Lilian Mowrer and her husband, Edgar Mowrer, the journalist, went to a Nazi ceremony at the Sports Place. It was about 1931. The Sports Palace was, Lilian wrote, "a handsome modern building with walls painted in brilliant futuristic colors." Making their way to the stage were Joseph Goebbels, "[peaked, thin, limping slightly," and Rudolf Hess, "a regular Clark Gable of a man," and Hitler himself, in a trench coat and leather belt, "his lank lock of hair already straying over his low forehead, a happy nervous smile on his long shapeless lips."
Goebbels took the microphone. "Why do we trust our Fuhrer?" he asked. "We hold to our Fuhrer because--he hold to us." A roar rose from twenty thousand throats.
Hitler began speaking, in his odd, croaking voice. He listed off the misdeeds and corruptions of the Weimar regime. He wept over the woes of the people--"two fists in the air and tears pouring down each side of his flabby nose," Lilian Mowrer wrote. Then he excoriated the Jews and the socialists, and he promised lower taxes, higher wages, more jobs, better housing, and cheaper fertilizer. Mowrer was not swept away. "Hitler was talking nonsense, making the grossest miss-statements, garbling history in a voice that was raucous and suggested the parade ground, and with gestures uncouth and unconvincing," she thought. Yet when she looked around at the audience, she saw not just assent but ecstasy: a young girl with lips parted, eyes fixed on her leader; an old man nodding; the sixty-year-old woman next to her, saying "Richtig! Richtig!" after every promise Hitler made.
Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization (2008)
Samuel Fuller, an executive in the rayon-fiber business, wrote a memo to his old friend Franklin Roosevelt, now president of the United States. It was May 8, 1933.
Roosevelt had asked Fuller, when he visit Berlin, to find out the answers to some questions about Hitler. One of the questions was: "Is he going to keep the Jews out for good? Or is he just punishing them temporarily to make them be good?"
"Regarding the Jews," wrote Fuller to Roosevelt, "Dr. Schacht stated that the Jewish situation had been much exaggerated in the American press." Nobody had been killed, Schacht--the head of the German bank--told Fuller: No Jews had suffered personal violence. Schacht described the situation this way:
"A large number of Jews entered Germany after the War. These had joined, to a great extent, the Communists' party. The Government for the past 10 years had been filled, in the bureaucratic places to a very large extent by Jews. The majority of places were held by Jews. Germany is not a Jewish nation. The appointed judges of the Curs were largely Jewish. The ministry of education was filled with Jews. The Chief of Police of Berlin was a Jew. 2600 out of the 3200 Berlin lawyers were Jews. In the University of Berlin 3 percent to 4 percent of the student body were Jews, and 40 percent of the professors were Jews. Germany felt that this was wrong; and they put them out and filled their places, or places were necessary, with Gentiles.
Fuller had another conversation with Schacht later on. "If I were a Jew I would be concerned," Schacht told him then. "I am not a Jew and I am concerned."
Roosevelt passed the "extremely interesting" letter on to Cordell Hull, his secretary of state. "Please let me have it back when you and the Chief of the Division of Western Europe have read it," he wrote.
Oswald Garrison Villard, an editor of The Nation, wrote that great armaments were the road to fascism. "They bring with them increased worship of the State, increased nationalism, increased State service, and therefore play into the hands of those like Hitler and Mussolini who declare that the citizen is made for the State and not the State for the citizen," he said. It was July 2, 1938.
President Trump speaks on the final morning of CPAC at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland. Marian Carrasquero/NPR
President Trump's status with the Conservative Political Action Conference has gone from "it's complicated" to a full-on committed relationship.
That turnaround was to be expected, given that the former reality TV star and billionaire businessman pulled off an unlikely upset last November that finally gave attendees at CPAC what they had been salivating over for more than a decade — control of the White House, Congress and a new conservative justice nominated to the Supreme Court.
But to do that, attendees had to be willing to embrace Trump's brand of populist conservatism that hasn't always jibed with the more libertarian strain that's been in command at CPACs of yesteryear.
"Is Trump a conservative? He's not — no, I don't think so," said college student Matt Longenacker who was attending from Lancaster, Pa.
