I have seen several people express fears about Trump becoming a dictator and the US become something similar to what Nazi Germany was under Hitler. That we will lose our freedoms; of speech, of religion, of assembly, to vote. That our free press will become bound and gagged.
While I recognize the similarities between Trump and Hitler, and while acknowledging a dictatorship is a possibility, I strongly disagree on it being probable. Many things are possible, only a few are really probable. So, given the many concerns I have seen expressed about this, I thought I would first explain why I do not believe it will happen. Then I will explain what I think are the more probable consequences of Trump’s election and give what I consider a more realistic worst case scenario Finally, I will go over what needs to happen to prevent or at least mitigate this more realistic worse case scenario from happening.
This is going to be a long blog so I am breaking it down into each of these component parts to form three blogs on the same subject.
Why the United States will not go the way of Nazi Germany
While there are similarities between Hitler and Trump, and in how they rose to power, there are also differences. However, more important than these differences is the difference between our country now and Germany during the rise of Hitler. People such as Alexander the Great, Napoleon, George Washington, and Hitler come to power not only by the force of their personality or by how they do things, but also as the result of their times. Put those same people in another setting and they may, and probably will, fail. Greatness or notoriety do not arise in a vacuum.
Now, there are some similarities between Germany then and the US today. Both peoples were and are frustrated with their government. They feel and felt that it was ineffectual, that it could not address the problems of the times, and that things were getting worse. And there is a similarity in that, while Hitler used the Jews as a scapegoat for many of the Weimar Republic’s problems, many of Trump’s supporters use the illegal alien and Muslims as scapegoats. And for the more racist of Trump supporters, blacks.
However, the similarities are limited, both in number, in intensity, and in scope. For example, in Germany then:
- Germany became a democracy in 1919. In 1933, when Hitler rose to power and the Nazi Party won the most seats in the German Parliament, the German People only had 14 years of experience with democracy. Their prior experience was with a dictatorial government, and that was what they were comfortable with. Or at least more familiar with, and, more importantly, associated with a government that actually worked. When democracy did not seem to be working and unable to solve the many problems the German people face, they set up no outcry with the onset of emergency powers and the suspension of rights.
- The US has, counting from the ratification of the US Constitution, over 230 years of democratic experience. We have faced numerous challenges from the beginning. And through each one, we, as a people, did not wave from our commitment to democracy. Even in the midst of our worst crisis, the Civil War, we held open and honest elections. Our expectations are different and backed up by over 200 years of democracy surviving through war, riots, the Great Depression, immense social upheaval, and all the other detritus that we have found ourselves in.
- Even worse, democracy in Germany did not arise from the people as it did here in the US. It was imposed upon the German people by the victors of WW2. Because of that most of the German people of the time did not trust or really believe in democracy. It was never theirs, never their government.
- To make matters even more difficult, their politicians had no experience with democracies.
- Even at our start, the founders and the colonials had some experience in democracies. And we have had over 200 years more experience now.
- The German people were humiliated by the very demeaning terms of the Versailles Treaty. The war reparations imposed on them were economically impossible and crippling. In 1923 the Allies grew tired of Germany’s inability to pay these reparations and occupied the Ruhr Valley, Germany’s industrial heartland. And, instead of blaming their wartime leaders for this, the German people tended to blame the German politicians that arose out of this humiliating defeat.
- Our democracy did not arise out of defeat, but out of victory. And we have not been defeated in the manner that Germany was, and have never been humiliated in such a fashion.
- To add to this, Germany faced a disastrous number of problems. We look back to our Great Depression as being a terrible time for the US. However, Germany had it even worse (something I sometimes have a hard time convincing my parents of). Unemployment in 1932 was almost 31%. German citizens had to contend with hyperinflation (with many staples such a bread costing 100 billion marks) and millions lived in abject poverty and thousands of children died of hunger.
- Our economy today, by contrast, is actually strong. Our economic numbers are good. Now, the problem today for the US is that it is not strong everywhere, and that the recovery has left too many people behind. Further, with the changes in society and business – mainly automation, the change from coal to natural gas, and globalization – many Americans are left feeling angry and frustrated. Yet, most people in this country are actually doing better. Our situation today is a far cry from Germany, and while there is enough frustration to allow the election of a Trump, there is not enough widespread frustration to allow him to dismantle our democracy. Especially as the results of his policies become clear.
- The German Constitution at that time had a provision allowing the President to take emergency measures and issue emergency decrees without the consent of the German legislature. This was supposed to be limited to certain emergencies. However, given the state of Germany at the time, emergencies were plentiful.
