I have been watching bits and pieces of the Republican National Convention and try as I might as a man who spent thirty-two years as a faithful Republican to find anything redeeming in it, I couldn’t. In fact, it troubled me more that I ever imagined that it could. If I wasn’t a historian with a tremendous background in both the history of Imperial Germany, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi Era; not to mention the American Civil War era, I probably would be less frightened. If I were not a historian I would probably just brush the words and actions that I have seen in Cleveland off as hyperbole with little real merit. But I cannot use ignorance as an excuse to ignore what I see, and try as I might I cannot get the images of the Nuremberg Nazi Party rallies out of my mind as I watch what is going on in Cleveland.
Though Trump won the delegate count by a slight plurality, dissenting delagates were brushed aside in procedural votes, any who oppose him in the GOP are now considered traitors and are scorned. Many prominent GOP leaders, including George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush are not attending this fiasco, nor is the last GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Likewise, some 18 GOP Senators and hundreds of other GOP leaders. Leading Republicans, including elected officials and pundits with pedigrees that go back to Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan are leaving the party, and with good reason; but to Trump and his stalwarts they are all traitors. For those who don’t remember Hitler purged the Nazi Party of men who did not agree with him as well.
The images shown at the convention hall were designed to appeal to the basist of human nature: hatred of the other, using faux patriotism, the image of military might, and the tales of martyrs. Coming from a man who has openly and notoriously mocked military personnel and veterans; a man who compared his time in a private military pre-school to be superior to actual military service; and a man who used every method imaginable to avoid the draft in Vietnam, the display was sickening. A man that openly mocks military personnel using them for his political and personal gain.
The speeches thus far have been angry diatribes which demonized Democrats, especially Hillary Clinton using charges that have been continually refuted. Peaceful Black Lives Matter Demonstraters were vilified as being responsible for the recent assassinations of police officers, when the men who killed them wanted nothing to do with the BLM movement or working peacefully with authorities to deal with a very real problem. The answer of Trump and his supporters to these to all problems is to go back and echo the words of anti-immigrant Know Nothing movement of the 1840s and 1850s, or the answers of those who instituted Jim Crow, and those who passed the anti-Chinese laws of the 1880s-1940s.
But now these same xenophobic ideas are turned against Americans of color, or Americans of the Muslim faith; and let us not even talk about the radically anti-woman and anti-gay measures in the party platform. One speaker openly proclaimed that President Obama is a Muslim, repeating a lie as old as Obama’s nomination in 2008; a lie that Trump was one of the biggest publicists, and for which he has never apologize. Interestingly enough, the day the convention began, Iowa GOP Congressman Steve King, a long time Trump supporter, openly spoke of the superiority of the white race on live television.
Listening to some of the speakers and reading their words I was reminded of the Nuremberg party rallies where Jews, Social Democrats, organized labor, and peoplewho were called subhuman, were the target of intensely violent rhetoric, which once the Nazis came to power was transformed into action. Like today the foreign policy blunders that led to a war that broke the nation were not attributed to the imperialistic nationalists who helped bring about the disaster. Instead the fault for World War One was not blamed on the Kaiser and militarists, but those who were not responsible for bringing about the war, and who were saddled with dealing with the mess when those who caused it ran away from their responsibilities. Today Trump and his minions demonize President Obama and Hillary Clinton for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and four security contractors in a rapidly evolving crisis that only lasted 13 hours, but ignore any sort of inquiry or justice for the 4500 military deaths in the Iraq War; a war that was planned for over a year and justified by lies. Likewise, the lists of similarities in style and substance between Trump and the Nazi movement are too numerous to mention, and the similarities in the political climate between the late Weimar of 1930 to January of 1933 and today is frightening. Historian Richard Evans wrote in his book The Coming of the Third Reich:
In the increasingly desperate situation of 1930, the Nazis managed to project an image of strong, decisive action, dynamism, energy and youth that wholly eluded the propaganda efforts of the other political parties, with the partial exception of the Communists. The cult of leadership which they created around Hitler could not be matched by comparable efforts by other parties to project their leaders as the Bismarcks of the future. All this was achieved through powerful, simple slogans and images, frenetic, manic activity, marches, rallies, demonstrations, speeches, posters, placards and the like, which underlined the Nazis’ claim to be far more than a political party: they were a movement, sweeping up the German people and carrying them unstoppably to a better future. What the Nazis did not offer, however, were concrete solutions to Germany’s problems, least of all in the area where they were most needed, in economy and society. More strikingly still, the public disorder which loomed so large in the minds of the respectable middle classes in 1930, and which the Nazis promised to end through the creation of a tough, authoritarian state, was to a considerable extent of their own making. Many people evidently failed to realize this, blaming the Communists instead, and seeing in the violence of the brown-uniformed Nazi stormtroopers on the streets a justified, or at least understandable reaction to the violence and aggression of the Red Front-Fighters’ League.
