Editorial: It couldn’t happen here

Of the many alarming things about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, his sense of entitlement and infallibility and his embrace of totalitarian authority should worry all Americans, and particularly those who are quick to say they cherish their freedom from big government. There is, after all, no more oppressive form of government than a dictatorship that lords over its people.
Never mind that Trump lies about almost every issue he brings up, uses insults to demean opponents, and bullies his way to never-ending media attention. Never mind that he’s proud of not paying income taxes, or stiffing workers and businesses for their services, or filing for bankruptcy because he can legally screw others (including taxpayers) and get away with it. Never mind that he idolizes Russian President Vladimir Putin, while unwittingly putting our NATO allies in danger.
Even more disturbing is when Trump emphasizes that what the nation really needs today is tougher “law and order” from police units and the nation’s top brass because, and here’s what he leaves unsaid, with that power he’d set things right.
With that power he’d clean up the streets and make America safe again; he’d wipe out the drug dealers and kill just the bad guys. He’d build a wall, make Mexico pay for it and send the immigrants back where they came from. He’d confiscate Iraq’s oil, Libya’s too, if he could; he’d demolish a military ship of another country at the slightest hint of aggression; he’d blast the bejesus out of ISIS, and he’ll tell China (in his gruffest snarl) to play fair on trade or else — all the while maintaining that he knows more about world and military affairs than our generals and the state department put together, times two. He does, after all, have “good judgment” and “perfect temperament.”
One might think such statements would alarm his supporters, but not so among true believers. On the contrary, they continue to eat it up. They are nonplused by his nonsensical statements, ignore his obsessions with power and his infallibility, and ignore the possibility of electing someone who could usurp our democracy and turn Americans against each other: white against black, white against Latino, white against Muslim, and those in power against anyone they might consider inferior.
Back in 1935, American author Sinclair Lewis wrote a satirical novel about a similar political time. Titled “It Can’t Happen Here,” the novel describes the rise of a populist U.S. senator, Berzelius ‘Buzz’ Windrip, who is elected to the presidency after promising, in today’s parlance, “to make America Great Again.” He proposes drastic economic and social reforms as a way to reassert the nation’s international dominance.
It’s a sham, of course, and in the manner of Adolf Hitler and the SS, President Windrip imposes totalitarian rule with the help of a paramilitary force, which puts down the inevitable rebellion with brutality. Those accused of crimes against the government, according to a brief passage in Wikipedia, “appear before kangaroo courts presided over by ‘military judges.’ Despite these dictatorial (and ‘quasi-draconian’) measures, a majority of Americans approve of them, seeing them as necessary but painful steps to restore American power. Others, those less enthusiastic about the prospect of corporatism, reassure themselves that fascism cannot ‘happen here,’ hence the novel’s title.”
For those who don’t know the story (and of course there is much more to it, including a Vermont editor as protagonist), Windrip’s supporters finally realize the promised greatness was all bluster and the country is worse off than ever. Windrip is ousted, the coup soon crumbles, civil war ensues, and the rebellion prepares for a bloody struggle as the book ends.
It is political satire. Total fiction. Never happened.
But then there is this.
In the Washington’s Post Daily 202 online journal this Wednesday was a tease of a book review of biographer Volker Ullrich’s “Hitler, an Ascent from ‘Dunderhead’ to Demagogue.”
In the book Ullrich pursues this fundamental question: “How did Adolf Hitler — described by one eminent magazine editor in 1930 as a ‘half-insane rascal,’ a ‘pathetic dunderhead,’ a ‘nowhere fool,’ a ‘big mouth’ — rise to power in the land of Goethe and Beethoven? What persuaded millions of ordinary Germans to embrace him and his doctrine of hatred? How did this ‘most unlikely pretender to high state office’ achieve absolute power in a once democratic country and set it on a course of monstrous horror?”
Biographer Volker Ullrich, as noted in the review by Michiko Kakutani, explores some of the characteristics that led to Hitler’s rise to power, including these five:
• “Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who ‘only loved himself’ — a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization…”
• “Hitler was known, among colleagues, for a ‘bottomless mendacity’ that would later be magnified by a slick propaganda machine that used the latest technology (radio, gramophone records, film) to spread his message.”
• “Hitler increasingly presented himself in messianic terms, promising ‘to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness,’ though he was typically vague about his actual plans.”
• Hitler’s ascension was aided and abetted by the naïveté of domestic adversaries who failed to appreciate his ruthlessness and tenacity, and by foreign statesmen who believed they could control his aggression. Early on, revulsion at Hitler’s style and appearance … led some critics to underestimate the man and his popularity, while others dismissed him as a celebrity, a repellent but fascinating ‘evening’s entertainment.’”
• “Politicians … suffered from the delusion that the dominance of traditional conservatives in the cabinet would neutralize the threat of Nazi abuse of power and ‘fence Hitler in.’”
Reasonable people might draw political parallels.
But, no, it couldn’t happen here.
Angelo S. Lynn

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