By April of 1932, Adolf Hitler could sense victory coming his way. A presidential election was being held in Germany that month, and the National Socialist party—better known as the Nazis—was on course for an impressive showing with Hitler as its nominee.
There was only one impediment to Hitler and the Nazis gaining control of the Fatherland. The current president, running for re-election, was Paul von Hindenburg. Hindenburg could accurately be compared to George Washington. He was a war hero, revered by the German people to the point of being a cult of personality.
After losing The Great War, later to be known as World War I, the punishment inflicted on Germany put the country into economic and social upheaval as it limped its way into the 1920’s. It was from this chaos that the Communists and the Nazis started anarchic riots in the streets. Hindenburg was compelled to come out of retirement to run for president in 1925. He belonged to no political party. He was seen as the calming bedrock of civility and integrity in a country divided into many extreme political factions. The election was neither a rout nor a coronation, but Hindenburg was chosen to serve a seven year term.
As a military general, Hindenburg surrounded himself with ambitious, aggressive and highly effective aides-de-camp. He copied this formula as the head of state with surprising success. Smaller political parties that were looking to thwart the influence of the extremist Nazis and Communists worked with Hindenburg. The result was that the crippled German economy started to make a modest comeback.
In the 1928 Reichstag elections, the Communists made marginal gains; and the Nazis, who were seen as nothing more than thugs, were barely viable. Germany was keeping its fringe political parties on a leash.
Then came the Wall Street crash in October of 1929. The ripple from that event caused a wave that drowned the economies of every industrialized nation in Europe. Germany, still the scourge of Europe for the not-forgotten war, was once again in financial ruin. The Communists and Nazis acted like two street gangs trying to kill off each other at first sight. Hindenburg’s men could not quell the economic hardship, or the resentment amongst the German people that quickly followed.
In the 1930 Reichstag elections, the Nazis made huge gains. They were no longer just a motley crew of violent kooks easily dismissed by intellectuals and the aristocracy. They rode a surge of anger into an impressive minority of Reichstag seats that could not be ignored. The Nazis were legitimate.
And then came 1932. Hindenburg, in his 80’s and ravaged by exponentially failing physical health and diminished mental faculties, was compelled to run for re-election. For many, the old general was the only hope to stop Hitler and his populist uprising from taking control of Germany. Hindenburg held a strong dislike for Hitler. He agreed to run again and won a second term.
The coming storm of 1932 was unstoppable. The Nazis spent that year successfully fueling the anger of the people against the government. The Nazis held a plurality of seats in the Reichstag, but were badgered by an alliance of smaller parties determined to stop them. Hitler successfully got the banking elite to back him. He sent his Brownshirts into the streets to continue to goad the Communists and other factional enemies into bloody physical altercations. This combination of physical force and the capitulation of the German plutocracy was too much for the dying Hindenburg and his withering coalition to repel.
By the end of January in 1933, Hindenburg ceded much of his political power to Hitler. By the end of 1934, Hindenburg was dead and the Nazis would go on to change the world forever.
Fast forward to 2016. In America, the country whose intervention into World War II undoubtedly halted the Nazis from conquering the whole of Europe, a demagogue has now taken control of one of the two major political parties. His name is Donald Trump.
Trump has used his own cult of personality, which he has cultivated through the genres of entertainment and social media, to bring forth a voting electorate of bigots, xenophobes, misogynists, racists and angry, uneducated rural middle class rubes. Trump utilizes incendiary, coded language to subliminally motivate a misinformed, myopic mob into becoming a political force that would compel Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels to nod his head in appreciation.
Trump plays to the lowest common denominator of the masses. He gleefully woos the worse angels of their nature. His inability to form a cogent plan for dealing with America’s enemies, a shaky economy or to offer a solid set of ideological principles is ignored by this obtuse rabble.
Trump’s followers are mostly white men who believe that minority groups are receiving special privileges that spit in the face of the value of hard work. By supporting Trump, these men believe they can be like the image that Trump markets of himself: a successful, wealthy, politically incorrect god-man with a hot wife and mythological sexual prowess. Listen to the “man on the street” interviews with Trump supporters. They parrot Trump’s insipid platitudes.
“Trump will build the wall.”
“Trump will destroy ISIS.”
“Trump will make America great again. “
This is eerily how the Nazis came to power. Tap into fear. Propagate and feed anger. Organize an uneducated proletariat class to lash out at other groups who are a perceived threat. Utilize violence, or the threat of its coming, to heighten and embolden the justification of extremist measures. Speak in simple terms that are easily understood and regurgitated by the weak-minded. Never apologize.
Hitler was just a man in 1932. He became the epitome of human evil because few made the effort to stop him early. And those who did were not smart enough to figure out how to end his ascension.
Donald Trump is just a man in 2016. Many of you may think it is unfair, or just flat out hyperbolic, to compare his presidential campaign to that of Adolf Hitler in 1932. But no one rolls out of bed and becomes Hitler. At some point in that process, all you have is a candidate for high office who has been lifted up on the shoulders of a dangerously irrational horde. The evil comes after elections, once the madman is imbued with military power.
You never see it coming until it is too late. And then, 80 years later, someone like me will be composing a column entitled “America 2016” that will feature the line, “No one rolls out of bed and becomes Trump…”