The people were frustrated. The economy was wretched. Unemployment had been high for years. People saw the financial security they had built up over years of thrift and hard work now beginning to slip away–or faced the stunned realization that it was already gone. The conventional politicians in the government talked about making things better, but things didn’t get any better. The people didn’t believe it any more, and they were running out of patience.
Foreign affairs were equally dismal. The country was weak. The people brooded resentfully over the thought that a mere fifteen years earlier they had had the most powerful military in the world, and other nations had shown respect. No more. Nobody feared them now, and few showed any respect. Enemies took what they wanted, knowing they would face no serious opposition.
Many people worried about socialists and communists, and with reason. There had been real socialists in the government, and there were real communists in the streets–and who could say where else. There was also a scandalous degree of violence in the streets, and the government couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with it.
So it was a tremendous relief when the people, or a large and noisy segment of them, finally found a leader, or he found them. He was not conventional. In fact, he had never held elective office, and he expressed unmeasured contempt for practically everyone who had. What he seemed to have above all else was overwhelming self-confidence. Many people found his bombastic self-assurance irresistible. He would make the country great again, he roared. He knew how to fix the country’s economic problems. He would make foreign nations show respect again.
His speeches were rambling, blustering, abusive, and self-absorbed, but energetic and very effective, at least on a large segment of the population. He said what the people were thinking and said it very forcefully. No carefully measured pronouncements for this fellow. Audiences became so enrapt with his helter-skelter tirades they grew impervious to reason. The leader knew what was best. Those not under his thrall found this disturbing.
His background was murky. Most people didn’t know that he had been some kind of socialist himself once–his own quirky brand of course. He vaguely appealed to people who wanted a return of traditional values as well as religious people. He billed himself as the defender of beleaguered Christianity, although privately he despised the faith. His own relations with the opposite sex were irregular, to say the least. His followers knew little of that and seemed to care less.
After a long political struggle the leader finally came to power. So it was, that in celebration of his seizure of power, as he liked to call it, his supporters staged a mass procession.
On the evening of January 30, 1933, long columns of brown-shirted troopers marched by torchlight through the Brandenburg Gate and down Unter den Linden. Huge crowds gathered outside the Reichs Chancellery, where Adolf Hitler, the new chancellor and leader of the German people, appeared at a second-story window to greet his adoring public.
Wait! Did you think I was talking about someone else? OK. Maybe that picture at the beginning of the article was not actually a Nazi rally. You have to be so careful about the images you find on the internet. Listen, though, I want to make a point. No, I’m not saying that Donald Trump is Adolf Hitler or just like Adolf Hitler in every way. Here’s what I am saying:
- Your frustration may be justified, but that’s no guarantee your actions in response to that frustration will be justified or wise. The German people were frustrated, and in their frustration, enough of them chose Hitler to enable him to seize power.
- The fact that a man speaks his mind is no guarantee what he speaks is right or good. Hitler spoke his mind.
- The fact that a man says things loudly and repeatedly is no guarantee he means them or will do them. Hitler made many promises he didn’t keep, including some about religious freedom.
- The fact that a man knows what things to say to get you excited is no guarantee the man really agrees with you. He might be manipulating you in order to gain power over you and others. Hitler was a master of that tactic.
- The fact that a man says some true things is no guarantee he’s a good man. Hitler said some true things. He praised motherhood and traditional values. He pretended to be sympathetic to Christianity. We now know he was entirely cynical in doing so.
Again, Trump is not Hitler. He may not be like Hitler in every way. I’m not predicting that if he’s elected the United States will invade Poland and perpetrate a genocide, but I do think if Trump is elected some bad things are likely to happen.
To those of you who may be thinking about supporting him, I implore you, scrutinize him very carefully. Look at the totality of what he has been saying over the past decade. Look even more closely at what he has been doing over the past decade. Think about what you’re doing. The cost may be higher than you have imagined.