March 8, 2023

Arnold Schwarzenegger has spent a good amount of his semi-retirement years doing the sort of ambassadorial work a celebrity and former politician does. He has continued acting and, like other senior action stars, has a television series about an aging guy with a gun doing action-y things coming out at some point this year.

Over the past couple of years, Schwarzenegger has used his celebrity to try and influence some of his more conservative-leaning fans. Donning a former governor of California military-style shirt (with the American flag on one arm and the California state flag on the other), Arnold has sat in his office and spoken into a camera to send out very progressive messages. The general focus of his messages has been to warn his fans with more libertarian leanings (like Arnold’s) against falling into the lies and misguided anger of fascism.

On Monday, Schwarzenegger put out his longest video yet, warning against rising antisemitism around the world. He began by talking about his September trip to visit the Holocaust Museum at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. While Arnold’s general message was to choose love over hate, he really used the time to make a powerful plea to the wayward and angry individuals most likely to be swayed by the rhetoric of the right.

Schwarzenegger begins by talking about the Holocaust and specifically the example of Auschwitz, “where 1.1 million men women and children lost their lives, almost all of them were ruthlessly murdered simply because they were Jewish.” He punctuates the facts of the matter: The Holocaust happened and it is exactly what you have been told the word holocaust means. Talking about the “tremendous weight” one feels being at the concentration camp, Schwarzenegger details the unimaginable.

The reminders everywhere of the horrors that happened there. The suitcases never claimed for the prisoners who were told to remember exactly where they left their belongings so they could retrieve them after they were finished with the showers, the shoes and the gold teeth and the hair. They were taken from the murdered to be reused by the murderers to fund their evil.

The log books with thousands of names crossed out, as if a cruel account only mentioned death. The gas chambers with scratches in the walls from the fingernails of people who tried to hold on to life. The crematorium. But the Nazis tried to erase all of the atrocities ...

And it never goes away. It's the feeling of history of millions of voices. Dead. Silenced decades ago. Begging you, begging. You don't just look at their shoes, but to spend a few hours in them to imagine you were there. Because once you imagined it, you arrived on that train and you were sorted into those lines and smelled the smoke that didn't smell like any wood you've ever burned before. And you never saw your families coming out of those showers.

And then you worked your butt off while getting almost nothing to eat, until you looked more like a ghost than a person. And then when you couldn't work anymore, and they considered you useless, they sent you to the showers too. Once you've spent the time to really think about all of those things, then your imagination has no choice but to start the real work.

Schwarzenegger says the “Never Again” phrase uttered by millions since the Holocaust resonates for him profoundly, and he isn’t speaking to the camera to preach to “the choir.” Instead, using the bootstraps language of conservatives, Schwarzenegger once again highlights his family history and the history of World War II. Arnold has been very open about growing up around men, his father included, “broken” by the guilt and the emasculation of being a part of the Nazi war machine. That was very powerful. But he does not stay on his family history the way he has in the past, instead moving on to the more pressing “real work” that needs to be done. 

Arnold knows how the rush to fascism ends. He’s intimately experienced the fallout of those bad decisions: “I don't know the road that has brought you here, but I've seen enough people throw away their futures for hateful beliefs.” Schwarzenegger then speaks to the alcoholism, the guilt, the hate and anger, and ultimately the misery of being someone who “fell for a horrible loser ideology.”

It is an interesting speech by the former California governor, appealing to people filled with hate and trying to sway them by calling out the hate, along with the accompanying  weakness and fear. 

Some of them joined the Nazis because they were filled with hate. Some of them joined because they thought they deserved more out of life. And they bought into the idea that the only way to make their lives better was to make other lives worse. Some of them joined because they were frustrated with the government, and some of them just joined because everyone else was doing it.

In the end, it didn't really matter why they joined. They were all broken in the same way. That's the bottom line here. I mean, if you find yourself at the crossroads, wondering if that path of hate might make sense to you for one reason or the other, or even wrapping yourself with the flag of hate, I want you to know where that path ends.

I want you to see very clearly in front of you, in your minds. Because throughout history, hate is always been the easy path, the path of least resistance. It's easy to find a scapegoat for a problem than to try to make things better ourselves. Right? But let me be clear. You will not find success in the end of this rope.

You will not find fulfillment or happiness because hate burns fast and bright. It might make you feel empowered for a while, but eventually consumes whatever vessel it fuels. It breaks you. It's the path of the weak. And that's why there has never been a successful movement based on hate.

Arnold pushes his audience to do the hard work of looking at oneself and owning one’s own feelings. It is an attack on the false grievance narrative promoted by the conservative world during the past few decades, and it is a powerful one. Schwarzenegger is trying to inspire here, offering up the light at the end of the tunnel in doing the hard work to turn away from the easy path of fascism.

If you want to grow as a person, you really have to make friends with pain. Embrace the discomfort. Enjoy the struggle you've to pass in front of you right now. One of them is going to be the harder one today. It's going to be downright painful. You will have to force your brain to think in new ways. You might lose some friends who want to hold on to their weak beliefs. 

But as you pull yourself away from that anger, that hate, eventually you will start to feel empowered. You will realize that you have the greatest power of all, the power to change your own life. You will be stronger than you've ever known.

Whether or not Schwarzenegger is able to move the needle even a little bit with some of his more impressionable fans is hard to know. But unlike Donald Trump, Schwarzenegger is actually a self-made man. His story of immigrating to America as a fringe sport athlete and overcoming the perceptions of being a big muscle-bound, thick-accented mass of a man who rose to fame and wealth and became governor of the one of the largest states of the country is inspiring. Regardless of what you think about Schwarzenegger’s politics, his performance is powerful. 

Arnold finishes by talking about meeting a survivor of the Holocaust, a woman so much smaller than him who had survived in such an inspiring way that she helped him. She told him that for all of the power of the Nazi machine, to level cities, to steal away her family, her friends, her freedom, “even her life,” they could not conquer her mind. “What strength that woman had,” he said.

“So the bottom line is, I don't care how many hateful things you may have written online. I don't care how often you've marched, carrying that hateful flag, or what hateful things you may have said in anger. There's still hope for you. There's still time for you to choose strength. Choose life. Conquer your mind. You can do it.”

Republished with permission from Daily Kos.

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