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Trump’s Authoritarian Presidency: Echoes Of 1930s Germany And 1950s McCarthyism Abound

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Trump’s Authoritarian Presidency: Echoes Of 1930s Germany And 1950s McCarthyism Abound


Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

When Richard Spencer, a leading alt-right white power ideologue finished his speech at Saturday’s day-long “Become Who We Are” summit at Washington’s Ronald Reagan Building, someone yelled, “Heil the people!” and the room shouted back, “Heil victory.”

It wasn’t the evening’s first Nazi reference nor most brazen. Soon after Spencer started slamming the mainstream media, overlooking how it gave the president-elect endless free coverage, he jeered, “Perhaps we should refer to them in the original German?” The crowd shouted back, “Lügenpresse,” a Nazi-era word for “lying press.” Spencer continued, to cheers, that white power was rising. “America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity… It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

America under Donald Trump is entering an uncharted authoritarian era. Whether apt historical precedents are in the first months of Hitler’s rule in 1933 in Germany or closer to the 1950s anti-Communist witch hunts led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy remains to be seen. But there are myriad events that everyone is seeing and unfolding behind closed doors that are forming a prologue to Trump’s authoritarian rule.

Looking backward, people always ask if the course of history could have been changed. Many people would like to dismiss some of the recent events as bad dreams that will vanish if ignored—like last weekend’s neo-Nazi rally in a federal office complex in the Capital; to Trump taking to twitter to denounce the cast of the musical, Hamilton, for closing a performance by openly imploring the vice-president-elect, MIke Pence, in attendance, to honor America’s diversity.

But that becomes harder to do when the president-elect is appointing scarily intolerant men, propagandists and war mongers to top White House posts. It doesn’t just look like Trump is posed to deport millions of migrants, roll back civil rights and go after his critics—by appointing race-baiting propagandist Stephen K. Bannon as a top adviser; Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General; and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as top national security advisor—a man who supports racial profiling by police and has lied that Islamic law is spreading across America. It also looks like Trump is relishing his unfolding role as an American strongman, as evidenced by his Sunday tweet: “General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General’s General!”

The question is how far will Trump go to achieve his objectives at home and abroad, including putting the country on a path toward war. Historic comparisons are both useful and imprecise. Yet there are enough echoes of Trump’s ascension to Germany in 1933, the year Adolph Hitler became the country’s newly appointed chancellor. Then and now were periods seen by some as a brutal darkening and others as a great national revival. (My most recent book is set in Holland during the war).

Like Hitler’s earliest days in power, we are seeing increases in race-based hate crimes. Back then, it was targeting communists, socialists and Jews. Now it is targeting muslims. Trump’s advisors are pointing to a much-criticized World War II-era Supreme Court ruling, Korematsu v. United States, to allow creation of a national muslim registry. That ruling held that wartime detention was constitutional.

Where today parts with the past, at least so far, is we haven’t seen how Trump would expand the federal policing and deportation apparatus. People forget that President Obama oversaw the arrest and deportation of 2 million immigrants before signing executive orders suspending deportation of 40 percent of the 11 million undocumented migrants here. It’s an open question what Trump would do accelerate and ramp up the federal police state. In Germany, Nazi-supporting paramilitary groups created their own arrest, detention and torture stations during the first year of Hitler’s rule. The authorities didn’t stop them, and most of the American journalists stationed there at the time didn’t want to conclude that paramilitary violence was part of a larger societal trend.

What those outside targeted circles in Germany didn’t see at that time were the steps being taken to start transforming a democratic republic to authoritarian rule. (The military buildup and dictatorship followed). In short, the tell-tale signs were the increasing control that the government exerted over all aspects of society, but especially the civil rights of the officially loathed minorities. It started with national registries, moved to what jobs could and could not be held, and then declaring and forfeiting property and assets.

What is the contemporary parallel? On immigration, visa-less detainees have virtually no legal rights. Until Obama issued his executive orders suspending deportations in his second term, undocumented people arrested for traffic stops would be turned over by local police to ICE—federal immigration authorities—and disappear into a deportation treadmill. Trump and the GOP have threatened to ramp up that process, including the prospect of blocking all federal aide to any municipality or state that acts as a sanctuary state. There’s also been talk about seizing the international wire transfers of money sent by migrants here to families in Central America. What’s clear is that this is uncharted territory, domestically speaking, on this issue.

What happens with the Muslim registry, with segments of police forces resurrecting racial profiling, with crackdowns against protesters and dissent, are all open questions. But the president-elect and his top advisors, like most of the anti-Communist crusaders from the 1950s McCarthy era, have shown little tolerance of dissent and a willingness to go after critics. In California, people at anti-Trump protests talk about opening their homes to people fleeing federal police sweeps. The last time that was heard was in the 1980s when refugees fled Ronald Reagan’s Central American wars and hid from U.S. authorities here.