Attendees were able to show their support of both the president and other conservative values at merchandise stands and even a pop-up photo booth.
But the 21-year-old still cast his ballot last November for Trump, albeit with some reservations that Trump might actually grow the federal government instead of shrinking it.
"Unfortunately, it takes somebody who isn't willing to play by the rules to get the job done. And right now, that's how I tend to agree with him in that sense," Longenacker said.
Cheryl Posavac, 49, from Philadelphia, made the case that Trump did show some shades of conservatism that blended in with a more libertarian worldview.
"He's a true believer in America and the Constitution," she said. "I don't think we've seen that in a while — somebody very much championing that. Not really; not in the traditional sense."
The last person who embodied the group's perfect conservative ideal was one that Trump's team was quick to draw a comparisons to throughout the week — President Ronald Reagan.
Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged in his speech Thursday night that his own political marriage with Trump may have seemed like an odd one, given their contrasting images.
"You know, I'm a small town guy. He's big city. I'm Midwest, he's Manhattan Island," the former Indiana governor laughed. "He's known for his bigger-than-life personality, his charm, and his charisma. And I'm, like, not."
But, it was another one-time famous star who ultimately provided the mantle to which all other conservatives are still measured up to.
"You know, from the outset, our president reminded me of somebody else, a man who inspired me to actually join the cause of conservatism nearly 40 years ago, President Ronald Reagan," Pence said.
American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, whose group sponsors CPAC each year, made the same comparison.
"You know the last time a president of the United States came to CPAC in his first year?" he asked the crowd before introducing Trump Friday morning. "Ronald Reagan in 1981."
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus also made sure the allusion to the 40th president was clear.
"Some of the core principles of President Trump are very similar to those of Ronald Reagan," the former Republican National Committee chairman told CPAC attendees on Thursday. "When you look at peace through strength and building up the military ... peace through strength, deregulation. You think about the economy, the economic boom that was created. And some of it is going to take a little time, I mean, to get the jobs back; to get more money in people's pockets. Those things are going to happen."
A conversation with Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon and Matt Schlapp in the Potomac Ballroom on the second day of the conference.
While there are some similarities in Trump's view of America's great days that lie ahead, his speech to CPAC was not Reagan's "shining city on a hill" or brimming with the kind of optimism that the former president inspired. But the speech was not exactly the dark "American carnage" Trump talked about in his inaugural address just over a month ago, either.
To hear the president tell it, his initial relationship with CPAC that began six years ago when he first addressed the gathering was love at first sight.
"I walked the stage on CPAC. I'll never forget it, really. I had very little notes and even less preparation," Trump reflected on Friday. "So when you have practically no notes and no preparation and then you leave and everybody was thrilled, I said, 'I think I like this business.' "
He didn't run the next year after giving that speech in 2011, but the ultimately successful campaign he would launch in June 2015 drew from those same populist ideals he laid out to CPAC in his first appearance. He told the crowd six years ago that if he were president "we'll be taking back hundreds of billions of dollars from other countries that are screwing us, we'll be creating vast numbers of productive jobs, and we'll rebuild our country so that we can be proud."
(Left) Howard "Cowboy" Wooldridge, a retired detective who was promoting drug legalization. (Right) Joshua Platillero 23, from the Leadership Institute, rides a hoverboard through the Exhibitor Hub.
CPAC becomes TPAC
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway went a step further than her other colleagues, outright saying that this conference was now fully in Trump's control. "This will be TPAC when he's here, no doubt," she predicted.
"You know, every great movement — and which the conservative movement is, of course — every great movement ends up being a little bit sclerotic and dusty after a time, and I think they need new fusion of energy," Conway said. "And in the case of candidate Trump and president-elect and nominee Trump, he went right to the grassroots and brought you along. He made people feel from the beginning, they were part of this movement."
Kellyanne Conway takes the stage.
Conway herself was a convert to the Trump team, eventually becoming his final campaign manager. But before that, she had been behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the primary, leading one of the superPACs supporting him.
A year ago, it was Cruz who looked like he was in the driver's seat at CPAC, winning the presidential straw poll and ribbing Trump for skipping out on the gathering.
