Enemies of the People, America First…and Dr. Seuss…
This week millions of American elementary children celebrated the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Teachers and adorable students dressed as his classic characters, even the first ladies often read from his prolific selection of work.
What is truly interesting, however, is that Dr. Seuss spent most of his career commentating on the abuse of power. He drew political cartoons critical of both U.S., Soviet, and German rhetoric. He was exposing the perils of isms — isolationism, nationalism, fascism and communism.
Trump is, of course, employing extremist rhetoric. In essence, he has swung so far right that he is actually left — so that his actual position on the political spectrum is a black hole. Trump is his own category; he has created his own paradigm. Some have labeled his ideology Trumpism.
When teaching sophomores and seniors world and European history , I use the Congress of Vienna as a jumping off point to discuss the modern political spectrum.
In 1815, the conservative forces were victorious. Napoleon was in the throes of defeat when the 11 months long Congress began. Held in the beautiful Austrian capital, the meetings often took place during fox hunts, elaborate dinners, and dances. Spying was an accepted component of the peace process and all the major powers — Austria, Russia, Prussia, Great Britain, and France were in attendance.
The Congress of Vienna established a balance of conservative power until the outbreak of the first world war and created “relative” peace for 99 years. The biggest hole in the umbrella created by the Congress of Vienna, however, was the power of nationalism. The world wars were, in large part, caused by rampant unchecked nationalism.
Fascism is, of course, extreme nationalism. In Trump’s inauguration speech he stated:
From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.
Some might argue that he was being isolationist or protectionist, not fascist. That stance does have merit. However, isolationism has had its own downside. In his political cartoons, Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), often mocked American isolationism during the inter-war period:
Furthermore, Geisel also connected American isolationism as a relative of fascism and communism:
Geisel was commentating on rigid extremes. He was provoking the American public to see the folly of burying their heads in the sand. He was a son of German immigrants. German was spoken in his home. He was obviously sensitive to global events. Although Geisel would later state that he was embarrassed by some of his hastily drawn cartoons (especially the outwardly racist Japanese depictions), any reader of Dr. Seuss’ books can recognize Theodor Geisel’s political and social commentaries. These beloved children’s books teach classic life lessons. Many of my students are surprised to learn that Dr. Seuss drew political cartoons about Hitler during the war years. Once their eyes are opened, however, they cannot be shut to the power of political awareness that Theodor Geisel promoted.
On February 17, 2017, when Trump tweeted:
he was using communist rhetoric. Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, especially, used the term enemy of the people to describe any person that stood in their way of their vision of creating a communist utopian society. Stalin had enemies liquidated (the kulaks) or sent to forced labor camps in Siberia (gulags). There was absolutely no freedom of the press allowed under Joseph Stalin and even today Russia has a “state-run” media outlet.
One of the biggest similarities between fascism and communism is the creation of an enemy, the glorification of the group over the individual, and the control of an ideal. My students are often very confused when studying both of these ideologies because they both present with totalitarianism.
Trump is using both sides of the political spectrum to mold his vision for making America great again. He is also creating clear enemies, promoting security over individual rights, and attempting to control information.
It will be interesting to see what historical hindsight will label our political times, if we survived them.
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