The great American memory hole

This country has a weird cognitive impairment — we keep forgetting that we’re full of fascists. Our history is loaded with openly bigoted authoritarians who preach their garbage to widespread acclaim, and when the their raging Naziism gets smacked down hard by reality and events, we just blithely forget their sins to keep them on their pedestal.

I am reminded of this every time I fly out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. The main terminal is named after Charles Lindbergh, the famous pilot who also just happened to be a white supremacist, an America Firster (AFC), anti-Semite, and, until the stories of atrocities started to trickle out of Europe, a Nazi sympathizer.

While the AFC garnered significant support from middle- and upper- class American gentiles, their highwater mark came on Sept. 11, 1941, when Charles Lindbergh gave a speech at an AFC event in Des Moines, Iowa — a speech that left the permanent stain on his memory to this day.

“The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt Administration,” Lindbergh said, before going on to add later about Jewish-American groups: “Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government,” and that they were the only ones who wanted war over the resistance of the American public who did not.

We know he was an anti-Semite. We still put up statues honoring Lindberg. Where’s a neurologist when you need one?

Seth Cotlar provides a long list of the stuff we’ve forgotten.

We as a nation absolutely did not have to go easy on the memory of Kirkpatrick or Elizabeth Dilling, or Gerald LK Smith, or Henry Ford, or Charles Lindbergh, let alone put that last guy’s name on airport terminals. Normalizing such people as mere “anti-communists” or “fundamentalist Christians” or “ultraconservative patriots” or “principled isolationists” was a mistake. So was minimizing them as irrelevant “kooks” or “crackpots.” Both impulses did a real disservice to the nation’s political memory by weakening our antifascist defenses and atrophying our pro-democratic muscles. Gerald LK Smith, for example, had a mailing list of over 3 million names in the 1960s. The Liberty Lobby’s neo-Nazi radio show could be heard on over 470 AM radio stations in that decade. Calling these folks “crackpots” did nothing to stem the torrent of fascist bile they poured into the reservoir of our political culture on a daily basis, bile that was generally ignored as irrelevant by the vast majority of Americans and interpreted as perfectly normal, “patriotic, pro-Christian, anti-Communist Americanism” by the millions of people to whom it appealed.

It was the rare public figure in the Cold War era who would have either a) forthrightly labeled such people “fascists” or b) taken the anti-democratic threat they posed seriously enough to pay much attention to them. Because these fascists were white, because the majority of them were elderly, because the rank and file of these movements was working or middle class, because the wealthy people who funded these fascist movements were usually respected “upstanding citizens,” because most of them were Christians, because they called themselves “patriotic lovers of the Constitution;” all of their violent ideation, all of their hateful bigotry got written off as eccentric personality quirks, rather than features of an organized and enduring fascistic strain in American politics.

I blame the deep scars of the Civil War. In 1865, we were in such a mad rush to “heal” the damage of the war that we papered over the criminality of the Confederacy, and it just became a habit. We have never addressed the poison of racism and anti-Semitism in this country, which allows the infection to persist and flourish, and now it has completely taken over the Republican party.


  1. gijoel says

    I think you’re ignoring the appeal of any supremacist movement. “You’re not a fuck-up because you have no personal skills, and a repellent, overbearing personality. You’re perfect the way you are, and it’s all these ‘others’ who are secretly holding you down.”

    I think that a big part of Trump’s appeal to MAGAs. He tells them that they’re being oppressed by liberals, immigrants and black people and then tells them that he’ll fix their problems if they vote for him.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    You also papered over the Vietnam-related shit, includin the fact that the Vietnam war lasted än extra five years since the Republicans (Nixon) sabotaged the peace deal Lyndon Johnson tried to make- the weasels promised the South Vietnsmese leaders they would provide a better peace deal than the Democrats (A lie).
    This doubled the American losses.
    This also lead to Laos and Cambodia getting dragged into the war and becoming communist.
    The murder of a million and a half cambodians by Numer Rouge followed.
    I bet you a million bajillion your textbooks do not mention this , e en though it was dug up by journalists in the 70s.

