Giles Knight: Wacht auf, America


The  race of the Republican Party as we have known it toward oblivion has been orchestrated by a new social order called “Trumpism,” which in spite of the name is not really new but rather consists of old-fashioned nationalism and authoritarianism with a fascist streak.

Donald Trump has become the messiah for many people who feel left out economically and socially by those in power or “the system.” The complain angrily about foreign economic competition, the media, immigration and, of course, the current government in Washington, D.C.

 Trump’s bombastic, hate-filled speeches seem to be just the right ticket to usher in a “new America.” Whether the “new America” is the same as “make America great again” we do not know yet, but his actions during this campaign bear a passing resemblance to other fire-breathing demagogues, such as Joe McCarthy, George Wallace, Mussolini and one of the most famous of all, Adolf Hitler, to name a few.

Go back to the 1920’s in a war-shattered Germany when a fellow named Hitler attracted a fanatical following with rousing speeches and programs for making Germany “great’’ again. Nationalism, bigotry  and militarism were his main messages.

How did he win over one of the most civilized countries in Europe? Remember that at that time Germany was in bad shape economically. People wanted to believe his oratory and what better way to make them believe than to find scapegoats to blame for their troubles. Taking top ranking on his list were theWestern Allies (the U.S, Britain, France and  a few others),  a relative lack of living space in the densely populated country, and least understandable, Jews and other people not of “pure Aryan origin.’’

The SA (Stormabteilung or Assault Division) was founded by Hitler in 1921 and was made up of angry, unemployed people, thugs really, who abused and even murdered those speaking out against The Leader.

After Hitler’s arrest by the Weimar government, in 1924, he wrote a book in prison called Mein Kampf (My Struggle), which outlined in detail his idea of a new Germany.  He followed the script exactly until his suicide, in 1945. His career resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people.

By 1925, he also began to be concerned about his ability to control the SA, which had grown large. And so he established the SS (Schutzstaffel or “Protective Echelon’’) as his personal bodyguards.

The SS made the SA look like choirboys in putting down opposition. He appointed his close associate Heinrich Himmler as SS leader in 1929, thereby resulting in a more loyal, tightly organized group reporting directly to him.

Things did not go well for the SA when on June 30, 1934, some of its leaders were killed by Hitler’s people --- “the night of the long knives.”

Then, on Nov. 9-11, 1938 hundreds of communities in Germany experienced wholesale destruction and looting of Jewish stores and businesses -- “Crystal Night” or “Night of the Broken Glass.” By this time most of the newspapers and radio stations were effectively closed down, or taken over by the Nazi regime, ensuring that everyone followed the party line, and the SS, along with the Gestapo, became the chief unit of surveillance and terror in Germany.

The SA was eventually combined with the SS, which, in turn, was incorporated into the German army as the Waffen SS. It grew into a huge force of hundreds of thousands, including such notable units as the Death Head Division, which oversaw concentration camps. All military people and many civilians were forced to sign a loyalty oath to Hitler.

The most fanatical and elite SS Division was the Adolf Hitler Division, which caused havoc in numerous battles against the Allies. Many of these fellows met a timely end during “the Battle of the Bulge,”  in December 1944, preferring to die rather than surrender as Allied air power obliterated their armored vehicles.

 Hitler’s policy of intimidation illustrates how quickly democracy can be destroyed by someone who controls the masses.

This brings us to “Trumpism” in America. Mr. Trump is not a replica of Adolf Hitler, but he exhibits some disturbingly similar characteristics. The most obvious is his ability to sway masses of people by appealing to their grievances. His animated, dramatic power of delivery puts his followers into almost a fanatic frenzy.

This tactic is typical of most demagogues, and was a major reason for Adolf Hitler’s unexpected success. Recent  horrifying video clips of a Trump rally show American college students raising their right hand arms in a Nazi salute in answer to Mr. Trump’s request for a loyalty pledge.

Other characteristics of Mr. Trump are worth noting, including a policy of one man, one rule, a vindictive and hair-trigger personality and a belittling attitude in general, but especially against those who disagree with him. And his many business dealings show enough  lawsuits and  other disagreements to raise serious questions about his honesty. His vicious rhetoric ensures that he will meet with antagonism globally.

The good thing is that presidents do not run the federal government alone. There are also Congress and the federal courts. However, the president can have great deal of influence on the other two branches of government. Trump’s extraordinary ability to mesmerize parts of the American public could easily be used to bring Congress and the Supreme Court under his brand of rule. True, his views deserve to be heard in a democracy. But does his brand of democracy fall under the letter and spirit of the Constitution in all respects?

When groups follow the siren song of a messiah, social unrest follows, and while history does not repeat itself exactly, it can, as Mark Twain said, rhyme.

Fiery speeches filled with hatred, intolerance  and authoritarianism can not help but lead to domestic and global unrest. America is the strongest country. The real danger we face lies within, not outside. We know what happened to Nazi Germany. A fanatical leader  persuaded the country to follow him, assisted by intimidation by such groups as the SA and SS.

Wacht auf” in German means “wake up’’. We should look very closely at “Trumpism” as our election process continues. Every American must ask him or herself: “Do we really want this type of person representing our country, the Constitution and the world’s pillar of democracy?

Giles Knight is a retired international equity mutual fund manager.