Trump’s Shock Troops and Mainstream Enablers
Does the corrosion of American democracy mimic the Weimar conditions that launched Hitler to power?
- Donald Trump is a first-class opportunist (plus hypocrite, plus cynic and narcissist extraordinaire).
- The US doesn't actually have to be Weimar Germany -- if enough people merely believe it to be.
- Trump, like Hitler, has a fanatical support base that is not a majority, but sizeable enough to cause chaos.
- While not all Trump supporters are racists, nearly all racists, given a choice, support Trump.
- Hitler did not gain power by pledging to exterminate the Jews, gays, Seventh Day Adventists, Socialists, et al.
- Hitler simply promised to “make Germany great again” by providing “Bread and Work.”
- Hitler, like Trump, was a non-intellect with enormous rhetorical skill and resonance.
- The German establishment mistakenly thought Hitler could be “controlled” by the army, and the church.
- It is believed in the US that our institutions will be resilient enough to prevent any overreach by Trump.
There is a Weimar quality to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign that is corroding the fabric of American democracy. He, of course, did not create this corroding element, but merely exploited and accelerated it.
Donald Trump, a first-class opportunist (plus hypocrite, master cynic and narcissist extraordinaire) — simply considers himself too smart to pass up such a mega-marketing opportunity for himself.
A latter-day Weimar?
The real Weimar Germany was a place of misery and fatalism. That is, in all likelihood, the only reason someone like Hitler was eventually able to find a path to power. In the United States today, there are pockets of misery and fatalism — but nowhere near the same degree as in Germany’s Weimar.
In a political sense, that is false comfort: The United States doesn’t actually have to be Weimar Germany — if enough people merely believe it to be.
Trump has a loud and fanatical base of support that is far from a majority, but it is sufficiently sizeable to cause substantial social chaos.
Selling what they want to hear
Trump is very adept at using language to cover up his real motivations and to send messages to his core voters. For example, when he talks of “Make America Great Again,” he is really saying, “Make America White Again.”
That certainly is how his older, less educated, less economically secure and mostly white voters understand him. Disillusioned and incapable of coping with social change, they fall for his rhetoric – even though that Great America they remember never existed in reality.
This is certainly how the self-proclaimed white supremacists and racial warriors understand him. They have flocked with great enthusiasm to his side, and he has generally refused to disavow them.
On the contrary, besides his more coded appeals, Trump appeals openly to racism (see his remarks about blacks and Mexicans and other non-white populations).
While not all Trump supporters are racists, nearly all racists, given a choice, support Trump.
In his rabid anti-Muslim stance, Trump also draws upon religious prejudice. Recall that Hitler’s antisemitism owed as much to centuries of Christian teachings as it did to the new, “scientific” racism of the eugenicists.
Trump’s military(!) garb
Then there are Trump’s constant efforts to ingratiate himself with the extremist “veterans.” They are evidently too confused to grasp the bitter irony of Trump marching at the front of their parade. He did everything he could to use his social class to evade military service during the Vietnam War.
It is difficult to know how representative these politically extremist veterans are within their broader peer group. But there are more veterans alive in the United States today (21.8 million) than there were in Germany in 1918 at the end of the first world war – hard to believe, but true.
They tend to be disproportionately under-educated and very conservative compared to the overall population.
Trump, the skilled bottom fisher
Then there are Trump’s other distasteful coalition partners: gun nuts (already owning high quantities of firearms per person – and increasing with every rumor of a never materializing roundup). Racists. Anti-semites. Gay-bashers. Mysogynists.
For Hitler, in the times of the Weimar Republic, the targets of his disdain were similar ones – as underscored by whom he rounded up for jail time, labor camps and ultimately extinction after he seized power in 1933.
Hitler did not gain power by pledging to enact the mass extermination of “undesirables” like the Jews, gays, Seventh Day Adventists, Socialists, et al.
No, Hitler simply promised to “make Germany great again” by providing “Bread and Work” and repudiating its humiliations at the hands of foreign powers. The parallels to Trump here are breathtaking.
Those parallels include that the German “establishment” did not take Hitler seriously as a threat – until it was too late. Hitler was both a charmer and a bad boy with enormous prurient appeal. The parallel is, once again, breathtaking.
The German establishment at the time mistakenly thought Hitler could be easily “controlled” by the army, by big business and heavy industry and the church.
Just as it is now believed in the United States that its institutions and political process will prove resilient enough to prevent any overreach by Trump. Unfortunately, that may be an overly optimistic scenario. It does not help that in another direct parallel to Germany’s Weimar times, it is not just the proper functioning but also the legitimacy of U.S. institutions that many are questioning.
They always underestimate the bad guys
Only the (active-duty) military has so far remained silent, as they are expected and legally required to do. (Retired officers have split, largely endorsing Hillary Clinton, but not across the board.)
Were Trump to win the presidency, it is far from certain that the confident predictions of Washington, D.C. pundits – that the military leadership would refuse horrifying orders – would pan out.
A democratic nation?
Trump believes — and has stated — that he can order the U.S. military (and by extension, other branches of government) to use torture, even beyond waterboarding, on his command.
He has also stated that he would “purge” the officer corps of “incompetents” and “losers” (read: officers who do not subscribe to his worldview).
Once in power, Hitler was easily able to rid himself legally of any human constraints – there are always people willing to follow orders. At that point, any and all institutional constraints were simply blown away.
Supreme Court to the rescue? Not likely
One must at least hope that, at that pivotal moment, the U.S. constitutional safeguards would assert themselves.
However, the Roberts Supreme Court – supposedly dedicated to judicial restraint — has a troubling record of interpreting law liberally in order to achieve the reactionary outcomes his former majority desired.
What the conservatives want is to turn back the clock to “make America great again,” not in the duplicitous Trumpian sense, but in the similar sense of recapturing what they see as American’s “original” meaning.
With Trump dedicated to packing the court with right-wing judges, the entire world, depending on the outcome on November 8th, is holding its collective breath.