Monday, March 7, 2016
Is Trump like Hitler?
People such as comedian Louis C.K. and Glenn Beck have asserted that Trump is like Hitler but have offered only an emotional rave in support of that opinion -- with no detailed analysis.
But hysterical claims that Trump=Hitler should remind us all that Leftists also repeatedly said Bush=Hitler. He wasn't, was he? I have made a particular study of the Nazi period so I have been looking for a reasoned rather than rage-filled account of the comparison. I have finally found one: An essay by Professor Noah Riseman, a far-Left American Jew who doesn't know the difference between "rein" and "reign". See his essay below.
In looking at the essay I will first mention something Noah has got right. Weimar (pre-Hitler) Germany was a very decadent time with perversions of all sorts rife and a general loss of behaviour standards. In Noah's words it was "progressive". America today, with its glorification of homosexuality etc. does seem very reminiscent of Weimar Germany. Noah and I agree on that. So it is reasonable to ask if America too will create a Hitler for itself.
And it is understandable that a Jew should be nervous at any semblance of Nazism. But Noah has very selective vision, in the best Leftist style. For a start, he realizes that there is a big hole in his story but makes only a rambling attempt to cover it: The different electoral systems.
Germany had, and still has, an electoral system (proportional representation) that facilitates the rise of minor parties. And Hitler used that to bypass the traditional parties of the Left and Right. The American system is the opposite of that. It effectively keeps power in the hands of the two major parties -- the center-Left Democrats and the center-right Republicans. Under the American system it is most unlikely that Hitler would have risen to power. So there is a clear structural reason not to compare the present USA with prewar Germany.
With no apparent knowledge of history, Noah also says that "Republican control of the House of Representatives seems all but assured for the foreseeable future". Up until very recently the Democrats controlled both houses so what has changed? Noah does not say. If my electoral history is correct, Democrats have been in control of Congress more often than the Republicans over the last 100 years. But be that as it may, the American system is clearly good at rotating control of Congress. Noah is making bricks without straw.
Noah's ignorance also shows in his comments about a Sanders presidency. He seems to think that Sanders could put his ideas into practice. To do so would however require a compliant Congress and that would be most unlikely. A President's job is to enforce the law, not create it. Obama forgot that and found Obamacare to be the only thing he could actually get through. His wishes about immigration and global warming were blocked by Congress. He had to skirt the law via EPA regulations and by refusing to enforce immigration law to get his way to some extent. Sanders' ambitions are much larger however so he too would be left scratching at the margins of the system.
The only substantial points in the screed below are the ones I have highlighted. Let's look at the points involved:
* Torture: It seems reasonably clear that most, if not all, administrations have used some form of it on particularly dangerous captives and Trump has said that he will stay within the law in the matter.
* Free speech: All that Trump has proposed is to widen libel law to encompass political lies. It should have been done long ago.
* International relations: It seems likely that Trump will indeed be more assertive with other countries, Iran in particular. Obama's spinelessness with the mullahs is very dangerous to America's safety. Iranians have been chanting "Death to America" for decades. If they get nukes they may well try it on. For their own safety, Americans should vote for The Donald.
* Muslims: Trump has NOT "demonized", Muslims despite undoubted temptations to do so. He has simply proposed a temporary halt to Muslim immigration.
* Latinos: Trump has NOT "demonized" Latinos. He has undertaken to stop illegal immigration. Given the high rate of crime among illegals and their offspring, that would be highly desirable.
Now for the things that Noah leaves out:
Trump's speeches are essentially rambles. There is very little of the policy wonk in him. Hitler, by contrast kept on message. He had three major themes: The wickedness of the Jews, a promise of equal rights and the promise that he would be a candidate of peace.
In his electoral promises Hitler was a peacenik. That he did not fulfil that is of course another matter. But promises of peace helped get him into power. Trump is no peacenik and is a demonstrable friend of Jews. See here.
And Hitler's promise of equality is mainstream Leftism. Trump has made no such promises. Below is one of Hitler's election posters from the 1930s in which he offers himself as standing for peace and equal rights.
And finally, there is the matter of style. Trump's rallies are undoubtedly rambunctious but American political rallies have always been high spirited and lively. Hitler's rallies and speeches were very different. As anybody who has seen Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" knows, the rallies were very disciplined, most unlike the rambunctious American performances. And Hitler's speeches were unique too. He would start out very quietly and calmly and would gradually accelerate to impassioned shouting. It had none of the Trump jollity
And the origins of Hitler and Trump could hardly be more different: The impoverished artist versus the rich businessman
So Noah simply does not know what he is talking about
The more I watch the 2016 election, the more I see parallels to Weimar Germany of the late 1920s and early 1930s. This was a society that was culturally and socially progressive, with Berlin in particular a hotspot for new liberal attitudes towards gender and sexuality.
It was also a period of economic hardship, political gridlock and fragmentation. The economic crisis after the First World War and Treaty of Versailles left many Germans disenchanted with capitalism and the international order.
