The Legacy of Historical Ignorance
No matter who wins the general election, Donald Trump could retain and increase his power.
“It can happen here.” That’s what my dad warned me, and I mocked him. “No, dad. We live in a democracy with checks and balances. It can’t happen here.”
My dad didn’t know Donald Trump, but he knew Adolph Hitler personally. He told me stories of sitting in a café in Munich across the table from Herr Hitler, talking about politics one-on-one. “Well,” my father told me, “mostly HE talked; I listened.” Hitler didn’t know my dad was a Jew, and my dad didn’t know that the politics of his café companion would be responsible for murdering his parents, my mother’s parents and most of the rest of his and my mother’s family.
I am sad — and angry… not just because it CAN happen here and is happening here, but because people around me — friends and relatives — are blind to it, even reveling in it. In his book, The Rise and Fall of Adolph Hitler, William Shirer notes in Part 2, in a chapter I recommend you read called “Führer and Dictator,” how Hitler used the wants and needs of the majority German people to take precedence in their minds over his personal desire for complete control of a world empire.
I cannot blame, and do not blame, supporters of Trump and of the Republican Party for the mess we’re in. If they were concerned about the size of government, the threat of a depressed local economy, U.S. participation in foreign affairs, premature fetal death, insufficient immigration limitations, the federal debt, the rise of socialistic behaviors, or increased minority power, then, although I disagree with them on each of those counts, their concerns could be well-grounded and totally valid. And, Republican or Democrat, people have lives outside of politics that require their attention, including the need to unwind and get refreshed from time to time. As such, it would be difficult to recognize the gradual but deliberate movement of the Republican Party away from those goals and towards the goals of sheer power and wealth enhancement for the already rich. I cannot blame Republican supporters for missing that movement, but I’m disappointed that they missed it.
Similarly, most of the German population missed Hitler’s true intentions in the early 1930’s, despite his clear announcement of those intentions in his book, Mein Kampf. So, unless we can believe that the masses of German Christians were basically evil, which I cannot, how can we account for their lack of awareness of the evil nature of their venerated leader? How can we account for their willingness to accept Hitler’s lies, bigotry and quest for personal control of the government? Yet, in a matter of eighteen months at that time, Hitler was able to hoodwink most of the German population into enthusiastically supporting his power grab.
Over the decades of my life, I’ve done some stupid things and thought some stupid thoughts, and I think I’ve learned from many of those experiences, at least the ones I know about. I sympathize with people doing stupid things and thinking stupid thoughts, especially when they are unaware of those things and thoughts. I also know that simply bringing people to awareness doesn’t suddenly change their beliefs. It took me decades and masses of evidence for me to see that in fact the demise of democracy can and is happening here.
Last night I saw a video on TV of a Trump campaign rally wherein he asserted that “we” (everyone there) follow CDC guidelines, observe social distancing and wear masks. There on the screen I could see that very few people were wearing masks and all but Trump were standing shoulder to shoulder exclaiming, “Yes! We do that!” or some such nonsense. It was like watching a mesmerizer leading people to enthusiastically proclaim that black is white, up is down, and air is water. He could have marched them into the sea and convinced them they could breathe under the waves.
William Shirer, a journalist covering the happenings in 1930’s Germany, reported attending Hitler rallies where Germans “seemed strangely unaware how Hitler was tricking them.” They didn’t seem to mind that their Führer (leader) was destroying their fine culture, their democratic republic and their individual freedoms and replacing those theretofore valuable assets with what Shirer called “a mindless barbarism.”
But Hitler’s barbarism was anything but mindless; it was carefully calculated. Under the rubric of “making Germany great again,” he managed to gain control of the Reichstag (similar to the U.S. Congress), abolish free speech, persecute, incarcerate and ultimately slaughter Jews and Christians, subjugate the press and convince his “base” that it was okay to suspend (really terminate) civil liberties “for the protection of the people and state.”
In February of 1933, his Nazi followers set fire to the Reichstag and blamed the anti-Nazi parties, citing the fire as justification to forcefully overthrow the government. He then eliminated most opposition to gain a two-thirds majority in the Reichstag, amend the Constitution and transfer all legislative function to him personally. By that summer all political parties but the Nazi party were dissolved, and anyone attempting to start another party was jailed.
