Arnold Schwarzenegger compares, shocked by its brutality, the storming of the Capitol to Kristallnacht in 1938. The night in which the Proud Boys of that time in Germany set the synagogues on fire. He calls both acts of violence attacks on democracy.
But democracy hadn’t existed in Germany for five years already on that terrible night, and it in spite of bad events it still does solidly exist in America.
The comparison which I think is applicable is the Hitler-putsch of 1923 in Munich. That also failed, just as January 6, 2021 in Washington was also a failed coup d’état. Both were enacted with the frustrated intent to destroy democracy and establish authoritarian rule.
The Hitler putsch was crushed the next day and nothing came of the planned march on Berlin. But Hitler’s name was on everyone’s lips. He stole the show in the criminal trial, and, in the eyes of his judges, he went from being defendant to prosecutor of the Democrats in Berlin. Now on his course, he focused on hollowing out democracy from within. Make Germany great again, he honked.
Both attempts to pierce the heart of democracy were inspired by a lie. In Hitler’s case, the lie was that the German army was winning World War I until it was forced to surrender by the leftist and Jewish Democrats in Berlin. The whipped-up masses in front of the Capitol were also obsessed with an unbelievable lie. That Trump had been elected president but that the shady Democrats and officials stole his victory.
Why does this history repeat itself? Do they not realize that when the truth no longer matters, the way to fascism lies open?
You don’t have to ask this question of people who are die-hard followers of fascism. But you do have to ask it of the liars’ allies. In Germany, these were the Von Papens, the Von Schleichers, the Hugenbergs. In America, it’s Mitch McConnell, Pence, Murdoch, the majority of the Republican Party. All those who hitched a ride on the monster’s power.
Particularly striking is the climate of fear during both coup attempts. In Germany, confusion reigned from the military defeat, from the excessive demands of the war victors, from poverty and unemployment. And the extreme consequences of the Spanish flu. In America, fierce conflicts about racist murders, poverty, fears of being outperformed by China, and the explosion of COVID 19 dominate. A striking similarity is that in Germany groups of unemployed soldiers brandished weapons, while in America one extreme right group after another do target practice.
Fearful worlds in both cases, in which such a political lie is poison.
Hitler was not the inventor of the stab-in-the-back myth. That was General Erich Ludendorff, who, in the closing months of the First World War, transferred his absolute power to a parliamentary government of social-democrats in Berlin in order to cunningly blame it for the shame of defeat. But the one who was able to subsequently exploit Ludendorffs stab-in-the-back myth with great success was not he himself but his kindred spirit Hitler. When Trump will be stopped can we conclude that his role has been like the role Ludendorff played, not as the establisher of dictatorship, but that of the sly preparer who invented the fatal myth which paved the way into it.
That is why it is historically justified to make a disturbing prediction based on the similarity between the two coups d’état, that of today and that of a century ago.
Even when Trump has disappeared from the scene within a few years, there is a very real danger that a successor will still bring democracy down with the help of his myth of the Stolen Election Victory. Someone like Texas senator and lie repeater Ted Cruz or just Donald Trump Jr. will, if the social anxiety continues, then be able to bring Trump’s creepy legacy to full bloom.
Roel van Duijn is a former Dutch politician and elderman of Amsterdam (1943). In the Sixties he was the founder of the highly influential Provo-movement. Now historian and author of many books, of which the latest is ‘A son for the Führer, the Nazi Utopia of Julia op ten Noort’ , Van Duijn is living in Amsterdam and Fulda in Germany.