February 1, 2017
In Washington DC January 20 was a cold overcast day with intermittent drizzle when our 45th President took the oath of office. An event that was so improbable that nobody expected it a year ago. Yet, there was Donald J. Trump standing at the podium repeating after Chief Justice Roberts that he will “… faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.” Some of us, watching the event at home on our video screens, might have added “and may God give him better judgment than he has shown in the past.” Against all odds he had literally trumped all his competitors and was now in charge of our country.
Our inauguration proceedings are the counterpart of coronations in monarchical societies with a considerable degree of pomp and circumstance. They require benediction speeches by members of the clergy, choral performances and usually exude serenity. To gain the highest office by democratic means in a country like ours is, of course, a major achievement the person could reasonably be proud of and some degree of happiness would certainly have been appropriate. But Mr. Trump does not play by the rules of ordinary mortals and his idiosyncrasies were again on public display.
During the proceedings prior to taking the oath of office our new President showed his usual dour face and one had the impression that he wanted to get the whole thing over with as soon as possible. He became more animated during his 16 minutes address which can be summarized as a declaration of war on Washington’s elites of both political parties, lobbyists and the media. The tone of voice was defiant, the facial expression suggested anger and to emphasize the points he had made he concluded the speech with a raised right arm and clenched fist. The moment was saved for world-wide distribution and posterity by Time magazine which used the picture for its January 30 edition.
Americans might remember this gesture as a modified “black power” salute but its history goes much further back. I remember it from my childhood days in Austria where the Social Democrats, Sozis, used it accompanied by the words of either Rotfront or Freundschaft. The gesture is clearly not a sign of friendship and Mussolini, who originally had been a socialist, changed it by opening the raised hand. This was supposed to have been the ancient Roman salute but some historians beg to differ. Hitler copied it and this salute, at times accompanied by the words “Heil Hitler,” became obligatory for all citizens of the Reich especially when confronting authority figures. Everybody had to submit to this ritual and Joachim von Ribbentrop created quite a stir in February of 1937 at Buckingham palace when he greeted the King in this manner during the presentation of his credentials as ambassador to the Court of St James’s. It was apparently routine for him, and he may not even have realized how inappropriate the gesture was for the occasion.
The key points of President Trump’s Inaugural Address as published by CNN were:
“…today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another -- but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People. For too long, a small group in our nation's Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished -- but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered -- but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes -- starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you. .… At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens…. The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans. … From this moment on, it's going to be America First. … We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. … We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American. … We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world -- but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones -- and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth. … The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action. … We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again…
Watching this performance on TV reminded me of a speech by another person who had legally gained the chancellorship over his country against apparently insurmountable odds. In the April 1, 2016 Hot Issue I mentioned that Mr. Trump’s conduct and goals bear a certain similarity to some aspects of the Hitler regime. This opinion was based on his attitude during the presidential debates and his campaign website. The commonalities I noted at that time were: boasting over his achievements, disdain for his opponents whom he smeared with epithets, massive exaggerations of actual or imagined problems, an aversion against Islam as substitute for anti-Semitism, an attitude that problems will be solved “in one way or another,” obviously meaning by force. The latter has its counterpart in Hitler’s oft repeated statements that solutions will be achieved “so oder so.” I concluded at that time that he comes across as an angry, boisterous, person who believes that he can force his will upon the rest of the world. The intervening months and his conduct in office during the past few days proved this assessment to have been correct. His spat with Mexico over financing the wall he intends to build on our southern border now led its former President, Vincente Fox, to publicly express his concern over some similarities.
