Free associate “Weimar Republic” and the historically literate will say: hyper-inflation, street fighting, social chaos, destruction of the middle class, extreme political polarization, conspiracy theories, and setting the stage for the rise of the Nazis. Is this the direction Trump and his Republican cohorts are leading us today? Toward a government steeped in chaos and confusion?
After Germany’s surrender ending WWI, the government of Kaiser Wilhelm II fell. In its place, rose the Weimar Republic, an untested coalition, that attempted to unify Germany from 1919-33. However, her fate was not in her own hands because the Treaty of Versailles doomed Germany to repay unpayable war debts. and permanently sapped her ability to rebuild the economy.
Enter inflation with wheelbarrows of cash to pay for groceries. With up to 30 political parties forming 20 different coalitions, from the National Socialists (Nazis) on the right to the Communists on the left, reality was hard to define. Each party had its own idea on how to rebuild Germany.
What does this thumbnail of Weimar history have to do with America today? A lot. The rise of unfiltered social media, distortions of the conventional media, suffering middle classes, and conspiracy theories have created the same rabbit hole of head spinning confusion that paralyzed Weimar, resulting in an American “Weimar of the mind.”
When the average citizen and those whom Donald Trump loves, i.e., “the poorly educated,” are intentionally misled in an attempt to gain and maintain power, America opens itself up to a host of ills. To name a few: confusion, hopelessness, anger and suspicion. When the governing, financial, and media elites war amongst themselves, cannot agree on simple facts, and attack the core institutions of government, a signal is sent to the rest of us.
Events are out of control. No wonder acts of domestic terrorism are rising rapidly. The fringe is clearly unhinged. The FBI agrees, and has set up a task force to prevent more domestic terror attacks.
America did not lose a war, but the causes of, and loses in, the 2008 economic crisis felt like one. Day after day, one pillar after another of America’s economic institutions collapsed –banks, AIG, GM– and surrendered to a government bailout. The response, in the Congress and Executive Suite, was haphazard and impromptu. One day they rejected any bailout. The next day the checkbook was wide open.
In response the stock market collapsed.
Endless commentary from the economic pundits on 24-hour news channels simultaneously condemned the bailouts and praised them. Former laissez faire capitalists became overnight socialists ready to nationalize anything with a “systemic risk” after its name. The entire effort was not popular. According to a 2013 Reuters poll:
…. half of the respondents believe there has not been enough reform to prevent a future crisis. As many as 44 percent of those polled believe the government should not have bailed out financial institutions, [and] fifty-three percent think not enough was done to prosecute bankers….
Fifty-three percent think bankers got off too easy? This lingering anger mirrors the betrayal felt in Weimar over the bankers and politicians who failed to cut a better reparations deal with the war’s winners.
When finally our economy recovered, in the middle of the Obama years, and millions of jobs were added, the stock market, as a sign of confidence, also began its recovery.
What did the Republican Presidential nominee say about the Labor Bureau’s statistics? “They’re all fake.” Candidate Trump told us the rising stock market was “a big fat bubble.” He undermined institutional credibility by promoting the idea that everything (including the elections) were “rigged.” This gaslighting of verifiable information was unprecedented.
At every opportunity Trump and his administration have tried to convince the citizenry that up is down, down is up. Voter fraud, no collusion, inaugural crowd size, hurricane tracking warnings, tax cuts, budget deficits, North Korean negotiations, and China trade deal achievements are just part of the list. There is no distortion too small or too large for Trump’s Republicans to promote. The President has become the “crazy-in-chief,” retweeting QAnon conspiracy theories and Oath Keeper agendas. This destabilizes American politics
Media filters are gone. Powerful, nationally-syndicated newspaper columnists like Walter Lippman and William Buckley, along with the few broadcast channels with their trusted anchors Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw, kept a consensus of reality for the population. Now, any crank with a YouTube following can attract millions of viewers, ala Alex Jones. News sources backed by right-wing billionaires appear out of nowhere. Breitbart, Daily Caller, OAN Network break distortions and lies to an eager audience hungry for truths denied them by the “lame stream media.” When the President calls journalists who expose his lies “enemies of the people,” he is not just denigrating them. He is calling for their destruction as an institution. Clearly he is trying to create a factual vacuum he can fill with his distortions.
This mirrors Weimar in very specific way. To the Communists, the opposition were all labeled Fascists. To the nationalist right, all democratic supporters were Leninists undermining the state by taking their cues from Russia.
The result of this polarization? Violence in the form of targeted attacks on opposition demonstrations, beatings and political assassinations.
Trump’s rallies, tinged with menace, come to the edge of this.
For all the above, we are living the Weimar of the mind, carefully crafted by the President.