Hitler came to power because he told the lie that Germany had lost the WWI because it had been “stabbed in the back,” and because he promised to restore Germany’s self-respect and to undo the mass misery of the insecure Weimar democracy, the Inflation and the Depression.
Trump won because of dysfunctional institutions, 9/11, the loss of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the diminished American influence in the world and the economic consequences of globalization. In The New York Times, Roger Cohen wrote (January 24):
…I have tried to tread carefully with analogies between the Fascist ideologies of 1930s Europe and Trump. American democracy is resilient. But the first days of the Trump presidency – whose roots of course lie in far more than the American military debacles since 9/11 – pushed me over the top. The president is playing with fire.
To say, as he did, that the elected representatives of American democracy are worthless and that the people are everything is to lay the foundations of totalitarianism. It is to say that democratic institutions are irrelevant and all that counts is the great leader and the masses he arouses. To speak of “American carnage” is to deploy the dangerous lexicon of blood, soil and nation. To boast of “a historic movement, the likes of the which the world has never seen before” is to demonstrate consuming megalomania. To declaim “America first” and again, “America first,” is to recall the darkest clarion calls of nationalist dictators. To exalt protectionism is to risk a return to a world of barriers and confrontation. To utter falsehood after falsehood, directly or through a spokesman, is to foster the disorientation that makes crowds susceptible to the delusions of strongmen.
Trump’s outrageous claims have a purpose: to destroy rational thought. When Primo Levi arrived at Auschwitz he reached, in his thirst, for an icicle outside his window but a guard snatched it away. “Warum?” Levi asked (why?). To which the guard responded, “Hier ist kein warum” (here there is no why).
As the great historian Fritz Stern observed, “This denial of ‘why’ was the authentic expression of all totalitarianism, revealing its deepest meaning, a negation of Western civilization.”
Americans are going to have to fight for their civilization and the right to ask why against the banal belligerence of Trump.