Since the Hitler comparison is likely to become commonplace it behooves us to study, what can be called, the Hitler phenomenon with an unbiased mind. The German historian Max Domarus has done us a great service by publishing practically all of Hitler’s speeches from 1932-1945. The four volumes, with appropriate commentaries, are a valuable resource in our understanding of this person. History repeats because politicians, who are in charge of countries, either have not taken the time to study it or have failed to read those books which provide original documents from the time the events happened. Many if not most biographies of political leaders are laced with bias, which may well be unconscious. For my own assessment of important individuals I rely mainly upon what a given person has said or written, whenever published original documents are available. For the Nazi era the public as well as private Hitler speeches are, of course, the most important. The public ones were published in 1973 by Domarus and the private ones in 1981 by H. R. Trevor Roper under the titillating title: Hitler’s Secret Conversations. The book covers lunch and dinner conversations with his staff between 1941 and 1944 and is a translation of authentic shorthand notices taken at the time. Due to form they are monologues with an occasional question or comment by the guests. Henry Picker’s personal notes were published in 1993 as Hitler’s Tischgespraeche im Führerhauptquartier and they cover the period of July 21, 1941 to March 11, 1942. The two books complement each other; some conversations Trevor Roper omitted appear in Picker’s book and vice versa. Jointly one gets a firsthand impression of Hitler’s thought processes and since he had few inhibitions about expressing his ideas in public or private (another joint characteristic with Trump) one can get some insight into how his mind worked. For the actual public events during that era I have found the two volumes of Nazism – A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts, edited by J. Noakes and G. Pridham most informative. They should be read by anyone who is interested in that era and especially by media personalities who genuinely want to prevent a repetition of the ultimate disasters that resulted from Hitler’s decisions. It is inappropriate to limit one’s appraisal of this unusual person to the years of 1939-1945. An unbiased observer also should review what he accomplished in his first five years until February 1, 1938. This is important because I believe that if some higher power had shown him what his beloved Germany would look like in May of 1945 he would probably have recoiled in horror.
I have presented President Trump’s inaugural address above let us now look for comparison at the most salient excerpts of Hitler’s first radio address to the German public on February 1, 1933 when translated from Domarus’ book. I shall omit his rhetorical flourishes, which in part defy accurate translation and concentrate on the essence. But first three points of clarification. When Hitler talked about the new government, which included members of the other major parties except socialists and communists, he used the term Regierung der nationalen Erhebung – government of national uplifting, in order to clearly delineate the break with the past and the rebirth of the nation. Furthermore, as Domarus pointed out, in contrast to most politicians he always wrote his own speeches and thirdly this one was remarkably free of rancor. The word Jew did not appear.
“We are assuming a terrible inheritance. The task we have to solve is the most difficult German statesmen have confronted since time immemorial. Our first task will be to re-create the unity of our people. Our government will firmly protect Christianity as the basis of morality, and the family as the germ cell of our people and nation. Unemployment will be abolished within four years and this will be accompanied by economic revival. The concern for the daily bread will also lead to the implementation of our social duties for illness and old age. In foreign affairs the government’s highest mission is to establish the right to regain the freedom of our people. By ending the chaotic conditions in Germany the government will join other nations with equal values and equal duties. The government is imbued with the conviction of the duty to work for maintaining and strengthening the peace as a free and equal nation. We would be happy if the world were to limit their armaments, which would not necessitate an increase in our own. We want to establish unity among our people; we don’t recognize classes but see only the German people: the millions of farmers, burghers and workers who will either jointly overcome the problems of this era or be overcome by them. We now appeal to the German people to endorse this act of reconciliation. The government wants to work and will work. The Marxist parties had 14 years to show what they can accomplish; the result is a shambles [Trümmerhaufen]. Give us four years and then judge us. May Almighty God provide us with his grace in this work, point our will, as well as judgment in the right direction and bless us with the confidence of our people because we do not want to fight for ourselves but for Germany.
That had been Hitler’s goal but what he accomplished was quite different and therein lies the lesson for our government. Let us remember that many, if not most, Germans did not vote for Hitler in November of 1932 and April 1933 because they liked him. He was simple the lesser of two evils. Ask yourself how you would vote if confronted with the choice of a Communist government that will “nationalize” your private property and a Nazi government that promises full employment, retention of private property, and restoring the country to the status it held in the world prior to November 1918. For most, the fact that Jews would bear the brunt of the burden was regrettable, but of little concern because their own needs had to come first. In last year’s November election we had an equally unrewarding choice. Hillary Clinton was not only disliked on a visceral level by a great number of people, but also for her perceived untrustworthiness as well as belligerency against Russia. The latter was bound to lead sooner or later to war with that country. Trump’s negatives were well known but there was the hope that he might improve the economy, keep whatever peace we have by not pursuing “regime change” around the world, and his aversion against Muslims was to many of us just as little a concern as Jews were in 1933 for Germans.
What I am trying to convey by describing these similarities is that epithets that are used to describe Hitler, such as: monster, arch-criminal etc., say more about the person who uses them than who they want to describe. They merely repeat stereotypes, emphasize total depravity of “the other,” and prevent genuine insights. As I wrote these sentences a recent statement by the Dalai Lama came to mind:
“In Buddhism, one can be grateful even for one’s enemies, ‘our most precious spiritual teachers,’ as they are often called, because they help us develop our spiritual practice’ and to cultivate equanimity even in the face of adversity.”
