Tag Archives: history

Living in Weimar 3: How Bad Can It Get?


Laurie and Debbie say:

Living in Weimar 1: On the Brink

Living in Weimar 2: Creative Ferment


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.

“The Role of Sex in History”

Debbie says:

(Title taken from The Lion in Winter, line spoken by Eleanor of Aquitaine)

Just for fun on the long weekend, this article got me thinking about sex work in history. Dating from the 2nd century B.C.E. is

… a circular bathhouse measuring nearly 25 feet in diameter, at the center of which was a sauna. The chamber held as many as 25 separate baths. Adjacent to this room were two pools for hot and cold water and a rectangular hall. Several artifacts found in the hall—a red vessel with a phallic spout, a clay dildo, and an embossed glass vessel depicting Aphrodite—indicate it was probably a brothel. A door connected the bath and brothel so patrons could enjoy both. Dining was offered in a taverna on a level below. [Polyxeni] Veleni [of the Museum of Thessaloniki] believes the complex was part of a larger building, probably a gymnasium.

There are some indications (penis-shaped sculptures like this one) that the sex workers may have been male, but the sculptures could also be homages to the patrons.

The brothel site can be visited today as part of an adults-only museum in Thessaloniki, on the eastern coastline of Greece.

We say “brothel” and all kinds of things come to mind: for this Westernized reader, they include opulent accessories, aging madams with acerbic tongues and hearts of gold, female hookers on display like cars in a showroom, bouncers, slightly abashed and secretive customers. It seems likely that some of those things were not present at all when this establishment was running, and the others looked very different indeed.

As Annalee Newitz says at the link: “I love the idea that you could go work out, have dinner, soak in the tub, and then hire a sex worker to finish off the evening. The Greeks thought of everything.” That concept alone, working the brothel aspect of the business seamlessly into everything else it offered, is foreign to most of us. If you take it one step further, maybe the sex workers (male? female? who knows?) also had access to the gymnasium, the baths, and the taverna. Maybe whether or not someone was a sex worker or a customer shifted from day to day or month to month. Maybe people brought their families. Almost certainly, the gods were involved and invoked.

Would we even recognize it as a brothel?