(By American Zen
's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari Goldstein)
There's a still impotent if growing strain of alarm that Trump's about to bring back the horrors of the Third Reich and, while those who say this are not necessarily wrong, they do so without workable context that only a reading of the historical first draft at the time (its journalists and diarists) could properly provide. Perhaps to a primitive people, one's prediction of a solar eclipse would look like an act of magic or godly omniscience when in fact a good farmer's almanac could make one privy to these celestial secrets. But how many of us bother to take the time to learn why and how exactly solar eclipses transpire?
And the one thing that cripples our attempt to put the current times in its proper context is our incessant attempts to parallel long-dead historical events with the current and to extrapolate (some would say forcefully extrude) its continuation into today's events. Rather, instead, we need to go back to the source itself, the people who'd seen and reacted to Hitler's ascension to ultimate power in January 1933. Because only a proper reading of those old tea leaves, with the proper context and understanding, can justify any extrapolations reaching 84 years across time. Because far from Donald Trump's own improbable rise to power being the continuation or reappearance of a Third Reich, what happened starting January 30th, 1933 serves as a virtual prologue. And what provides us with our prologue is the very epilogue of the Third Reich.
On the day after the 84th anniversary of Hitler's election as Chancellor of Germany, Zeit Online
had published an article that serves as such a good cautionary tale against the passive evil of complacency that it ought to be required reading in every American household, starting with what passes for our media. It's entitled simply, "Wait Calmly
", an incredible statement given how the Third Reich would play out and made even more incredible by it being issued by the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith in the first hours after Hitler's election.
It's virtually impossible to imagine Adolph Hitler being viewed as a figurehead, the weak sister in the new ultra right wing government but that was widely the perception. The real power behind the throne was seen as Alfred Hugenberg who, like Steve Bannon, was a media mogul perceived as being one of those party insiders who would paint Hitler into a corner "until he squealed." Today, who remembers Alfred Hugenberg?
Yet everyone, it seems, had underestimated Hitler and his insatiable thirst for power. And the predictions that Hitler would be kept on a short leash is understandable, up to a point. Germany had had three Chancellors of the President's Cabinet in 1932 alone (Heinrich Brüning, Franz von Papen and Kurt
von Schleicher), Even those alarmed by Hitler's public pronouncements, including doing away with the Democratic government run by President Hindenburg, saw the Austrian as being just another Chancellor who'd be out in six months or less. Yet Hitler had warned everyone in his many speeches during the 1932 election, as well as in Mein Kampf, as to what he would do. Then he went ahead and did it.
Then 12-13 years and 6,000,000 corpses later (not including the millions more in battle-related casualties), the bewildered and horrified German people saw their capital city get bombed to rubble, their children conscripted and saw through General Patton's enforced tour of a liberated death camp and heard through the Nuremberg Trials the genocide committed in their names. And they wondered, How could we let this happen?
The Cult of Personality
It would be a gross historical oversimplification to say that Hitler rode into power on a wave of working class disaffection and an even broader stoking of anger over Germany's humiliating defeat in WWI. However, those were certainly two large factors in his political success. In fact, we ought to focus on that for the simple reason that these were two of the driving catalysts for Trump winning the Electoral College by a virtual landslide-
During his own campaign, Trump kept hammering home the points that we were no longer great, that terrorists had humiliated us and had continued to humiliate us since 9/11, that he would bring back the jobs and a sense of security. When Hitler was elected Chancellor, the Weimar Republic of Germany was in a deep recession and unemployment was high. The aging Hindenburg seemed ill equipped to deal with his nation's economic woes.
Yet, despite the old President's all too obvious feebleness, he was widely seen as a calming influence on the untried Chancellor, as the real power. This, despite Hitler's solemn promises to do away with the last vestige of Germany's democracy. And with the Nazi Party's swelling ranks and gathering political strength, which necessarily involved a compliant media, Germans were beginning to look askance at the Jews in their midst who were increasingly seen as running the banks, the media and holding back the progress of the Aryan people.
In the interests of drawing parallels between Nazi Germany and today's United States, this makes Trump's ascension to the presidency all the more mysterious because Trump had never advanced one policy position of any substance during his year and a half on the campaign trail. Unlike Hitler, he began breaking his promises, starting with packing his own Cabinet with the sort of multimillionaires and billionaires he'd vilified to his hysterically hateful crowds during his sloppy and ugly beer hall putsches.
Also, unlike Trump, Hitler was actually in the military, had fought in WWI and was not wealthy and widely-known to the German people as Trump has been in the US and the world over for decades. So, in a way, Trump, vague policy proposals or no, was still a known quantity even if not in a political sense, making his election to the presidency all the more bewildering.
On Facebook, I had this to say yesterday morning before I'd even known the Zeit Online article existed,
find we as a nation (and I'm including both parties in Congress when I
say this) are anxiously awaiting the ship of state to right itself.
Right now, it's reeling from port to starboard, making us all seasick
but still, we wait until the ship rights itself
and finally finds calm waters. We're subconsciously hoping that some
wise old hand at these matters will take Trump aside and finally inform
him in no uncertain terms that this is not the way to steer that ship of
state. At this point, mutiny is unthinkable even though the 25th
Amendment tells us it's a legal option. But here's the problem- Trump's
turned that once august ship of state into a pirate ship and had
replaced Obama's largely capable crew with a band of pirates who make
Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow look like fucking Lord Nelson by
conspicuous relief. These ass pirates consist of daughters of drug
runners, charter school whores, white nationalists, neo nazis,
billionaire corporate raiders and other assorted unconvicted criminals.