- The US Constitution has no such provision. There is a provision for the declaration of martial law by the President or Congress in the Constitution. However, nationally, it has only been used once. During the Civil War Congress approved most of the martial law measures enacted by President Lincoln. During WW2, there was a partial enactment of martial law- some of which were overturned by the courts and those arrested and held then released. Others though, lamentably, were upheld (the internment of US citizens of Japanese descent).
So, the US has twice used martial law, both times during war. Yes, there have been other declarations of martial law, but they have been made by governors at a state level and not nationally by the federal government.
Further, while the President could declare martial law, Congress still has the power to deny it or overturn it. And the state of martial law is challenged the Supreme Court could overturn it too. Such provisions and safeguards not present in the German Constitution in 1932.
- In Germany at that time it was expected that laws did not have to conform to the Constitution as long as it had the support of two thirds of parliament. This made it easier to pass laws that limited rights and abridged freedoms.
- The US has no such expectation. In fact, that is totally contrary to both our expectations and practice.
- Finally, in terms of at least going over the differences between Germany then and the US today, Trump is not Hitler. He shares many of the same traits, but he is not Hitler. For one, Hitler was motivated by an ideology. Trump, by his ego. While many bad things are likely to happen, I do not think Trump would take it to the extremes that Hitler did – state sponsored terrorism against certain groups of citizens – since his motivation is different.
In addition to the above differences, there are some political and social realities which would keep Trump from becoming a dictator.
- The majority of the voters voted for Hillary for President and more voters voted for Democrats than Republicans in the Senate. This indicates an already large group of people opposed to Trump and what he represents. And provides the base for trying to limit the damage he and his administration does, and to ensure that he is, at best, a one term president
- While the Republicans, especially of the Tea Party variety, are lining up behind him now, there are significant divisions within the party. Divisions which would create strong problems in regards to privatizing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Even the “dismantling” of Obamacare has to be handled with care. Millions of Americans are already beneficiaries of it, millions are on the expanded Medicaid rolls. Millions of people who would be hurt if it were just stopped.
- Getting passage of controversial bills in the Senate is especially going to be challenging. There will be 46 Democrat Senators and 52 Republican ones (two Senators are independent). This means on the issues that are really controversial, there are likely going to be some Republicans who will not go along. They with the Democrats will be able to block some bills. And nominees.
- Trump has already backed off on some of his prominent promises – building he wall, prosecuting Hillary for example. And he is starting to receive criticism for it from those who supported him. They are not dropping him yet, but they are starting to be unhappy with some of his decisions. I imagine as it sinks in that most of his administration are not only rich and well connected, but extremely rich, and that they vote to their own benefit, this will become even more pronounced.
- Those who elected him expect things from him. For example, the coal miners. Trump promised them they would all get their jobs back. His method for doing this – do away with environmental regulations. The problem, those regulations were not why the coal miners were not working. They are not working because natural gas prices dropped as our supply increased. How do you imagine those coal miners will feel about Trump when they realize that he did not keep his promise? Then extend this to the economy as a whole, and what will happen if, as I expect, the economy goes bad under him.
- I know that many are concerned about Trump and the Supreme Court. Currently there is one vacancy, which means it will probably be a conservative along the lines of Scalia. But, that does not set us back any further than before since we have been living with that for years. And that was a court that gave us gay marriage, upheld abortion rights, and decided that Obamacare was legal.
- Now, if another vacancy comes up, that will be the time to worry. But, I do not look for any of the more liberal justices to be retiring until the next president comes along. We might lose one due to health or death, but not retirement. And, keep in mind, that there are enough democrats that they still can make it difficult to get too outrageous a candidate to become Justice. It would not be good, but he cannot pack the court with Justices who would go along with him becoming a dictator (although they could go along with many other bad things though)
- I would also note that on Trump’s idea to imprison those who burn the American flag, Justice Scalia had this to say: “If I were king I wouldn’t go about letting people burn the American Flag. However, we have a first amendment which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged, and it is addressed, in particular to speech critical of the government. I mean, that was the main kind of speech that tyrants would seek to suppress.”
I could go on for quite a bit longer. We have a robust freedom of the press. I am sure that Trump will try to limit that, and may well get a few victories. However, there is still the independent judiciary. Further, if you look at freedom of the press may go backwards many decades, but not to the point where the media becomes the puppet and totally under the control of the President.
In fact, overall, that is the more realistic scenario that I discuss in my next blog on this subject; that we will not have a dictator but instead many of the social gains and progress, many of the civil rights gains and progress will wind up being pushed back decades, possible even to a similar state as the turn of the 20th century in many ways. That our economy is ruined and taking the world’s economy with it. And the increased possibility of wars.
Those are realistic worse case scenarios. But, Trump becoming a dictator and the United States a fascist dictatorship, or a dictatorship of any kind – no, that is not realistic at all.