Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Forget "Godwin's Law" - The Hitler- Trump Parallels Grow By The Day

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"Look at Trump’s long history with Deutsche Bank, the former Nazi-enabling institution that hoped Trump’s celebrity would help it gain a toehold in the U.S. This as every other major bank had come to see the short-fingered vulgarian – whom, we now know, lost more money than any other American in the late ’80s and early ’90s – as utterly toxic.."  Will Bunch, Philly.com

"I am a 96-year old World War II veteran with a question: Why haven't America and the rest of the world spoken out against the resurgence of Nazism? ...WWII, one of history's worst wars, was the result of Hitler's Nazi party. Yet today in America, the resurgence of white supremacy and neo-Nazism goes widely ignored and unchallenged. .. Regressing to a country of hatred and division  is a slap in the face of all those who fought and died to protect the ideals our flag stands for."-  John R. Rohner, letter to The Denver Post, yesterday, p. A13.

Anyone who's observed the events of the past two weeks, including the continued stonewalling by Trump in releasing any documents,  AG Barr's turning a specious investigation on the FBI and other investigators of the Russia intrusion, and Trump giving Barr carte blanche to release sensitive intel files that put sources at risk (while barking the dog whistle of "Treason!") ,  knows we are hurtling toward a fascist, autocratic state.  Effectively, this Hitler clone, as even my long time German friends agree, is attempting to criminalize all political opponents just as Hitler did with his "Enabling Act" and Reich laws.

Add to that an effort to invoke the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute Julian Assange, which would extend to the whole of the press and 1st amendment itself  - and this is a no brainer.  As author and history writer John Meacham put it Friday on MSNBC's 'Last Word':

"He's criminalizing dissent on one level. With the FBI, he's attempting rhetorically to criminalize the execution and mechanics of the rule of law.  It's not a heck of a lot more complicated than that... He's using a charged term to create a sense of anxiety and paranoia to get his supporters in a place where assent for Trump is a patriotic act.  By doing so he's throwing 243 years of constitutional history away.

The framers had this right. They were worried about demagogues, they were worried about exactly this type of person."

More worrisome, those of us who've watched Trump's relentless attack on norms the past two years (eroding them to the point of irrelevance), and who are also steeped in world and U.S. history, are understandably alarmed.  This is because we can see the progression (regression?) and know what it leads to, i.e. having studied Germany's history in the 1930s while also having had the advantage of talking to actual Germans - including former Wehrmacht soldiers - alive at the time, e.g.

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The photo above was taken in the Teutoburger Forest in May, 1985, with two former Wehrmacht soldiers-   on my left (Hans) and right (Dieter).  Reinhardt - to the left of Hans- acted as interpreter.  Both former soldiers agreed Hitler was a total crazy person (Verrückt!) who never should have been made Chancellor.  Similarly, Reinhardt -  still alive -  agrees Trump never should have been president.

Why is all this germane? Because we damned well know in retrospect how democracies fall!  We beheld it (those of us who've studied history) in the case of the Weimar Republic of Germany, and we're seeing the replay now though too many of our countrymen remain asleep at the wheel.   These somnolent, complacent citizens would do well to read 'How Democracies Die' by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

Those who take the time to read the book, and have scratched their heads about the import of norms, will soon come to grasp they are the glue that holds democracies together.  Thus, the fragile nature of democracies exists precisely because they depend on competing actors, parties to agree to accept common norms. The nature of democracy insists these should not have to be made into laws and enforced, which would destroy the cooperative and volitional aspects.

At the same time, our whole system of checks and balances hangs on accepting these 'volitional' norms, not flouting them.  Attack and subvert the norms and they cease to act as bulwarks of democracy.  This is precisely why demagogues like Hitler and Trump always undermine and weaken the norms first.   This inevitably occurs once they are placed in a position of power, Hitler after losing the popular vote in 1933 (attaining only 36.8%) and Trump in 2016 after losing the popular vote by almost 3 million.