Throughout Weimar Germany’s entire existence from 1919-33, there were tensions between left and right which erupted in parliamentary debates and in violence on the streets.
The extreme left – in the form of communism and anarchism – became one popular alternative to liberal capitalism. By the late 1920s, the other alternative that promised to make Germany great again was the extreme right fascist movement of the National Socialist Party (Nazis).
By the early 1930s, democracy was clearly broken (if it ever was working in Weimar Germany). Historians and political scientists have written extensively about why the Weimar Republic was so dysfunctional, including a flawed electoral system, the international impositions of the Treaty of Versailles and – what I find most intriguing – the notion that democracy has inbuilt logic designed to destroy itself (read Theorising Democide).
By the early 1930s, there were no working coalitions, political parties would not compromise and the political system reached crisis proportions. In the end it was the Nazis rather than the communists who came to power through the very political system they despised. They only won 33 per cent of the votes in the November 1932 election (incidentally, 2 million fewer voters than they had four months earlier). Whilst not a majority, the Nazis did have a plurality in the German Reichstag.
In January 1933 the president appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in the hopes that he would stabilise the situation and perhaps even reign in the Nazi Party. A few months later the Reichstag passed the Enabling Law, abolishing democracy and ushering in the Third Reich. I do not need to recap how that worked out.
I look at the United States in 2016 and am struck – indeed frightened – by the parallels to Germany circa 1932. While the causes of the present crisis are different, there are a lot of similar symptoms.
Again, there has just been a major economic recession. Whilst the US economy is improving, people are still angry – and rightfully so – because those who caused the economic crisis have gotten away with it and the political establishment has allowed that to happen.
The political system is not working at all. Congress is so polarised that nothing gets done, compromise has become a dirty word and politicians are willing to let the government shut down just to score points and get their way.
In Weimar Germany one reason for the political fragmentation was because *the electoral system allowed parties with minute percentages of the vote to win seats in the Reichstag*. In the US, political parties controlling the state legislatures have gerrymandered districts so much that now there are only a handful of marginal districts.
Instead, Republicans are fighting Republicans and Democrats are fighting Democrats to win primaries which may as well be the general elections in most electorates.
A serious consequence of the gerrymander is that Republican candidates for Congress often appeal to the hard-right fringe to win elections. Democrats are just as guilty at gerrymandering, except they have not been nearly as effective in most states, meaning that *Republican control of the House of Representatives seems all but assured for the foreseeable future*.
Like in Weimar Germany, a significant proportion of the population is looking for alternatives to the political mainstream. Popular movements on the political fringes, left and right, have manifested in the respective forms of presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump (not to mention Ted Cruz and the entire Tea Party).
I openly admit to being a Sanders fan, and many of his cause celebres (i.e. universal healthcare) are common sense in other developed countries. But in the United States, a self-proclaimed socialist who advocates a revolutionary overhaul of American capitalism is someone from the left fringe.
*A Bernie Sanders presidency* would send shockwaves through the American political system, but it would not mean the end of democracy. Bernie Sanders wants change, but he still believes in the core tenets of the Bill of Rights and the principles of civil rights.
In fact, he would expand the notion of rights to include economic rights. Notwithstanding a groundswell of support especially from young voters, a Sanders nomination for the Democratic Party seems unlikely given the delegate maths.
A Trump candidacy and presidency, however, is becoming ever more plausible, and this truly frightens me. Trump is the culmination of over 30 years of Republicans convincing many Americans that government is the enemy, or what conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks calls 30 years of antipolitics.
As former liberal Congressman Barney Frank argues, in power Republicans have dismantled government programs and regulations in a self-fulfilling prophecy that reinforces the perception of government’s ineffectiveness. Now, to the horror of the Republican establishment, Donald Trump has seized their message and is channelling it with gusto, but with his own warped, authoritarian tinge.
Donald Trump openly talks about implementing torture, undermining freedom of speech and the press and behaving belligerently with other nation-states. What worries me the most is that he scapegoats and demonises Muslims and Latino immigrants with alarming comparisons to Hitler’s rhetoric about Jews
Trump’s populist-nationalism may not mesh with traditional Republican conservatism, but it ticks many of the boxes for fascism.
Until last week I really believed that Trump would never be president. Now I do not know anymore, and it terrifies me. If we look at the outcomes of the Republican primaries, caucuses and polls, it is clear that Trump has a hard-core base of between 30 to 40 per cent of Republican voters.
That is not a majority of Republican voters or even a majority of Americans. But in a broken, fragmented system, that may be enough support to be elected president.
Would a Trump presidency turn America into a fascist state? I like to think that the constitutional system has enough checks and balances not to let that happen. I like to think that Congress would never pass enabling legislation to force Muslims to wear badges or to force the deportation of millions of Latino families. I like to think that the Supreme Court would exercise judicial review and that the executive branch would respect any rulings from the court.
But I just do not know any more. And even if Trump does not become president, I still cannot help but think that Weimar America will never be the same again.