Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday Grab Bag: Donald Trump is going truly, terribly mad

As spectacular as Michelle Obama's speech in New Hampshire was on Thursday, equally as unsettling was Donald Trump's rant in Florida on the same day. As Trump takes on more and more a Hitlerian tone, the paranoid megalomaniac looking for broad-based conspiracies by unnamed conspirators to explain his own failings, it occurs to me that American liberals and conservatives fixate on different years when they draw lessons about Hitler from 1933 to 1945. 

Conservatives obsess with 1938, and they hold out Neville Chamberlain as its most reviled villain. That year to them marks the low point of Western democratic weakness. In the face of a fascist's endless appetite for land in Europe, Chamberlain buckled under pressure, acceded to Hitler's demands over the Sudetenland and consequently, invited a European war. American conservatives hold up Winston Churchill as the antithesis of this - quintessential British bulldog, stout, resolute, clear-eyed, unafraid. It was Churchill who said in a 1940 radio address, "each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last." 

In a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria observes that over the past 18 months, very much like their caricature of the hated Chamberlain, Republican leaders have done nothing but appease Trump as he slowly annexed their party, 
The Republican establishment could have stopped Trump but instead surrendered to him months, perhaps years, ago. When they want to criticize opponents for being weak-kneed, Republicans often recall Neville Chamberlain and his policy of appeasing Adolph Hitler. And yet that is exactly the approach that the party's senior leaders took with Trump -- appeasing him in the hope that doing so would satisfy his appetites.

Can you spell "crocodile?"

To liberals, the crucial year isn't 1938. It's 1933. That was the year when the people, broadly defined, had the chance to stop Hitler at the ballot box. (It is important to remember that Hitler actually lost the 1932 German presidential election. It was his appointment as chancellor in the following January by newly-elected German president von Hindenburg that began his ascent to power.) Liberals are clear, the time to stop a madman is now, when the people still have a say. 

Americans will endure the next 24 days watching one of the candidates grow increasingly unhinged, a shadow boxer apparently less interested in leading his country than in landing punches against his enemies both real and imagined. 

We must hope that unlike Germany in 1933, our democratic institutions and our leaders and the social mores that underpin them are sufficiently strong to endure charges of "lies, plans and fraud," charges that will undoubtedly emerge not only from Trump's mouth, but also from his increasing agitated, threatening and potentially violent supporters. 

In that sense, maybe conservatives are right. If we get to our own 1938, it will already be too late.