the following is a guest post by an historian and writer living in the United States
Actress Gina Carano became one of the highest-profile celebrity victims of cancel culture last week, when she was dropped from The Mandalorian, fired by Disney, and dumped by her talent agency. As most people know, Carano’s fatal error was believing she still lived in a society with genuine freedom of expression. Carano’s message was straightforward: Americans are being taught to hate one another, in a manner that disturbingly evokes Germany prior to World War II.
Disney denounced Carano’s post as “abhorrent,” and swiftly kicked her off the show. Reporting on the incident has invited passive bystanders to believe Carano said something anti-Semitic, when of course her post was the exact opposite.
Carano’s post was clumsy, the kind routinely seen from Baby Boomers posting on Facebook. But Carano’s post was ultimately much closer to reality than even her defenders realize. America’s political situation right now carries disturbing similarities to Germany just before the Third Reich. And it isn’t people on the right who resemble Nazis.
But first, a couple things this article is not:
-This is not a rant about “Weimerica.” There are essays claiming that America resembles pre-Nazi Germany based on the rise of transgenderism, a decline in sexual morality, or other social trends. Whether that comparison is valid or not, this essay is focused purely on political culture.
-This is not a shrill claim that “Democrats are Nazis,” that Republicans are treated on par with Jews in Nazi Germany, or anything of the sort. Instead, this is an effort to point out the worrisome and growing parallels between the political culture of late Weimar Germany, and the political culture that America is embracing with more fervor every day.
For decades, the rallying cry against the Holocaust has been “never again.” But “again” will only be “never” if we take care to understand what the precursors to politically-motivated atrocities look like, and stop them before they grow too severe.
To the Nazi Party, everything was political. The party subordinated ever sector of society and every human endeavor to its broader political and social agenda. Recent breakthroughs in physics such as the theory of relativity, achieved substantially by Jewish physicists, were labeled Jüdische Physik (“Jewish physics”), and rejected in favor of Deutsche Physik (“German physics”). Christianity was marginalized through the promotion of Nazi-aligned “Positive Christianity.”
And of course, the Nazis were very interested in the ideological state of art. Well before seizing power, the Nazis founded their own party film office and wrote about film’s propaganda value. After taking power, they founded the Reichsfilmkammer, which controlled employment in the film industry. Membership was mandatory for any who wanted to work in the movie industry, thereby ensuring total ideological conformity. No doubt that aspect would resonate with Carano, who besides losing her role in The Mandalorian was also dropped by her talent agency for expressing her views.
The same phenomenon shines through in the America of 2021. Progressives might express shock at how the Nazis politicized the field of physics, and then promptly turn around and assert that mathematics is a part of “white supremacy.” Another example of this happened just days ago:
Some schools in Oregon are being informed that asking students in math class to "show their work" is "white supremacy." What exactly would happen if this faction got its way and all American classrooms are like this? https://t.co/EYfvo8hPfJ pic.twitter.com/AMUEhF4ZPZ
— Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) February 14, 2021
The progressive organization “Showing Up for Racial Justice,” meanwhile, teaches that “worship of the written word” and “the belief that there is such a thing as being objective” are both signs of white supremacy.
Sports, previously a unifying part of American life and a refuge from politics, was completely politicized in the past season. The NFL stenciled “End Racism” into its endzones. Players were encouraged to wear the names of alleged victims of racism on their helmets. The list of allowed names showed a clear intent to kowtow to Black Lives Matter over all other causes.
Just about every organization, group, or hobby where adherents of left-wing identity politics are present is experiencing a “reckoning” (i.e. a capitulation to political demands). Country music? Racial reckoning. Birdwatching? Racial reckoning. Dungeons and Dragons? Racial reckoning.
Should Warner Bros. make a Harry Potter TV show? A decade ago, the only relevant question was “would people watch it?” Today, long essays argue that Rowling’s entirely irrelevant views on transgenderism mean a new Potter show is categorically unacceptable.
The political colonization of all American life can be seen in surveys. A 2016 poll found that liberals were about three times as likely to unfriend or unfollow a person online because of their political views. Seventy-one percent of Democrats say they likely or absolutely would not date a Trump voter, 24 percentage points greater than the inverse.
Violence as a political tool, bolstered by the state
Even when they did not officially hold power or command an electoral majority, Nazis were able to use violence to hurt their enemies and help themselves, benefiting from friends in high places — bureaucrats, judges, and business leaders — who, critically, helped them avoid consequences for breaking the law.
