Donald Trump and the Reichstag Syndrome

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Donald Trump and the Reichstag Syndrome

The Reichstag Fire in 1933, regardless of the culprit, gave Adolf Hitler a pretext for consolidating power as quickly placed blame for the fire on anarchists and Marxist elements. Now, writes Connolly, "the very visibility of our public actions against Trump—and they must be continued—encourages them to find a pretext of violence to escalate their demands and public support for more extreme action." (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Donald Trump is sounding very dangerous these days.

He attacks the very legitimacy of the courts, for instance, when he tweets that a "so-called judge" will be responsible if there is a terrorist act during the stay he has imposed on the ban against Muslim entry to the U.S. from seven countries. This is one more example of Trump's demand that his executive commands be obeyed, regardless of other legal and constitutional considerations. Unfortunately, his actions also alert us to previous periods in U.S history when events were created to create a false context for reckless actions leaders wanted to take. LBJ's production of a false Gulf Of Tonkin attack to press Congress for a war resolution and George W. Bush's manufactured "facts" about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to pressure congressional support for the Iraq war are key examples. Trump has not moved there yet, but he is looking for the opportunity to do so.

"We must continue our protests, while publicizing how they will be nonviolent. They WANT us to be violent; they even hope to construct the appearance of it to justify their repression."

Reckless, authoritarian leader are periodically tempted by what might be called the "Reichstag Syndrome." In 1933 Hitler was handed the Chancellorship of Germany by President von Hindenburg, even though he had not received a majority of votes.

Within three months a fire occurred in the Reichstag—the building in which the parliament met. Was it started by anarchists and Marxists as Hitler claimed? Was it started by Rohmer as Rohmer himself asserted much later? The cause is unclear. But Hitler used the event to announce the necessity of Martial Law to protect the regime. It was used as an occasion to destroy the opposition parties. The event became the cover under which he became Fuhrer.

Do I suggest that Trump and Bannon may follow that precedent? Not exactly. However, they are looking for an incident, an event, whether real or contrived, that allows them to take more extreme action without interference from demonstrations, the courts, or the Congress. The very visibility of our public actions against Trump—and they must be continued—encourages them to find a pretext of violence to escalate their demands and public support for more extreme action.

Our job as citizens is to spread the word about the Trump-Bannon temptation before such action is taken. Doing so to increase the likelihood of resistance against it if and when it happens. We must continue our protests, while publicizing how they will be nonviolent. They WANT us to be violent; they even hope to construct the appearance of it to justify their repression.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

Trump is a very dangerous president; we must continue to define him as such even before he escalates his Big Lies further.

William E. Connolly

William E. Connolly is the Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book is, Facing the Planetary: Entangled Humanism and the Politics of Swarming (Duke, 2017)

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