Why Trump’s Threats Matter

In just a few days Trump has been cranking out messages that, as Twitter put it, “glorif[y] violence.” This isn’t a random act of stupidity. Trump and much of the GOP have been following tactics promoted by right-wingers–Stephen Miller, just to name one–for some time now. Sow ethnic and religious division (Bismarck)–check. Attack facts, science, and the truth in general (Goebbels)–check. These word-war tactics are usually part of a larger strategy to sow strife and chaos. The other part of the strategy, not prominent previously but now finding an opening thanks to the unrest spawned by the blatant murder of George Floyd, is to spread fear of violence and physical terror.

I understood the infamous spiritual terror which [the Social Democrats in Germany] exerts…at a given sign it unleashes a veritable barrage of lies and slanders against whatever adversary seems most dangerous, until the nerves of the attacked persons break down…This is a tactic based on precise calculation of all human weaknesses, and its results will lead to almost mathematical certainty…I achieved an equal understanding of the importance of physical terror toward the individual and the masses…[a] defeated adversary in most cases despairs of the success of any further resistance.

Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

No, Trump is not the Hitler of the Third Reich–not yet. But he might be the Hitler, the charlatan, Hitler the Joke. Hitler, the guy with the funny mustache who most could not believe could become a powerful chancellor of the Weimar Republic. It’s hard to tell from this view. Being inside the time creates blinders. I am too attached to the moment. I could be completely wrong about this Carnaval barker. Maybe he is just a reality show that will eventually end. It will be historians who will have a better perch. But what I do know is that people don’t just will themselves to be a Charlemagne or a Hitler. It’s both their willful supporters and the people who fall asleep at the wheel that make it happen.

Stay awake!

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