“It is hard to make a revolution, it is harder to sustain it, even harder to win it —
but then, after you have won, then the real challenge begins.”
In the late 1890’s and early 1900’s, Karl Lueger, a proto-fascist in Hapsburg Austria, sought to become mayor of Vienna, a city known for its liberal cosmopolitanism. Lueger appealed to working class anxieties, resentment, and Catholic and xenophobic Anti-Judaism. The Austrian Emperor tried to prevent Lueger’s election several times, but popular opinion in support of Lueger was so strong that the Emperor himself had to concede. Once in office, Lueger supported his working class base with patronage, public works, and constant demonization and ridicule of the “wealthy Jews.”
An anecdote from the period tells that Lueger was once casually talking with a poor Jewish man. One of his supporters was agahst to see Lueger himself engaging with such a “devil”. Lueger stopped, stared at his supporter sharply, and declared, “I determine who’s a Jew.” While Lueger may have only taken his rhetoric somewhat seriously, many others truly did believe in his words about the “Jewish problem.” Adolf Hitler, who was living in Vienna at the time, is said to have been inspired by Lueger’s example. Through his promotion of a core base of supporters, the introduction of patronage and public works, and the constant demonization of the “Jewish problem,” Lueger achieved municipal power, and set a modern European precedent to achieve power through ridicule, demonization, and harassment of minority groups, in his case, Jews.
In the US, various politicians at different times in our history demonized people with darker skin, resulting in lynch mobs and legalized codes of segregation. Jews, people from Southern Europe and Ireland, and Catholics (North Providence itself was shrunk to its present size in 1879 when portions of the town with large Italian populations were “donated” to Providence to maintain Yankee purity) also faced harrassment. On the West Coast, Asians from China and Japan were harrassed, during WWII ultimately leading to the Japanese internment camps. During parts of the Cold War, people (many artists) with opinions or attitudes percieved as “soft on (or friendly to) communism” were ridiculed, labeled pinkos and traitors.
Sadly hate politics is global, often targeting immigrants and minorities. In post-colonial Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa, wealthy, white Europeans bemoaned threats from dangerous blacks,” and in Latin America, indigenous and darker skinned people have been harassed and excluded from power for centuries. Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda demonized Indians and Europeans living in the country, forcing them all into exile in the mid 1970s under the philosophy “Africa for Africans”. Amin’s policies forced thousands of college educated individuals out of the country, leading to a massive brain drain which Uganda still struggles with. When the Japanese Military during the Showa Period (1932-1945) expanded across the Pacific, Chinese and Fillipino people were treated brutally and reduced to near slave status, in the name of defending against Western imperialism. Mao’s Cultural Revolution resulted in the murder and harassment of millions of teachers, educators, professors, and religious in the name of “purity.” The former US supported Dominican dictator Trujillo (FDR once quipped, “He’s an S.O.B, but he’s our S.O.B.”) spoke of the need to cleanse the Dominican Republic of “corrupting” immigrants from Haiti. 20-30,000 Haitians, the majority of them poor immigrants, were murdered in 1937. More recently in Rwanda, tensions between the Tutsi and the Hutu tribes resulted in a massive genocide, dramatically portrayed in the film Hotel Rwanda. Europe or Asia, North America or South, Africa or the Caribbean, the politics of hate are sadly effective.
A truly liberal society, with equal opportunity, a bill of rights, a strong civic society, active groups and people determined to live in a free and just community, depends on constant vigilance against demonization of people within the community, turning those people into things. It has happened here, on our planet, in our countries, in our towns, many, many times. We
have seen the results, read the statistics of dead bodies, heard of people restricted from higher education, see the difference in treatment between the “superior” and “inferior” people. Constant vigilance and a continued insistence to stop the politics of hate are necessary on our part to prevent repeats of past history. Leftists and Rightists, Religious and secular, all human philosophies, beliefs and ideologies are subject to lurking demon of hate politics. If anything, if tragically, it is a constant reminder for this Catholic that the idea of the Fallen State of Humanity has an awful corpus of empirical evidence to support it. Yet, at the same time, these injustices are the result of human choices. Here’s hoping we start making some good ones.