Audiobooks Versus Ebooks & Comparisons of Greater Importance

When the U.S. Supreme Court announced its final set of opinions this term, I was nearly 1,000 miles from my home, hanging out with my family on 100 acres of midwestern wilderness. Thanks to the spotty internet connection, it was impossible to follow the live coverage of the Court’s announcements as I normally would. As a result, I was blissfully unaware of the following decisions until I was able to check the news on my phone while on the road home:

In these cases, the Court dealt a blow to organized labor, harmed women’s health by supporting fake clinics, and upheld Donald Trump’s order restricting immigration and travel to the United States from eight countries, the majority of which are predominantly Muslim.

Shortly after these decisions, during our drive home, I had hoped the Middle Grade audiobook playing in the car would offer a temporary escape from the horrible news, but I was wrong.

The book was Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.

It follows an enchanted harmonica from its fairy-tale origins to Germany in 1933, Pennsylvania in 1935, and California in 1942. At each interval, the harmonica ends up in the hands of a child facing challenging circumstances, and as it passes from one person to the next, we are left wondering each child’s fate until the very end of the book.

The audiobook is an engrossing mixture of the spoken text and haunting music, but I was only able to listen to some of it. In the midst of listening to the section on 1930s Germany, I abandoned the audiobook for the ebook, which is less emotionally stirring than hearing the words and music. It’s a children’s book, and it isn’t graphic, but I still found it very hard to listen to a fictional portrayal of the impact of Hitler’s regime on a child and his family. Its parallels to our time in the Trump Era exacerbated my anxiety about the direction of my country.

Comparisons between Hitler and Trump abound — as do criticisms of such comparisons. While I would never want to minimize what Hitler was by making cavalier and hyperbolic analogies, I also do not want to underestimate the danger Trump poses to our democracy by ignoring the parallels to Hitler. Trump is not the equivalent of Hitler, but, like Hitler, he is an authoritarian politician who did not win a majority of votes in any election and who uses racist rhetoric and propaganda to consolidate power, undermine the press, and oppress people of backgrounds he considers unworthy.

Historian Volker Ullrich, author of Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939, warns against making such comparisons, saying in 2017:

Drawing lessons from the past for the present is a difficult task, because history never repeats itself. An unreflected comparison between Hitler’s Germany and Trump’s America actually carries the risk of misunderstanding the great differences. I am referring to, for example, the fact that the American Constitution is based on a system of checks and balances, which a man like Trump will hardly be able to eliminate. In addition, its authoritarian powers are hampered by the strength of American civil society and the influence of the great liberal newspapers. In Germany, after the elimination of the Weimar constitution, the equalization of the parties, associations and media, and the establishment of the dictatorship in 1933-1934, there were no longer any opposing forces which could have stifled Hitler’s absolute will to power. (emphasis added).

I do not have as much faith in America’s system of checks and balances as Ullrich does. Our long, undemocratic history of systematic voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering, and corrupt campaign financing has resulted in elected and appointed lawmakers with no interest in checking or balancing Donald Trump. For evidence, see our GOP-controlled Congress, led by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, and every Republican-appointed Justice on the Supreme Court. These are the Justices who upheld the Muslim travel ban in Trump v. Hawaii and refused to correct partisan gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford or voter suppression in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute.

Donald Trump’s influence on our highest court will only grow now that Justice Anthony Kennedy has gifted him the opportunity to appoint yet another lifetime Justice. American democracy will suffer the consequences of our undemocratically elected President and the cowardly members of our other branches of the federal government for a long time.

Is there anything we can do about it?

Of course. Vote. Our democratic system is compromised, but elections matter. For a list of upcoming elections in 2018, see this article from The New York Times. The midterm election is on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.

In the meantime, register to vote if you aren’t already, and whether or not you are, double-check your registration well in advance of the next election to make it less likely that the “funny things” that happen to voter rolls will happen to you. I can’t tell you how many times, as a local Judge of Elections, I wasn’t able to find the registration of a would-be voter who has a clear memory of having voted at my precinct before.

Also, call or write your lawmakers, especially your United States Senators, who are responsible for confirming Trump’s appointments to the judiciary. Contact them even if you think you know their position.

It is also important to follow and support civil rights organizations that are actively resisting this administration. The nationals we always hear about are important, but so are state-based and local groups that are using the checks and balances that still exist in our federalist system to defend our democratic institutions and expand civil rights protections. To find law-oriented public interest organizations at the state and local levels, see if your local bar association maintains a directory.

