misrepresentation of the fact that secularists are trying to get the church’s hand out of their bank account.
A third lie in Rommey’s speech was to equate ‘secularists’ with people who do not believe in God or do not have faith. As it turns out, a great many religious people are secularists. A secularist is somebody who believes in the separation of church and state – something that people who have suffered religious persecution in the past tend to appreciate more than those who have caused this persecution or who have the power to cause it in the future with relative impunity. Atheists are the actual hated group so, by blurring the distinction between atheists and secularists, Romney (following the conservative religious tradition) should be able to engineer the same hatred of all secularists that had previously been meant only for atheists.
The Reason Behind the Strategy
Romney had good reason to try Hitler’s “Us” versus “them” strategy – complete with the lies and slanders that “us” have been leveling against “them” for countless years. Romney wanted to be accepted as one of “us”. His Mormon religion caused many conservative Christians to view him as an outsider. He needed to find a group that was more disliked than the Mormons and to give a speech that said, “Look! Over there! They are the enemy! We must unite against them!” Buying into every lie and slander used against the target group only added to the acceptability of his argument.
People generally have a desire to belong – to be one of “us”. Hitler became popular by telling the German people that “we” (Arians) are better than “them” (Jews and others). The German people heard the message, they felt the pride, and they gave their power to Hitler, who then acted on that false sense of pride against those that he had declared to be the inferior “them”. Similarly, Romney seems to have been hoping to create a similar sense of pride among “us” who are under God and trust in God, against “them” secularists – for the purpose of generating the same psychological effect.
As long as he could come up with an “us” and “them” so that Mormons were in the “us” category, and some long-standing socially vilified group was in the “them” category. He had everything he needed in targeting secularists, the way Hitler targeted Jews.
The Hitler Analogy
There will be people who will question the Hitler analogy. Any time Hitler is mentioned, they get upset and accuse the person mentioning Hitler of some major offense. However, there are two problems with this response to such an analogy.
First, it makes being “like Hitler” the politically safest thing one can be. By being “like Hitler”, a candidate can instantly disarm all opponents by saying to his accusers, “How dare you say that I am like Hitler.”
Second, this “How dare you accuse me of being like Hitler” response is actually a smoke-screen; a distraction. The individual cannot answer the actual charges that have been leveled against him, so he hopes to change the subject, by changing the accusation into one he can handle.
I have not said that Romney and his supporters are “like Hitler” in that they are just itching for a chance to open up the death camps. I have said that they are “like Hitler” in their use of a strategy of vilifying some subgroup in a community as a way of achieving political power – of creating a false “us” and “them” that he hopes will result in enough votes for “us” to win the election.
Remember, there were no gas chambers in 1933 - not when Hitler was actually making his climb to power.
That charge stands. Any pretend offense at being compared to Hitler in this regard is, like I said, a smoke screen – a way in which a candidate like Romney can behave in ways like Hitler and avoid having anybody present this fact.
I consider it quite important, now, that Romney be defeated and disgraced, and that he is defeated and disgraced precisely because of this speech. If this type of behavior is ever seen as politically viable in this country, we can expect others to keep using it, and for ‘secularists’ to continue to be victimized because of it. The way to put an end to this type of strategy is to make sure that it is political suicide to even try to use this strategy.
And that it is political suicide for any party to seriously consider a candidate that employs this type of strategy. The instant that any candidate tries this type of Hitleresque targeting of a subgroup to gain political power, a sufficient number of Americans should recognize it, and to know that this is not the type of person we want as our leader, that he immediately loses all hope of victory.
Then we would have at least one measure of protection against potential Hitleresque candidates in the future.
A Closing Note on ‘Under God’ and ‘In God We Trust’
I want to close with one final note. The case for allowing under God in the pledge and “In God We Trust” on the currency is that this is a patriotic exercise that has nothing to do with promoting religion. This is an argument that only makes sense if it is reasonable to deny that the Pledge and the motto can be used to target hostility against any group of Americans. Yet, this is precisely what Romney did in his speech, and what he was applauded for doing.
We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.
This means nothing less than those who are not under God or who do not trust in God are anti-American. It is a clear-cut instance of these quotes being used to direct hostility against a target group in order to promote one religious belief (belief about religion, not belief within a religion) over another.