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Johnston County is a solid Republican county that, I assume, gives President Trump its loyal party support. May I be so bold as to offer an alternative and historic perspective of this mortal human being?
As a student of history, especially that of the German Third Reich, and having visited a Holocaust memorial museum and on-sight relics of Hitler’s concentration camps in Eastern Europe, I see signs of a caving into and even embracing a creeping form of authoritarianism in our nation. Democracy is slow and messy. Authoritarianism is swift and “clean.”
We have just witnessed the U.S. Senate, controlled by the Republican Party, give President Trump carte blanc to act as he chooses in all matters, foreign and domestic. This recent action has a parallel in history. In Germany, it was the Enabling Act of 1933.
What follows are condensed excerpts from “ ‘1933,’ or What Hitler’s Ascendancy Teaches Us About Authoritarianism,” an article by Jurgen von Mahs in Public Seminar. His writing, available online at publicseminar.org, gives us all food for thought.
• Exploiting Systemic Weaknesses: The ascendancy of both Hitler and Trump was in large part facilitated by the systemic weaknesses of the German and American political systems, particularly by rising popular disenchantment with the political status quo.
• Political Polarization and Communication Breakdown: Prior to the 1932 and 1933 elections in Germany, and prior to 2016’s contentious presidential election in the United States, similar political polarizations had been building.
• Populism and Economic Nationalism: Exploiting the fears and discontent within the political mainstream, then, was a convenient political tool used by both Hitler and Trump to shore up their ascendancy to power and their justification for authoritarian policies.
• Foreign Policy Distractions and Imperialism: As Max Weber explained long ago, the tactic of forging internal legitimacy by deliberately constructing foreign threats is one of the oldest tricks in the political playbook.
• Race Baiting: Both countries — Germany and the United States — have long histories of racial discrimination and exploitation of ethnic, racial or religious minorities. Race baiting has always been a convenient political tool used to galvanize and manipulate ethnic or religious minorities, be it through anti-Semitism in 1930s Germany or racism, nativism and anti-Islamism in the United States.
• Elite Complicity: Funding, establishing, and maintaining an authoritarian regime within a previously democratic society costs money and requires the collaboration of economic elites.
• Dismantling the System: For any authoritarian regime to take hold once in power, it is necessary to dismantle the existing political and judicial systems.
• Controlling Information and Disdain for the Free Press: Ultimately, the most important political tool of any authoritarian regime is the control of information.
• Anti-Intellectualism and Religious Pandering: Another obstacle toward the establishment of authoritarian regimes is intellectual and academic opposition.
• Personality Cult and Character Traits of a Tyrant: It is frightening to think that Trump is strikingly similar to several tyrants of the 20th century in his self-obsession, narcissism, paranoia and unhealthy need to be admired.
No, I am not saying Trump is another Hitler.
However, given the similarities in personality traits of 20th century authoritarian leaders, one cannot deny who and what Trump is. And he will do what authoritarian leaders do: milk all he can get out of chaos, division and lies, not to mention fire, banish and attack anyone who dares challenge him.
When any political leader tells you, “I am a stable genius,” run as hard and fast as you can away from him.
Ned Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker and former executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.