  3. birgerjohansson says

    We also have the Cover-up of Reagan-era shenagians. Bush had to win, because proper investigations would not have ended with Oliver North becoming scapegoat.

  4. wzrd1 says

    I’m curious though, what do we do with records achieved, patented devices created and effective methods of manufacture from these people?
    Should we erase and remove such things?
    Or do we selfishly memory hole those too?
    Should we shoot down the James Webb telescope, erase all discoveries and prohibit their memories be utilized in future research, as a matter of guilt by association? Remove all Ford Motor Company patented devices and their derivatives from all motor vehicles in the land? Erase land from our maps that Lindbergh documented?

    Or even better, remember them for innovators that were fucking assholes?
    Reminding any who do praise them and their abominable notions that achievements and discoveries are all well and good, but their worthiness is a touch undermined whenever one has to suppress the urge to shoot them in the face with a bazooka whenever they spoke.
    You know, their purpose basically being a wonderful example of what a bad example is. Which of course means, remove the goddamned monuments and statues shouldn’t be created to commemorate shit.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    And do not forget how Obama et al hurried to paper over the crimes of the Dubya administration.

    Covering up the crimes of the predecessors is very important, because putting the big cheese in prison for their crimes is a dangerous precedent.
    No one wants another post-Watergate cleanout of the administration and the following tightening of the regulations (which Clinton and Gore cheerfully undid in the 1990s, making Dubya possible).

    From the point of view of the ivy-league-trained geniuses who control US politics (and provided military disaster after military disaster), it is too bad the orange idiot could not leave well enough alone

  6. says

    American – and German! – fascists simply rebranded as “Anti-Communists” and everyone ran with it. Because under capitalism, property is more valued than human life, and so nazis can be forgiven, communists cannot.

  7. grandolddeity says

    The final two sentences gave me enough pause to stir from my comfortable numbness.

    It was going to be hard to address 160 years ago.

  8. says

    @5 wzrd1 said: Or even better, remember them for innovators that were fucking assholes?
    I reply: I agree. But, to be honest, all reference to them MUST state BOTH: their innovations AND the clear facts of how they were Aholes! No ‘whitewashing’ with all that implies.

  9. billseymour says

    My preferred route from my home to the hospital where I get my chemo treatments involves about a 20 minute drive on Linbdberg Blvd., once the US-66/67 bypass and a major four lane north-south route through St. Louis County.

    A couple of miles of it through the suburban city of Kirkwood is still called by its original name, Kirkwood Road.  It occurred to me reading your post that I could support restoring the original name for the entire road, which would probably have to be an act of Congress since it’s officially a US highway.  Unfortunately, I live in Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District, which is gerrynamdered Republican, and my U.S. Rep. is Ann Wagner (not my fault, I promise); and both of my Senators are Trumpistas; so writing to any of them wouldn’t help.

    BTW, James P. Kirkwood was the guy who built the Pacific Railroad (later Missouri Pacific, now Union Pacific) from the Mississippi River to the Rockies.  I can’t find anything on the internet about his being yet another nutter.

    (Sorry if I was a bit windy.  I’m mitigating the boredom of chemotherapy right now.)

  10. raven says

    The current modern day equivalent is…Elon Musk.

    Tesla cars and especially SpaceX are undoubtedly major achievements that produce tangible value for the USA.

    Musk is a generic horrible person though and a fascist who supports Russia over the USA, the nation that let him in, gave him citizenship, and provided the environment that allowed him to become the richest person on the planet.
    SpaceX has received $15 billion from the Federal government in grants and contracts and wouldn’t exist without them and NASA.

    In a just world, his citizenship would be revoked and he would be on the next plane back to his home, South Africa.

  11. nomdeplume says

    And your first and second amendments allow fascist hate speech to go unchecked and has the neo-fascist movement fully armed with military weapons.

