On November 9th 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. I was a senior in college and one of my friends in Iowa City was an East German Pharmacy Student- she had never been to West Germany and
wondered what would happen? My friend today is a mom of three in Hamburg- and Berlin is a united city. We all thought that we were entering a new world of harmony. That world lasted for 10 years. We all thought that the world was a new place and that freedom would reign.
The Berlin Wall existed because of choices made by Germans during the Great Depression of the 1930's. During those times nations made choices that defined their national characters. They destroyed old relationships the Italians ceded their freedom for the security of Fascism, the Spanish had a destructive Civil War and then chose Fascism, the Russians purged their society in what was called Communism but was Totalitarianism all the same and the Germans chose Nazism as their panacea. They blamed the Jews and Communists for their fears.
It said allot about the American character that during the same time when the Germans were choosing Hitler we chose Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. But as we look back on the fall of the Berlin Wall which was created as a result of Europe being divided by the end of World War 2 and fear of the Germans I am now wondering about this moment and how it will play out over time.
It can be argued that the Great Recession that we are experiencing is the most unsettling challenge to the established order since the 1930's. All of the assumptions that people in the West have are now under assault. As with the 1930's old powers are being beaten down and new powers are emerging.
The big question that needs to be asked is how America will respond to this change? President Obama's response was to reach out to the world and realize that we need to invest in our people. The Republicans have decided that the response is jingoism and myopia. In many ways American politics is beginning to look like German politics in the 1930's with more extremism and more propaganda.
This lack of consensus was created during the 1980's. Conservatives in the 1980's decided that the American consensus was wrong. They decided that more freedom meant economic anarchy rather than individual freedom. They decided that Labor Unions and Intellectuals were the problem and so Conservatives decided that if Wall Street wanted to go wild, or companies wanted to fire all their workers and move production overseas that was Okay.
One group of people think that it is sensible that everyone gets basic health care another group thinks that ANY health care reform is an attack on their freedom, even if that freedom will result in the suffering of others. One group of people believe that it is okay to profile and vilify 6 million loyal Muslim Americans because 4 Muslim Americans, three soldiers in Kuwait in 2003 who threw a grenade into a tent and one Muslim man at Ft Hood last week committed acts of terror and horror. One group believes that whatever big corporations do is okay even if they steal, cheat and lie as long as there are free markets while another group believes that these corporations have obligations to society. These two world views are becoming more pronounced in this Great Recession.
17.5% of the American electorate is Unemployed or Underemployed that means 51 Million people. Those 51 million people is roughly the same population as France. Eventually these 51 million people are going to get angry wanting to know why their lives have been destroyed? In the 1930's the Germans faced a similar situation they chose Hitler. The US also faced a situation like this and we chose FDR. The Germans in the 1930's chose to blame the Jews and Communists for their pain when it was the other powers who caused the pain. They created scapegoats and marched and protested- much like the Tea Party Protestors today.
Now that we face a similiar situation and what will be the result and reaction? What will 51 million people do? How will they vote? Will we get FDR or Hitler? It seems to me that this choice is clearly before us and both paths are available. One leads to the Berlin Wall and one does not.