Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
There are times that is terrifying to be a historian who has specialized in the study of tyrannical regimes especially on the anniversaries of significant events that changed the course of nations. One of those was the Reichstag Fire the 85th anniversary of which is tomorrow, February 27th. The fire was set by Marinus (Rinus) van der Lubbe, a Dutch Communist who was acting alone. Hitler, backed by the aging and doddering President Paul Von Hindenburg was given power to suspend constitutional rights indefinitely by acting under Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution through the Order of the President of the Reich for the Protection of People and State. I will discuss that tomorrow.
Ever since my undergraduate study working under Dr. Helmut Huessler at California State University Northridge I have studied the transition of society from democracy to dictatorship. While my studies then and ever since focused on the rise of National Socialism in Germany, the fact is that what happened in Germany was not unique, it is a part of the human condition and the people of any country can find themselves under the foot of a dictatorship if the conditions are right. I believe that conditions in the United States have never been more ripe for the establishment of an authoritarian regime, possibly even a dictatorship, than they are today.
When I read through the text of President Trump’s speech at CPAC and the response of the NRA to the massacre in Parkland Florida shuddered. They were the words that an autocrat would use, and the vehemence of the CPAC crowd, which just a few years ago prided itself as being the intellectual bastion of conservatism. Speakers and panel members who dared to question the movement were heckled, jeered, and threatened. Mona Charen, a long time conservative who had worked for both William Buckley and Ronald Reagan, had to be escorted out by security officers concerned for her safety.
I realize that despite chaos that is engulfing the House of Trump; despite more and more of his advisors being indicted by the Muller investigation of the Trump campaign and family connections to Russia, the more I become more concerned that the unthinkable will happen and something will occur that will allow the President to seize power under the pretext of national security; most likely a war, or a major terrorist attack, using existing National Security Executive Orders dealing with the continuity of government functions as a result of catastrophic emergency. The latest of which is National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive (National Security Presidential Directive NSPD 51/Homeland Security Presidential Directive HSPD-20) of 4 May 2007 which defines a catastrophic emergency as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.”
I believe that if or when one or the other happen that the Trump regime will use it to suspend civil rights and liberties and maybe even suspend Congress and the courts in the name of security and under existing provisions. Sadly, I think that in such a case that very few people would resist such a takeover. Of course the 35% or so of people that would support him as he said, even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue would be at the forefront probably even using extrajudicial means to apprehend, persecute, or kill anyone suspected of disloyalty. But I also believe that many other people would follow all because they are afraid and desire security more than freedom.
Now the psychological preparation for such an event is not all Trump’s doing; for the last three decades many of those that now support him, especially the leaders of the Religious Right, Fox News, and radio and internet demagogues have prepared the ground for his rise.
Dr. Timothy Snyder, the historian from Yale has warned us in his book On Tyranny. He noted:
“Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of political parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. DO NOT FALL FOR IT.”
Human beings are the one constant in history, and human nature is very consistent when it comes to how we respond when under attack. One only has to think of the fear that followed the 9-11 attacks and the willingness of people to give the government vast new powers. Those included The Patriot Act and an authorization for the use of military force against Al Qaida which has not been updated or supplemented since 2001, and which has been used for operations around the world which are completely unconnected to the initial authorization.
I believe that the chances of such an event occurring have gone up exponentially. Part of this is because the President and the Executive branch have not filled many critical ambassadorships, as well as thousands of key billets in the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security.
This is a very dangerous time and every day I wake up wondering if this will be the day that our Republic as we knew it dies. I do not know if this will be the result of a war a major terror attack, or even an unexpected financial crisis, but as things spiral out of control I cannot shake the feeling that we are going to have our Reichstag Fire moment, and that we will not rise to the challenge. Instead I think that most Americans will give up freedom in the name of security simply because that is human nature and has been demonstrated throughout history on every continent. James Madison noted:
“The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”
Now is a time that we must all be awake and aware of what is going on in our country and the world. The storm clouds are building and we most be cognizant of the times or be engulfed and overwhelmed when the unthinkable arrives. That may not be pleasant to contemplate, but it is necessary.
I would like to believe that I will be proven wrong and honestly I want to be proven wrong because I do not want our nation to have to endure war, terrorism, or the rule of a tyrannical despot backed by fanatical and heavily armed followers.
So, until tomorrow I wish you a good day,