“On the day Fascists first altered the direction of my life, I had barely mastered the art of walking.” So begins Albright’s book, a personal and urgent examination of Fascism in the twentieth century and how its legacy shapes today’s world.
Albright brings a unique perspective as a both refugee from the Holocaust and the first woman to serve as Secretary of State.
1). The premise of Albright’s book is that the 20th Century was not atypical and could return. Do you agree? Why or why not?
2). Mussolini (Il Duce) who was Italy’s Prime Minister from 1922 until 1943, used the term “drenare la palude,” or “drain the swamp.” He had a talent for theatre and discouraged cabinet members from “proposing any idea that might cause him to doubt his instincts,” which, he insisted, were always right.
Adolf Hitler came to power by, inter alia, providing a simple path for a people that were craving direction. He “lied incessantly about himself and about his enemies,” Albright writes. He convinced millions that he “cared for them deeply when, in fact, he would have willingly sacrificed them all.”
The parallels with the current president are obvious so the more interesting question is how is Trump different from Mussolini and Hitler? Is it unfair to compare Trump to historical figures freighted with connotation?
3). The United States was not immune to the temptation of Fascism. In 1940, the America First Committee included Nazi sympathizers—and claimed eight hundred thousand members within its first year. In the 1950s Senator Joe McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican, fooled many by using the demagogue’s trick: “repeat a lie often enough and it begins to sound like it must—or at least might—be so.”
Albright warns the danger is not behind us. “We are becoming disconnected from the ideals that have long inspired and united us.” Is she right? Is the United States of today in danger of failing prey to Fascism? If so, what can the average citizen do in prevention?
4). Fascism is hard to define. On page 253 of her book, Albright sets for a series of “the right questions” to ask when ascertaining the true bent of a politician.
Do you agree with her proposed litmus test? How does Trump fare under that test?
5). The quote: “Make the lie big, keep it simple, keep saying it and eventually they will believe it,” is attributed to Dr. Joseph Goebbels.
As of October 14, 2019, President Trump has made 13,435 false or misleading claims over 993 days. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/10/14/president-trump-has-made-false-or-misleading-claims-over-days/
How has this become acceptable? What role does changes in communication technology and distribution played in society’s acceptance of political prevarication?
6) Some consider Albright’s set of suggestions to forsestall Fascim (e.g. reclaiming “the vital center” in politics, rediscovering ideals that unite us, calling for “responsible leaders from both parties to address national needs together”, etc.) hollow.
Do you agree with that assessment? What policy prescriptions would you add?
7). Finally, as always, did you like the book? Would you recommend it? Why or why not.
About the Author:
Madeleine Korbel Albright (born Marie Jana Korbelová) was the first woman to become United States Secretary of State. She was nominated by President Bill Clinton on December 5, 1996 and was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate 99-0. She was sworn in on January 23, 1997.
Madeleine Albright is the author of the New York Times bestsellers “Madam Secretary,” “The Mighty and the Almighty,” “Memo to the President,” and “Read My Pins.”