I owe this information to The Book of Joy, a Christmas present by our daughter. Although Martha is no longer physically with us I can’t bring myself to say “my” about our children because they were a joint product and Martha still lives mentally with me on a daily basis. The book recounts dialogues between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Both of them had experienced a great many hardships and adversities in their lives. They had not only overcome them, but their suffering had led to the status in life they now occupy. The meeting in Dharamsala between these two spiritual leaders was organized and narrated by Douglas Abrams, a secular Jew. As Abrams wrote “… it sounds a little like a joke: A Buddhist, a Christian, and a Jew walk into a bar …” This little book should be read by our leadership because the content, when taken to heart, is the only way to prevent the Trump administration from turning into a catastrophe for our country and the world.
America today stands at the cusp of an era that could lead to good will and prosperity for the world or a disaster which can be worse than what Europe and Japan in experienced in 1945. The choice is really that stark. When confronted in private conversations by some of Trump’s detractors I used to say: “I realize that what he has so far said raises serious concerns. But words are not actions; let’s see what he actually does. I give him three months and then we’ll know how he conducts himself in office.” His conduct since he took the oath of office suggests, however, that we won’t have to wait three months and that one will be able to render a reasonably informed judgment by the end of the current one.
On the afternoon of the inaugural ceremony he started to issue executive orders and they have continued at the rate of about three a day. This hectic activity, which involves the fulfillment of campaign promises, is aided by his inability to sleep more than a few hours, which in turn raises questions as to how this will affect his judgment. Chronic sleep deprivation is not healthy and although people might point to Napoleon’s four hours of sleep they should also remember that he led Europe into disaster and ended up on St. Helena. Hasty political decisions, which in the long run affect all our lives, are to be shunned because time is needed to weigh the pros and cons of each one of them.
I’ll now discuss just a few of the more weighty ones that have so far been made. The one dealing with repeal of Obamacare lacked the two most important words “and replacement.” Although he does have the latter in mind he apparently fails to consider the legal difficulties that will be encountered and the time it will take for a replacement that will be acceptable especially to patients and physicians. Repeal is easy and takes a few minutes, replacement difficult and will take months, if not years. Worried patients ask themselves how they will fare in the meantime.
The concerns over the Obamacare directive were followed, on an international scale by the one about the wall on the Mexican border. A meeting between President Trump and Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, had to be canceled because of Trump’s insistence that Mexico would have to pay for its construction. This is, obviously, unacceptable not only for the Mexican government, but since it involves national pride, all its citizens. A unilateral solution by placing an import tax on goods from Mexico, as Trump envisions, will have bilateral results because Mexico will retaliate to the detriment of both country’s peoples. The uproar over this ill-considered move towards “securing our borders” was predictable and attempts at damage control are currently in progress. This public affront to Mexico was completely avoidable but set in motion by Trump’s inordinate need for “twittering.” The fact that he has not yet, even as President, abstained from doing so speaks volumes about his character. It demonstrates his impulsivity and he seems to crave the limelight.
One also needs to point out that the ostensible reason for the wall is false. We are told that the purpose is to keep criminals and most of all drugs and their dealers out of our country. While this is laudable, the vast majority of Mexicans who crossed our borders without a visa were and are otherwise law abiding persons simply in search of a better life than their own country could provide. Drug smugglers can avoid the border either by air or sea and to prevent the latter Trump would have to build walls along the Atlantic as well as Pacific coast. This is obvious nonsense and still leaves aircraft landing sites open in our vast deserts.
Efforts to rid the country of illegal drugs need to be directed towards joint efforts with the Mexican government and the consumers in our country. The “coyotes” who bring the illegal immigrants would soon find themselves out of a job if they were not aided by Americans who want cheap labor for their agricultural needs. It is a wrong assumption that the Mexicans are taking jobs away from our citizens. To the contrary, they perform vital services for our economy which Americans by and large disdain because it is hard, back breaking manual labor. Instead of keeping them out we should give them green cards so that they can work legally and are not condemned to exploitation by their employers. A guest worker program would accomplish this. It would not only save the total waste of money spent on the wall but also create good will among neighbors.
Another example of a completely unnecessary blunder is the ban of Muslims to enter the US from seven designated countries. National security is touted as the reason but Trump has undermined rather than enhanced it with this executive order. Last Saturday we were treated to pictures on our TV screens that showed the protests of US citizens when they found out that relatives or spouses were detained upon their arrival at airports nation-wide in spite of having valid visas. This executive order was widely condemned even by Republican members of Congress and General Mattis, our new Secretary of Defense, also voiced his disapproval. Seeing the chaos this ill-considered order had produced, a Brooklyn federal judge issued a nation-wide “a temporary stay” of further implementation. Other judges around the nation issued similar orders.
