Germany’s fragile political situation in the 1920s and early 1930s was staple reading when I was researching for my novel, Flight to Freedom.
The Republican candidate in the United States election for President has a lot in common with the National Socialist Workers Party candidates for President of Germany in 1932. Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler’s similarities have been well documented but the problem is not them. Trump and Hitler are products of their respective polities. If it had not been Trump, it would’ve been someone similar.
Ordering a mother to remove her crying baby from a campaign rally by is not the behaviour of an aspiring US president. And the despicable attack on the parents of Captain Humayun Khan who gave his life for his country is not the behaviour of an aspiring US Commander in Chief. And then there’s a litany of disgraceful, disparaging and damaging attacks on everyone from journalists to speakers at the Democratic party’s National Convention he wants to “punch”.
Hitler’s reaction to a crying baby at one of his rallies is not known but he was a canny politician and it is unlikely he would insult a supporter. He never would’ve insulted the family of a German soldier who had been killed in action. Hitler didn’t say he wanted to punch people — but he did far worse in private.
Trump and Hitler are products of their respective political systems that promised much and delivered little. For decades people in the liberal democracies of the West were promised if they worked hard they could achieve what they wanted. They are still working hard, sometimes in two jobs to make ends meet, and they are getting further and further away from what they want. They are the working poor. They have been unable to get better paying jobs because they have been unable to get the education they needed because of decades of damaging policies that have widened the inequality gap. The share of total market income in the US going to the top one percent more than doubled from 1970 to 2010, from 9 percent to 20 percent which has created a class of what we could call the withouts.
The withouts in Germany in the early 1930s were the unemployed. The Great Depression’s impact on Germany was greater than it was in the US. One in three working-age Germans was unemployed in 1932. US loans had propped up the German economy since 1924 but banks called in their loans after the Wall Street Crash in October 1929. At the same time the government’s imposed severe austerity policies designed to encourage the Great War Allies to waiver debilitating loan repayments agreed to as part of the peace settlement. It worked: US President Herbert Hoover declared a moratorium on the payments in 1932 but it was too late, the damage in Germany had been done. Nazi support went from 3 percent of the vote in the pre-Wall Street Crash parliamentary election in November 1928 to 37 percent in the post-Crash July, 1932 election.
Hitler exaggerated Germany’s problems and, like Trump, had a list people who caused it: the Allies who enforced the Versailles Treaty that ended the First World War, the men who signed it, whom he called the November Criminals, and the Communists. And behind it all were the Jewish people.
Trump’s popularity is based on his outsider status, as was Hitler’s.
The challenges confronting the US are considerable, complex and comprehensive. Their solution requires more than simple slogans. Tackling inequality would be a good start. The stakes are high. If disillusionment continues to spread unchecked, the republic’s future will be threatened just as Germany’s was.