“… and for the life of me I could not quite comprehend what hidden springs he undoubtedly unloosed in the hysterical mob which was greeting him so wildly.”
— William L. Shirer, Berlin Diary
You may be tired of hearing the analogies being made between Donald Trump and Adolph Hitler (though the strutting and the uplifted chin and the theatrics remind me more of Mussolini than Hitler). You may wish the whole circus would fold up and slink away in the night (and who can blame you?). You may be a supporter of The Donald, and you’re really, really angry about the condition of the country and the condition of your paycheck. You may even consider yourself a member of the Silent Majority (a term I thought we buried along with the Nixon presidency). I’ve seen those signs lately, in videos of Trump rallies: “The Silent Majority Stands With Trump.” They’re all professionally printed, by the way, not hand made.
A great many of us used to think Trump was merely a buffoon, incapable of being a serious politician. Some of us still think so. It’s instructive to recall that a lot of people, powerful politicians and businessmen, thought Hitler was a buffoon in the 1920’s, and that if he ever came to power, they could control him. The great fear now raging through the supposedly establishment component of the Republican Party is that they have realized they can control neither Mr. Trump nor the people voting for him.
Trump’s willful ignorance or rearranging of facts; his inflammatory statements about Muslims, Mexicans, and Meghyn Kelly; and his increasingly authoritarian rhetoric, are all bad enough. The scenes from Chicago last evening at a subsequently-cancelled Trump rally are another matter, as was Trump’s response to it.
When I saw video of what arguably was an incipient riot, I thought first of another riot in Chicago; the one that took place during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Large numbers of mostly young people had come to the city to protest against the war in Viet Nam, and LBJ’s unrelenting prosecution of it. On the night of 28 August, thousands of protesters who had peacefully gathered in Grant Park were brutally attacked by several thousand Chicago policemen. It was later said that, watching footage of the riot on their televisions that night and the next day, is when many people decided to vote for Richard Nixon in the up-coming election, an election Nixon won in a landslide.
In 1968, people saw the violence, and the obvious disarray in the Democratic Party, as a reason to vote Republican. In 2016, the violence on display yesterday (in both St. Louis and Chicago), and the disarray in the Republican Party, will be interpreted by many as proof of everything that Donald Trump is saying and insinuating, thus increasing their determination to vote for him in the coming primaries, hoping thereby to increase their chances of being able to vote for him in November.
In 1968, protesters were attacked by cops. In 2016, they’re attacked by Trump supporters. In 1968, Mayor Richard Daly unapologetically supported the actions of his police department. In 2016, Trump apologized without actually doing so, claimed he was rescheduling the rally to avoid violence and injuries, and then cast himself as a victim. “You can’t even have a rally in this country anymore,” he said. This, from the man who not long ago said he’d like to punch a protester in the face. This from the man who quite recently defended one of his supporters who did in fact punch a protester.
I have written elsewhere that in 1968, the year I dropped out of college and volunteered for the Army, it looked like America was coming apart at the seams. Forty-eight years later, it looks that way again.
Ron Paul liked to talk about a revolution, and Bernie Sanders is actively talking about a political revolution in America. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is creating a revolution, by harnessing the anger of millions of mostly white working and middle class people who have felt left out and left behind for a very long time. It is only now, however, that they have found someone who is willing to articulate that anger and turn it into a political weapon. All of this makes me wonder: How far are we now, from our own Kristallnacht?