Monday, May 2, 2016

Demonic Otherness: Trump's Terrifying Rise Recalls Hitler's Trumping of Divided Germany

In a week in which the British Labour Party is struggling to dissociate itself from the disease on its own body politic of anti-semitism, the Labour friendly New Statesman publishes a scintillating review article by ++Rowan Williams.

Titled "A Nervous Breakdown in the Body Politic," Williams' essay asks the question, "Are we too complacent in thinking that the toxic brew of paranoia and populism that brought Hitler to power will never be repeated?"

It is a question worth asking as shrewd pundit Conrad Black argues for "The Inevitable Mr Trump" while a former staff member Stephanie Ciegelski agrees with Black's recognition of the angry populism propelling Trump forward but bluntly says Trump is all ego in an open letter to his supporters.

Williams writes about "demonic otherness" and notes that Hitler's rise was possible not because he won a few votes and manipulated the minority power that gave him but because a partisan quasi civil war in Bavaria in the 1920s made a mockery of the monopoly of state power in post-WW1 Germany. Without that monopoly nations provide the opportunities for monstrous egomaniacs who know how to use violence strategically to gain power polite people naively presume is impossible.

So Williams, reviewing Hitler: a Biography – Volume I: Ascent by Volker Ullrich, published by Bodley Head, worries, rightly in these disturbing times of toxicity, partisanship and civil wars affecting the whole world, about a complacency today which could let another Hitler rise to demonic domination.

Naturally those worries gnaw away at the phenomenon of Trumpism, though perhaps he should also worry while focusing on Hitler, about another political cartoon-like character, Ken Livingstone.

Thus he writes,

"The extraordinary mixture of farce and menace in Donald Trump’s campaign is a potent distillation of all this: a political theatre, divorced from realism, patience and human solidarity, bringing to the surface the buried poisons of a whole system and threatening its entire viability and rationality. But it is an extreme version of the way in which modern technology-and-image-driven communication intensifies the risks that beset the ideals of legitimate democracy. 
And – think of Trump once again – one of the most seductively available tricks of such a theatre is the rhetoric of what could be called triumphant victimhood: we are menaced by such and such a group (Jews, mig­rants, Muslims, Freemasons, international business, Zionism, Marxism . . .), which has exerted its vast but covert influence to destroy us; but our native strength has brought us through and, given clear leadership, will soon, once and for all, guarantee our safety from these nightmare aliens.
 Granted that there is no shortage of other candidates for demonic otherness in Europe and the United States (witness Trump’s language about Muslims and Mexicans), the specific and abiding lesson of Nazi anti-Semitism is the twofold recognition of the ease with which actually disadvantaged communities can be cast in the role of all-powerful subverters, and the way in which the path to violent exclusion of one kind or another can be prepared by cultures of casual bigotry and collective anxiety or self-pity, dramatised by high-temperature styles of media communication."

Read it all. We live in worrying times.

POSTSCRIPT: Interesting essay from Andrew Sullivan here. Wasn't he one of the contributors to the zeal for equality in America recently? LATER: Rejoinder both affirming and critical from Ross Douthat here.


Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Peter

Somewhat ironically, your articles headline is an expression of ‘demonic otherness’ – Comparing ‘Trump’s terrifying rise’ to Hitler?


I’m not a water carrier for Trump, I think in many ways he would make an appalling President. However, that would just make him on a par with a recent cadre of appalling American Presidents, no better no worse, just different.

Rowan Williams article reminds me of the liberal progressive who sees history as one unbroken march towards technological and civilizational advancement. They are therefore shocked at the state of the world. There is no rational space in their minds for the barbarity of ISIS, or the attraction it has for young Muslims the world over. It’s presumably all random.

So, when it comes to Trump, he expresses concern over his rhetoric, and apparent demonization of Muslims but fails to analyze the reasons behind Trump’s apparent success.

Trumps message is simple, America never wins, we are going to make America great again, immigrants are taking our jobs – we are going to build a wall, they are a threat to our security, we are going to ban Muslim immigration until we find out what the hell is going on. We have spent 2 Trillion dollars on wars in the Middle East and have nothing to show for it. We are going to refrain from attempts at nation building and the export of democracy to people who frankly don’t want it.

All of this is against a backdrop of blue collar unemployment resulting from factory closure and the export of manufacturing jobs to China and elsewhere in Asia. The remaining menial jobs that do exist are being taken by illegal Mexican immigrants at labor rates a fraction of what the factory jobs were paying.

America does lose at everything. The deal they did with Iran gave the Iranians everything they wanted and America got nothing. They don’t know how to win wars anymore, and haven’t done since WWII. They engage in battles where there is no obvious American interest, and then deploy rules of engagement that prevent them from crushing the enemy.

When it comes to domestic Islamist terrorism, their current President will do everything possible to avoid linking Islam with the events of Boston, New York, Chattanooga, or San Bernardino, or more than a dozen other incidents that could easily be named. Whereas he has no problem telling Christians go ‘get down from their high horse’ at a recent prayer breakfast, or that they are ‘unloving’ at another. Islam however is beyond criticism.

If this were not enough, when the citizens complain about what is happening, they are called racists and bigots.

If you want to elect a Donald Trump, that’s how you go about it.

carl jacobs said...