Meanwhile, Hitler’s white supremacist (Aryan, brown shirted storm trooper) forces, numbering in the millions, wreaked havoc in the streets of major cities and cried for revolution. This was Hitler’s interim tactic to wield the reins of the military, a separate more powerful Prussian-officered group that despised the storm troopers. This more formal army was the group with the powerful weapons that Hitler would need to conquer Europe.
As the health of the president of the German Weimar Republic was declining in April of 1934, Hitler made a deal with the Prussian generals. He would disarm the brown shirts and restore the Prussian army to their former grandeur if they would give him the presidency, which, with the already achieved title of chancellor, would make Hitler the absolute dictator of Germany.
The generals agreed, and on June 30, 1934, Hitler carried out a mass execution of over a thousand people known as the Blood Purge that, in a single weekend, wiped out his enemies and potential adversaries and some of their families, accusing them publicly of trying to overthrow him, saying, “If anyone reproaches me and asks why I did not resort to the regular courts of justice, then all I can say is this: in this hour, I was responsible for the fate of the German people. I became the Supreme Judge of the German People.”
Members of Hitler’s new “government,” including President von Hindenburg, agreed and applauded Chancellor Hitler. Soon afterward, on August 2, 1934, Hindenburg died at the age of 86, and Hitler immediately and unconstitutionally declared himself Führer and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, demanding unconditional obedience from his generals.
Summary: in fewer than 18 months, Hitler rose from Chancellor under President Hindenburg to dictator with complete control of what had been a democratic republic. In the rest of Hitler’s lifetime, there would never be another election.
It’s critical to understand that Adolph Hitler could not have accomplished this feat without the support of senior members of the Reichstag, many of whom were assassinated once Hitler had control. The United States is at a point in our politics similar to Hitler’s positioning in 1934. Consider the parallels:
· Trump has the almost unquestioning support of the Senate majority. (See my book, The Case, available on Amazon.com for one of many examples of this frightening phenomenon.)
· Trump’s base idolizes him and believes and promotes every word he says despite ridiculous lies, including that the current pandemic is almost over, when in fact new cases are appearing nationwide at the worst rate ever (almost 100,000 per day), and people are dying at the rate of almost a thousand a day.
· Trump’s Attorney General William Barr has ironclad control of the Justice Department and has fired Inspector Generals whose legal actions could be threatening to Trump.
· Trump has punished political adversaries and rewarded criminals for being loyal to him.
· Trump has recommended to his base to vote twice in the coming election, voter fraud behavior that is a felony and attacks the foundation of our political system of government by the People.
· Trump has claimed that allowing mail-in ballots promotes massive voter fraud, when mail-in ballots have been used beneficially in elections for over 150 years in this country with no evidence whatsoever of massive voter fraud.
· Trump has attempted to interfere with elections through intimidation, like armed polling observers, slowing the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and limiting the counting of valid ballots.
· Trump has used the Justice Department for personal gain, including falsely accusing his opponent of long-debunked corruption, and the Justice Department has complied.
· Trump encourages his base to believe that folks who oppose police brutality also oppose the police.
· Trump has openly violated the U.S. Constitution numerous times with implicit approval of Republican legislators and governors, as indicated by their silence.
· Trump tacitly but openly supports the over 450 white supremacist groups in the U.S., about which Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf has said, “This violence, perpetrated by anarchist extremists and detailed in numerous public statements that remain available on the DHS website, significantly threatens the Homeland by undermining officer and public safety — as well as our values and way of life.” In his first debate with candidate Joe Biden, Trump publicly told white supremacists to “stand back and stand by.”
This latter point is especially important, because Donald Trump can easily signal these extremists to activate. In recent nationwide protests against police brutality against black people, infiltration of white supremacists among protestors was rampant, prompting right-wing newscasters and Donald Trump himself to claim the protestors were at fault for the looting and violence that occurred.
This condition opens the door for Trump to use Hitlerian tactics of reacting to claims of insurrection, as with the Reichstag fire, to clamp down on personal liberties and perpetrate legal mechanisms, like declaring martial law and suspension of habeas corpus. As with the Blood Purge, Trump, as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, can fire and even jail adversarial generals and replace them with Trump loyalists. At that point, it would be a rather simple matter of amending the Constitution to declare himself Supreme Leader. As long as this feat is accomplished before January 20, 2021, the U.S. will have the dictatorship Herr Trump longs for, no matter who wins the election.
Can it happen here? It IS happening here. The only question remaining is, “Can we stop it?”