I wrote this for Harrisburg where there’s a strict 850-word limit. In writing it, I found I couldn’t do justice to it in that limit so it became this 1,400 word piece. Harrisburg passed on it at this length so I’m trying to get it placed in as many places as I can. It will appear in the regional political blog, the LuLac Political Letter, this Wednesday.
PLEASE SHARE if you fear Trump as I do. Thanks.
By Bob Quarteroni
How does a nation go mad? How do ordinary, everyday people transform into soulless drones willing to follow the devil into hell?
Specifically, how did the German nation sell its soul to follow perhaps the most evil person who has ever lived into the bowels of depravity unmatched to this day, and hopefully, forever.
A slowly falling apart 70-year-old atheist and existentialist, this question has haunted me my entire life, since I think the only questions worth considering are the ultimate ones: Why are we here? Is there any meaning to all this? If it’s an indifferent universe, what do concepts like good or evil even mean?
In these ruminations, the German question has always loomed large, the purest example of what we generally call “evil” on display for the whole world to see or, in the case of the German people, not see.
How could good quiet people sit by and watch Hitler nearly destroy the world, without rising up and stopping him? Didn’t they know, couldn’t they see, didn’t they care?
Hitler came to power in a not especially unusual scenario: The 1929 Wall Street crash caused huge economic problems and social unrest for Germany. Hitler – a mesmeric public speaker and master of propaganda – capitalized on this unrest, along with the fear of communism, to secure votes.
By the 1932 election Hitler had the largest party in the Reichstag and was thus able to push for the position of Chancellor, which he was given in 1933. After this, he was able to force the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Act, meaning that he was able to govern without their approval.
And that was that. Starting with mere thuggery, he became increasingly evil until he nearly destroyed Western civilization, murdered six million Jews in the Holocaust and led to World War II being the deadliest military conflict in history, with more than 60 million people killed, about 3 percent of the 1940 world population.
All the while the German people were complacent. Hitler was expanding the Fatherland, factories were humming, stores were bulging with goods and if some of those undesirable people were being punished well, they probably deserved it, being so different and all.
The true, day-by-day banality of evil. As Hannah Arendt said, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”
This weighs heavy on me right now, because I believe – truly believe – that the world is seeing the improbable rise of a demigod who may be the most serious danger to democracy – to Western Civilization – in my 70 years on earth: Donald Trump.
And yes, I’m drawing direct comparisons between Hitler and Trump, because they are cut from the same cloth: For their willingness to use the “big lie” to advance their purpose, for their demonization of peoples they consider inferior (Jews then, now all migrants, liberals, “fake news” journalists and “low IQ” black people – among others), for their total disregard for the truth.
Trump takes pages from the Hitler playbook, using lies and distortions as red meat to his increasingly rabid followers, playing fast and loose with the law, showing scant respect for the underpinning of our democratic form of government and increasingly urging his followers to only follow laws and behaviors that he gives his imprimatur to and the hell with the rest.
It’s not just me making these comparisons.
A Nazi party expert said there are similarities between the two men.
Both “bluffed” their way into power, confounding an establishment that did not know what to do but normalize them, according to Hitler biographer Ron Rosenbaum.
Rosenbaum said he shied away from the comparisons before the election for fear of trivializing genocide, but all that changed after the election.
“Now Trump and his minions are in the driver’s seat, attempting to pose as respectable participants in American politics, when their views come out of a playbook written in German,” Rosenbaum told the Independent last year. “The playbook is Mein Kampf.”
Which brings me to my county, Luzerne, which is so in love with Trump that an upcoming book by Ben Bradlee Jr. is called “The Forgotten: How the Abandoned People of One Pennsylvania County Elected Donald Trump and Changed America.”
“Bradlee said while millions of Americans greeted Trump’s election with shock and confusion, for millions of others he offered solutions to problems that had worried them for decades — problems like under-employment, illegal immigration, globalization, excessive government regulations, and the demise of traditional manufacturing jobs,” according to an article in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader.
So is this how the slippery slope begins: An appeal to pocket book issues, to getting the trains to run on time, to punishing “those” people for taking “our” jobs and building fences, real and societal, to keep out those pesky migrants and outsiders who don’t fit in and keep to Luzerne County as white, insular and parochial as it’s been as long as possible (83.1 percent of Luzerne County residents are white, 10.7 percent Hispanic and 3.6 percent Black).
A perfect storm: Take a population seeking fall guys for its crummy employment picture, stagnant wages, fear of Hispanics flooding into Hazleton and the closing of factories and let someone like Trump appeal to their basest instincts, to any viciousness in their hearts, truth be damned.
The good burghers of the country lapped up Trumpism so well that 78.688 of them voted for Trump and only 52,451 for Clinton, this after giving Obama a five-point win in the previous election.
Like good Germans, these good people overlooked Trump’s lies, his meanness, his disdain for the law, his routine disparagement of all types, shapes, colors and persuasions of people, his savaging of the democratic system, his piece-by-piece dismantling of everything from NATO to nuclear arms agreements, to overlooking his lapdog approach to another venal dictator, Putin
Why, because he was one of them, not some pointy-headed Washington type. He understood how much they – well, hated – some things that were going on – all those Hispanics flooding into the southern part of the county, and all the immigrants working for Amazon, the county’s biggest employer, and all those damn governmental rules and hell, even Social Security has stopped going up.
It’s a complex world but not for Trump and his followers. Everything is blindingly clear. We are right and they are wrong. We tell the truth, they are fake news, we are the real Americans, they are the ones who allow us to be cheated in trade wars, we want to build a wall, they want to allow illegals in and then give them welfare and driver’s licenses.
So enthralled with Trump, the blinders were on, so they could conveniently forget about kids in cages, separated families, the tsunami of lies, the goading and the incitement to “lock ‘em up.”
And there’s no buyer’s remorse. His fans packed Wilkes-Barre Township’s Casey Arena for a rally a couple of weeks ago and Trump pumped out his babble of lies and distortions and half-truths and the crowd lapped them up.
They’re all smiles now, but one day they may open their eyes and find it’s too late to stop a madman from fulfilling what he sees as his mission, whether it’s a brutal solution to the migration problem or a walled-off fortress America or shredding of so many laws, rules and regulations that the wheels start coming off the country. And they’d only have themselves to blame.
Is this silly, going too far to compare the legally elected president to the worst madman in history. Perhaps. Perhaps not. The future is writ in water.
Henry Siegman, who had to flee Nazi Germany with his family in 1942, doesn’t think so.
“To those who say that comparisons of Trump’s presidency to Nazi Germany are hyperbolic, I say try telling that to the mothers whose infants have been torn from their arms,” he wrote in the Nation. “A president responsible for such an atrocity exposes a level of cruelty that has no limits. None. Trump has already told us that for him there is little difference between the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and the Americans who took to the streets to condemn their bigotry.
“What is frightening about today’s America is how much the pass that Germans were willing to give Hitler mirrors the pass the Republican Party and too many Americans have been willing to give Trump. As Timothy Egan asked in his New York Times column, ‘when the Trump toxins have gotten deep into the national bloodstream,’ how much will the evil Trump might yet do be seen as acceptable?”
Bob Dylan wrote, “it ain’t dark yet but it’s getting there.”
If Luzerne County is an indicator of the future, we’ve already gotten there.