Are Americans Too Quick to Buy Inflammatory Rhetoric?

“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy."

Göring: “Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

Military psychologist Gustave Gilbert: “There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

Göring: “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

This is an excerpt from the Nuremberg trials held after the defeat of the Nazis in 1945. Hermann Göring was on trial for war crimes. While he was undoubtedly a monster, he had an excellent grasp on how to manipulate the masses.

“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

What concerns me the most about this is how little people have changed in 70 years. You’d think with the advent of the Information Age and immediate access to research these tactics wouldn’t work in America anymore. Well, they still seem to. The American people are still buying into this inflammatory type of rhetoric and are therefore missing the points that really matter. As I listen to the majority of our politicians on the campaign trail, I can’t help but think back to the above quote from Göring.

No matter which political party is speaking, we are told that:

  • “The other side” is to blame for all of our woes, and is at fault for where we find ourselves today.
  • If “the other side” gets into office, our country will go straight down the tubes.
  • “The other side” is unpatriotic, dangerous, misguided or out to take away your hard-earned (fill in the blank).

I wish someone would make a law that candidates could only talk about their own accomplishments (which could then be verified by the media, à la Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson) and what they would seek to accomplish if elected.  Stop telling me about the supposed horrors that would be unleashed should “the other guy” make it into office. I’m not falling for it.

Oh, and these tactics are not just used by our political candidates and parties, you can hear their ring in various organizations' debates over gay marriage, abortion, etc. So many “causes” seem to employ the same tactics these days, and people keep falling for them.

I have heard it said that tactics like these are used to keep the people focused on “diversionary” issues. In other words, the goal is to keep the people so wrapped up in the fight against the "bad guys" that they don’t notice, or have no time left to pay attention to, what the "powers that be" are doing. Then, by the time we notice what they are doing, it’s too late. The "powers that be” don’t want the real problems solved, because they are the problems.

And then there’s big business. Don’t we constantly hear about how big business does what benefits big business — and usually to the detriment of the public? As examples, look to Exxon, Monsanto and just about anybody on Wall Street. So they start the “there’s too much regulation from Washington” campaign and people focus on Washington, taking the attention off big business.

How do we fix this? Actually, it’s quite simple. Stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated and misdirected away from the real "bad guys," the establishment and big corporate America.

Let’s take Congress as an example. We’ve already been given solutions that would truly make a difference in our nation, but these solutions haven’t gained any traction because we’ve allowed our attention to be diverted to the “battle du jour,” which typically ends up being moral or political in nature because those issues really get people’s blood boiling.

A popular urban legend holds that Warren Buffet proposed the “Congressional Reform Act of 2011” as a way to reel Congress back in and restore some sanity there.

  1. No tenure / no pension. A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.
  2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.
  3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.
  4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of  CPI or 3%.
  5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
  6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.
  7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

Even though it's not true, the points still stand. And I’ll add No. 8: Get big money out of politics once and for all.

Of course, none of this will happen. And why not? Could it be because “We the People” were well-manipulated into arguments and debates over issues that leave the “powers that be” alone and in power? Was our focus expertly diverted from issues that would actually improve the condition of our country to battles over personal preference? Were people too busy responding to the clarion call of “defend your favorite issue” to pay attention?

Of course, I’m not comparing anyone to Hitler, nor implying that anyone’s goals are anywhere near the level of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. Although listening to some politician’s absurd statements offered up about their “opponents,” you’d think that’s exactly what was going to happen if the “other guys” get elected.

What I am saying is that big business and many in our government are employing the same tactics that have been used throughout history to rile up the populace to such a point that they can’t think straight. They are being told that “the other side” is to blame for all their woes, and that if this or that political party doesn’t win, the country is going to go right down the tubes.

Well, the two sides in this ‘war’ aren’t the Republicans and the Democrats, it's “We the People” and the establishment. But be a good little citizen and don’t focus on the real "bad guys," only pay attention to what they tell you to pay attention to.

