The shock and awe campaign of President Trump’s first weeks in power have the world wondering if he is trying to shred the constitution and install himself as a dictator of a fascist state. The fears are founded on the ugly behavior and rhetoric that were observed during the campaign, and on his choice of White House consigliere, alt-right journalist Steve Bannon. The key question here is whether America is about to become a militaristic, imperialistic undemocratic oligarchy or whether it already has been for a long time.
The fear about American taking a dark turn is usually based on comparisons to Hitler and the rise of the Nazi party in the 1930s. This analogy misses something crucial. America in 2016 was not remotely anything like Weimar Germany between the world wars. Germany had been humiliated in defeat after WWI and subjected to harsh reparation payments, a situation which fueled resentment and later the rise of the Nazis. It suffered periods of hyperinflation, and its industries were mortgaged to foreign creditors. Political turmoil ensued as conservatives resented democratic reforms and communists pushed to overthrow capitalism. Germany lost its overseas territories and had its military power kept in check by the victors of WWI.
In contrast, what was America the day before Donald Trump was inaugurated? It had been the leader of a global empire for seventy years. It had been at war for almost all of that time. It had manipulated elections and carried out coups in foreign lands. It had terrified and polluted the world with nuclear weapons development and testing, and compelled adversaries to do the same in a senseless arms race. A massive surveillance and security state was put in place during the Cold War, and more so afterward in the post-9-11 era. America had the world’s reserve currency, a global network of hundreds of military bases, control of global energy supplies, and influence on foreign governments through economic institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF. In short, it had everything that Hitler wanted, except for the genocide, but even on that score the US government aided and abetted on a few occasions (i.e. Indonesia in the 1960s).
Thus some interesting questions arise when one says Trump is a “new Hitler.” The machinery of world domination is already in place. Having Steve Bannon on the National Security Council is frightening because the powers of the National Security Council are frightening. Donald Trump with the nuclear codes is terrifying because the entire nuclear command and control structure is terrifying. It’s a little late for the American public to be waking up to these horrors which were always vulnerable to the “wrong kinds of people” rising to power.
The state apparatus, and the status as global power that a president takes over are basically a turnkey operation, which is explained in the business world as an enterprise that is “installed and ready to use upon delivery or installation… then leased or sold to an individual to run as his/her own venture.” If Hitler had had all that Trump had when he came to power, there would have been nothing for Hitler to do except to take the wheel of the ship of state and stay on course.
If things could actually get worse, then Americans and the world are at the cusp of a sinister new age because Trump is starting with advantages that Hitler had to build slowly, and he failed after trying for twelve years. (At that time there were forces in the world stronger than Germany, but now what is stronger than America?) Perhaps the tyranny inflicted abroad will now be inflicted on the homeland. But it could be that when things settle down, no one will notice a difference from the Bush-Obama years. Everyone may go back to the mall and home to their nightly fix of political satire while the wars overseas and the downward spiral of ecological destruction continue. This reaction could happen if Trump stays in power, but is especially likely if elements of the establishment who hate Trump succeed in making his presidency a very short one.
I’ve written here mostly about the difference in conditions which existed when Hitler and Trump assumed power. An analysis of the differences in their characters and biographies was done well by another blogger who wrote in This Hitler Nonsense:
Hitler was a real life murdering sociopath. He wasn’t just a charismatic speaker who incrementally fell into bad behavior. He wasn’t just a racist corrupted by unfettered power. In other words, you or I probably couldn’t end up being Hitler. A garden variety KKK leader probably couldn’t end up being Hitler either …or a community organizer …or a New York real-estate tycoon. It’s not that easy or simple… Now, people are comparing Donald Trump to Hitler. And the countdown has officially begun, to …well …I don’t know …but something really bad. I get that someone who is combative with the press and who wants to vet refugees and shut down open immigration fits the bill some are always looking for when it comes to finally getting their “Hitler” villain. But if you study enough about it, you realize the guy vetting and banning refugees is probably not Hitler …the guy CREATING refugees probably is.
Just as Hitler and Nazism were unique phenomena of a certain place and time, so are the phenomena of the present. No one should expect an American Hitler to appear on the scene and expect events to play out as they did in the 1930s. It is also not always helpful to use terms of the past to label the current era with terms such as imperialism, colonialism, and cold war. There has never been a tweeting president, and there has never been anything like the American-made monster squid of military, financial and economic power wrapped around the globe.
See also Vladimir Golstein’s essay on this topic:
In the real world, fascists come to power when Western democracies imposed unbelievably harsh sanctions on Germany, and when the genuine German lefties were crushed by the unhealthy alliance of the liberals and right-wingers.
In the real world, fascists come to power after they targeted a particular group of people as the object of vicious, culturally shaped demonizing, and then destroyed any opposition by accusing it of its connection with a demonized group.
In the real world, fascists put those who challenge them into the camps, where they are brutally killed, along with all the demonized groups.
In the real world, fascists use all the means at their disposal – propaganda in particular — to manipulate, brainwash, and turn its own population into irrational haters.
In the real world, fascists and their armies are crushed by Russians, who die in their millions in order to put an end to the brutal fascist occupation of their country.
Vladimir Golstein, “Tilting at the Mills in the Empire: Or, Fascism Real and Imaginary,” Off-Guardian, January 18, 2019.