Cruz was back again at CPAC after embracing Trump late in the campaign. But many of the other usual mainstay speakers were absent, as The Washington Post pointed out. There were no speeches from one-time crowd favorites like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Not even GOP congressional leaders like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made appearances.
(Left) A woman clutches her cell phone during a special taping of the Hannity Show on the first day of CPAC. (Right) Attendees take selfies with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Trump's proclamation on Friday that "the era of empty talk is over" belies the struggles he's had in his first month in office — from blowback over the hurried implementation of his controversial travel ban to the anger Republican members of Congress are facing back home at recess town halls this week over Obamacare repeal plans and other issues. Both Pence and Trump insisted that the health care law would be overhauled the replaced, though neither offered any specifics.
While attendees and conservatives as a whole will want to eventually see results of those promises and ensure that Trump isn't just offering "empty talk," the president and his advisers returned to his usual punching bag — the media — or "fake news," as Trump and others have taken to calling mainstream news sources.
CPAC attendees cheer as President Trump speaks on the last morning of the conference.
"So just in finishing, I say [the fake news] doesn't represent the people, it ... never will represent the people, and we're going to do something about it because we have to go out and have to speak our minds and we have to be honest. Our victory was a win like nobody has ever seen before," the president warned.
His chief strategist Steve Bannon — the former head of the controversial Breitbart News — was even more direct when he appeared on stage with Priebus on Thursday, using his favorite derisive label of the "opposition party" for the media.
Winston Churchill was readying his book Great Contemporaries for the press. It was august 1937. In it was his article on Hitler, written a few years earlier. "Those who have met Herr Hitler face to face in public business or on social terms," he said, "have found a highly competent, cool, well-informed functionary with an agreeable manner, a disarming smile, an few have been unaffected by a subtle personal magnetism." Despite the arming of Germany and the hounding of the Jews, "we may yet live to see Hitler a gentler figure in a happier age," Churchill wrote. He was doubtful, though.
Churchill also included a short piece on Leon Trotsky, king in exile of international Bolshevism. Trotsky was a usurper and tyrant, Churchill said. He was a cancer bacillus, he was a "skin of malice," washed up on the shores of Mexico. Trotsky possessed, said Churchill: the organizing command of a Carnot, the cold detached intelligence of a Machiavelli, the mob oratory of a Cleon, the ferocity of Jack the Ripper, the toughness of Titus Oates.
And in the end what was Trotsky? Who was he? "He was a Jew," wrote Churchill with finality. "He was still a Jew. Nothing could get over that." He called his article "Leon Trotsky, Alias Bronstein."
Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke
TO HELL AND BACK
The mobilization of the masses could pose a serious threat to the existing political and social order had prompted the French psychologist Gustave Le Bon to publish in 1895 his analysis of mass behavior The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. His claim that rationalist disappeared when the individual was subjected to the irrational, emotional urges of the crowd was influential as the new century began--there were forty-five reprints and seventeen translations of the book, and it later became required reading for would-be fascist dictators. Across Europe, the emotional urges that Le Bon saw as characteristic of the masses could most easily be whipped up through appeals to nationalism. Europe's ruling elites [like American elites] did not see nationalism as anything like as dangerous as socialism. Before the war (WWI), the dangers built into nationalist fervor were indeed containable. They laid the roots, nonetheless, of forces that would come to undermine, then ultimately destroy, the established order [established post-WWII].
THE PEOPLE & THE PRESS
Public opinion had to be orchestrated and morale sustained through state-run propaganda and censorship, and the dissemination of information was controlled by exerting direct or indirect influence over the press.
A number of small paramilitary movements prosaically calling themselves Fasci--'groups (or, literally, 'bundles', name deriving from the Latin term for the set of rods that had been the symbol of order in ancient Rome)--sprang up in the cities and towns of northern and central Italy amid the political disorder, attracting mainly lower-middle-class ex-servicemen (especially demobilized officers). Among the myriad Fasci was one founded in March 1919 by Benito Mussolini, a former editor of the official socialist newspaper, who had broken with the socialist Left when he fervently advocated intervention in the war in 1915. The 'socialism' of his movement was always subordinated to the aim of national rebirth, a vague but powerful notion that was capable of uniting, at least superficially, quite disparate interests. Principles meant nothing to him, power everything. So his movement turned from revolution to counter-revolution.
