President Trump: Nothing will ever be the same again.
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
Easter 1916 – W. B. Yeats
HAD YOU BEEN LIVING in Germany on 27 January 1933 the chances are good that you would have considered Adolf Hitler a busted flush. Two months earlier, in the last nationwide elections, his Nazi Party had suffered a small but highly significant loss of support. The newspapers were filled with confident predictions that the National Socialists had peaked. The trade unions even dared to entertain a small measure of optimism about the future. It was known that the present Chancellor, General Kurt von Schleicher, was drawing up a comprehensive plan to put Germany back to work. Things were looking up.
The following day, however, General Schleicher was forced to tender his resignation. Unending backstairs intrigue had finally succeeded in persuading the German President, Paul von Hindenburg, to get rid of the inveterate military schemer once and for all and replace him with Adolf Hitler. The right-wing aristocrats, soldiers, politicians and businessmen advising Hindenburg were firmly convinced that Hitler could be “controlled”. The Nazi Party and its charismatic leader would be the pawns of German reaction – not its master.
Negotiations between Hitler and the President’s advisers continued for a further 24 hours. The following day, 30 January 1933, Hindenburg announced that he was appointing Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany.
Nothing would ever be the same again.
In Washington today, 20 January 2017, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. The route by which he has arrived at the White House is very different from that which led Hitler to the Chancellery, but with the investiture of executive power in Trump’s person, the American Republic, like the hapless Weimar Republic before it, will be changed, changed utterly.
As his angry inaugural address makes clear, Trump intends to remake America in ways no other president has dared to contemplate. He feels empowered to do this because his election represents not a vote of collective confidence in the American system, but an act of collective repudiation. Not by all Americans. Not even by a majority of Americans. But by enough of those who consider themselves to be “real” Americans, and who possess the means to determine the course of events. These Americans, like the “true” Germans of 1933, have become convinced that they can no longer rely upon the American political system to protect their interests – and so, that system must be changed, changed utterly.
The forms of American democracy will remain – at least for a while – but its substance will be steadily emptied out. With all three branches of the US government: the Executive, the Legislature, and (very soon) the Judiciary under Republican Party control, the “checks and balances” in which America’s founding fathers placed so much faith will be rendered inoperative. Exactly what is meant by “We the People of the United States” will become the subject of drastic revision.
The progressive expansion of American citizenship: the historical journey that began in the depths of the American Civil War with the Emancipation Proclamation, and which ended with President Barack Obama bathing the White House in all the colours of the rainbow, will be halted. Worse – it will be thrown into reverse.
In Nazi Germany the process began with The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour and The Reich Citizenship Law – both passed at a special session of the Reichstag convened during the 1935 Nazi Party Rally in the city of Nuremburg. It was through these so-called “Nuremburg Laws” that German Jews found themselves definitively excluded from what it meant to be German.
That is how it begins: with exclusions; deportations; preventive detentions; the construction of walls.
But that is not how it ends.
This essay was posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Saturday, 21 January 2017.