Recently, this writer was talking with a friend who is a Republican. This man is too much of a gentleman and has way too much class to "like" Donald Trump. Like many in the GOP, he is worried about the direction his party is taking. Still, he will probably vote for Trump as the GOP's choice. He believes that while he might seem extreme, he's just "ull of hot air and will become more moderate once elected.
This writer cannot help but think this dangerous thinking. After all, in 1933, a German became chancellor and many Germans believed that once in office, he, too, would "moderate" his position away from the crazy things he said.
Although the Nazis became the biggest party in the German parliament, they never held a majority of seats. Of course, they disrupted the parliament and walked out en masse when they did not get their way. But, to get support for Hitler as chancellor the Nazis had to appeal to other conservative and militarist groups that thought they could use the Nazis as their own road to power. A big mistake. A fatal mistake.
These groups included conservative Germans, nationalists, old-styled monarchists, the old German aristocracy, and Germany's "military-industrial" complex, who saw Hitler's saber-rattling as profitable to them. Many simply stood for "traditional German values" and only wanted to "make Germany great again."
Many did not particularly like Hitler. In fact, many, especially those members of the old German nobility and Prussian officer corps, detested him but thought that his ability to mobilize a mass movement might benefit their own interests.
Quite a few did not take Hitler seriously. Like some who say they detest Donald Trump but are committed to voting for him, many Germans were certain that Hitler's more extreme rhetoric would soften once he achieved power. A fatal mistake. Even after he took office, many German Jews held out hope that Hitler's anti-Semitism would "blow over." "After all," thought many German Jews, "Germany has gone through periods of anti-Semitism since the Middle Ages and it never got THAT bad." A fatal mistake.
By Der Fuhrer's time, most German Jews had assimilated into the larger German culture. They usually did not look or dress differently from other Germans. Always a minority, they were an educated and successful one with many representatives in business, medicine, law, and even the military. In fact, around 100,000 Jews fought for Germany in WWI. Even so, the Nazis appealed to angry people who were looking for simplistic solutions to very complex problems. They were out to play the "blame game" and since the Jews were a minority the Nazis could do without, they made a convenient scapegoat for Germany's problems.
What about those Germans who did take Hitler seriously and adored him? The Germans who cried when he came on stage and shouted "Sieg Heil?" Many were sincere, patriotic Germans, "true believers" who were mesmerized by Hitler's platitudes, Some, at least, were hoping for Hitler to "moderate." Others saw his methods as necessary for "making Germany great again." Another fatal mistake.
Those who follow populist demagogues, whether it is Hitler, Mussolini, or Trump, should never be written off as "stupid." The demagogues themselves know exactly what they are doing. A high I.Q. or a degree does not confer immunity from brainwashing by any cult, political or religious. The fact that the Germans were among the best-educated, most creative and technologically advanced people in Europe shows that what happened in German could happen anywhere. People in crowds or manipulated by unscrupulous politicians often behave very differently than they might as individuals.
Like Hitler and Mussolini, Donald Trump is a master manipulator who knows how to appeal to his "base," largely angry, disaffected white males. They feel that the country no longer represents their values and many would like to impose these values on other Americans.
Many who both like and dislike Trump are not taking him seriously. Many are confident that, even if he wins in November, he will "moderate" or at least our Constitution and our other two branches of government will keep him in check. Let us hope they are right. If not, can we afford such a mistake?
(Scott Cracraft is a citizen, a taxpayer, a veteran, and a resident of Gilford.)
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