Mike B. May 22, 2012 at 12:13 PM
Unbelievable. You know that the whole Warren Buffet- Congressional Reform Act thing is an urban legend, right? Is your use of this unsubstantiated fabrication a subtle attempt to show how easily misled Americans are, or are you just careless?
Bill May 22, 2012 at 12:29 PM
Would this be the same Warren Buffet who owes millions in back taxes?
Marty Salvatore May 22, 2012 at 12:30 PM
The thing that blows MY mind is just how little people seem to know about our own RECENT history. I have actually heard the words "separate but equal" used in the gay marriage debate! And I mean as a justification to NOT have gay marriage! Sometimes I just lose faith in our collective logic.
Saul Freedman May 22, 2012 at 12:40 PM
The Patch has really gone downhill in recent months. http://www.factcheck.org/2011/03/congressional-reform-act/
Darrell Lucas May 22, 2012 at 01:14 PM
Unlikely.. Buffett asked, regarding how little he pays in taxes compared to his employees. "How can this be right?" He also added: "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."
Its in the Water May 22, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Darrel Lucas for Mayor!
Alan Baker May 22, 2012 at 01:34 PM
The author brings up some good points. To me it seems most people in America are led around by their noses by whatever party they affiliate with. When few people are critical of what their own party says or does ,and simply are against whatever the "other side" is saying it makes the job easy, just like the quote from Goring above. Everyone is so afraid to actually have a conversation with someone they disagree with for fear their beliefs might need to be adjusted in view of facts they might not have considered before. It's simpler to just go on the attack. The formula is effective - simply hammer away at your opponent with insults and recriminations and you won't need to listen to a word they say.
Maria Giannuzzi May 22, 2012 at 01:49 PM
An insightful post, Joel. Americans are perhaps the most ignorant people on earth when it comes to their own history. Most prefer the myth to the reality. Because the reality is not so pretty. Because we do not know our own history and do not wish to look at reality, we succumb to fear and ignorance and permit the most outrageous acts, such as the imprisoning of our Japanese-American citizens and their immigrant parents during World War II. It's really easy to fall in line with the rantings of some well-paid television or radio personality. It takes a lot more time and effort to read books and newspapers (both recent and past) and watch well-researched documentaries. Politicians and special interests have always used inflammatory language to achieve their goals. It was true during the 1920s and it is true now. Women's organizations during the early 1920s who supported federal legislation to improve the health of babies (who were dying in huge numbers) were called feminists and communists by anti-suffragist opponents of the legislation. The only times we have risen above our fear and ignorance is when we as a people have had the courage to acknowledge reality.
Darrell Lucas May 22, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Saul, I would like to remind you that the comments you have made recently here and on the 'Sports' column (of which I side more on your opinion) are under Opinion. Anyone, even you, can write opinion articles and have them 'printed'. I also looked up the authenticity of the Buffet e-mail and its full of baloney. But going back to the article, dont lose sight of the whole argument. 'That side is evil so you must side with me' is a common tactic in political war.
CEF May 22, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Thank you, Mike B, for pointing out the fiction that Warren Buffet has made that Reform Act proposal. Its perpetuation on the internet is a great example of how easily people can be manipulated by anyone, not only corporations and governments, when we can't be bothered to check for authenticity the "information" that circulates on the internet. Tolland Patch, you need to publish a clarification to accompany this article or pull it.
Saul Freedman May 22, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Darrell, thanks for stating the obvious, we all have opinions and we are posting them here. In other news, the Earth is round.
Joel Waldron May 22, 2012 at 03:07 PM
My apologies everyone, I let that one slip by me. I'm working to have the piece amended. But as someone else said earlier, the point I was trying to make still stands. Thanks for keeping me honest! J
Darrell Lucas May 22, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Well your statement that "The Patch has really gone downhill in recent months" is a sweeping judgement on the whole website. Whereas you really dont like the opinion of a writers blog. Also the Earth is not quite spherical, due to what is know as "rotational flattening. It's shaped more like a pumpkin. The radius of the Earth at the equator is 6,378 km; at the poles it is 6,356 km. So now that we cleared that up again I remind you to see what the article was presenting. Scare tactics and enormous amounts of money have had a harmful influence on our representatives. Lobbyist number congressmen 4 to 1. And the influence of us the people is weak because too many dont care to vote. What are your thoughts on this Saul? Perhaps you can write a blog and contribute to Patch in a way that you see more fit?
Saul Freedman May 22, 2012 at 04:15 PM
You're a funny guy Darrell.
Paul Chotkowski May 23, 2012 at 06:16 PM
An interesting comment about history, Ms Giannuzzi. There are a few lessons about history that Progressive / Socialist Utopians never learn. Contrary to the teachings of “enlightened” political theorists and modern educators, Society would not be a better place if only man would change his nature and accommodate the Party’s utopian ideals. Governments tend to expand their powers to the point that they do harm. When individuals fail to voluntarily submit to the desires of the State, they are forced to comply under penalty of law or worst - think National Socialism under Hitler, or Communism under Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-sung, or Pol Plot, or the NDAA and PPACA's individual mandate and government impositions on the Catholic Church that are the first steps down a similar slippery slope here in the USA. Man is not perfectible by the State. Even under the most onerous of conditions, man will not work as hard or as wisely for the State as he does for himself and his family [even Winthrop and the Pilgrims learned this by 1623, when they subdivided their common land holdings in favor of individual ownership]. It is unarguable that 100’s of millions of people were systematically murdered by Utopian States attempting to perfect the modern socialist man and more people have enjoyed more peace, prosperity, and freedom as a direct consequence of American Exceptionalism then at any other time or place in recorded human history. Just a few “not so pretty” lessons from history.
Peter Jameson May 23, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Paul I do not understand how the Catholic Church has been impositioned by the US Government. The separation of church and state is very clear and churches have to recognize the rights of its followers and non-followers. Now if the church wants to enter into the government and demand its teachings become law then the tax free status of all religious groups should be absolved and then yes we are on a slippery slope back to the 17th century.
Maria Giannuzzi May 24, 2012 at 12:07 PM
Mr. Chotkowski's argument is an example of the simplistic and flawed thinking of individuals who claim political ideologies explain historical events. The exploitation and killing of humans by governments, whether it was in the gulags of the Soviet Union, the killing fields of Cambodia, or Native Americans, slaves and Phillipinos (to name just a few) by the U.S. was done to attain and hold on to power and wealth. These governments used ideological language to justify their criminal acts as well as inflammatory language to stoke fear on the part of their citizens. Mr. Chotkowski's arguments deal in generalities, but history is in the details. All history should be viewed on the level of ordinary human beings.
Maria Giannuzzi May 24, 2012 at 12:20 PM
It is understandable that Joel may have used information in his post that was incorrect. There is so much information and misinformation out there, which has made the job of researchers and writers much more difficult. I usually rely on a variety of sources, especially articles written by academics which have many sources (and list their sources). If the academics make an incorrect statement, other academics will almost always point out the factual inaccuracy and the author will make a correction.


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