  12. wzrd1 says

    nomdeplume @ 15, not quite military weapons, as they lack full automatic, but close enough otherwise to not make a realistic difference. But, the military get toys that they’re not allowed to have, like explosives, hand grenades, claymore mines, missiles, rockets, bombs, bombers, tanks, fast attack aircraft, gunships, tanks and well, a laundry list of more havoc inducing devices.
    Which I happily remind militia types of, then assure them as a veteran, we’d not be joining them in their treasonous cause, due to our oath. So, they can unpeacefully assemble and we can disassemble them from a couple of hundred miles away.
    It’s amazing how swiftly their courage evaporates.

  13. nomdeplume says

    @16 I’ve always thought it bizarre that one of the “arguments” for Americans being more heavily armed than any other citizens of civilised countries, is that they need to be ready to fight against their government (on the model pf the eighteenth century revolution agaonst the British government) if they decide the govt is not doing what they approve. Given, as you note, the armaments available to the American military, I’m not sure how well this would go in the 21st centtury.

  14. wzrd1 says

    nomdeplume @ 17, having served for 28 years in the US Army, all in combat units, suffice it to say, small arms vs artillery and air support is no contest at all.
    And a molotov cocktail vs an M1 Abrams tank would result in precisely one thing. A pissed off tank crew, as you’ve fucked up the paint job and now they’ll have to repaint their tank.
    I do know how to destroy that tank though. Let me drive it. Never learned how to operate one, so I’m sure I could destroy it, whether I wanted to or not. :/
    I did spend 10 minutes examining the gun controls of one, never did figure out how to work that infernal thing, so I let those who were trained in operating it enjoy them. And all of the work that keeps the things operational.
    Figuring out a howitzer and its ballistics computer was much, much simpler. Giving 1 meter precision coordinates with only a compass and map, well, that’s only simple math.

  15. Steve Morrison says

    Has anyone else read Adam Hochschild’s American Midnight? It’s about the political repression in the U.S.A. during and after WWI—the first Red Scare (commonly remembered as the Palmer raids) was quite a bit worse than the second Red Scare thirty years later.

  16. says

    @15 nomdeplume said: And your first and second amendments allow fascist hate speech to go unchecked and has the neo-fascist movement fully armed with military weapons.
    I reply: when those amendments were written the context was a militia with muskets (the military weapons of the time). And, free speech is a difficult concept. Yes, there is a lot of hate speech by the rtwingnut zealots. But, who draws the line indicating which speech should ‘go unchecked’? The rtwingnut zealots want to ban the free speech of books that are read by millions. WTF.
    @17 nomdeplume mentioned: @16 one of the “arguments” for Americans being more heavily armed than any other citizens of civilised countries, is that they need to be ready to fight against their government
    I reply: yes that is one ‘argument’. But, most of the rtwing gun fetishists us that as an excuse to arm themselves to the teeth to protect themselves against an imaginary heavily armed ‘antifa’ army. Again, WTF.

  17. wzrd1 says

    Steve Morrison @ 19, WWI, when Amish men, wanting to exercise their conscious objector status, were refused, imprisoned and beaten to death by prison guards.
    When the press, under the threat of governmental shutdown, impoundment of their equipment and imprisonment of the editorial and correspondent staff if they reported anything that the government didn’t like.
    Wonderful era, utterly Constitution free.

    shermanj @ 20, the neo-fascist movement has bombers, tanks, fighter planes, fast attack jets, howitzers, gunships, MLRS systems and heavy machine guns? That’s what I basically replied with.
    Free speech remains free, although like every other right, has constraints that leaves one’s expression either lawful and protected or criminal and non-protected. But, the far right zealots want only the speech that they wish to be permitted allowed, no others may apply, for their rights are more gooder than your rights.
    Around the point where they begin to foam at the mouth saying that and typically bringing up guns, I flop my military ID card down, remind them that I also own firearms and the difference between us is, I’m experienced and highly proficient in their usage, courtesy of their mommy and daddy’s tax dollars.
    Oddly, that foam disappears, as frequently do they.
    Personally, I find it a far more civilized policy to only discuss firearms when discussing firearms with other firearms owners, typically in regards to specifications and strengths and weaknesses in their applications in specific sporting events and well, for some, hunting.
    As for fighting the government, I’m up for that each and every election. But then, I prefer ballots to bullets when voting, it’s quieter and a bit safer that way.
    I also remember the “heavily armed” ANTIFA folks, armed with cement milkshakes that oddly, only the cops seemed to have, the ANTIFA folks either empty handed throughout or holding signs. Not that the cops would ever falsely accuse someone, like one now being charged in Philly, after shooting a man to death for “charging him”, while never exiting his vehicle or moving it.

