• Hitler’s Playbook

    No one can now doubt that Donald Trump is making a determined and sustained attempt to overturn the result of a democratic election and to defy the will of the people. He is clearly determined to hold on to power, whatever the verdict delivered by the ballot box – even to the extent of subverting, if necessary, the electoral college process.

    Donald Trump may or may not have read Mein Kampf, and may or may not be familiar with the history of the Third Reich, but he is – knowingly or otherwise – following Hitler’s playbook quite faithfully.

    Hitler, in the Germany of the 1930s, chose to blame an “enemy within” for the continuing hardships of the German people after their First World War defeat; if, he argued, the power and influence of German Jews could be eliminated, Germany could return to its former glory.

    On the basis of this extreme appeal to nationalism, and a readiness to target “others” as scapegoats, he and his Nazi party were able in 1933 to win a democratic election – but he rapidly turned his back on the democratic process that had brought him to power; he demonstrated his contempt for democracy by burning down the Reichstag, the building that housed the German parliament, and made it clear that his continuing power was to be maintained by non-democratic means.

    He continued to foment a nationalistic fervour and a “Germany first” ideology by encouraging attacks on Jews, gypsies, “communists”, homosexuals and other supposedly “non-German” influences, and built the image of an all-conquering Germany by launching unprovoked military attacks on neighbouring (and weaker) states.

    He held huge rallies of his supporters and used extravagant displays of lights, flags and pageantry to build up their enthusiasm and state of excitement. He made it clear that there was no role for a free press or any other form of potential criticism, and that adherence to the Nazi Party was the pre-condition of promotion across the whole public service. Nazis were appointed to all the top jobs, including judgeships. The Christian church, too, was recruited to the cause.

    Does any of this seem familiar? Can anyone doubt that Donald Trump, whatever his other shortcomings, is first and foremost a fascist in the making, and that his refusal to accept the presidential election result is his version of burning down the Reichstag?

    Was not Trump’s threatened post-election attack on Iran his version of Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia? Does he not share with Hitler a readiness to target racially defined scapegoats – both at home and abroad – as being to blame for the country’s ills?

    For friends of the US, the most worrying aspect of this descent into totalitarianism is not just the parallel that can be drawn between Trump and Hitler, but the fact that there is, apparently, in large parts of American society, an appetite – even a welcome – for this kind of politics.

    In both Nazi Germany and now in today’s America, large numbers who could be in little doubt as to where their leaders wish to take them were ready to abandon their principles at the behest of leaders whose personalities were so extreme and laughable as to be almost buffoon-like.

    Sadly, both the Germans – and, now, the Americans – were able to close their eyes to what was staring them in the face. They preferred to indulge and inflame their own prejudices, and to target scapegoats, rather than adhere to the principles of the rule of law, civil rights and democracy. Those who should have been able to protect them went along with what they must have known was wrong.

    Following the Second World War and the defeat of Nazi Germany, most people felt that we would never again see the rise of such a malevolent ideology, let alone another major state under its sway.

    The post-election US crisis shows us, though, that “the price of freedom” is not only “eternal vigilance” but also the strength of character to recognise the threat to freedom when it appears and to fight it by summoning up every sinew.

    Do the American people (and especially Republican leaders) have that strength? On the evidence so far, we must have our doubts.

    Bryan Gould
    24 November 2020

1 Comment

  1. John Drinnan says: November 22, 2020 at 4:51 amReply

    Your concerns about Trump are valid. But – like many – you ignore the cheating and dangers to democracy from the incoming Biden presidency. Partisan politics is one thing – but we are past the point of goodies and baddies – and the reality is that Biden will strengthen the revival of neo-liberalism – with all it’s unfairness.