Hitler became Chancellor in January, 1933 on account of a reckless decision by then winning President Paul von Hindenburg, i.e. from Wikipedia: "Although Hitler lost the presidential election of 1932, he achieved his goals when he  was appointed chancellor on 30 January 1933. On February 27, Hindenburg paved the way to dictatorship and war by issuing the Reichstag Fire Decree which nullified civil liberties."

 Trump became president in December, 2016 on account of myopic, reckless electors who rubber- stamped an electoral college win, instead of applying the Hamilton standards not to insert a proven demagogue into office.  I.e. those standards as articulated in Federalist # 78:

"The process of election (by state electors) affords a moral certainty that the office of President shall never fall to the lot of any man who is not to an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications...."

Once in power, both Hitler and Drumpf  knew they needed to attack and destroy the applicable norms,  which is what they did.  Once each had become freed by erosion of the norms they could then harness the "referees" (judicial system), i.e. forcing judges to retire, stacking the courts with others who do their bidding, appointing high judicial officials to carry out their agenda against political opponents and stifling and attacking the press.

Hence, Trump's moves in the past week, to enable Barr to go after sensitive intelligence files and release them for a pseudo investigation, and seeking to prosecute Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act, fully fall into the Hitlerian playbook.  In effect, tilting the playing field permanently against all political opponents as a prelude to criminalizing and punishing them.  It is quite evident now that the American political system is under threat on all three identified fronts:  weakened judiciary, disabled press, captured 'referees' to do autocrat's bidding to persecute political opponents.

As the past two weeks have revealed, Fuhrer Drumpf is now on a tear to out-Hitler, Hitler.  And before anyone mentions "Godwin's Law", I already skewered that malarkey years ago.  It is a common and stupid fallacy that seems to have spread around the net that we are all to beware that "if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Adolf Hitler or his deeds." 

The corollary to Godwin's law  has been deemed even more canonical, i.e.  that "anyone who introduces Nazis or Adolf Hitler in a debate or discussion automatically loses by default". Of course,  this is arrant codswallop. If the comparison is applicable then we are enjoined to make use of it, and this is more and more the case with Donald John Trump. No, he hasn't launched concentration camps yet- but he is destroying norms and practices on a pace to what Hitler did - to Weimar Germany - from 1930 to  1933., ultimately leading to the Enabling Act, e.g.


The preceding provides a cautionary tale,  contrary to many pundits who beseech us to "chill"  because our Constitution will save us.  Well, not the way Trump and his fellow fascists have neutralized all checks and balances, with no courageous people coming forward to answer the true patriot's call.  Even Robert Mueller, evidently.

In the words of Levitsky and Ziblatt:

"American democracy is not an exception as we sometimes believe. There's nothing in our Constitution or our culture to immunize us against democratic breakdown."

Especially if the other party helps to destroy existing norms, and by extension checks and balances, because it seeks to protect and enable the fascist autocrat at the source.

WaPo columnist Dana  Milbank recently made the case even more cogently in the mainstream press.  This was based on a 'FACTBase' analysis of Trump's rhetoric and behavior compared to other demagogues in the last 100 years:

"But if Trump is without peer in the American political tradition, he unfortunately has equals in another tradition. Such rhetoric is a hallmark of totalitarianism. 

It’s using emotion to circumvent reason, to overwhelm reason,” says Jason Stanley, a Yale philosopher specializing in language and author of the bookHow Fascism Works.”

Stanley then related to Milbank the core of the autocratic Trump dynamic:

“He wants to get the situation such that it’s a crisis and there’s such fear and suspicion that the only happiness, the delivery, is winning over his enemies, Hence, the lavish praise of and great love for his supporters and the unalloyed vitriol toward foreigners, racial minorities, elites and socialists."