And, still, we hope this man will right the ship and chart us into, if
not a great ocean of the future, at least one less uncertain than it now
looks. And, as with the 1% on the Titanic, we will still refuse to
believe we've placed our fortunes in the hands of an incompetent pirate
until the ship of state runs smack into that iceberg so they can then
sell us space on the insufficient number of lifeboats. Only then, when
the ripple effect finally reaches and overwhelms us, when it directly
threatens us, will we realize what we'd done in placing our affairs in
the grasping little hands of a narcissistic pirate surrounded by
like-minded first mates.
This pretty much encapsulates the prevailing attitude in the first hours and days of Hitler's reign. Or, as the Zeit Online
's Von Volker Ullrich put it, "They argued he would grow more reasonable once in office and that his
cabinet would tame him. A dictatorship? Out of the question!"
It Can't Happen Here
Guess again. It already has.
At first glance, the above black and white picture looks as if it was taken at a Nazi rally many decades ago. But in fact, it was snapped just a couple of days ago by an anonymous student at a Texas high school
on Class Picture Day. A puerile prank by a bunch of stupid kids? Perhaps. But there were at least 70 of them and they even shouted "Heil Hitler!" and "Heil Trump!"
Then consider less than two weeks after Election Night, neo-Nazi Richard Spencer held a rally and earned some stiff-armed salutes
after referring to the media by its German name (Lügenpresse, a pejorative term German Nazis used in describing the media they also hated).
Let's also consider the recent wave of bomb threats that have been called in recently against Jewish centers. At last count as of the end of last month, 17 such centers and places of worship
had been threatened.
While some may think it's rash and premature to blame Trump for this spate of neoNazi activity (And to be fair, Trump has, as with every President since Truman, sworn unswerving loyalty to Israel), one doesn't have to squint very hard to see how and why Trump and his brutal, authoritarian manner appeals to such far right wing elements:
He's demonized with eliminationist rhetoric those who are not like us (Mexicans and Muslims). He had and continues to expel members of the media and those who are even suspected of opposing him, including the now notorious example of tossing Univision reporter Jorge Ramos
from an August press conference and his press secretary Sean Spicer threatened to do the same
to another Hispanic reporter (CNN's Jake Acosta) after Trump's first presidential presser.
And, it ought to be stressed again, the man who sleeps with Hitler's speeches
next to his bed pushed the same exact buttons Hitler did 85 years ago. He, too, promised to make the nation great again, to purge fear and shame visited by that nation's enemies as well as those who sought to do the Fatherland harm. To paraphrase the Simpson's caption, "Trump's not fascist but is #1 with fascists."
Again, it ought to be stressed that the conservative German elements hideously underestimated Hitler's ravenous ambitions. Many of them, including Hindenburg himself, helped propel Hitler to the chancellory and had even agreed with his proposals (such as severing the onerous chains of the Treaty of Versailles and gearing up Germany's war machine in defiance of that Treaty.). But he was seen as little more than a puppet or figurehead. What they didn't count on was Hitler's oratorical charm and overwhelming popularity with the public.
It took Hitler just five months to essentially lock down the entire nation. And Trump doesn't have another national leader to leapfrog over.
What's the Final Solution?
History tends to collapse in on itself, to get synopsized in the interests of brevity. Hitler's administration moved swiftly and began to consolidate power while simultaneously starving opposing elements of it. He outlawed Socialism, shoehorned Hermann Göring into the Cabinet despite his not having a portfolio. Hitler also made him Prussia's Interior Minister, thereby allowing him to assume control over the police of the largest state. Eventually, all other political parties were outlawed. Then he packed the judiciary with like-minded ideologues.
Consider Trump's law and order boilerplate during his inauguration even as over 200 protesters in Washington DC were being arrested
at the same time. And 53 weeks before his inauguration, he claimed during a GOP debate
that "police are the most mistreated people" in America. American law enforcement, in fact, has been one of the few elements in our society that Trump hasn't gone out of his way to alienate.
And while Trump hasn't set up death camps sufficiently removed from the American Homeland... yet, one must pause and seriously reflect upon his "temporary" Muslim ban and Trump signing one of an endless series of executive orders authorizing 10,000 more immigration officers
to assist in his effort to purge 11,000,000 undocumented residents from the US.
Deportation was the public policy spouted by Hitler and his surrogates as the Jews were loaded onto trains and shipped to parts unknown. The German people were told they were being "relocated" to camps like our Manzanar. Hence their shock in 1946 when they finally learned of their fate.
At one of those camps, Buchenwald, emerged a monster named Ilse Koch, wife of the Commandant. There's no genealogical evidence that the infamous Koch brothers are in any way related to her but they certainly were related to their father Fred Koch. Koch, with a Nazi sympathizer here in the US, managed to build a refinery in Nazi Germany that was approved by der Fuhrer himself, according to a new book
. That refinery, one of Germany's three biggest ones, literally fueled the Nazi war effort.
After the war, right wingers went on to spearhead Operation Paperclip
that brought former Nazis to the United States (It essentially founded NASA through Werner von Braun). They were the best and brightest from scientists and engineers to captains of industry. These Nazis then went on to finance the right wing think tanks that still exist today, think tanks that have ceaselessly worked to make Trump's current proposals sound reasonable and mainstream (Thanks to Overton's ever-shifting window).
Which is why I say the epilogue of Nazi Germany is today's prologue here in the United States. And if we're going to resist, we're going to need more than Keith Olbermann's broom closet jeremiads on Youtube or blogs such as this one. One day protests with or without pussy hats aren't going to change anything. Our nation has been overrun with pathological liars screaming about massacres that never happened.
And what's even more chilling to consider are the very real massacres and purges that will happen of which they'll remain silent.