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In the spirit of ‘Never Again,’ we must oppose Bannon appointment

The appointment of Steve Bannon as Trump’s chief White House strategist, officed inside the actual White House, should be opposed by every Jew, person of color, and righteous American of any background. His involvement in whatever the “alt-right” actually is disqualifies him for any White House job.

I wrote last month, in the Kansas City Star, of my homage to the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva for the office of the president of the United States, after Trump’s election. This office, I said, is not an entry-level position, and should not be the “first job he ever applied for,” in the words of that old sage, Stephen Colbert. But it’s true. Even though we are raised with the belief that, with a few exceptions, anyone can be elected president, we do hold onto the hope that this truism includes the fact that anyone even slightly interested in the job would have had some background in government.

In the summer of 2014, the exhibit, “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda,” was hosted by the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education and National Archives office in Kansas City, Missouri. As a docent, I hosted groups of students and adults, and discovered that most people thought that Adolf Hitler, of the Nazi party, was elected to office in Germany. He was not elected, however. He was appointed by the president, Paul von Hindenburg, because he was so successful at using propaganda that he had propelled himself to the top of the party. He was appointed chancellor, in some attempt to keep him under control, since he had become so rabid in his style.

Since his service in World War I, Hitler had become entranced with, and then perfected the art of propaganda. He wrote extensively in his biography about how its use can persuade large numbers of people to believe lies, even when they know better. His necessity to find a scapegoat, in an environment of poverty and depression, he believed, was mandatory as a medium for the success of the propaganda.

His opinion of the German populace was that they were just educated enough not to listen to the ravings of a madman, but they would believe lies if they were told in just the right way. Instead of blaming Jews as a group randomly, he began repeating that they had not served in the German military in World War I, for instance, even though over 12,000 of them died at the front. By insinuating that they had shirked their duty, he created an interest from the general population to learn what else might be wrong with them.

Hitler’s rallies became his central persuasion vehicle: he became a showman, holding them in small spaces so they appeared to be overflow crowds. He practiced his delivery on film, in order to dramatically encourage repetition of chants and arouse crowds to action.

He believed that how he said it was more important that what he said.

Even though members numbered in the thousands, the Nazi party was never able to win a majority of votes in any national election. According to author Karl Dietrich Erdmann, in the Reichstag elections of 1932, the Nazi party won 2 million fewer votes than in 1930.

Hitler’s propaganda was not enough to get him elected, but it got him appointed. His strategy overtook the party and began enforcing the new normal.

The majority of Germans were not in favor of blaming, deporting and ultimately killing millions of people, including 6 million Jews. There was a long period of a populace being lied to, then being persuaded and frightened by the lies, then ignoring the lies, which led to the passing of laws, then imprisonment, then death.

All of this was promoted by an appointee of the president who was unable to garner support otherwise, because his views as a nationalist, white supremacist and isolationist were offensive to the majority of the country. Once he was given power of the office of advisor, however, he started firing opposition figures, passing laws, and then ordering the military to carry out actions.

After the war, a global, humanitarian and Jewish promise arose from the ashes.

“Never Again,” said the world, after seeing how “normal” people reacted to stylized propaganda applied to a vulnerable population “looking for change.” Because of the similarities between the propaganda used by candidate Trump (and strategist Bannon), and the miserable strivings of an actually disenfranchised, left-behind hatemonger from the 1920s and ‘30s, we need to rise up and address the Bannon appointment as inappropriate and dangerous. Never Again must mean Never.

Ellen Murphy is a freelance writer. Her husband’s mother, Eva Unterman, is a Jewish Holocaust (child) survivor, whose parents also survived. Murphy and her family have been members of the New Reform Temple for over 26 years.