Alan Zendell, June 12, 2020
No analogy is perfect. Brokerage firms warn us that past performance is not a guarantee of future success. Similarly, while the rise to power of Adolf Hitler has much in common with Donald Trump’s, America in 2020 bears little superficial resemblance to Germany in the 1930’s, and there is no reason to assume that Trump’s specific ambitions are identical to Hitler’s – not identical, but ignoring the similarities would be repeating the behaviors that enabled Nazism to flourish.
Let’s examine them. Hitler was appointed Chancellor (the nominal head of government) on January 30, 1933, five weeks before Franklin Roosevelt began his first term as President of the United States. Both leaders assumed office with their nations facing serious financial and social crises, and both proposed sweeping revolutionary changes to combat them. But while Roosevelt, like Trump, faced a fiercely divided, but strong Congress, Hitler’s Reichstag (Parliament) was fragmented and disorganized.
Using divide and conquer tactics and military-style intimidation to grow his base, Hitler’s Nazi Party demonized and destroyed the German Communist Party, and co-opted the other two major parties into passing the aptly named Enabling Act, which granted him emergency powers to dissolve and re-form the Reichstag and enact laws by executive edict that bypassed the Reichstag and in many cases, the German Constitution itself. It took Hitler only two months to gain virtually dictatorial control of the legislature.
Within two more months he had abolished Germany’s labor unions and outlawed opposition political parties. And adapting the concept of The Big Lie, Hitler labeled the thousands of newspapers that were the 1930’s equivalent of today’s media Lugenpresse, the lying press. Within a few years, he completely silenced them. And in an interesting side note, Hitler insisted that the traditional loyalty oath to the Republic sworn by the German military be changed to personal loyalty to him. He trusted no one and felt threatened by virtually everyone.
Does any of that sound familiar? Trump has repeatedly asserted that Article 2 of the U. S. Constitution gives him the right to do anything he wishes. He calls all sources of information that he disagrees with “fake news,” and he demands absolute personal loyalty from cabinet officers, political appointees, and the military. He accuses Democrats and the media of treason whenever they fail to march in lockstep with him. He claims there is a “deep state” comprised of millions of diverse individuals, including the Courts, the FBI, and God only knows who else, secretly working to undermine his presidency. He treats the Congress as an enemy and throws vulgar insults at any judge who isn’t a reactionary white male.
Trump has the same lust for absolute power that Hitler had. He has the same lack of respect for the Constitution and the rule of law. Whether or not he is actually a racist (I think not) he is a classic panderer more than willing to use race baiting to hold on to his core base of support. And of perhaps equal importance, like Hitler, he is completely tone deaf to the pain and suffering of anyone outside his loyal cadre of supporters.
Those are the similarities. The list makes me thankful that the social and political fabric of American life is not as susceptible to being taken over by Fascist-like elements as Germany was before World War 2. But that doesn’t mean we can afford to be complacent. Trump is absolutely tireless and relentless at grabbing power wherever and whenever he can. So far, most of his overreaches have been stymied by the courts, but his chief henchman, Mitch McConnell has been quietly approving every right wing judge Trump’s people nominate, the intent being to create a legal environment in which presidential power can grow unchecked and minority rights can be ignored.
Trump will never succeed at rendering our judicial system impotent, but he has already been able to place two people on the Supreme Court who are long time advocates of a strong presidency. The lower courts have been able to defend the Constitution against the president’s incursions because so much of what he attempts is so clearly unconstitutional, the issues don’t reach the Supreme Court.
But Trump’s people sense a sea change coming in November. They fear, with good reason, that their window of opportunity to change America into the white male dominated nation they believe it should be is closing. With 143 days until the 2020 election expect ever more desperate acts on their part to hold onto power.
Next time I will address how COVID-19 affects all this and Trump’s view of law enforcement and the military. This stuff is really depressing. I can only deal with it in small doses.