The alt-right has borrowed exclusively from the Nazi playbook and the ramifications are just now starting to manifest.
You are not the party of Lincoln. No. Not anymore. Not by a long shot.
Lincoln’s virtues and values were rooted in the notion that all men are to be given a fair shot and at the same time, in the knowledge that men are greedy and hungry for power. He warned that the wrong kind of men—charismatic charlatans who stumbled upon that power—could be contorted, permanently, by it. And, what’s worse, they could take the nation down with them.
Lincoln said that government, even our own great democracy, is ever fragile because of the susceptibility to one man succumbing to the allure of wielding ultimate power.
He even made a speech about it, using the metaphor of temperance—the force of will to not drink—to ebb the drunkenness that comes with power.
More than a century and a half ago, he warned, clearly, what his party or any party could become if not left in check: Of our political revolution of ’76, we all are justly proud. It has given us a degree of political freedom, far exceeding that of any other nation of the earth. In it the world has found a solution of the long mooted problem, as to the capability of man to govern himself. In it was the germ which has vegetated, and still is to grow and expand into the universal liberty of mankind. But with all these glorious results, past, present, and to come, it had its evils too. It breathed forth famine, swam in blood and rode in fire; and long, long after, the orphan’s cry, and the widow’s wail, continued to break the sad silence that ensued. These were the price, the inevitable price, paid for the blessings it bought.
I think on these words especially today when I see the absolute corruption and absolute power grab that Lincoln’s party is inflicting upon the country. Make no mistake, on the cusp of 2017, Republicans more closely resemble the German Workers’ Party of 1919, the precursor to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi) party.
Yes, before it was a specious comparison, maybe reactionary or laughable. But now that the pending Trump administration is beginning to take shape, the parallels of the origins of Nazi Germany and today’s Republican party are uncanny…and so so so very close to sounding the warning siren Lincoln sent out so many years ago.
The German Workers’ Party was a socialist movement started by Anton Drexler, a far-right political leader in the 1930s. In 1918, Drexler hooked up with Karl Harrer, a journalist, to form the party that would appeal to a working class and attempted to debase the government at every turn, create an enemy within and spread fact-free propaganda—eventually using that power to co-opt functioning government.
The party’s nationalist and antisemitic rhetoric attracted one Adolph Hitler, himself with no formal education or career prospects. In the fall of 1919, when Hitler argued against a known professor at the Sterneckerbräu beer hall in Munich, both Karrer and Drexler noticed Hitler’s charisma and oratory gifts. Hitler soon took over the German Workers’ Party and in 2020, in attempts to give the party a more broad appeal, it was renamed National Socialist German Workers’ Party.
By 1933, the party had become anti-Marxist and a direct opposition to the democratic Weimar Republic government. The Nazis espoused extreme nationalism and anti-semitism. Hitler, previously a fringe voice, was eventually appointed Germany’s chancellor in January 1933 and the back room slamming through of the Enabling Act gave him dictatorial power without legal opposition.
Notice any parallels?
The alt-right or white right or neo Nazis or white supremacists or nativists in this country have followed, to the letter, the German Workers’ Party rise to power, all the way down to getting a former journalist white supremacist (Steve Bannon) to help lead the charge. As with Hitler, in Trump they found an uneducated but charismatic leader.
The oratory devices Hitler used were not always the lashing out against the masses clips you see on the History Channel. In fact, he was mostly very inclusive and, like Trump, disarming and charming. He also deployed a number of unifying rhetoric tropes that Trump has mastered.
- Common enemy: The symbol of evil that we have to unite against. Trump and his surrogates have many common enemies: Muslims, Mexicans, women, gays, Jews, basically anyone of color, anyone with a disability, anyone (a sketch comedy show, the cast of a hit play) who speaks out against him. To promote social cohesion within his ranks he uses this fictitious imagery to coalesce his followers for an often ambiguous but very, very important cause. #maga
- Unifying voice: The notion that the entire nation must speak as one and that there is one leader “who can fix it” instead of a series of checks and balances. You are either with Trump or against him, there is no middle ground, no compromise, no apologies, no admission of flaws, faults or wrongdoing, ever. “I think apologizing [is] a great thing, but you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologize, sometime in the hopefully distant future, if I’m ever wrong.” And those who cross his path will feel his wrath as he often discredits reliable, even conservative, sources of information first:
The @WSJ Wall Street Journal loves to write badly about me. They better be careful or I will unleash big time on them. Look forward to it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 31, 2015
…and from there he lashes out at figures he sees as a threat in a very public manner. Look at the New York Times’ comprehensive list of the 282 (and counting) people places and things trump has insulted on Twitter.
- Projection devices: Problems like unemployment, the disappearance of jobs in certain communities, or other complicated socio-political or socio-economic factors that contribute to a sector of society which feels they have been left behind, can be blamed on a single villain, often a minority. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” “Women have one of the great acts of all time. The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers.” “Our great African-American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore.”
- Symbolic rebirth: Enables people to participate in the magical thinking that they are aspiring toward a utopian society or regaining something they have lost with no reasonable plan to make it so. “I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me –and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
- Commercial use: Rhetoric that offers non-economic solutions and interpretations of economic problems. See: Basically any promise of a “deal” Trump has ever laid out (with the knowledge implicit that all of his deals as a businessman have resulted any one or all of the following: contractors and workers being stiffed, bankruptcies, or in the case of Atlantic City, an entire community being laid to waste.) “Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say China, in a trade deal? I beat China all the time. All the time.”
The Democrats certainly have work to do. But their issues all surround working within the norms of the established decorum and governance of this country: affordable healthcare, fair taxation, bolstering the economy with progressive ideas, protecting the environment, standing up for citizens’ rights, helping children stay healthy and become educated so they can see a better day, making this country a fair and free place where anyone, from any walk of life, can have a chance and a voice. Current Democrats are not perfect, not by a long shot, but they are well threaded into the political fabric that has kept this American experiment going for nearly two and a half centuries.
Donald Trump’s Republican party, as Jon Stewart recently pointed out, is not only a repudiation of the party’s own core values but a repudiation of our democracy. It is not Teddy Roosevelt’s putting the team ahead of oneself and conservation and country first. It is not Reagan’s shining city upon a hill. It is not George HW Bush’s thousand points of light or his son’s paintings of dogs and world leaders.
No, not by a long shot.
“Heil Victory” is what one “alt-right” Trump rally chanted over the weekend. Good Republicans, if there are any left out there, should heed this call with the utmost certainty, alarm and fear. Your party and this country has been taken over from within. And if you think that’s a safe place to be, if you think now is the time to go along with the status quo and play nice, please open up your history books to the chapter on the lead up to World War II.
…And for those who still do feel they are the party of Lincoln, well, now is the time to stand up do something about it—if not for your party, then for your country and the rest of the world.