These self-inflicted wounds were not only completely unnecessary but also point to a deeper problem that is rooted in Trump’s character. Since it is characterological it will continue to haunt him because no one can control his impulsivity and lack of insight. Warnings existed before his inauguration and that is the reason why I entitled last month’s issue with “A Time for Prayer.” We do need prayer and even Pope Francis called for it during the past month, but that is not enough. Nationwide protests over various issues will increase but again this is not enough. While there is still time Republicans in Congress will have to get together with their Democrat colleagues and start reasonable legislation both sides can agree on. If the Democrats were now to play tit for tat with the Republicans for their attitude during the Obama administration when Republicans reveled in non-cooperation, the country will suffer potentially irremediable damage.
It is again useful to consider the events of February 1933. Earlier during that month Hitler tried to strengthen his leadership by amiability towards the other government members and the country at large. But when the Reichstag building went up in flames he grasped the opportunity for obtaining dictatorial powers. People say, well that was Germany and the Germans were always autocratic people while we have a long and strong democratic tradition. But this is only partly true as President Bush’s reaction to the 9/11 tragedy showed. Instead of immediately starting a judicial inquest into how it had occurred, he started war in Afghanistan and Iraq. To its shame Congress gave him the authority just as the Reichstag conferred on Hitler the authority to institute “emergency measures” in March of 1933. The real behind the scenes perpetrators of the Reichstag fire were never ascertained and neither were the enablers of the hijackers in 2001. In both instances a tragedy was used for ulterior motives.
The 9/11 tragedy established an opportunity that had been long wished for by the neo-conservatives in our country. Their manifesto “Program for the New American Century” had outlined how American power could be enhanced and made to last for the current century. They realized the reluctance of the American people to endorse the proposed program unless “a Pearl Harbor type” of disaster was to occur (The Neocon’s Leviathan April1, 2003. 9/11 Context and Aftermath. September 1, 2013). Whether or not some groups in and out of government aided in the creation of this event will never been known. Our government is singularly disinterested in pursuing the truth which will become increasingly difficult to ascertain. Knowledgeable persons are dying and documents have been shredded. Nevertheless 9/11 is the precedent and we have to warn against the repetition of our response to disaster. Let us always remember that whatever disaster may happen, it can be contained and dealt with. But the knee-jerk response to it magnifies the evil a hundred and thousand fold. Official America has never shouldered the responsibility for Bush’s wars and with them the unleashing of the turmoil in the Middle East accompanied by the immense refugee problem. This makes us vulnerable for a repetition.
President Trump undoubtedly has an authoritarian streak in his character and the torrent of executive orders proves that he relishes being in charge. Currently he is still restrained by the other two branches of government. This can change, if a major terror attack were to occur. It does not have to be initiated from abroad. We have more than enough disaffected people right here who are willing and able to commit it. We now should realize that we actually stand on the brink of martial law. There are forces in the Trump administration, as well as factions which represent what Professor Peter Dale Scott has called “Deep State politics,” that are longing for it to be enacted. Under these circumstances certain aspects of the Constitution would be “suspended.” Most prominent among them would be freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. Since our prisons are already full, public dissenters would have to be sent to specially created “detention centers” that were called concentration camps in the 30s and early 40s. All of this is likely to be labeled as “temporary measures” to save the nation. This is the most imminent danger our country faces and in order to defuse it we need to openly talk about it at all levels. The foregoing should not be regarded as “crying wolf” on my part, other clear thinking individuals are aware of it. Dr. Paul Craig Roberts who was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy during the Reagan administration has also come to the conclusion that Trump has “declared war” on Washington’s ruling circles in his inaugural address (http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2017/01/20/trumps-declaration-war/). Some of our leading scientists and Nobel laureates also have voiced their concerns about President Trump’s ideas and last week The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced the Doomsday Clock by another 30 seconds to now read two minutes before global midnight.
Currently our President is afflicted with a serious case of hubris and he should be reminded of the old adage that “pride comes before the fall.” Regardless what further governmental powers may be bestowed upon him in the short run, he is bound to be trumped in the long run. Let us hope that some of his advisors have sufficient insight to prevent him from acting on his worst impulses and save us from disaster. Time will tell, and by March 1 the direction the country is moving will probably be obvious to most people.