Trump 's praise for despotic tyrants like Kim Jong Un should also be mentioned here, as he believes a slime like Kim over his own security  personnel, i.e. as to whether North Korea has adhered to UN resolutions on missile testing. 

 Stanley adds:

"Goebbels talks about propaganda being best when it appeals to straightforward emotion: fear, suspicion, anger, and then it would be culminated with ‘we’re winning,’ ‘we’re going to get them,’ with extremes of paranoia and then praise of ‘us,’ ‘our’ greatness, and a desire for revenge for lost greatness. . . . When our emotions are being overwhelmed, it’s because people are trying to manipulate us and drive us toward a desired goal."

Again, straight out of the Hitler-Trump playbook. What about Trump supporters who I've also compared to the "Good Germans". Stanley informs Milbank(ibid.):

"His supporters, lovingly embraced, feel as though they’re in on the joke; they know he often lies, but they believe he’s lying for them — lying to the liars. Us-vs.-them thinking becomes so powerful that the enemy’s humiliation can be more gratifying than one’s own betterment"  

 This, of course, was the case with Hitler's supporters as well, evident when one watches archival films, as I had been shown by my late friend Kurt Braun, in 1978 and 1985. 

The difference between our situation now and the enforcement of the Enabling Act and Reichstag Fire Decree in the Germany of the 1930s is that there is still time to avert the rush to perdition.  There is still time to avoid the repeat of history from that era, but it requires: a) citizens grasping that we are in a 4 alarm fire condition right now, and b) People of substance, power to step forward to combat the corruption and dissolution of law.  

 That means citizens being alert to Trump's moves and not succumbing to his distractions, e.g. the Pelosi fake video, and people like Robert Mueller speaking openly in public forums. It also means more than one Republican (like Justin Amash) with the courage to stand up and oppose Trump's lawless rule.

Citizens are waiting, the nation is waiting.  But we can't wait too long before time runs out - as the Germans discovered to their horror in January, 1933.  

See also:


"Just in the last few days, we’ve seen the Trump administration defy the role of Congress not just on subpoenas but on selling $8 billion in bombs and other weapons to the murderous Trump-friendly regime in Saudi Arabia, which will be used to slaughter women and children in Yemen. We’ve seen the president’s handmaiden at the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr, develop a new legal theory about news leaks that – while it’s being tried out for now on the loathsome non-journalist Julian Assange – can and probably will be used to kill the First Amendment rights of legitimate journalists. That’s on top of Barr’s Trump-ordered probe of his perceived political “enemies” in the FBI and other government agencies, which belongs on a “greatest hits” album of 20th-century dictators.
Waiting in a defensive crouch until an election in November 2020 is a terrible strategy, and not just because it’s too long to wait."


Darrin Rychlak said...

I'd like to say Trump is shocking but he's not. He's the Republican totem without any illusions placating civility. The push rightward in this country got its retread in 1973 and we've been on a slippery slope since.

But really, what's changed for Labor/middleclass/normal people since the goddamn inception of the country? Not much. We still have child labor, slave labor, moneyed elites that own the property and the judiciary. Labor is still bullied and cowed. Blacks are no longer slaves in the open. That's good. The right to vote to minorities and women? Big fucking deal. Look at the veritable parade of war criminals elected to presidential office the last 6 decades or so. Labor makes just enough money to be debt slaves to the corporate popular cultural ideals of fame/infamy and wealth. Labor Unions are dead. Education has become mere career training. We work longer hours with fewer benefits and stagnant pay....multi-tasking!: Doing several jobs for the pay of one job. Profit now and fuck long term consequences. The US is really nothing more than a monument to Monetary Fascism.

Solidarity is a nice idea but human greed, sloth, ignorance and gluttony carry the day. I'm starting to disengage myself from caring about my fellow man in the political sense bc that's a one way street that concludes in a cul de sac. Atomization of the people composing the social fabric our country has been achieved.

Copernicus said...

Very solid points made, as usual.