Living in Weimar 3: How Bad Can It Get?

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Laurie and Debbie say:

Living in Weimar 1: On the Brink

Living in Weimar 2: Creative Ferment

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Donald Trump, as cataclysmically bad a president as he would be, is not Adolf Hitler. And the U.S. in 2016 is not Germany, or Weimar, in the early 1930s. However, the parallels are significant, and worth comparing.

Here’s some of how Hitler came to power in Weimar, and later in all of Germany:

… on 30 January 1933 Hindenburg accepted the new Papen-Nationalist-Hitler coalition, with the Nazis holding only three of eleven Cabinet seats: Hitler as Chancellor, Wilhelm Frick as Minister of the Interior and Hermann Göring as Minister Without Portfolio. … Hitler refused [the Catholic Centre party] leader’s demands for constitutional “concessions” (amounting to protection) and planned for dissolution of the Reichstag [Weimar parliament] .

Hindenburg, despite his misgivings about the Nazis’ goals and about Hitler as a personality, reluctantly agreed to Papen’s theory that, with Nazi popular support on the wane, Hitler could now be controlled as Chancellor. This date, dubbed by the Nazis as the Machtergreifung (seizure of power), is commonly seen as the beginning of Nazi Germany.

So, Hitler had nothing like majority support, and the power he wielded was his refusal to compromise and his single-minded plan to rule the country. That was enough.

Trump has nothing like majority support either, as evidenced by the polls. What he does have is refusal to compromise (well, he kind of compromises one day and he walks it back the next) and a single-minded plan to be in charge. He also has a very early narrative about how the election will be “rigged,” which will help fire up his supporters in the event he loses.

Last week, Trump brought in Stephen Bannon as “campaign CEO” and Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager. Conway–if you can describe a Trump supporter in these terms–is apparently a comparatively level-headed, somewhat analytical Republican pollster. Bannon is something else altogether. Bannon comes from breitbart.com, a virulently right-wing racist anti-Semitic and misogynist website, the home of the “alt-right”. “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?” is a real Breitbart headline.  In 2015, Joshua Green at Bloomberg Politics called Bannon “the most dangerous political operative in America.”

When former Disney chief Michael Ovitz’s empire was falling to pieces, Bannon sat Ovitz down in his living room and delivered the news that he was finished. When Sarah Palin was at the height of her fame, Bannon was whispering in her ear. When Donald Trump decided to blow up the Republican presidential field, Bannon encouraged his circus-like visit to the U.S.-Mexico border. John Boehner just quit as House speaker because of the mutinous frenzy Bannon and his confederates whipped up among conservatives. Today, backed by mysterious investors and a stream of Seinfeld royalties, he sits at the nexus of what Hillary Clinton once dubbed “the vast right-wing conspiracy,” 

Bannon has a history of domestic violence, and his ex-wife says that he “objected to sending their twin daughters to an elite Los Angeles academy because he ‘didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.”

So, here we are. Trump has made his bed with the alt-right, underscoring the anti-woman, anti-people of color, anti-immigrant basis of his campaign. He is proud of his hateful positions, and he is using them to gain and use power. If he loses in November, his supporters and the alt-right are still going to have more strength and more power than they did a year ago, and they are still going to try to stop President Hillary Clinton at every turn.

Although Trump is not Hitler, one of the lessons of Weimar is that we can’t afford to forget how far the politics of hate can go.