A lot of parallels are being drawn between what is happening in the United States today and Germany in the 1930s. We are watching the rise of white nationalism just like in Germany. There is an authoritarian ruler undermining the rule of law and democratic norms just like in Germany. The press is being demonized and threatened on an almost daily basis just like in Germany. The list goes on for some time.
Most importantly, millions of Americans have shown that they have the same capacity for evil the Germans of the 1930s did. They’ve shown the same willingness to hate a marginalized group. The same willingness to believe fantastical nonsense about the dangers of that group. They’ve eagerly embraced using the law to punish, harass, and ostracize those they hate. And two weeks ago, they crossed that final, crucial line. Trump’s white Republican base showed that they would go along with the torture of children in service to their hate.
Some justified it. Others rationalized it. Many openly celebrated it. Very few turned their backs on their leader. After this, every step gets easier and easier until the mass graves are dug. History gives us far too many examples to pretend this is hysterical overreaction.
But there are some crucial differences that set the Germans of the 1930s apart from the white Republican voters of today. The modern incarnation of evil is far worse.
German Pride Takes a Blow
In the aftermath of WWI, the winning nations adopted the unwise policy of “Kick’em while they’re down” with the Treaty of Versailles. Germany’s army was mostly disbanded, many of its colonies were taken away, occupied territory was liberated, and Germany itself was partially occupied to ensure compliance. To say this stung the average German’s pride would be an understatement. Still, that might have been endurable, if not acceptable, had the Allied powers not also crushed Germany’s economy.
The unwisest part of the Treaty of Versailles was the demand for reparations:
In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion marks (then $31.4 billion or £6.6 billion, roughly equivalent to US $442 billion or UK £284 billion in 2018). At the time economists, notably John Maynard Keynes (a British delegate to the Paris Peace Conference), predicted that the treaty was too harsh—a “Carthaginian peace“—and said the reparations figure was excessive and counter-productive.
Unable to fully rebuild on its own terms, Germany became overly reliant on loans and trade from other countries, particularity America. When Wall Street’s greed kicked off the Great Depression across the globe, Germany’s economy went into a tailspin:
As production levels fell, German workers were laid off. Along with this, banks failed throughout Germany. Savings accounts, the result of years of hard work, were instantly wiped out. Inflation soon followed making it hard for families to purchase expensive necessities with devalued money.
Overnight, the middle class standard of living so many German families enjoyed was ruined by events outside of Germany, beyond their control.
German Desperation Grows
Germans were still pretty pissed about losing WWI and being treated so poorly in the aftermath but as long as they had jobs and food on the table, it was bearable. Now they had nothing but anger and desperation. Hyperinflation made their money worthless and unemployment went through the roof:
By the end of 1929 around 1.5 million Germans were out of work; within a year this figure had more than doubled. By early 1933 unemployment in Germany had reached a staggering six million.
The effects this unemployment had on German society were devastating. While there were few shortages of food, millions found themselves without the means to obtain it. The children suffered worst, thousands dying from malnutrition and hunger-related diseases. Millions of industrial workers – who in 1928 had become the best-paid blue collar workers in Europe – spent a year or more in idleness. But the Great Depression affected all classes in Germany, not just the factory workers. Unemployment was high among white-collar workers and the professional classes. A Chicago news correspondent in Berlin reported that “60 per cent of each new university graduating class was out of work”.
With people this angry and this desperate, they were ready to follow anyone that told them who to blame and how to make it better. And that’s exactly what Hitler did.
On the other hand, compared to 1920s/1930s Germany, America in the first two decades of the 21st century is doing just fine. Even with the Great Recession destroying the lives and livelihoods of millions of average Americans, we never reached a fraction of the suffering Germany went through during the Great Depression. And while the right spent 8 straight years lying about how the economy was on the brink of collapse and how everything was terrible, it all magically became wonderful when a Republican became president and inherited the exact same economy.
Yes, the United States has millions of people in poverty but rare is the child that dies from starvation. Even as Republicans slash it to ribbons, our social safety net is enough to keep people from starving to death in the streets. And yet, somehow, without the unrelenting deprivation that drove the German people in the 1930s insane with rage and hopelessness, white Republican voters are walking down the same dark and monstrous path. Actually, they’re not walking at all; they’re fucking sprinting down it as fast as they can. In under 18 months of Trump’s rule, they’re already at the stage where torturing children is not only acceptable but something to applaud. As I asked before, what atrocities will they be capable of 18 months from now?
But the question remains: If the children of white Republican voters are not dying of starvation by the thousands, why are they in a rush to become the darkest chapter in American history?
It’s who they are. It’s who they’ve always been
The media likes to talk about white Republican voters like they’re under some kind of spell. They talk about the Republican Party like they’ve led their base astray somehow. This is garbage. While it’s true that Fox News, AM Hate Radio and right wing hate sites made them easier to manipulate, the American right have been monsters for literally hundreds of years.
They fought a bloody civil war to keep other humans as slaves. And when they lost, they continued to terrorize black people until the federal government was forced to quell the violence. Even then, the lynchings and destruction of entire towns didn’t stop. When white conservatives felt threatened by black people acting like free men and women, they lashed out in the most murderous ways imaginable.
During the Civil Rights Era, white conservatives, who would later become white Republican voters, again terrorized blacks to keep them from demanding the right to be equal citizens. They viciously attacked peaceful protesters and murdered activists. The idea of black people being allowed to participate in democracy drove white conservatives to bloody violence time and time again.
I could write another thousand words about how violent white Republican voters are and how it’s always motivated by white supremacy and now white nationalism but you get the idea: None of this is particularly new. The American right has always been, at its core, violent and sadistic and cruel. The only thing that kept them in check was our system of government and a sense of national unity. But now that white Republican voters have given up on American democracy and no longer feel America is worth saving, they’re, at long last, giving into their inner fascist and embracing the most evil part of themselves without reservation.
The Germans of the 1930s were a broken, angry, and desperate people. The only thing white Republican voters of 2018 are desperate for is to stay in power, not because there’s a threat to their well-being if they’re not but because they cannot stand the idea of even sharing power with Those People. White supremacy failed to keep America white so now they’ve turned to white nationalism to turn the clock back. And if they can’t remove enough brown people with deportation and ending immigration, they will look for more violent ways to do it.
The German people, by and large, didn’t fully understand what was happening to them until it was too late. Today’s white Republican voters know exactly what they’re doing and it’s what they want. They don’t have to be led step by step to atrocities. They want to know what’s taking so long. Once we accept that reality about who and what white Republican voters are, we will understand the magnitude of the fight ahead of us.
I’m a stay at home dad, father to a special needs son and a special daughter, a donor baby daddy, a militantly pragmatic liberal, the president of the PTA, a hardcore geek and nerd and I’m going to change the world. Or at least my corner of it.