Voters were not really looking for anything very concrete from the Nazi Party in 1930. They were, instead, protesting against the failure of the Weimar Republic. Many of them, too, particularly in rural areas, small towns, small workshops, culturally conservative families, older age groups, or the middle-class nationalist political milieu, may have been registering their alienation from the cultural and political modernity for which the Republic stood, despite the modern image which the Nazis projected in many respects. The vagueness of the Nazi programme, its symbolic mixture of old and new, its eclectic, often inconsistent character, to a large extent allowed people to read into it what they wanted to and edit out anything they might have found disturbing. Many middle-class voters coped with Nazi violence and thuggery on the streets by writing it off as the product of excessive youthful ardour and energy. But it was far more than that, as they were soon to discover for themselves.
Trump presents a vague program and changes his positions so often that it is a wonder how he can say them and keep a straight face. But the very real anger of the voters that he is channeling doesn’t demand answers, they don’t want anything concrete from him, with the possible exception of a wall across the southern border with Mexico. But to many of Trump’s supporters today, like many Germans in 1932, a real program, real answers, and any kind of ideological consistently, economic philosophy, or understanding of foreign policy do not matter.
But even worse from the perspective of a Christian is the fact that to many people, Trump’s hedonistic lifestyle, three divorces; his basic lack of concern and empathy for anyone other than himself; as well as his propensity to use people until they are of no use to him and throw them away; not to mention his lack of business ethics, four corporate bankruptcies and his vainglorious narcissism which in former times would have lost vote of conservative Christians, are now ignored.
In fact a plethora of prominent leaders of the Religious Right, men like James Dobson and James Robison; men who Barry Goldwater despised, have come to embrace and support the Trump candidacy. The last poll I saw estimated that four of five people who call themselves evangelical or conservative Christians plan to vote for Trump, and mock his Deomcratic and Republican opponents. A “Christian” pastor used his benediction to do what never has been done at any major American political party’s convention. He called the other party and their candidate “the enemy,” and linked Trump’s vision to that of God. It was both blasphemous and anti-American all at once.
The whole first day and today’s continued rancor is frightening to behold. Ronald Reagan would be rolling in his grave and Abraham Lincoln would condemn what we have seen in the same way that he condemned the Know Nothings in the 1850s.
As a former Republican, as a man who worked for the Ford campaign before I could vote; a man who voted for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and both George H.W., and George W. Bush, this is not about partisan politics, but I am glad that I left the FOP when I did when I came home from Iraq in 2008.
This is about telling the truth about a campaign that I could never have believed in a million years that would be occurring in our country. That my friends scares the hell of me. While I don’t believe that Trump will win the election, the thought that he has taken control of the GOP and is in the process of destroying it, bothers me, as it should you, and frankly he doesn’t care. He has no loyalty to anyone other than himself, and all of us, including his most loyal followers are just stepping stones; just like the German people were to Hitler, and they followed him to hell.
Anyway, that is enough for today. Nothing like spending hours in doctors and military pharmacy waiting rooms with screaming kids and GOP convention coverage to get the blood flowing. I can use a beer or four tonight.
Have a great day,