During the first months of Hitler’s rule, German authorities told foreign journalists and diplomats that attacks by fascist thugs were outliers and would soon end. There were even official denunciations by the government, but it didn’t stop. There even were a handful of Americans who were assaulted, after being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But most of the foreign press corps, visiting tourists and even diplomats didn’t grasp the emerging character of the new regime. And those who did see it for what it was—after witnessing violence firsthand—and tried to talk about it, were, frequently dismissed as too political, prejudiced and shrill.

Some people will shrug and say that upheaval and random victims always accompany every revolution—including what’s in store as Trump strives to “make America great.” Others will respond that people must speak out against dark forces when the future hangs in a balance and those accumulating power are silently gathering their forces. What’s certain about Trump’s America is the country is heading into an authoritarian time. How wide, how deep and how destructive that wave will be is unknown.

As Richard Spencer, who led the neo-Nazi chants last weekend at the white power gathering in Washington told the New York Times, his movement and Trump shared many values. “I do think we have a psychic connection, or you can say a deeper connection, with Donald Trump in a way that we simply do not have with most Republicans.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).



  1. Godzilla November 22, 2016

    What utter nonsense. This whole article is bullshit and should be removed or put in a FICTION section. Idiocy, pure F-ing idiocy.

    1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 22, 2016

      Yet, you keep reading these accurate assessments of your racist buddies here and complain every day. Face it, Godzilla—your misguided sense of race and privilege are over, whether you like it or not.
      You may rail and rant all you like, but at the end of every day, your perception of humanity, as well as that of racists the world over, is false and anti-Christian, and against the Will of God. As such, you have aligned yourself with that which is commonly referred to as Satanic. Is that what you want to present to your Creator in the next Life?

      In the meantime, you just stick around and read more accurate assessments, complain like like a 3 year old like Trump and his racist supporters, and bay at the moon. The moon will keep shining—BELIEVE ME!

    2. iamproteus November 22, 2016

      If you can’t or won’t recognize the similarities between what’s happening here and now to the events in 1930’s Germany, you are NOT a true American. That is not merely my opinion, it is a FACT. Unless it is stopped right away, the march of Nazi-ism will plunge the entire world into chaos every bit as destructive as it did in the ’30’s and 40’s. All the name-calling and belittling you can muster will not change that fact. Exactly what you hope to profit by your treachery is beyond me, but I cannot imagine that your children and theirs will experience any happiness or fond feelings for you when it all hits the fan! “What did you do in the war, Daddy/Grandpa?” “Why, I destroyed your future. Aren’t you proud?”

    3. clemans November 22, 2016

      I disagree, I hope they keep rerunning this story for as long as pussy-grabber is in office. That way we have something to compare what he says and does with what the article says. At the end, if the article is right you might change your mind and not support someone like him again. If you are correct, then you can say you told everybody so.

      Conservatives have a habit of supporting something said on FOX today, but when they change their spin they then believe they NEVER believed the first thing. Keeping a list of what Trump said when he was running and compared it to what conservatives expected just might be the tipping point that saves them from themselves.

    4. I Am Helpy November 23, 2016

      What a poor delicate neo-Nazi petal you are. Boo. Hoo.

  2. Otto T. Goat November 22, 2016

    Trump enforcing existing laws makes him Hitler!

    1. iamproteus November 22, 2016

      That is not only disingenuous, it is just plain stupid! Tell me, Otto, what is it that you expect to see in this country in, oh say, 3 or 4 years? Just give me a thumbnail sketch. You know, the economy, race relations, international alliances, climate….the usual.

      1. Otto T. Goat November 22, 2016

        I expect to see the bodies of traitors and degenerates stacked like cord wood.

        1. iamproteus November 22, 2016

          Now, there is the image of a “Great America” as seen through the eyes of a true Trumpite! Make it complete, Otto. Raise your arm and shout, “Heil Trump!”

          1. iamproteus November 22, 2016

            Welcome to the new Amerika! Papers, please.

          2. dtgraham November 23, 2016

            OK Otto, if I’m gettin’ this before every Trump TV appearance, you’re starting to sell me. ABBA Nazism has it’s appeal. I know it’s against your racial beliefs, but can we work Beyonce into this somehow?

        2. I Am Helpy November 23, 2016

          “I am filled with dumb hate for everyone because I’m a massive failure and I can’t come to terms with my craving for black men”
          – you

        3. I Am Helpy November 23, 2016

          Also it’s weird that you’re wishing death on yourself and the rest of the alt-right, but then nobody ever called you smart.

        4. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 23, 2016

          Otto, you’ve got to stop grazing in the field growing poppies.
          Do you have an impotence problem?

