One of my literacy students asked me last night if I thought Donald Trump could win the presidency. I said no—not because he’s a buffoon and a fearmonger and doesn’t understand anything about foreign or domestic policies or the principles on which his country was founded—though those would certainly be reasons enough. But I told him that Mr. Trump was making promises that directly contradicted the Constitution and that none of them would ever be realized.
I’ve rethought that. Here’s a little timeline that should give everyone pause:
February 1933—The Reichstag building—seat of the German government—burns to the ground. It’s arson. The Nazis blame the Communists and Hitler uses the crisis to frighten the German people and assume absolute power. History has shown it was Hitler’s Nazis who burned down the building.
Fall, 1933—Jews are forbidden from owning land, participating in the arts, editing newspaper.
1934—Jews are no longer allowed to have health insurance, to participate in labor unions, to achieve legal qualifications.
1935—Nazis allow forced abortions to prevent women from passing on hereditary diseases.
1937—Jews are banned from teaching positions (unless they are teaching other Jews). They can no longer be accountants or dentists. They are denied tax reductions and child allowances.
April 26, 1938—Jews must register wealth and property.
June 14, 1938—Jewish-owned businesses must register.
July 23, 1938—Hitler orders all Jews over the age of 15 to apply for identity cards which must be shown on demand to any policeman.
August 11, 1938—Nazis destroy the synagogue in Nuremberg.
August 17, 1938—Nazis require Jewish women to add Sarah and men to add Israel to their names on all legal documents including passports.
1939—Jews in Germany lose practically all rights of citizens, regardless of the fact that they were German citizens and had lived there from birth. They could not own radios, could not attend German schools, could not be on the street after 8:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m. in the summer. Der Sturmer, a Nazi newspaper printed the following about the Jewish population of Poland: “The Jewish people ought to be exterminated root and branch. Then the plague of pests would have disappeared in Poland at one stroke.”
It should be noted here that the nominal beginning of World War II had not yet occurred. By the time the war was over, the Nazi regime had murdered some 19 million civilians and prisoners of war. Another 30 million soldiers and civilians died as a result of the half-decade of warfare.
Now I don’t know if Hitler wore a red baseball cap that said Make Germany Great Again—I don’t know if Hitler even liked baseball. But I know this: if you had told the rest of the world—and even most of the German people—that one man would destroy a continent, initiate a horrifying catalog of oppressive and draconian laws, and bypass every legal and constitutional stricture designed to prevent that very thing, they wouldn’t have believed you. But believe this: in a climate of fear and panic, it can happen. Jews, Muslims, Christians—the victims change over time, but the principle doesn’t.
November 2015—Donald Trump floats the idea of a Muslim database. When someone asks how that’s different from the Nazi’s registering of the Jews in the 1930s, he says “You tell me.“
December 8, 2015—Donald Trump calls for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on. He says “Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine.”
I could be wrong, but I think I know why.