To gain power, he needed the backing of those with money and influence. He had to win over the conservative establishment and the middle class, not just disaffected ex-servicemen and violent thugs. What Mussolini, at first only one of numerous Fascist leaders and regional chieftains, came to dominate the early Fascist movement owed less to his forceful and dynamic personality--all Fascists bosses had in some way to be forceful personalities--than to his use of the press and to the connections he forged with industrialists to maintain his newspaper, Popolo d'Italia. His rand of radicalism--the emphasis on national unity, authority and order, the readiness to impose order through violence against those who stood in its way (the socialist Left, revolutionaries, striking workers)--was not only compatible with the interests of the conservative ruling class, but directly served them. With order breaking down and the liberal state incapable of restoring it, the Fascists became an increasingly useful vehicle for Italy's political and economic elites.
In June 1925 Mussolini had lauded 'the fierce totalitarian will' of the Fascist movement. Like much of what he proclaimed, it was bombast. He was well aware that 'will,' however 'fierce' and however 'totalitarian,' could by itself provide no solid basis for rule. Activism and thuggery, which comprised a good deal of what this 'will' amounted to in practice, might disarm opponents, but could in themselves build nothing. Despite his own radical instincts, Mussolini was astute enough to see that he needed support, as in the 'seizure of power,' from forces beyond his ill-disciplined street-fighters. He needed the backing of the established elites in the land. And he recognized that a solid platform for power had to rest not on the part, but on the state.
'Everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.' Those had been Mussolini's words in October 1925. The construction of this 'totalitarian state' had taken shape gradually, not overnight, in the later 1920s. It rested, inevitably, on suppression of opposition. Political opposition had been quashed early in 1925. By this time, with opponents already cowed, that did not take much to achieve. Only about a hundred individuals were arrested. Most opposition leaders fled the country. The press was swiftly brought under government control the same year and strict censorship imposed. None of this provoked much protest, though the Senate, which retained a measure of independence, held up the press law for some time.
Mussolini himself was the regime's greatest single asset. Foreigners admired him not least as a bulwark against communism. No less a person than Winston Churchill lauded him, describing him in 1933 as the personification of Roman genius. The Duce cult was a careful construct. Only from the mid-1920s, with opposition suppressed and the mass media mobilized in the service of the regime, could propaganda give full expression to building up an almost superhuman image of a new Caesar. Among Italians, Mussolini's popularity by mid-1930s greatly outstripped both that of his regime in general and the Fascist Party in particular.
What practically amounted to a deification of Mussolini in wide sections of the population could draw upon a transmuted form of naive popular religious faith. 'When you are looking around and don't know who to turn to any more, you remember that He is there. Who but He, can help you?' intoned the leading newspaper Corriere della Sera in 1936, speaking not of God but of Mussolini.
Ian Kershaw, To Hell And Back: Europe 1914-1949 (2015)
MEET THE WIZARD
A powerful media engine promoted Tea Party protests: the Fox News cable network, owned by right-wing billionaire Rupert Murdoch and run by former Republican campaign manager Roger Ailes, until he succumbed to sexual allegations and Murdoch's sons pushed him out. Fox News relentlessly urged it viewers to get involved in the April 15 "Tax Day" protests. Its various personalities, led by its superstar "host" Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and others, urged viewers on dozens of occasions to attend the rallies. Beginning in February 2009, shortly after Santelli's rant on CNBC, the talking heads on Fox News repeatedly declared that a storm of protest was gathering throughout the country against the Obama administration's economic policies.
Intertwined as the Fox News Corporation (FNC) was with the Tea Party during its explosive growth in 2009, when the 2010 midterm elections approached Fox News became as much or more integrated with the Republican Party. The mission of Fox, indeed, appeared to be to fold the Tea Party into the GOP.
During 2010 the influential array of Fox News hosts led by beck, Hannity, and Cavuto began promoting an alliance if not a merger between the Tea Party and the Republican Party. By the spring of that year, according to the watchdog Media Matters, thirty or more Fox News personalities had endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates in over 600 instances. By April Fox hosts and contributors had raised $2.5 million for Republican candidates.
