I have a relative who was born in Germany, Peter Moses. He has lived in New Zealand for a couple of decades and works as an Immigration lawyer in Auckland. He wrote this for the Tuesday Club notes:
He was a right- wing politician with a difference. He claimed to be an outsider, able to fix the mess in the capital city. Make the country great again. And while the old – moneyed – elites looked down on him for being crass and uneducated, a mere vulgar upstart, they funded him and his campaigns anyway.
He was seen as a bulwark against radical socialism. The more traditional conservatives eventually swung in line, and accepted his leadership.
He excelled at plumbing the depth of human emotions. And of human fear. He appealed to the lowest common denominator. Demonising minorities. Blaming outsiders for people’s suffering. Appealing to people’s sense of superiority for being members of a great nation. He understood that scared people and those lacking self-esteem, might fancy a pied piper. A strong man, showing the way to go, unaffected by doubt or self -reflection.
He claimed to be standing up to the country’s ‘enemies’ outside its borders. Being there for the little man, for the workers and small business people. Never mind that he was in cahoots with big business. He wasn’t talking much about that.
He had a weird fashion sense, and did funny things with hair. He was really a rather ugly man. But popular with the ladies, apparently.
His campaign events were big affairs, with lots of flags and patriotism. Lots of shouting. He fed on the energy of the crowds. Who adored him in turn.
Mendacity was his stock in trade. But he loved talking about the ‘lying press’. It was only the others who were lying. They were part of the corrupt system he wanted to sweep aside.
He never got a majority of the public vote. But the number of votes he did get was sufficient to instal him in power. Which he loved. He loved power and he admired authoritarian rulers and dictators. He derided democratically elected political leaders.
After he gained control, he quickly removed liberals and independents from their positions and replaced them with nationalist hardliners. Stacked the courts.
And when the end came? Adolf Hitler, the guy with the stupid little moustache, shot himself. In his bunker in Berlin, surrounded by Russian troops.
Well, in between the beginning and the end, the guy with the crazy little moustache, Adolf Hitler imprisoned and killed his political opponents in Germany, started a world war, gassed six million Jews and destroyed almost everything in his reach.
Clearly, he did any number of things you’d have to hope Donald Trump never dreamed of doing. But we don’t know. We won’t know, because in the end, he got voted out of power, and went playing golf.
Why? Perhaps because of the wisdom of the ‘founding fathers’. The drafters of the US constitution were wary of a future king. They established institutions that limited power. Deliberately so. Frustratingly so. Quite often, the checks and balances provided for in the 18th century prevented elected politicians doing what they had been elected to do to combat 20th century problems.
Is it far-fetched to compare Trump with Hitler? There are plenty of parallels in their political modus operandi. But surely, Trump isn’t as vile a human being as the little Austrian prick who led millions of Germans into committing the worst human rights abuses of the 20th century?
Think again. Authoritarian, nationalist politicians have been able to establish an almost unassailable powerbase in erstwhile democracies elsewhere. Democracy is not invulnerable. Orban in Hungary has all but removed the independence of the judiciary and the free press. Elections there are no longer fair or free. Erdogan in Turkey is ruling with public support largely because he’s undermined the secular institutions and relies on people’s faith in religion. He has removed the free press and can arrest opponents with near impunity. No free or fair elections there either, and the Turkish people just don’t know any better.
Is it really so hard to envisage a Trump dynasty? If he could, would he not have made Ivanka and Eric leaders for years to come? Princess Ivanka? Lord Eric? A family of Trumps governing the US for generations? Well, that does sound far-fetched. But why?
Because it is the institutions that protect democracies, not the integrity of their leaders or their voters. Germans in the 1930s were not morally inferior to Americans in 2020. Germany simply did not have the democratic history, or the institutions designed to prevent an authoritarian ruler.
So, the drafters of the US constitution, slave owning, racist, misogynistic as they likely all were, or most of them anyway, got something right after all. Democracies have to put up with cumbersome laws and slow processes to protect against the Trumps of this world.
How well is New Zealand doing in this regard?
10 November 2020
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