Or can it? Americans are among the least historically minded of all peoples. Maybe it’s because of our relatively short history or maybe because we are always looking to the future. No matter what the reason, we have a tough time looking at the past for lessons, especially subtle lessons. Like how the German people succumbed to the rule of the Nazis. Did Hitler announce from the start that he intended to kill 6 million Jews and nearly a half million Romani(Gypsies)? Of course not!
Initially Hitler hammered on how ineffective the current Weimar government was in managing the economy and on how they didn’t stand up to their neighbors regarding the unfairness of the World War I settlement. Then he began to identify those German citizens who were making things even worse for their neighbors. At first there were veiled references to the rich moneyed interests but that was quickly dropped and the Jews were specifically identified as the internal enemies who needed to be “removed”. Then, it was said that these enemies needed to be rounded up, incarcerated, and “exported”. No newspapers ever announced that the real destinations were the death camps! Even though it was one of the worst kept secrets in Germany, Hitler’s final solution was never really announced so that all of the good citizens could rest easily with their consciences.
It is almost impossible not to be reminded of Germany when observing the actions and speeches of Donald Trump in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination. Of course the civil environment within Germany was much different than it is now in the United States. They had little history of democratic government and were experiencing a devastating inflation combined with a very ineffective government. On top of that there was a perception that public morality had sunk to extraordinary lows.
Despite the obvious differences, there are equally obvious similarities with the environment that Mr. Trump is attempting to mine, even though of a lesser magnitude. While the environment is not identical, the demagoguery is much too similar. And, what makes Mr. Trump’s actions and words even more worrying is the duplicity with which he engages with the media. How he can call his gatherings a “love fest” in one moment while the videos show him threatening to beat up protestors or wish that the protesters could be handled like they used to be. All this shows a very disturbing propensity to promulgate the “big lie”.
While it is much too soon to imply or even guess where Trump is heading, it is never-the-less past time to call him to account for his incendiary and race-baiting actions and words. Unfortunately, just as with Germany, it is those closest to him, the GOP, that are best positioned to rein him in and it is they who seem least likely to do so! One can only hope that civil courage has not totally disappeared from the Republican Party.