Category Archives: history

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.

Living in Weimar 1: On the Brink

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Laurie and Debbie say:

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We’ve been talking to each other, and to our close friends, for several months now about how much Donald Trump frightens us, and about just how dangerous we think he is to the United States and the world. Laurie started our catch-phrase for this, which is “living in Weimar.” The Weimar Republic was the unofficial name of the German Reich from 1918 through 1933: the period when Adolf Hitler took power in Germany, which was also a period when activists and artists were making great strides toward equality and positive social change. Living in Weimar means, to us, living in a time when vicious, dangerous ideas are powerful, when terrifying threats loom, and when taking action can change history very significantly for the better. (If you Google Weimar now, the first entries after the basic historical links are about the 2016 U.S. election.)

This week, as the Republican National Convention progresses in Cleveland, Ohio, our fears are being demonstrated. The Republican Party has adopted its most reactionary platform in decades–in some cases, the most reactionary positions it has ever held. The platform:

takes a strict, traditionalist view of the family and child rearing, bars military women from combat, describes coal as a “clean” energy source and declares pornography a “public health crisis.”

… the document … amounts to a rightward lurch even from the party’s hard-line platform in 2012 — especially as it addresses gay men, lesbians and transgender people.

In direct contravention of the principle of separation of church and state, the platform “demands that lawmakers use religion as a guide when legislating, stipulating ‘that man-made law must be consistent with God-given, natural rights.’”

And in keeping with that, the Republican Party has also declared itself to be above the U.S. Constitution, a document that has weathered crises for 230 years:

The Platform does not simply interpret the First Amendment in ways that are agreeable to conservatives and anathema to liberals, it proclaims that the Republican interpretation of the First Amendment is impervious even to a new constitutional amendment that repudiates this interpretation! If Congress were to propose, and the states were to ratify, a constitutional amendment overruling the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the Republican Party’s position is that this amendment would be null and void.

In that context, we are not just looking at a president who might launch nuclear weapons if someone criticizes the size of his hands. We’re looking at a genuine American revolution, one which Donald Trump may not even care about, and which he is nonetheless poised to lead. And yet, many people still seem to see Trump as some sort of a fluke who got this far but cannot possibly get any further.

In this context, we are grateful to Hannah Koslowska at Quartz for locating the New York Times’ very first article about Adolf Hitler: what the dangers of living in Weimar looked like from across the ocean in 1922. The headline was “New Popular Idol Rises in Bavaria: Hitler Credited with Extraordinary Powers of Swaying Crowds to His Will.

Several reliable well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch messes of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.

A sophisticated politician credited Hitler with peculiar political cleverness for laying emphasis and over-emphasis on anti-Semitism, saying: “You can’t expect the masses to understand or appreciate your final real aims. You must feed the masses with cruder morsels and ideas like anti-Semitism. It would be politically all wrong to tell them the truth about where you really are leading them.”

Donald Trump is not Hitler. As Harold Meyerson says in an excellent article at The American Prospect, which we will discuss more in future articles about living in Weimar:

I’m neither equating Donald Trump with Hitler nor saying he’s fascist in the classic sense. Trump has no organized private army of thugs to attack and intimidate his rivals, as both Hitler and Mussolini did. But Trump’s racist, xenophobic, and nationalist appeals; his division of the nation into valorous and victimized native-born whites and menacing non-white interlopers; his constant employment of some Big Lies and many Little ones; and his scant regard for civil liberties make him the closest thing to a fascist of any major party presidential nominee in our history.

Trump is a demagogue; he’s thrilled to whip crowds into a frenzy of hatred; and he only cares about his own power. He doesn’t have to be Hitler to be terrifying. And we don’t have to be living in the actual Weimar to be terrified. The key thing, however, is to turn terror not into paralysis, but into action. As in Weimar, this is a time when really positive possibilities for social change and cultural shifts exist along with the threats, which makes it a time when we all need to do what we can to make it happen.