After this election was over, it was really my plan to shut up for quite some time, to stop posting anything political on Facebook, and to stay silent while the country settled down. I figured that Hillary Clinton would come in and policy wonk her way through a largely ineffective two years (while at least appointing some very good Justices to the Supreme Court). I figured we’d have more Republican obstructionism and more grid lock, but that would be the worst of it. The 2018 mid-terms probably weren’t going to be so pretty, but we’d cross that bridge when we got there and then hope for the best.
Obviously, that didn’t happen.
Right now we really are a little bit like Germany in 1932 without the storm troopers and before the “Machtergreifung.” What’s a Machtergreifung you ask? The word literally means “power grab,” and it’s how the Nazis came to power in 1933. Let’s review a little bit of history:
Although there were two elections in 1932, the Nazi’s never won a majority of votes in either of them. They were, however, the party that got the most votes. In the federal elections of July 1932 the Nazis got 37.27% of the vote, which is well short of a majority. But it was still the largest party in the Reichstag, with the Socialists, Communists and three smaller parties splitting the rest of the vote. Because the Weimar Republic was a parliamentary system, one needed to find a coalition in order to form a government. The other parties were unable to do that successfully, so another election was called for five months later. In the ensuing federal elections of November 1932, the Nazis lost a small share of voters (33.09%, down from 37.27%) but they were still the largest party in the Reichstag. So Reich President Paul von Hindenburg – yes, the zeppelin was named after him – offered Hitler the chance to try to form a government. Then, early in 1933 and 1934, several things happened that allowed the Nazis to grab power permanently and to become a dictatorial party:
- On February 27, 1933, an unemployed communist bricklayer set a fire in the Reichstag, which the Nazi’s used as “proof” that the communist party was plotting against the German government. The communist party (KPD) was excluded from the Reichstag through some very clever political maneuvering.
- Article 48 and the Enabling Act of 1933 allowed the Chancellor (Hitler) to govern by emergency decree, without the involvement of the Reichstag.
- Reich President Paul von Hindenburg – who was 84 and had been in poor health for quite some time – died on August 2, 1934. Hidenburg was the only political figure left in Germany who could act as a counterweight to the Nazis.
- The “Night of the Long Knives,” from June 30 to July 2, 1934, allowed the Nazis to purge their own party of political opponents of Hitler.
Now, let me say again what I’ve said many times before: I’m not fond of analogizing Trump to Hitler, and I don’t think we’re about to become a fascist regime. There are a lot of things that were true for Germany in 1932 that are not true for the United States today, and at the top of that list is that Hitler had essentially amassed a private army (the “Sturmabteilung,” or “storm troopers”) consisting primarily of unemployed and embittered WWI veterans who had military training and access to their own private arms.
But I can also tell you from personal experience that a lot of Americans feel a smug sense of superiority when it comes to the Germans. How could those people have voted the Nazis into power?
Well, many of the people who were voting for Hitler in 1932 did so because Hilter . . . wait for it . . . promised to make Germany “great” again. Many Germans believed that they had not been defeated on the “field of battle” because Germany essentially lost WWI after being “starved out” by the encircling allies, thereby running out of food and supplies. Then came the Treaty of Versailles – which contemporary historians largely acknowledge was unnecessarily harsh – and then came the hyperinflation which destroyed the wages and savings of ordinary Germans.
While Hitler’s antisemitism, and that of the Nazi party, was on full display before he came to power, it was not the primary reason that many of his supporters voted for the Nazis in 1932. Just as Donald Trump’s racism, misogyny and xenophobia are most likely not the primary reason that so many of his supporters voted for him in 2016.
But it’s there. And just like Hitler’s antisemitism, it should not be ignored.
This, my friends, is why I cannot stay silent for the next four years.
Many of us remember the famous quote from Martin Niemöller, the Lutheran Pastor best known for the poem below. Niemöller was initially a national conservative and a supporter of Adolph Hitler. What swung him around was the “Aryan Paragraph,” incorporated in so much of the legislative activity of the day.
Niemöller eventually wrote this famous poem, which almost everyone has encountered at some point in their lives:
First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me
Because I can’t shut up, I may lose a few friends along the way. A few people have already unfriended me on Facebook, which I think is a shame. I don’t unfriend anyone for their political views, because I actually want to hear what they have to say (even if I disagree with it profoundly). I think they would benefit from hearing what I have to say as well.
In any case, to all my friends who hate political posts, I apologize to them ahead of time.
But, as Martin Luther King famously said: There comes a time when silence is betrayal.
Or as Bishop Desmond Tutu said: If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the oppressor’s side.
So, apologies to my many friends, but I’m not going to shut up as long as we have an administration that is this morally bankrupt in charge of the United States.
 A lot of people don’t know that the Nazi’s never won the popular vote. At the unstable end of the Weimar Republic, the Nazi’s won 36.5% if the vote in July of 1932, and only 33.6% of the vote in the November elections five months later. But still, Hitler was offered the chance to build a government after all the other attempts at coalition had failed.
 They were able to get the votes for this because the Communists had already been excluded from the Reichstag.
 I don’t think we’re heading towards a fascist government. All the evidence suggests that we’re going to be like Italy under Berlusconi for the next four years. What we are going to have is the very overt celebration of the race haters and the anti-feminists and the queer-haters, with the tacit if not manifest support of the President of the United States and his administration. That’s bad enough.
 And it should also be acknowledged that for a sizable minority of the German population, it was the primary reason. Conversely, for a number of Americans, Trump’s racism, misogyny and xenophobia was the primary reason they supported Trump. This also cannot be ignored.