    But, the gun talk does remind me, gotta get drill bits and screwdriver bits for my screw gun. About as bad as my hammer, for which I’ve got absolutely no nails for… :/
    Oh well, tacking them onto my Wednesday shopping list. Right under artichoke bottoms and a pressure cooker to prepare my pie pumpkin and can pasta sauce with.

  18. says

    @21 wzrd1 had a lot to say about our ‘militant society’, conscientious objectors, foaming at the mouth gun nuts, and construction hardware.
    I reply: While you and I are from completely different backgrounds, I cannot find a single flaw in everything you said and respect your perspective on these topics. I have heard a lot of very objectionable hate filled speech. But, as long as they don’t target someone personally with physical or significant emotional harm, I grant that they have the right to speak. I do agree with fighting corrupt government and I too ‘prefer ballots to bullets (even though many disagree with that).
    Please tell me you don’t put the pasta sauce on the pumpkin pie!

  19. hemidactylus says

    This no doubt will be construed as anti-Zionism which equals anti-semitism because reasons. I think it’s brilliant and my only source of sanity yet:

    Fight me!

  20. wzrd1 says

    shermanj @ 22, neither the pumpkin pie nor the pasta sauce last long enough to mix anywhere outside of the sewage treatment plant after consumption. :)
    OK, the sauce lasts longer, I make it in minimum batches of a gallon, in quart storage containers.
    My neighbor managed to beg two quarts off of me and still has them frozen.

    hemidactylus @ 23, idiots assume that if one objects to any government’s policies, one is against that entire government, nation and populace. I’m quite against zionism, but also supportive of the existence of Israel, the Jewish people and Palestinian people living in the region, but also decidedly against Israeli policies that are short sighted and essentially doomed to exasperate every damned problem that they have. I’m also irritated over the blank check the US keeps handing that foreign nation, even while recognizing that their policies are failing and worsening the problems.
    That results in the Bozo Brigade proclaiming that I hate the US and Israel, because of the fact that I criticize deficient policies, as apparently loving a nation means happily supporting its failure in their idiotic view.

  21. hemidactylus says

    Over on WEIT Coyne posted a long quote on Hili of his conservative guru Andrew Sullivan which should give all of us pause. Full stop.

    See Coyne’s quote, this is paywalled:

    Acerbic stuff against Israel and American cheerleaders? Can’t pass the paywall! Capitalism.

    Then later Coyne posted a link to:

    Where: “In an agonizing irony, Hamas and its supporters have succeeded where the Jews have long failed. Incontestably now, anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Hatred of the Jewish nation-state cannot be distinguished from hatred of the Jewish people.”

    This is where I ask if these fucking jackasses ever heard of Revisionism! Yeah:


    From Jabotinsky’s “The Iron Wall” essay: “To imagine, as our Arabophiles do, that they will voluntarily consent to the realisation of Zionism, in return for the moral and material conveniences which the Jewish colonist brings with him, is a childish notion, which has at bottom a kind of contempt for the Arab people; it means that they despise the Arab race, which they regard as a corrupt mob that can be bought and sold, and are willing to give up their fatherland for a good railway system.”

    I can accept the Zionist bottom line of continued existence of Herzl’s Judenstaat without buying into Revisionist Zionism and the whole anger about Jordan being taken away by the Hashemites (Jordan is NOT Palestine Likudnik assholes!). Jordan, if you didn’t know after 1948 and 1967 displacements (putting it mildly) is…wait for it…Palestine! So Israel lost the East Bank and can thus park their Pal Problem there (sarcasm extreme!). I will go puke now.

  22. hemidactylus says

    And much of my current thinking is driven by
    The rise of the Israeli right : from Odessa to Hebron by Colin Shindler