Opinion

Trump Is No Hitler, But

The upshot of Trumpism, as ordinary citizens are beginning to understand, is that as long as you fall in line with the dictate from above, you can do anything.

U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order commanding federal agencies to try to waive or delay requirements of the Affordable Care Act, January 20, 2017.
Kevin Dietsch/Bloomberg

Since the U.S. election campaign commenced, I have had a disagreement with some colleagues, Israeli and American, about who would stop whom – the establishment or Trump. My colleagues asserted during the primaries that the mainstream politicians on the right would not let him reach the top of the Republican Party, but he defeated all 16 of his rivals and won the presidential nomination.

After that, they maintained that the financial and media elites would prevent Trump from winning the election. Now, predictions (hopes) are being raised that the state establishment, with its enormous reach, security apparatus and court system, will put the brakes on the president, perhaps even depose him.

It is baseless. History teaches us that establishments tend to fall into ranks behind the commander, and not the other way around. It isnt necessary to replace the people doing their jobs. They turn into loyal servants of the new regime. In his book, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitlers Berlin, historian Eric Larson provides an illustrative example about the way enormously powerful systems accept the whims of a new regime.

The hero of the book is William Dodd, who arrived in Berlin as U.S. ambassador after the rise of Hitler. The man was not a career diplomat nor a part of the government bureaucracy. He was a modest history professor, which allowed him to examine the upheavals in Germany with his eyes wide open.

Let it be clear: Trump is no Hitler, and the United States of 2017 is not Germany of 1933. However, it is precisely the huge difference that helps emphasize the critical point of establishment volatility. The American ambassador provided first-hand testimony of the enormous speed with which German society underwent unification or standardization (Gleichschaltung) in fealty to the new regime.

Dodd described in his letters to President Roosevelt and to the State Department how the court system and police enthusiastically obeyed the new orders. Teachers, shop owners and bureaucrats did not need formal rules. They thirsted to join the party. Police turned a blind eye when Nazi thugs assaulted Jews, and often joined in.

University professors took the initiative to harass students, and bureaucrats at all levels flooded top officials with suggestions to make persecution campaigns more efficient. The heart of the book, in my eyes, is the piercing description of how society changed. Ordinary citizens embrace the new spirit. The giant machinery of state becomes unrecognizable in a matter of months.

If that is what happened to the German establishment in the face of Nazi rule and ideology, which was so radical, it is hard to see the foundation for thinking that the American establishment will stop someone like Trump, who is not at all in that category.

And why should they stop him? Trump was legally elected, and more importantly some of his steps are based on what already exists, from the establishments perspective. When he declared that torture is effective, he referred to the American practice of torturing detainees. When he promised to build a wall on the border with Mexico – there is already one there that is hundreds of kilometers long. I saw it when it was being built in the previous decade. Deporting illegal immigrants? 2.5 million (!) were deported under Obama. The American establishment will not stop Trump, because it is already doing his work.

The upshot of Trumpism, as ordinary citizens are beginning to understand, is that as long as you fall in line with the dictate from above, you can do anything. Thus the number of racist incidents in the United States has surged since Trumps victory.

How great of an effort will the establishment – the police or education system, for example – make to stop this? The answer is bleak: It is impossible to rely on the keepers of the American system to handle matters. Civil society will be forced to manage the struggle.

As it turned out, all the requests and pleas from the U.S. ambassador in Berlin for an aggressive American response to the harassment of Jews were in vain. In the end, it was explained to him that such an intervention would turn the spotlight on discrimination against blacks in the United States. So they kept silent.