      2. Box November 23, 2016

        Expect to see? I’ll answer that, an average president in non-commie times. Trump only stands out because of the sharp polarization and agenda Obama has created but as a person he is pretty much average with average ideals. Whats so stunning and earth-shaking about Border Patrol (that we already have), the promise of more jobs (that every candidate says), and better relations with our enemies?

        Thats the bright side, if people would get off his back. But they wont, so none of those things will happen. Instead, its 4 years of lots and lots of death and destruction. Are you prepared?

  3. Mama Bear November 22, 2016

    Trump is a white supremacist, it goes right along with his inflated sense of how important he is and how “special” he is. Let’s face it – the Republican Party has been dog whistling these things for years.

  4. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 22, 2016

    Trump just can’t help himself. The self-centered universe he’s constructed for himself out of his vain imaginings is a major ingredient for all authoritarian figures. Each one of them, from Nimrod and Pharoah to Trump and Putin, etc., have a major spiritual and emotional impediment that impels them to insist on being the center of gravity that society must revolve around.
    There’s no way conceivable that he can alter that at this late stage in his life.

  5. hermadite November 22, 2016


    For Immediate

    Bet your money on total chaos in America. A few million people will be
    without jobs as their employers depart the USA for China, Japan and India. Thousands
    of homeless families overwhelm all government resources for help. They reside
    in empty schools, scrounging for food in Panera dumpsters. Former teachers have to find employment
    in Canada, England and even Mexico.

    Millions of students are home schooled, Trump remains secluded in the
    White House, fully surrounded by a 12-foot steel wall. He is paralyzed with fear over the
    enormity of his job as President. The Vice-President has already been indicted,
    charged with taking bribes.

    Attorney General Guiliani has his hands full defending thousands of
    lawsuits against Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino, Mar-a-Lago in Florida, Trump
    University and his new AIR FORCE ONE airplane. The latter because 24-Karat gold
    plated faucets and door handles haven’t been paid for.

    Gov. Chris Christi was recently hospitalized for Mad Cow Disease after
    kissing so many asses. He was also
    treated for PTSD when Trump appointed Sarah Palin to the Supreme Court.
    According to ROLL CALL, she receives surreptitious gropes from Clarence Thomas
    during appeals.

    The Washington Monument Plaza is the camping site for 10,000 women, all
    members of WRAG (Women Raped And Groped). They admonish the President for his
    behavior. Especially since he hired Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones to be his
    personal secretaries.

    An activity President Trump performed is his pardon for movie director Roman
    Polanski and O.J. Simpson. Both
    are in the Federal Witness Protection program, due to threats on their lives.
    Taylor Swift is now Ambassador to England and Wolf Blitzer Ambassador to Haiti,
    because he speaks Creole.

    Only one camera is allowed at a monthly White House news conference
    (CNN), the official media outlet. No reporters are permitted near the White House, and a
    Restraining Order keeps them 150 feet away. The metal fence is electrified.
    Everyday, workmen have to bag and discard hundreds of dead pigeons.

    Kim Jung-un, Bashar al-Assad and Goodluck Jonathon are presently
    overnight guests of President Trump and his First Lady. Former Presidential
    Candidate Hillary Clinton turned down an invitation to attend the State Dinner.

    Otherwise, 200 million Americans
    have migrated to Canada, welcomed by PM Justin Trudeau. They had to abandon
    their homes, especially after Social Security was terminated and pension funds
    went bankrupt. Obamacare evaporated too.

    There was one consolation: living in the USA is much better than living
    in North Korea, Iraq or Syria. And
    American citizens remain free to vote stupidly.

    ©2016 Alan Abel (abelalan2000@yahoo.com)

    1. CPANY November 23, 2016


      1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 23, 2016

        Do you have the ability to see in the future and negate the comments above? Or do you feel the urge just to complain and react like a reptile?

  6. Box November 22, 2016

    Untruthful, and stupid fear mongering and conspiracies, exactly the same as what conservatives have been accused of for years. Why the double standards?

    Here is a better one which is true, read it yourself:

    The tweets and posture is truly unbelievable. Not only is this fellow guilty of sedition and maybe treason, he is the worst hater, bigot, racist ever in humanity. Why doesnt he just come out and say the rest of it: if you are black female, you probably have an butt big enough to rest a beer on, your nose was borrowed from a gorilla, your lips are so big they dont even have a use in humanity. This is what its come to?

    He (in my link) isnt the worst ive read in my life but he is getting there. Shame on you all. Or us all. Trump has never done any of the things he is accused of in your crystal balls of his presidency and yet you are willing to bring the country to its knees on a fear. No real american would do that. This article is a crystal ball, its nothing, airfluff, but the reality, the truth is what you guys are actually already doing. Trump isnt the horror, you are.

    1. JPHALL November 22, 2016

      The Republican Congressmen have been doing it for years. Where was you condemnation then?

