The Order of the Day, a history-novella by Eric Vuillard, focuses on the role that 24 German businessmen played with Hitler in the run-up to the Austrian Anschluss in 1938, the building of World War II’s German war-machine, the committal of the worst crime in Jewish history, and the justice meted out during the Nuremberg Trials of 1945 to 1946.
This short and elegant book describes the step-by-step descent of a society into a moral abyss that committed the greatest crime of the 20th century. It shows how Hitler brought business titans into his evil scheme and created a force that met no resistance on his destructive march to conquer all of Europe.
Exhausted by World War I, fearful of another war against Germany, oppressed by galloping inflation in the 1920s, demoralized by the economic depression of the 1930s, and distracted by the evils of Stalin and Soviet Communism, no country and no leader was willing to resist Hitler’s step-by-step take-over of Europe.
In this era of Trump, millions of Americans are stepping up to fight Trump’s distortions of fact, moral turpitude, corruption, and violation of law even as Senate Republicans neatly fold up their tents in ways similar to how Austria and Czechoslovakia, France and Belgium folded theirs eighty years ago. While our era and nation are in so many ways different than the 1930s and Germany, the moral collapse of societal norms in those years is similar to the moral collapse that we are witnessing today at the highest levels of the American government. One cannot help but read the past into the present when considering the era Vuillard describes in The Order of the Day.
Hitler’s leadership raises the most consequential question for us today; what makes for great leadership and who ultimately will be the Democratic nominee to run against Trump in 2020?
My experience teaches me that great leadership requires not just vision and high moral rectitude, but the love of truth, the love of humanity, wisdom, humility, respect for the dignity of the individual, a sacred commitment to further the common good, an iron will to stand up to complacency in the face of evil, and strong advocacy for justice, compassion, and peace.
As we are confronted with the manipulation of and distortion of law and justice that Trump and company advocate every day, our response must be to fight back hard.
Had Austria resisted the Anschluss; had Britain chosen Churchill earlier as its leader and set aside the folly of appeasement; had Churchill and FDR been able to mold much earlier a great consensus of peace-loving democratic nations and forge them into a vital force against Hitler, the course of history may well have been very different.
Donald Trump’s tyrannical leadership, his self-centered narcissistic opportunism coupled with his woeful ignorance of history and his utter lack of respect for the democratic institutions that made America great and represent American exceptionalism, present a real and present danger to our democratic way of life in ways that America has not experienced since the Civil War.
Many Democratic candidates for President are calling for radical changes in our society in the run-up to the 2020 elections, but what’s necessary in fighting Trump goes beyond ideology. What’s necessary to right America settles ultimately upon who actually can beat Trump decisively, definitively, massively, and convincingly at the polls.
Nancy Pelosi is right when she calls for a center-left figure to lead the way, and she is right that bold idealism may not win this next election. Only pragmatic realism can defeat Trump.
As the winnowing away of Democratic candidates for President begins in the coming year, I hope that Pelosi’s wisdom wins the day and that we turn from the political, legal, moral, sycophantic, and corrupting chaos wrought by Trump, his administration and the Republican Senate to a renewed respect for our democratic institutions, a renewed respect for our differences and diversity, to a renewed respect for the “other,” and to common human decency.