Friends at the Daily Kos,
I wrote a series of five articles over at my site Padre Steve's World this week looking at the Republican National Convention, and the coronation of Donald Trump as the would be dictator of the United States. As a historian whose undergraduate years were spend studying under the late Dr. Helmut Heussler, who had served as an interrogator and interpreter during the Nuremberg War Crimes trials I came to see the Weimar Republic and the era Nazi era as a whole, and see how the social, economic, political, legal, religious, racial, and ideological problems of Germany, coupled political reality of losing the First World War, shaped the disintegration of the Republic and brought about the rise of Hitler. Since that time much of my graduate studies also involved the same period, and deeper looks at the various factors that brought about the Third Reich.
Now, the situation in the United States is nothing like what it was at any point of the Weimar Republic. But Donald Trump and his minions through their incredibly dark, dystopian apocalyptic portrayal of the United States, tried to do the the Hillary Clinton and the Democrats what the Nazis did to the Social Democrats and the center parties in Germany in the elections of 1930 and 1932.
It was a frightening performance, not that anything that he said about the condition of the country frightened me. The fact that his dark vision, skewed facts, and outright lies were designed to promote fear, and that he was the only one who could save the country. But what frightened me was the appeals to violence, and the words of come of his followers who actually threaten violence at anyone, inside or outside their party that might dare to criticize their Fuhrer.
The following is one of the articles that I published this week, this one from Friday after Trump’s speech. I do hope that you enjoy.
Last night I watched the entirety of Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. I am not going to go ever all of the details of it, especially the myriad of lies, distortions, and half-truths which the nominee proclaimed, but instead I am going to talk about what has happened to my former political party in its deification of a man who portrayed himself as the savior of the country. He bluntly said as much And proclaimed that he said “nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” The response from the crowd was “Yes you will!” From the purely visual standpoint one could not help but notice that there were few symbols of the Republican Party in evidence and the supersized TRUMP name over the stage which was shown over a background of gold, as if you were entering the Trump tower in New York. It dwarfed all symbols of the Republican Party, as well as the nation, including the American flag.
His speech was dystopian and apocalyptic; his words fed the real and the imagined fears of people, amplifying them in such a way that catered to the view that without him as the savior the United States would perish. As he talked he railed on enforcing the laws of the country and making people safe immediately, but he ignored the Constitution, made no mention of the role of Congress, or for that matter our state governments; and only referred to the courts as means of enforcing security. Not once did he talk about freedom, except of giving the Unconstitutional freedom for Churches to advance their sectarian beliefs at government expense and with the full backing of the police state. Jefferson, Madison, and Virginia Baptist leader John Leland would be rolling in their graves over a proposal which would destroy the First Amendment.
Enemies, were identified. They included immigrants, Muslims, and American liberals, not to mention dissenters in the GOP. Eric Hoffer wrote, “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. Usually the strength of a mass movement is proportionate to the vividness and tangibility of its devil.” Trump mentioned several “Devils” and cast every one of them into the image of Hillary Clinton. Clinton is certainly a flawed candidate and person, but she is not a devil, and to not reign in supporters who openly talk about killing her is unbecoming for the leader of the Republican Party, but this is not the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan, or either Bush. That party is dead. Its desiccated body died during Trump’s speech last night. Now, what remains is Republican in Name Only. Hoffer wrote,
“It seems that, like the ideal deity, the ideal devil is one. We have it from Hitler—the foremost authority on devils—that the genius of a great leader consists in concentrating all hatred on a single foe, making “even adversaries far removed from one another seem to belong to a single category.” When Hitler picked the Jew as his devil, he peopled practically the whole world outside Germany with Jews or those who worked for them. “Behind England stands Israel, and behind France, and behind the United States.”
Richard Evans in his book The Coming of the Third Reich discussed one of Hitler’s first speeches after coming to power.
“As so often in his career, Hitler, beginning slowly and quietly so as to secure the rapt attention of his enormous audience, went over the history of the Nazi Party and the alleged crimes of the Weimar Republic since 1919—the inflation, the impoverishment of the peasantry, the rise of unemployment, the ruin of the nation. What would his government do to change this parlous situation? His answer avoided any specific commitments at all. He said grandly that he was not going to make any ‘cheap promises’. Instead, he declared that his programme was to rebuild the German nation without foreign aid, ‘according to eternal laws valid for all time’, on the basis of the people and the soil, not according to ideas of class. Once more, he held up the intoxicating vision of a Germany united in a new society that would overcome the divisions of class and creed that had racked it over the past fourteen years. The workers, he declared, would be freed from the alien ideology of Marxism and led back to the national community of the entire German race. This was a ‘programme of national resurrection in all areas of life.'”
If those words seem somewhat familiar, compare the basic message to that of Trump. Blame your opponents and proclaim a new era without saying how you will actually implement your program, except to build a wall, demonize opponents, threaten allies, praise dictators, and promise that all the problems will be solved by you quickly, without regard to economic, military, diplomatic reality, and people in the hall loved it, “Yes you will! Yes you will! Yes you will!” It was the worship of a would be dictator, and it was most noticeable among supposedly conservative Christians. I wonder how many of them, like German pastor Martin Niemoller who came to regret his support of Hitler, will regret theirs. Niemoller wrote, “I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”
German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer had words for the kind of “truth” that Trump and his supporters are proclaiming. He called it Satanic Truth. Bonhoeffer wrote of it, “It’s essence is that under the semblance of truth it denies everything that is real. It lives upon the hatred of the real and the world that which is created and loved by God. It pretends to be executing the judgment of God…”
Trump’s overwhelming message was that he and he alone could save the country, there was no reference to how the constitutional system of our nation’s government is to work; the checks and balances of the executive branch working with the legislature to pass laws, and the courts to ensure that those laws are enforced fairly, but also to make sure that they are constitutional. Trump’s words show a contempt for that system of government, a system which is not perfect, but which regardless of its flaws is still the last best hope for enlightened civil government, of the people, by the people, and for the people on the face of the earth.
While watching the Trump speech, and and his claim that he alone can make us safe, I was reminded of these words of Abraham Lincoln who sounded a warning about the real defense against tyranny, that is the love of liberty and the preservation of its spirit, for all people, in all lands.
“These [the armed forces] are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, every where…. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises.”
I was frightened last night, not by Trump’s distortion of reality in his dystopian and apocalyptic picture of the United States, I have much more faith and hope in our country and its resiliency than fear mongers like Trump can scare out of me. Instead I was frightened by the fact that a man like him has now captured a major American political party, whose most loyal “Christian” adherents are ready to overthrow our republic and remake it as a dictatorship, and in which all opponents are to be silenced or swept off the streets.
The convention was like watching Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will without her artistry or the Hitlerian charm.