The parallels with last week’s Republican National Convention are not exactly the same, but the playbook is not dissimilar. Last week we saw more than a hint of the bile that emerged from the infamous German American Bund rally at Madison Square Garden in 1939 — from graphics to rhetoric. Listen to Fritz Kuhn, leader of the Bund and a German immigrant to New York City, speaking about protecting his America from the enemies within. You’ll hear some familiar words and scary sentiments. The U.S. on the verge of World War II was divided according to extremes and moderation, anger and rationalism, very rich and terribly poor. The country today, as made clear by the RNC is also in the throes of division. The 30s was an America where many government institutions, minorities and liberal thinking were blamed, in part, for the Great Depression.
George Washington, the Bundists believed, was America’s first fascist.
Although it was an Americans-First rally, it first supported Adolf Hitler and the Nazis as saviors for American gone sour. It was also themed to attack immigrants, albeit documented ones. Like Kuhn, most in attendance were German-American immigrants, others were native-born and believed that the United States should adopt the policies of enacted in Germany against Jews and Communists. No, not all immigrants were evil, however, the “others” were the downfall of the American way.
It’s sobering to recall this public event during an awful period when authoritarianism and totalitarianism captured Europe’s hearts and minds. There have always been divisions, especially in America, along with simmering resentments and hatred. Last week’s RNC was not exactly the Bund rally, but it was a conclave of people with dangerous heartfelt beliefs nominating candidates who put forth an antagonistic wish list of policies that would cripple, if not destroy, America’s freedoms and liberal essence. (For a more eloquent argument read the Washington Post‘s “The Candidate of the Apocalypse.”)
Last week was not February 1939; it was July 2016. Yet despite all the few dissimilar events (no women spoke on stage at the Bund rally) the similarities were too close for complacency.
Traitors or patriots? Depends on where you stand on the hate spectrum.
The specter of Exceptionalism.
Marching in Yorkville.
Posing in Chicago.
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About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →