The similarities between famous authoritarian regimes of the past and the Trumpist push toward autocracy are remarkable. The eternal lying is one thing, and it is seemingly integral to the fascist idea: making people doubt and despise evidence that points away from the infallibility of the Leader and letting the Leader have the last word in everything. The goal of a fascist regime is to make the majority of the population see the world through the special fascist lens. That lens presents everything in a light most beneficial to Party and Leader. I think it’s fair to call that lens “culture.”
Those who seek an honest accounting of American history, an open discussion of things like racism at law here in the USA, are often disparaged as “culture warriors”. When I hear culture warrior I always think of Bill Barr, the most pugnacious public example (excluding right wing cable TV and radio ‘personalities’) in recent memory. Barr has a rigid religious worldview in which he and his fellow believers represent good and all critics are evil, depraved, corrupt degenerate atheists.
Blacks and people of conscience turn out in the millions to protest the routine police mistreatment, violence toward and occasional killing, of unarmed minority citizens, (after one outrageous example of cold-blooded murder captured on video in its entirety). Barr warns them that if they expect protection from the police they’d better start showing some fucking respect. Calls them ‘anarchists,’ godless anti-fascists, denies there is anything close to systemic racism in policing, threatens them with the full power of the State if they continue to protest, and so forth.
Culture is how you see the world, what you cherish, how you expect others to behave. In some cultures playing music loudly in a beautiful public space is a generous service to others who might enjoy the same music. Other cultures regard this as an aggressive intrusion on nature and privacy. Freedom from tyranny is a value in most cultures, defining what exactly freedom is, and what constitutes tyranny, varies from culture to culture.
You can phrase certain forms of coercion in a way that makes them sound very much like freedom, or like the worst form of tyranny. I learned in high school that words like “freedom” and “tyranny” are “glittering generalities” — they sound great but mean very little on their own. A mask mandate during a raging pandemic is tyranny, or prudence, depending on the culture you belong to.
The real political battle in the USA, and in many parts of the world, is over culture, since your view of culture determines everything. Culture is a powerful weapon in the hands of political hucksters and ambitious, partisan conmen, just the mention of a deadly threat to our “culture” and way of life galvanizes crowds. There is a huge, lucrative industry enlisted in the fight over culture, market testing resonant catchphrases (“death tax,” “death panels,” “climate alarmists,” “right to (fetal) life”). The idea is to phrase everything in a way that will make people agree with you, and “owning” your enemies, while ideally simplifying the discussion to whose culture will prevail.
“My body, my choice,” depending on which culture you are part of, is either a declaration of a woman’s right to decide whether to give birth or of a patriot’s right to resist a vaccine, not be forced to wear a mask, to be able to freely spread a so-called pandemic to whoever the hell he wants to spread it to.
When thinking about Trump and the GOP, all roads seem to lead back to Germany and Herr Hitler, who was a Trump-like rock star to millions of Germans. Listening to some “alternative factual” dissection of culture and current events by a member of MAGA nation, I flashed on the old Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur, the original Nazi outfit that fought the war for control of German culture. Though its organizer, Alfred Rosenberg, may have been a less adept a Hitler ass-kisser than others in the ambitious, highly competitive, jealous Nazi hierarchy (particularly Josef Goebbels, who soon took jurisdiction over Nazi culture), the group did its work from 1929 (a few years before Hitler took power, think culture champion Rush Limbaugh) until it was eventually absorbed completely into other Nazi agencies eight or nine years later. Rosenberg, the thinking man’s Nazi, nonetheless held high office in the Nazi hierarchy to the end and, for all his hard work, was eventually executed after the Nuremberg tribunal ruled he’d committed crimes against humanity .
What was the work of the Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur? As you might expect, fighting a war for how Germans saw the world. For example:
Degenerate jungle music. Here is a cartoonishly unhuman Negro, wearing a Jewish star, making hideous jazz music that is obviously degenerate and not fit for good German ears. The Nazis banned jazz (though the Gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt in occupied Paris was prized by many SS officers) and launched a massive national campaign against degenerate visual artists, displaying the works of Picasso, Matisse, Chagall and a bunch of German-Jewish degenerate artists in a wildly popular traveling museum art show.
Real Germans, citizens of the Third Reich learned, loved realistic, idealized depictions of Aryans, healthy, strong and happy. This kind of art is known as Heroic Realism and is often used by autocrats for propaganda purposes. Odd note, the Entartate Kunst museum show of degenerate art in Nazi Germany was the most well-attended art show of all-time, until the Metropolitan Museum in NYC mounted the wildly popular Treasures of King Tut exhibit a half century later.
High ranking Nazi Hermann Goering (who owned a large collection of plundered Entartate Kunst) famously said “when I hear the word culture I reach for my gun.” Indeed.
The author of a seminal work of Nazi ideology, The Myth of the Twentieth Century (1930), Rosenberg is considered one of the main authors of key Nazi ideological creeds, including its racial theory, persecution of the Jews, Lebensraum, abrogation of the Treaty of Versailles, and opposition to what was considered “degenerate” modern art. He is known for his rejection of and hatred for Christianity, having played an important role in the development of German Nationalist Positive Christianity.