*Images: The top and bottom pictures are scenes from my vacation at my Uncle’s house. Click on the panoramic image at the top to make it bigger (credit to Mr. AMB for taking the picture). My kids tried fishing for the first time on this vacation, and two out of three loved it.

15 comments

  1. Thanks for this. I’ve been feeling pretty discouraged about the system of checks and balances lately — as with any system, it only works if people in it do what they’re meant to, and Republicans just won’t stop showing us that they’re unwilling to I DUNNO PRESERVE THE DEMOCRACY. So I’m doing my best to keep myself doing actions, even when it feels discouraging.

  2. I’m with you! I’ve never been as politically engaged as I am now. I mean, I voted in big elections, but I didn’t do much beyond that. Which is a shame, certainly – if more people had been politically active before 2016 then we might not be in this mess.

  3. It sounds like a lovely vacation, and I’m glad you got a respite.

    I was dismayed by the opinions of the Court this term, and am very alarmed by the prospects for the future given Kennedy’s retirement (although he wasn’t exactly a savior of democracy at any time, even though he did occasionally come down on the right side of the issues). I think your words about the parallels and differences between Trump and Hitler are – as always – measured and well-considered. Voting is indeed important, and never more so than now.

  4. I’m glad you were able to get a break from all of the terrible news. I’m planning to register my students to vote this semester and talk to them about the importance of local elections. I honestly feel so helpless a lot of the time, but I am still trying my best.

  5. Sorry, sentence Does anybody think…should have been erased. It’s about Hitler not doofus. I was concered Hitler/Idiot comparison but they have followed the same script.

  6. I emphatically disagree with Ullrich.

    History does repeat. Just not all the little details are the same. This dude is on his way to being a tyrant if he isn’t already.

    The author has a conservative bias by claiming the media is liberal. That has been a right wing complaint for years. They don’t like being called out.
    Calling the media a part of what makes him different from Hitler is nuts. Oh and the people will keep him from being like Hitler. He has a CULT and Congress who makes excuses every time he breaks the law.
    Ole Donnie may not have killed millions upon millions of people, including 6 million Jews tortured, treated like animals, horrible atrocities, then shot into a grave the victims dug themselves and of course, burned innocents. Men, women, and children.

    The guy we’re stuck with for now, who knows.Does anybody think people in the beginning thought he was capable of doing this? The Cult45 doesn’t care what he does and he often threatens violence.
    Putin is giving him pointers how to become the thing our founders didn’t want. A dictator or an elected monarch. I’ve heard cons say this!!

    1. I agree with you. History does repeat, and it’s telling that America would “elect” an authoritarian leader with so many parallels to Hitler at a time when the generation with the clearest memories of World War II is disappearing.

      1. He’s visiting one of our dictator enemies and cozies up to Putin. With no one else in the room to record what happen.

        Russia definitely interfered in the election although not with votes. They, the Russians, have admitted to it. Guess who says there is no proof? Yep, The Cheater.

        I happened to be reading, and still am The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich as the Cheater started his stuff. I was shocked how similar they were. All the way up to rounding people up. I never thought about the WWII survivors and their memories are disappearing.
        I read so many Holocaust survivor first hand stories and Hitler & his murderers. I need to also find stories about the liberators, too.

  7. I just feel like throwing up all the time. For by mental health, I try to avoid politics, but politics happen regardless. Never in my life have I asked myself to balance as much as I do now, and I get the feeling that is what you are getting at with your concerns about Trump/Hitler comparisons.

    1. I’m finding it all so overwhelming. It doesn’t help that my job requires political engagement. There is no break. Ever. I am worried about the future of my country, the health and safety of my family and friends, and the health and safety of my clients.

      1. Is there anything I can do to help? I have a few book blogger friends whom I text just to say hi or ask if they are okay. I know it helps me to say hello to a friend to get away from what’s scaring me.

        1. Thank you, Melanie. I am so glad I got a chance to meet you through our blogs. I am hanging in there. Some days are better than others, and last week was particularly challenging. Weekends with my family are always helpful, and I’m feeling better now.

  8. My mother was thirteen when Hitler rose to power. She referred to that time only once. “I couldn’t get shoes the proper size, and that’s why my toes are crooked.” What is happening in our country terrifies me, and it’s going to take a long time to fix after we oust the current administration. If everyone gets out in November, we can overcome their shenanigans and take back Congress. People have to vote!

    1. Absolutely. People have to vote! Republicans have been playing tricks with our democracy for a long time, but at some point, demographic and political changes will overcome it. I hope.

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