A lesson from history

What does a significant percentage of the conservative element of a population, reeling in the midst of the ruins of a global pandemic and a significant struggle for power lost, do for an encore? That’s a question history asked once before, one hundred years ago, more or less. And the answer history returned was Hitler.

Before we descend into cliche (“those who refuse to learn from history,” etc.) or disputable (and in this case, irrelevant) trivialities (“Trump is Hitler,” etc.), let’s first take a moment to make certain clarifications. The first is, history doesn’t repeat itself. It can’t. What happens instead is certain patterns from the past sometimes reappear in combinations that look familiar. From those patterns we learn certain maxims that may or may not be true, such as never attack Moscow, or never invade Afghanistan, or (unless your name is William) never contemplate the invasion of England.

But it can’t be overlooked that one hundred years ago, more or less, the world was in the throes of a global pandemic and Germany had just lost the Great War, what came to be universally known as World War I. Many Germans were in denial about it. Many Germans, particularly the conservative element, believed that Germany had surrendered from a position of strength, or at least parity. Many Germans came to believe they had been “stabbed in the back” by traitors from within, that their defeat was rigged, that it was a fraud.

If a lesson from history can be taken from this — and that’s disputable — it should be that Hitler’s subsequent emergence from post-war, post-pandemic Germany was made possible by a combination of a weak and vacillating Weimar Republic and the Great Depression. History suggests, therefore, that one way we can avoid another Hitler is for us to be strong and unifying and economically sound.

True or not that seems like a good idea in any case. We should be strong and unifying and economically sound. There’s no reason why we can’t be. For one thing, we have the worldwide calamity of global warming to deal with. For another, since the pendulum between conservatives in power and liberals in power seems to swing from one side to the other with tedious regularity, that doesn’t make the swing back inevitable. Perhaps we can stop it from swinging back permanently.

Now that we own the Executive branch of government and, should we win a majority in the Senate, I submit that it’s time that we keep it. And I mean that in the Ben Franklin sense. We have a Republic again, if we can keep it. And the last thing Republicans want, notwithstanding the irony of their name, is a Republic.

One way we can achieve this is for each of us to stay involved. I sense that, like me, many of you are breathing a sigh of relief. That’s a good thing. We’ve earned it. But one thing we must not do is return to normal. We now have in our immediate memories recollections of the horrors of life under an American fascist regime. Don’t let go of that memory. Stay involved. Hypervigilance is the price of freedom.

There are many ways we can stay involved. We can fight for social justice by supporting causes and candidates consistent with enlightened beliefs in tolerance, equality and responsible environmental action. We can talk and write in the name of these causes. Those of you who are young enough could contemplate a run for public office, provided that your overweening motive is to be a servant for public good and a defender of the weak and the voiceless. Nothing less is acceptable.

Again, if history has anything to teach us, a man like Adolf Hitler was made possible by a government of vacillating and corrupt weaklings without a moral compass. So for this current American administration to succeed, it must be strong and certain and virtuous. And we can do our part to make sure it stays that way.

Donald Trump was bad enough, but Trump was no Hitler. In any case, history has perhaps given us a formula for making another Hitler, and Trump has left behind a blueprint of corruption and self-dealing to alert such a person that it is possible. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. Let’s make sure we never forget the horror of having to endure a president like Donald Trump. Let’s make sure that, if anything at all can be learned from history, this time let’s learn that lesson very, very well. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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