I can see the bumper sticker now.

"Vote for the Felon. Not the Idiot."

It's a given that Trump is an idiot - little more than a hairpiece with an ego attached. God grief. He's a reality TV star. This whole campaign has been a perverse combination of "Survivor meets House of Cards." There is also no doubt that if Hillary Clinton was not Secretary of State she would be in prison right now as I type this post. If you don't believe this, you are simply ignorant of US Law. She won't serve a day in jail, because Obama will pardon her before he leaves office. But that doesn't change the fact that she committed a felony.

So what is the solution? I originally thought I would have to vote for Hillary and then shoot myself to atone for the criminal nature of the act. She may be a felon and [insert a long string of unpleasant epithets here] but at least she is a functioning adult. But then it occurred to me. We can elect Hillary and then impeach her five minutes after she takes the Oath of Office. It's the only hope for the Republic.

This is yet more evidence of the general decline of the West and the impending failure of its libertine self-worshiping culture. If the US electorate is so degenerate that it produces a contest between Trump and Hillary, I being to despair for the future of limited Gov't. The population is simply losing the moral foundation that makes it possible.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Brendan and Carl

Brendan: the gist of Hitler's message to Germany, defeated in war and by reparations, was "I will make Germany great again." Further there were outstanding reasons why such a king of rhetoric was popular. Trump needs to distance himself from the tyranny he so easily espouses (see now new link at bottom of the post). But can he do that?

Carl: it is the worst of all American worlds and it is about moral degeneracy.

Bryden Black said...

Carl; I reckon you might get further insight from this:

Os Guiness, A Free People's Suicide.

I sense neither the Felon nor the Wrestler are worthy of a dime.

Ouch ... Kyrie eleison!

James said...

Williams writes about "demonic otherness" and notes that Hitler's rise was possible not because he won a few votes and manipulated the minority power that gave him but because a partisan quasi civil war in Bavaria in the 1920s made a mockery of the monopoly of state power in post-WW1 Germany.

The argument about the failure of state power is reasonable, but it had nothing to do with a small brawl in a Munich beer hall: it had everything to do with allied powers marching in and sequestering assets to pay war damages, which led to hyperinflation which the German government was powerless to stop. When the world economy crashed a second time six years later, the German people rightly took the approach of "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me". Talk about "winning a few votes" is dishonest (shame on you Rowan): the NSDAP was by some distance the largest party in the Reichstag, albeit it did not command a majority.

What we should be looking for in the next few months is another 2007-8 style banking crisis: if that happens, expect to see President Trump sworn in in 2017... and be very, very afraid.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi James
That was me talking about "a few votes" and I may have been neither fair to Rowan Williams or to the actual historical situation; though in my memory, Hitler did take great advantage of not being a majority winner in the election which made him Chancellor and then he turned tables on Hindenburg and gained a grip on power which was at odds with that lack of a majority. Or is my memory execrably faulty?

Father Ron Smith said...

What worries me, Peter, and I suspect mahy others, is Trump's so obvious alliance with conservative evangelsts in North America. I would think their interest in him is based on their perception of his ability to make lots of money - 'prosperity Gospel' style. I can still see his having hands laid on him by a group of Pentecostal pastors. Such a shock!

Andrei said...

All it this business is is a grotesque reality show to pick a puppet to lead the Post Christian, Post Democratic USA to front the orgy of National and Cultural destruction that the Empire of the West (the USA and its Vassals) has been engaged in for the past 25 years leaving a trail of devastated peoples and lands in their wake.

And the Globalist elite being servants of the Prince of Lies tell people that their most horrific crimes are "humanitarian interventions" and most people believe them distracted as they are by important matters such as who left Bachelor New Zealand last week

Brendan McNeill said...

Speaking of politics and tyrants, readers may appreciate this article from Rod Dreyer about Trump rally protests in California, and other forms of tyranny at Jesuit Universities in the State.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, thank you for your link to 'Creedal Christian' Posted by Fr. Bryan Owen who, I think, sometimes comments here. (Am I correct?).

His videos of Dr. Tom Wright are quite fascinating, and in view of the problem of biblical hermeneutic in the modern world I found this comment made by Tom Wright - about the need to keep up to date with the modern world in our interpretation of the Bible - fascinating:

"Take Jesus away (from your stories in the Bible?) and you have a bunch of odd theories".

I'm not a great fan of T.W. However, I think he's got something here

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, I would normally leave American politics to those who can vote, but Trump is part of a growing international mood of discontent with how things are. After the last crash, there was a glimmer of hope that things would change. We all tightened our belts and took austerity on the chin, except of course the bankers who caused the crisis and whom we all bailed out as a reward. Politicians have failed to straighten out the world economy and those who will never be free of debt (even if they can afford a house deposit before they are 45) want accountability. Brexit in my view is similar. Irrational and likely to cause some level of crisis, but a protest against politicians who have failed. If Gen Y and Zeders had the spirit of boomers in the 60s there might be more active protest. Thankfully for law and order, Ys and Zs cannot get off their devices for long enough. They can however vote. This has little to do with Plato and all to do with the fact that honest hardworking people in certain generations will never own a house and will spend much of their lives living hand to mouth. Working hard no longer pays.