By August 2010 Rupert Murdoch's dictum of 2009 that the FNC should not be supporting the Tea Party "or any other party" was a distant memory. Fox News dropped all pretense when it donated a million dollars to the Republican governors Association and another million dollars to the U.S. Chamber of commerce, which had announced its intention to fund candidates opposed to the Obama administration agenda. Questioned about the seeming inconsistency between these donations and Fox News's insistence on non-partisanship, a spokesman commented that the "News corporation believes in the power of free markets, and the Republican Governors Association's pro-business agenda [Neoliberalism] supports our priorities at this most critical time in or economy."
The alliance was difficult to miss. By the autumn four of the five major potential Republican candidates for president at the time were on the network's payroll as commentators (Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum). Only Mitt Romney failed to make the Fox News payroll--not because of his independent money but because Murdoch strongly opposed him. Mainly because as governor of Massachusetts Romney had overseen passage of a health insurance plan that later became a rough model for the Democrats' Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That connection of course generated considerable hostility to Romney among right-wing Republicans, from Murdoch as well as from billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, funders of Tea Party supportive groups behind the scenes, shared Murdoch's hostility to Romney.
Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes created Fox News precisely to frame news and information from a right-wing point of view. While Fox News is hardly alone in contributing to the hyper-partisan political climate that so many Americans lament, surveys have often shown that its viewers hold ore misconceptions about important issues than any other comparable group. Many Fox News viewers, for example, kept believing in the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq long after a majority had been convinced otherwise. The Fox News engrossment in the Tea Parties as well as the Republican Party sets it apart because of the degree to which it contributes to ideological polarization. Roger Ailes's network cannot claim uniqueness in blurring the line between "news" and entertainment or in failing to take the trouble to pursue deep-background, avowedly impartial news reporting or investigative journalism. "Sensationalism," comments media critic Eric Alterman, "not substance, is what drives ratings."
It is nevertheless difficult to discount the influence of right-wing talk radio and the Fox Network's propaganda machine. These media constitute a new and powerful weapon benefiting both corporate America and the Republican Party. They materially help to create rage at government and progressive political policies.
Tea Partiers are less favorably disposed to African Americans and Hispanics than most Americans, according to a 2010 University of Washington survey of whites in five states who approved of the Tea Party. Similarly the CBS News/Times poll found that 52 percent of Tea Partiers believe that too much has been made of problems facing black people, compared to 28 percent among all adults. 26 percent of Tea Partiers [including Donald Trump] did not believe that the president had a valid birth certificate.
When the White House released the president's long-form birth certificate from Hawaii. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and others who had stirred the birther pot quickly backed off. In the space of about two weeks, the percentage of Republicans who believed the president was definitely or probably born in another country dropped from 24 percent to 13 percent.
For a recalcitrant minority [including Donald Trump], however, no document suffices. Their quarrel is not with the absence of a certificate but with the presence of the man himself. Savvy Tea Partiers recognize this as well as the likelihood that birther agitation can damage their image.
But apparently Mr. Trump image is untouchable.
Similarly, hard-liner nativist responses to immigrants by Tea Parties and other right-wing Republicans risk alienating a fast-growing and ever larger ethnic groups--Latinos. Extreme anti-immigrant activists also have tried to exploit the Tea Party movement, and toleration of their presence in Tea Party ranks can only be regarded as an electoral gift to Democrats. At the same time many Americans who are not Tea Party supporters are frustrated with the failure of federal lawmakers during several administrations to create a policy to deal with illegal immigration and the presence of millions of undocumented immigrants in the country.
Nevertheless, Latinos now constitute one in six Americans, and increasing numbers of them are voting. In 2008 Latinos shifted massively away from Republicans. The group's turnout at the polls rose by a quarter, and 67 percent of them voted for Obama.
The future of the Tea Parties may well lie in their responses to the nation's changing demographics when the Census Bureau released its final 2010 results, one observer commented that it was "a postcard from the future." The nation's transformation into a "majority-minority" nation was proceeding faster than expected, especially among young people.
Ronald P. Formisano, The Tea Party: A Brief History (2012)