As we witnessed in the third Democratic primary debate last week, Democratic presidential candidates are struggling to distinguish themselves from their party rivals and competing for endorsements. Their horizontal vision in these disagreements diverts their gaze from the peril we face as Donald Trump dismantles the norms that have guided our political life since 1776.
Whatever their differences, Democratic candidates must agree to broad principles related to key issues, for example, immigration, health care, and the growing wealth gap. A general consensus would leave plenty of room for healthy debates about implementation, but failure to emphasize shared ideals in relationship to two or three major questions will blunt Democrats’ offensive against a candidate whose campaign is based on slander and fear.
Although we Americans like to think our nation is exceptional, the choices made by defenders of democracy in 1922 Italy and 1933 Germany are worth revisiting. The parallels are not perfect. Our two-party tradition sets us apart from Germany and Italy, each of which had five major parties. But legislative gridlock and voter cynicism today are reminiscent of conditions that marked the last months of democracy in Italy and Germany. The threat to our democracy does not command militias, but hate groups incite violence. Our economy is stable but many Americans feel left behind. Most worrying, Republicans march in lockstep behind Donald Trump, while Democrats fragment – like opponents of authoritarianism in interwar Europe. Of course, we can’t know whether different strategies in Italy and Germany would have preserved democracy, but since hindsight is 20-20, let’s use it.
In economically devastated post-World War One Italy, labor unions and peasant leagues clashed violently with Mussolini’s Black Shirt militias. Voters in 1921 gave Socialist and Christian Democratic candidates almost half of the vote – compared to seven percent for the Fascist Party. Fearing a revolution from the left, the King used his constitutional power to appoint Mussolini as prime minister in 1922. Mussolini manipulated the election of 1924 to create a Fascist majority. An exposé of Fascist electoral interference by journalist Giacomo Matteotti touched off massive demonstrations. After Fascist thugs murdered Matteotti, 150 deputies protested by walking out of the Chamber of Deputies. After Mussolini expelled them and won the King’s approval, erstwhile critics in the Chamber calculated that opposition to “il Duce” would be futile. Superficially, the trappings of democracy remained.
Fast forward to the German elections of 1932, when Marxist parties won 38 percent of the vote, compared to the Nazis’ 33 percent. Instead of forming an anti-Nazi phalanx, Communists and Social Democrats fought about tactics and theory. In January 1933, the President appointed Adolf Hitler as chancellor. On February 27, after arsonists set the Reichstag on fire, Hitler called it the beginning of a communist revolution. Despite massive repression of leftist rivals, on March 4, Nazi Party candidates won only 43 percent. Two weeks later, the Catholic Center Party legislators joined conservatives and moderates in granting Hitler four years of dictatorial power. As in Italy, the handover was technically legal.
Mussolini and Hitler promised to restore national glory and depicted themselves as the last defense against radical socialism. Neither appealed to racism at first. Not even Hitler, who muted his virulent anti-Semitism in public to attract middle-class voters during the late 1920s. New followers told themselves he had mellowed, but his base and his Jewish targets never doubted his true intentions.
President Trump has violated many of the norms and laws on which our democracy depends. He circumvents Congress by declaring the “crisis” at the border a national emergency. He orders his staff to ignore subpoenas. He uses his presidential status to enhance his family’s wealth. He demands absolute loyalty from his appointees. He treats truth like a despot and jokes with Vladimir Putin about his “fake news” problem. He boasts about his misogyny and spews racist insults.
Trump is not a despot. But neither were Mussolini and Hitler early on. No black or brown shirts march in our streets. President Trump’s enablers wear white shirts and black robes. They are unified. Democrats are not.
Claudia Koonz is the author of The Nazi Conscience and Peabody Family Professor of History Emerita at Duke University.
Trump tells supporters he won’t be ‘stupid’ enough for peaceful transition of power if he loses
President Donald Trump continued to spread debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election during a Friday night campaign rally in Virginia.
Trump argued that it was impossible for him to lose the election, thus concluding he would be "stupid" to hand over power peacefully should he lose.
"We not gonna lose this, except if they cheat," Trump falsely claimed about the 2020 campaign, where he trails Joe Biden in national and battleground polling.
"That's the only way we're gonna lose is if there's, uh, mischief," he argued. "And it will have to be on a big scale."
Kamala’s family ridicules ‘idiot’ Trump for comments on Sen. Harris at Virginia rally
President Donald Trump lashed out at the Democratic Party vice presidential nominee during a Friday night campaign speech in Newport News, Virginia.
Maya Harris, the sister of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), was pleased that Trump noted the differences between the two VP choices.
Praise the Lord! https://t.co/6B4Z2qxE8a
— Maya Harris (@mayaharris_) September 26, 2020
Disgraced Fox News host whines about Twitter fact-checking Trump’s conspiracy theory clips from the network
One day after Fox News won a lawsuit by arguing that nobody should believe Tucker Carlson, the disgraced Fox News personality was complaining about getting caught lying about the 2020 election.
Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil found the Fox host is not "stating actual facts" on his show, "Tucker Carlson tonight."
If that was humiliating enough for Carlson, later that same night he was again shamed for lying when Twitter slapped a fact-check on a clip of his show that was tweeted by President Donald Trump.