yard sign saying "hate won't make America great"

Imagine you were living in the early 1930s in Germany. You saw what was happening with a hardcore right-wing group that used hate, and even sometimes violence, to achieve its political goals. There were elections coming. But you decided not to vote.

It just wasn’t your thing.

Plus, you “knew” the rabble-rousing right-wingers were just so unlikely to win, your vote didn’t matter. If you followed the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, you might know about it—and know that technically, you would have been right: your vote wasn’t needed. The right-wingers did not win the election. But…

But we’re talking about Germany. And while Germany was a democratic republic—just as the United States is—there was a minor difference. Germany’s government was parliamentary.

Basically, Hitler didn’t win those [elections] outright. In the German system nobody won outright. It was always going to be a coalition. But what he did do was, he got a huge minority of the vote, more than any other parties by a million miles. It was a landslide victory in that sense.

And while the right-wing Nazis only won 30 percent of the vote, increasing that to 37 percent in a run-off, this essentially drove the “winning” party, led by World War I hero Hindenberg, to form an alliance with them. The rest of what happened is perhaps no longer well-known history, but the bottom line is that Hitler initially used primarily completely legal means to raise himself to the point where he was able to seize power. The last completely legal aspect was the 1933 vote:

In the last parliamentary elections of the Weimar Republic, in March 1933, the Nazis polled 44% of the vote – not enough for a majority but enough to squash any future political resistance.

It is well worth pointing out here that Hitler did not even care for his own supporters, the Nazis, whom he used to gain power. Afterwards, he turned on them, having 5,000 of them murdered when he was done with them.

Hitler’s initial rise to power until then had been, for the most part, a bloodless coup. Appeasement and capitulation—”waiting to see,” I guess, is how they would have put it, because they believed they could control him—caused those in power to try to cozy up to Hitler. To ride his coattails, as it were. And, after all, Hitler was going to make Germany great again.

Until perhaps the Night of the Long Knives, there was a chance to stop Hitler. The problem was that not enough people understood what was happening.

At a local level in time people think things are fine, then things rapidly spiral out of control until they become unstoppable, and we wreak massive destruction on ourselves. For the people living in the midst of this it is hard to see happening and hard to understand. To historians later it all makes sense and we see clearly how one thing led to another.

Perhaps a larger number of people had some understanding—and tried to stop it—but their numbers were too small, and too many thought their complaints overblown. And, of course, eventually most of them were silenced. The initial rise to power was thus, as I said, largely bloodless, until it wasn’t.

There is, of course, no comparison between 1930s Germany and the United States of America in 2016-2017. Nobody campaigned on a platform of hate, pandering to those who wanted someone other than themselves to blame for what was happening to them economically. Nobody blamed the Jews, Mexicans, or Muslims. And nobody lied to their supporters in order to gain their support, and then immediately began backtracking on the most outrageous of the promises upon obtaining power. There has been—at least as of this writing—no Night of Long Knives. Republicans who initially stood against this electoral college’s winning candidate for the Presidency, speaking out against his most outrageous ideas, haven’t started to cozy u—well, okay. You know everything I just said is bullshit: those things did, indeed, happen. My own rendition was in the category of alternative facts. Maybe there’s a slight similarity, after all.

But this coup has been completely bloodless. Paul Ryan—who raised hackles with his opposition to Trump—is still alive, and in power. The Constitution still stands. Nobody is illegally rounding anyone up, illegally holding them in airports, illegally refusing them access to lawyers. Unless you count this:

The lawyers said they had not been allowed to meet with their clients. “Who is the person we need to talk to?” one of the lawyers, Mark Doss, a supervising attorney at the International Refugee Assistance Project, asked a border agent. “Call Mr. Trump,” said the agent, who declined to identify himself.

Well, but even though Trump’s orders regarding immigrants were signed on International Holocaust Memorial Day—because apparently, he hasn’t forgotten, even if everyone else has—it is different from Nazi Germany: these people aren’t Jews. And nobody is being literally gassed to death; what you see now, if you see at all, is merely gaslighting. And judges are still forcing them to follow the law, and Trump’s Troops might be complying. Maybe.

And me? I’m clearly over-reacting. There are no parallels here to anything anyone has ever seen before. Let’s just give the guy a chance. As long as everything is done completely legally, let’s wait and see.

And you? You just carry on. Let things run their course. Don’t stand against it. Stop resisting—don’t even whisper it. Most importantly, keep on not being politically involved; above all else, don’t vote.

Maybe that way, this time, it really will be a completely bloodless coup.

Until it isn’t.

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  1. I called Trump, Hitler light. All the bad ideas without the bloodshed, well at least right up until 1/6/21.

  2. I’m extremely concerned that as his rhetoric progressed to a point where he posted a video of one of his supporters shouting “White Power!” on Twitter, and voices explicit white supremacist grievances at his rallies, and a lot of people are still fine with him. There was a time when it was possible to believe a good person still could somehow, mistakenly or based on ignorance, justify supporting him. That’s not true anymore. It’s not just dog whistles anymore. He became an open white supremacist, period. And yet still, following that, he has enough support to put run a presidential campaign again.

    I was speaking to a friend of mine who grew up in the south, a guy whose political and social views are totally right on. But he has family who are ardent Trump supporters. I recently was telling him I believe that simply not rejecting Trump at this point is morally equivalent to supporting white supremacy, because “all that’s required for evil to triumph is good people to do nothing.” And if he wins again, it’s not going to matter if it’s because his supporters loved his racism, or because they just didn’t mind it enough to vote against him for it. The end result is the same so I see no need to draw a distinction.

    My friend strongly disagreed. He thinks it’s possible to still support Trump even after he explicitly promoted white supremacist views, and, also, still be a good person.

    And I realized, if this friend, who is smart and socially aware and totally right on in most ways, and who personally loathes Trump as much as I do, feels that it’s still possible to support Trump and still be a good person, then we are in a lot of trouble, because a lot of people are going to have absolutely no ethical qualms at all about putting an open white supremacist and antisemite in the White House again, or supporting anything else he tells them to. Scary.

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