Monday, August 16, 2010
THE MORTAL STORM
I just watched a pretty hokey flick on TCM from 1940 with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan playing Germans (!) at the time of Hitler's ascendancy. It was a brave film to make in 1940 and some critics, as the TCM host Robert Osborne pointed out, thought it went too far in painting the Nazis badly (and of course didn't go anywhere far enough in terms of what was really happening at the time).
It was great to watch because it had a lot of the virtues of Hollywood movies of that time, including great sets, and the great conceits of the "Germans" talking English except for Stewart's old peasant mother who has what sounded to me like some kind of Eastern European, Slavic accent, etc. But it was most interesting because Frank Morgan (the wizard from THE WIZARD OF OZ) plays "the professor" in it who has some stepsons (one of whom is a young Robert Stack) who become Nazi Party members and turn against their family partly because their stepfather (Morgan) is a "non-Aryan."
They never refer to his being Jewish, though the "non-Aryan" designation implies it. And his downfall comes because he defends the scientific reality that the "blood" of Aryans and non-Aryans is no different (shades of Shylock). The crazy thing is that things were actually much much worse at the time and that even toned down the story raised questions about attempts in our country, especially right now, to use fear of some kind of contamination from "the other" as an excuse to thwart the democratic process because it gave power to someone other than the right.
It's interesting that the righwing ruckus over the so-called "mosque" (which it isn't, the proposal is for a prayer room in a building with many other functions including interfaith meetings etc.) has now reached the level of the silliest lies and distortions. Like the idea that Obama is intent on elevating Sharia—that is Muslim laws based on the Koran, which of course is in itself not universally agreed on in terms of interpretations (much like the Bible the understanding and interpretation of the text is dependent on whose doing the interpreting etc.)—above the Constitution.
The rightwingers are always trying to create the fear that something outside the country is going to infiltrate and take it over, like Islam. An idea which doesn't take into consideration that the totalitarian systems the right usually tries to compare Obama's centrist Democratic policies with, i.e. Soviet Communism and Nazi fascism, share an intolerance for anything other than the party line and came from within the countries that developed or perfected them (Russia in the former case and Germany in the latter) and were based on the belief that those societies couldn't afford to allow any ideas that threatened the party line.
The great gift of the USA has been that despite calls for that kind of intolerance over the two centuries and change we've existed, including the intolerance personified in slavery etc. and later anti-immigrant movements including anti-Irish-Catholic and anti-Semitism, and anti-Italian and anti-Asian and anti-gay, etc., have always eventually been overwhelmed by the basic idea in the Constitution that freedom is a universal right for everyone. That's what this country has come to stand for, haltingly, sometimes after terrific arguments and political and even physical battles that even slavery could not persist against forever.
But what Palin and Rush and Beck and so many others on the right have come to personify is exactly the kind of intolerance and party-line thinking that created the totalitarian movements and threaten our own democracy with the idea that anyone who disagrees with the rightwing line, even if democratically elected by a majority, is a threat to "freedom" by which they mean their power and nothing else.
[PS: Here's a good essay on some of these issues.]