There are some who are in darkness

9 02 2017

First off, what is this shit? Few inches of snow and schools, CUNY close? If it’s safe enough for kids to go sledding, it’s safe enough for them to go to school.

I hate snow days: I put some effort into plotting out the syllabus, so missed days throws that off. Yeah, I do allow some slack, but I’d rather I, rather than the weather, were in charge of that flexibility.

(Straigtens shirt, smooths hair.) Back to bizness, and another hoisting-up of a dmf comment:

I remember when pol-sci/history types were going around telling us that Trump’s US was not the same as Hitler’s Germany (and I don’t think Trump is a fascist, too self-consumed for that) as if we knew which factors were the determinate ones in bringing facism to bloom, never struck me as being particularly verifiable, what would be the test of such assertions/speculations?

As one of those ranting that the US was/is not Weimar, I’d offer up the following as crucial factors:

1. History. The United States were created in rebellion against the British, and both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution were written by those who prevailed in that rebellion. Slavery tore the country apart, but, again, with the victory of the Union and, crucially, the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, the US began a shift from United States to United States.

The Weimar republic, on the other hand, was borne of defeat, and its opponents never tired of blaming the republicans themselves for the loss the autocratic Kaiser and his generals, Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff inflicted on the nation. The German populace was completely unprepared for defeat—the Kaiser himself thought well into fall that the Germans were on the brink of victory—and thus willing to entertain the notion that they were ‘stabbed in the back’. Not everyone accepted the Dolchstoßlegende, but the poison injected into the embryonic republic did weaken it.

2. Constitutional legitimacy. The US Constitution is widely and deeply accepted as legitimate across the political spectrum, although there are, of course, wide and deep differences as to the appropriate interpretation of said constitution. Those differences, significantly, break along whose interpretation is more legitimate, not whether the founding document is itself legit.

The Weimar Constitution, on the other hand, was never widely accepted, and the parties which ushered it into existence were themselves ushered out of power within a few years of its adoption. The Social Democrats and the German Democratic Party did serve in multiple governments between 1919 and 1932, but after 1920 elections, they never held the majority in the Reichstag. Further, after Social Democratic Friedrich Ebert’s death, the anti-republican Hindenburg took over as president; while he did little during the 1920s actively to undermine the republic, he did little to support it, either.

Which leads to the third point:

3. Constitutional structure. The German republic was, like the US, a federated one; unlike the US, however, the selection of the political leader was non-democratic.

Citizens did vote directly for members of the Reichstag (varying terms) and for the president (fixed 7-year term). Unlike in most parliamentary systems, however, where the majority party (the party with the best chance of forming a majority coalition) is offered the chance by a president or monarch to form a government and take over the prime minister’s/chancellor’s office, during Weimar the president could select whomever he wanted as chancellor.

This became an issue once Hindenburg took over. Given that he despised liberalism and republicanism and distrusted universal suffrage, he was loath to select a chancellor from the majority party/coalition. In fact, he was so opposed that he initially denied Hitler the chance to form a government which, as the leading party after the July 1932 elections, was his due. It was only after the failure of various conservative chancellor’s that he agreed to offer Hitler the chancellorship, along with only two (albeit crucial) cabinet posts.

Finally, the Weimar constitution under Article 48 gave the president emergency powers to suspend the constitution—a power which Ebert himself exercised rather too often—and which was used by Hindenburg and Papen to overthrow the Prussian state government; the coup was a death blow to the republic.

There is no equivalent power available to the US president.

These are the three most important factors, I think, in arguing against any kind of equivalence, but there are others as well. While the US is a violent society, the levels of political violence are in no way comparable to those of the Weimar republic: throughout the 1920s paramilitary organizations were aligned with all of the major parties, and they regularly engaged in brawls, intrigues, and, especially on the right, assassinations. Furthermore, the judiciary indulged right-wing violence—Hitler, a non-citizen, was nonetheless able to use ‘patriotism’ in his defense of the beer-hall putsch and to secure a light sentence—and the political parties routinely agreed to amnesty deals for their respective fighters.

Let me pull out that bit about the judiciary: it, like the civil service, the army, and most police forces, was hostile to the republic and unconcerned about its health. Many of those who served in these institutions, as well as in the universities, held to a notion of an ‘eternal Germany’ to which they devoted their loyalty—not the liberal-infested and hopefully-temporary republic; they were biding their time to a return to (authoritarian) normalcy.

In short, almost all governmental and a number of major civil society institutions were explicitly anti-republican and would at best do nothing and at worst abet those plotting to overthrow it. There are certainly those in the US who don’t accept the legitimacy of Democratic rule—see the Obama presidency, assaults on voting rights, or what’s happening in North Carolina—but there are institutional (largely although not solely judicial) barriers to wiping out the rights of Democrats and their sympathizers.

One last thing: As much as I don’t think we’re Weimar, I’m also not as confident as I was 4 months ago that we are exceedingly unlikely to become Weimar. I still consider it unlikely—there are far more buffers against collapse in the US than there were in 1920s Germany—but I admit that I will paying very close attention to those buffers over the next 2-4 years.

I was complacent before November 8, believing a defense of our republic unnecessary; no longer.