Trump’s Reichstag Fire Drill

Trump’s Reichstag Fire Drill

Trump’s Reichstag Fire Drill


“I may declare a National Emergency, dependent on what’s going to happen over the next few days.”


President Trump has a track record of pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable. From his refusal to release his tax returns to his violations of the emoluments clause to his profiting from presidential visits to his own properties, the president tends to get what he wants by doing something outrageous, holding to his position, and before the issue can be reasonably addressed, doing something else outrageous to redirect people’s energy and attention.

Such incrementalism is noted at the Holocaust Museum as emblematic of how, in a remarkably short amount of time, Adolf Hitler took Germany from a democratic republic to a nation where the government rounded up groups of the country’s own citizens and exterminated them. The latter was not Hitler’s stated agenda initially, but bit by bit, he moved the nation to that place.

The largest catalyst for Hitler’s consolidation of power was an event called the Reichstag Fire. In the middle of the night on February 23, 1933, an arson fire started in the German Parliament. In response, the the next day, the German government passed the Reichstag Fire Decree, suspending many of the rights of the German citizenry on an emergency basis. The emergency decree remained in effect throughout World War II. This decree, and the accompanying claim of extraordinary circumstances requiring extraordinary measures, enabled Hilter to incrementally accomplish things that the Germany’s democracy would not otherwise have accepted.

The United States has its own equivalent of a Reichstag Fire Decree, ready to implement in the event of a national emergency. Once the President declares the United States to be in a “state of emergency,” a number of changes take place. Among them are:

(Courtesy of http://www.sweetliberty.org/issues/eo/femalist.htm )

President Trump has suggested that if Congress does not require U.S. taxpayers to pay for the U.S.-Mexico border wall that he had promised that Mexico would pay for, he will accomplish the building of the wall by declaring the U.S.-Mexico border a “National Emergency.” The concept of border crossings – little changed in decades – suddenly being labelled a national emergency is laughable on its face, and hopefully will be met with swift and effective resistance from Congress,.

However, Trump’s suggestion should be of concern.

For him, declaring the border a National Emergency is yet another trial balloon, testing public reaction, and making it just a little more acceptable, expected, and “normal” when, for example, a terrorist attack occurs and he is able to more easily and successfully declare a National Emergency. At that point, he may get his way, and God help us all.

– rob rünt

Kindling

Kindling

Kindling

In the early morning hours of February 27, 1933, a fire rapidly engulfed the German Parliament, known as the Reichstag. The building was gutted, and firefighters found several bundles of what they determined to be fuel sources. A young communist named Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested nearby and was sentenced to death for setting the fire.

Less than a month earlier, Adolf Hitler had been sworn in as Chancellor of Germany. Historians widely credit the fire – and the resulting anti-communist and anti-immigrant hysteria that Hitler stirred in the German population – with Hitler’s ability to quickly consolidate power. The day after the fire, he convinced German President von Hindenburg to indefinitely enact an emergency decree suspending civil liberties, including freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the ability to communicate by mail or phone without government intrusion. Historians still debate whether the Reichstag fire was actually set by Nazis or communists. It should also be noted that Hitler did not rise to power advocating the mass extermination of human beings.

In the United States, on September 11, 2001, 21 terrorists used commercial airlines to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, with an additional plane crashing in a field in Pennsylvania. As the day wore on, news anchor Tom Brokaw, struggling for something new and profound to say after hours of nonstop coverage, called the attack “an act of war, nothing less than that” and likened it to Pearl Harbor. After the attack, America responded militarily against an entire country, Afghanistan, for a criminal terrorist act committed by 21 individuals.

President Bush later turned his attention to Iraq as a potential source of terrorism that needed to be responded to “preemptively,” warning that we could not “wait for the final proof – the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” So we went to war with Iraq over what most Americans now acknowledge (and what critical thinkers at the time recognized) as flimsy evidence.

In the meantime, Americans had quickly come to accept things previously unacceptable: government intrusions into electronic communications without judicial authorization, torture of suspects, indefinite detainment, secretly authorized executions by American drones overseas – which sometimes killed innocent people, and which continued even into the final months of the Obama Administration.

The number of terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11 has been small, even with many of the above measures reversed under Obama.

Last week, in response to Federal Judge James Robart putting a temporary nationwide  hold on the executive order on immigration, Donald Trump tweeted “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” The Trump Administration then asked an appeals court for an emergency stay of Judge Robart’s order.

170212-16

What follows from this point is purely speculation and should be taken as such.

I call your attention to the language used above: “emergency” stay; “If something happens blame him.” Given how few terrorist attacks have happened in the past 15 years, such imminent crisis-oriented language from the White House sounds very dire (Full Article – New York Times). Terrorist attacks are horrible, but they also account for far fewer deaths in America than many other obscure causes (Source: START). And if the goal is to prevent needless American deaths, thousands of times more Americans die each year from smoking (Source: Center for Disease Control), which is preventable, or heart disease (Source: Center for Disease Control), which is also preventable.

Trump is surely aware of how September 11 caused many Americans – even many who had opposed President Bush – to get behind their President. As former news anchor Dan Rather said on September 17, 2001, “wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.”

And if Trump is not aware of the history of the Reichstag fire, his Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor Steve Bannon – former executive chair of the alt right/white nationalist news source Breitbart, a man with a thorough knowledge of history, and a man who Trump inadvertently signed an executive order appointing to his National Security Council – certainly is.

Vigilance, perspective and critical thinking are important tools for Americans right now.

– rob rünt

Note: After writing this piece, I discovered that economist Paul Krugman wrote a piece published on Friday indicating that he is of a similar opinion (Full Article – Daily KOS).


“We’re going to have to do things we never did before … that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy.”

Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
November, 2015
(Full Article – Huffington Post)