A Bloodless, Bloody Coup
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.