Can America Avoid the Fate of the Weimar Republic?

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”  - George Santayana

Over the last four years, the speeches, twitter outflow, and actions of President Donald Trump and the Republican members of Congress bear ominous comparisons to the campaign by Adolph Hitler and the German National Socialists (NAZIS) to establish one party rule, concentrate power in a single leader, and destroy the democratic government of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1930s.

Like Hitler, Trump has claimed that the nation and its people had been victimized economically and politically by other nations, prior governments, and opposition parties, and that all prior treaties and agreements should be nullified and re-negotiated.  Like Hitler, Trump has claimed that the nation is threatened by terrorists and conspirators, readily identified by their racial or political background, and that these threats must be controlled and eliminated (Jews in one case, Muslims and Immigrants in the other, and political opponents in both).  Like Hitler, Trump blames prior governments for the nation’s problems, and therefore these governments, and the programs they initiated, must be completely nullified.  Like Hitler, Trump asserts that employees of the government, not loyal to him will be removed.  Like Hitler, Trump asserts that he, and he alone, will correct all the nation’s problems and, therefore, all power must rest in his hands, and everyone must pledge loyalty to him and the party in power.

I am not suggesting that the political objectives of Trump and Hitler are the same.   Trump’s political goals, if he has any, are focused wholly on his own personal and financial aggrandizement (“The Art of the Deal”) and do not approach the unthinkable and evil intentions Hitler formulated in his book “Mein Kampf” (my struggle).  Indeed, Trump is not totally unresponsive to differing points of view, having opportunistically flip-flopped between liberal and conservative positions throughout his life.  He is especially responsive to anything that will gain him increased public attention and accolades.

While there may be no similarity in Trump’s or Hitler’s political goals, there are similarities in their personalities – a vulnerability to manipulation by others and an addiction to the acquisition and abuse of power.  They have both possessed extraordinary egos and degrees of narcissism that engender an insatiable need for public recognition and a constant search for ways to obtain that recognition.  Both have also displayed an ability to “perform”, to “entertain”, to connect with those who felt alienated,  ignored, unappreciated, taken advantage of, and to offer them whatever they wanted to hear.

Given Adolph Hitler’s career as a corporal in the Austro-Hungarian army in World War One, an unsuccessful artist, and a house painter, he shared the frustration and anger of many of his fellow countrymen as they had to contend with military defeat, the economic distress in Germany in the 1920s, and the world-wide economic Depression that began in 1929.  Hitler’s genius at organizing public extravaganzas is legend.  However, his egotism and narcissism, combined with his lack of knowledge, training, experience, and moral compass, made it impossible for him to function within a democratic system.  He could not work with others.  He could only be in charge and demand total loyalty. 

Unfortunately, early in Hitler’s rise to power, when there was opportunity to control the Nazi party, the country’s leadership and too many members of the Reichstag (the German Parliament), chose to be silent or ally with Hitler to further their own agendas. Many were following war hero, Paul Von Hindenburg, who was re-elected President in hopes, by many who voted for him, that he would control the Nazis, but authoritarian conservative Von Hindenburg authorized Hitler and his minority NAZI party to form a government after winning only a one-third plurality in the 1933 election..  

The few members of the Reichstag who protested were ignored and eventually eliminated. The Nazis consolidated their control, removed all opposition, and abolished the republic. Von Hindenburg’s belief in an authoritarian government proved fatal, the opportunity for German legislators and leaders to recognize the dangers and alter history slipped by, and the world descended into a disastrous cataclysm.

British historian, Lord John Dalberg-Acton, famously observed that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Legislators who passively relinquish power to leaders must accept responsibility for the inevitable corruption that they enable.  The leaders of the Weimar Republic, who allowed Hitler’s egotism, narcissism, and ignorance to destroy the republic, Europe, and countless millions of human lives, are as much responsible for that catastrophe as Hitler himself.

Americans would be well advised to carefully consider what happened in Germany in 1933, and what has transpired so far within our American democracy since Trump took office.  President Trump’s sole criterion for selecting cabinet members and agency leaders is their pledge of personal loyalty to him, not to the United States, or the Constitution.  His definition of treason is not an act against the country, but rather a violation of personal loyalty to him, and he has vindictively destroyed the careers and removed from office numerous dedicated and distinguished public servants who chose to honor their oath to protect the constitution by pointing out his repeated violations of that oath, his ill-advised decisions, and his corrupt practices.

As a result, The Republican controlled Senate, the Justice Department, the State Department, the intelligence agencies, and other departments of the federal government have all been brought under the control of Donald Trump and his loyal subordinates.   Any members of those agencies, no matter their professional record or service to the country, if not deemed loyal to him personally, have been summarily fired and their careers vindictively ended. He has vilified members of the press, newspapers, radio and television networks and other media who raise questions or report any news which he perceives as critical of him personally.  He promotes bizarre theories about conspiracies against him, voter fraud, and political opponents that are blatantly false but used to extend his control over the government, the armed forces, and the entirety of our democracy. 

He has also presented himself as informed about and in control of the fight against the coronavirus epidemic when, in fact, his ignorant, contradictory, and untruthful statements are in evidence daily.  He continuously boasts about his personal leadership in the fight against the coronavirus, yet he constantly pivots and blames others, Governors, the States, the CDC, the Chinese, Corporations, Barack Obama, etc., for his failed leadership in planning and executing strategies to address the epidemic.  

The continuing willingness of the leadership of the Republican Party to support Donald Trump represents a replay of the tragic folly of the Weimar Republic legislators who surrendered absolute power to Adolf Hitler.  This brazen assault on our democracy should awaken all Americans to the fact that it is not just Donald Trump that we should fear, but also those Republican members of Congress who took an oath to protect the Constitution and the Republic, then betrayed the American people for their own individual political survival and the seizing of power by any means. 

If we are to avoid the disastrous consequences that befell the Weimar Republic, the American People must not only remove Donald Trump from office, but also those members of Congress who put party before country, refusing to protect the Constitution and the United States from an ill-qualified, ethically corrupt, and psychologically incompetent president. 

 

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