      1. Dominick Vila November 23, 2016

        Not only did they do it, they acknowledged it with great pride…and their constituents re-elected for their misdeeds and the misery they caused. An example includes rejecting President Obama’s proposal to invest in infrastructure to keep up with the modernization that has been taking place throughout the industrialized world, and to create jobs. McConnell rejected that proposal, the House put in place spending limits to justify it. The USA has fallen behind, the ability to create jobs was impaired, and the economic recovery kept down to a minimum. One week after Trump’s election the House lifted the spending limits restrictions, and they can’t wait to support Trump’s proposal to do what both Obama and Hillary proposed! As for deficit spending and accumulation of debt, who cares when the goal is to make America great again.

    2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 22, 2016

      Strange that you should all of a sudden become so animated and fit to be tied over the criticism Trump richly deserves. Were you this upset by the criticosms of Obama which started from day one, with some people posting that they wished someone had shot Obama before he arrived to be inaugurated. Were you upset with the utter disrespect for the office of the presidency when the churl from South Carolina, Joe Wilson, who was so uncouth as to shout “You Lie!” while Obama was speaking to a joint session?
      Box, you’re the poster-boy for hypocrisy, and a pathetic presence wherever you go. You should learn to be rational, balanced and more asture and intelligent before making comments, or at least give the impression that you’re trying to be those things.

    3. I Am Helpy November 23, 2016

      A reminder: you are way too dumb to have an opinion on any topic. You often copy-paste links to a website with conspiracy theories SO DUMB that even infowars doesn’t buy in to them.

  7. Box November 23, 2016

    The article is amusing because at one time or the other Alex Jones talked the same way and from one side of the country to the other he was blasted as a lunatic madman. Now its your turn to listen to the crazy BS for the next eight years!! Articles like this, and so many more to come will be fraught with chills and spills and keep you up at night and under maximum stress! Tell you one thing, the liberal “alex jones” like this author wont be good for heart patients. Talk to your doctor before continuing to read the coming liberal news, the only mission of which is to make money on your rapid heart beat and pounding chest!

  8. Box November 23, 2016

    So let me get this straight, Trump is the authoritarian (not even in office!) but Obama, in eight years of executive orders, and the “pen and phone” wasnt? It was so bad that Obama had to keep coming into public and saying, I’m not a king! Im not a king! while continuing the authoritarian ways anyway? LOL

    1. FireBaron November 23, 2016

      Box, old boy, if the Republicans had kept their promises and brought certain bills to the floor that they promised, instead of holding them back for fear that it may look like President Obama had a legislative success. So, instead, he had to issue executive orders.

    2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 23, 2016

      Box, this is too complicated a problem for you. So don’t trouble yourself any further.

    3. I Am Helpy November 23, 2016

      I keep telling you: you fall far short of the baseline intellect required to have opinions.

  9. Dominick Vila November 23, 2016

    There are similarities between what led to the rise of the Third Reich, and what is happening in the USA, and Western Europe today. Whether or not a Trump presidency will lead to the rise of fascism in the USA remains to be seen. There are early indications that Trump is listening to his advisors and family members, and that he is moderating some of the positions he took throughout the campaign. The problem for him us that he cannot back off from all the promises he made to people consumed by fear, people who cannot cope with the changes influenced by the emergence of new technologies and concepts, and those who are convinced that all our maladies are caused by evil foreigners poised to destroy us.

    1. CPANY November 23, 2016

      First, let me say that I voted for Hillary, but I think that you’re overreacting. I too have read a lot about Hitler’s rise to power and am continually surprised by the amount of History Channel coverage of Hitler, the Third Reich and World War II.

      But, I don’t see any connection between Hitler and the Third Reich and the American contemporary political situation. Hitler did not have a daughter who married a Jewish man and converted to the Jewish faith. Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka’s relationship with her father is close, so there’s no parallel with 1933 Germany there.

      Unless you can be more substantive in your assessment, I think that you should stand down. Democracy is alive and well in twenty-first century America.

      1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 23, 2016

        You call FBI meddling, racists flocking to Trump, voters impeded by phony ID laws, email disseminated to misinform a democracy? You have a bizarre notion of democracy. I suggest you not get hung up over minutiae of whether there is a direct one-to-one correlation with Hitler, and instead use insight to see familiar patterns.

      2. Dominick Vila November 23, 2016

        My concern is not so much with what a Trump administration may do, but with the sentiments being expressed by so many fellow Americans.
        I admit that comparing the sentiments we hear with what contributed to the rise of the Third Reich may be an exaggeration, but I would not dismiss the racist and far right tendencies we are seeing so readily. BTW, what is happening is not limited to the USA. Similar moves to the far right are evident in the UK, France, Germany, and some Eastern European countries.


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