The single most famous beneficiary of this was, of course, Hitler himself. In 1923, Hitler and the nascent Nazi Party took over a beer hall in Munich, hoping to launch a “March on Berlin” and seize power much in the way Benito Mussolini had taken power in Italy after a march on Rome. The putsch was a mess and soon collapsed, with 16 Nazis and four police officers dying. Hitler was put on trial for treason, and convicted. But thanks to favorable treatment from the court system, Hitler was allowed to use his three-week trial as a soapbox for his political ideology. When convicted, Hitler received a five year sentence, but he served a mere nine months. Since Hitler was an Austrian national, he should have been deported from the country as well, but the favorably-disposed court simply refused to enforce Germany’s immigration laws (imagine that!).
More broadly, Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s was wracked by low-level political violence. The SA, the Nazi’s paramilitary group, is still well-known today, but what is less known is that the Communists and even the Social Democratic Party also had their own violent paramilitary wings. The groups routinely disrupted each others’ meetings and rallies, but as tensions escalated, the Nazis benefited from a judiciary that was, on balance, more favorably disposed toward them. The Communist paramilitary group, the Roter Frontkämpferbund, was banned in 1929, but the SA was never given the same treatment.
The result was a persistent pattern. Nazis could use violence as a political asset, to intimidate and threaten their opponents and demonstrate strength, without facing meaningful legal consequences.
It takes only the most basic powers of pattern recognition to see that, today, it is the left that enjoys far greater leeway for political violence. In spring 2016, attendees at a Trump rally in San Jose were assaulted by a mob of demonstrators, while police stood aside (allegedly on the mayor’s orders).
In October 2019, two members of the Proud Boys were sentenced to four years in prison each for their role in a brawl outside New York’s Metropolitan Club. The sentences were remarkable, because prosecutors could not produce any victims for the men’s actions. The black clad people they fought with, likely members of Antifa, refused to cooperate with the police at all.
While right-wing hooligans were sent to prison for an entire presidential term over an attack with no known victim, Antifa professor Eric Clanton assaulted strangers with a bike lock. His punishment? Thanks to sympathetic prosecutors, his four violent felonies were turned into a single misdemeanor and he received three years of probation.
The apotheosis of this trend came in the summer of 2020, though. Last summer, the left effectively launched and then egged on the worst riots in the U.S. in nearly 30 years. As rioters looted and burned Minneapolis, eventually causing $500 million in damage, future vice president Kamala Harris urged supporters to donate to a bail fund to get arrested rioters back on the streets.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) June 1, 2020
CNN’s Chris Cuomo openly suggested there was nothing wrong with less-than-peaceful “protests,” provided of course he was sympathetic to their aims:
CNN's Chris Cuomo: "Please, show me where it says protesters are supposed to be polite and peaceful."
As riots and looting have broken out in cities across the country, this is the message the brother of New York governor Andrew Cuomo shares at the top of his show. pic.twitter.com/ZZ47zpyVlx
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) June 3, 2020
With hundreds of small businesses still smoldering, Wellesley professor Kellie Carter-Jackson appeared on a Slate podcast to explain that “Big structural change in America doesn’t happen without violence.”
When rioters shifted from looting small businesses to targeted attacks on American heritage, Nancy Pelosi dismissed it as nothing. For her, of course, it was all part of the usual playbook:
Journalist referencing the removal of a Columbus statue in Baltimore: "Shouldn't that be done by a commission or the city council, not a mob in the middle of the night throwing it into a harbor?"
Pelosi: "People will do what they do." pic.twitter.com/0OVeaIw2y6
— TheBlaze (@theblaze) July 9, 2020
In Portland, Antifa rioters clashed with police and federal agents for weeks on end. When they encountered resistance, The New Republic described it as a “historic federal crackdown on dissent.”
It was, of course, nothing of the sort. The historic crackdown on dissent is coming right now, against the right.
The Capitol riot stands out precisely because it was one of the only moments in the past half-century where right-leaning protesters used the tactics that the left has embraced routinely. Now, government officials are openly boasting that this manhunt is the most aggressive in FBI history:
The flood of protesters who streamed into the Capitol that day left federal authorities with an equally immense task: finding and charging those responsible. Last month, acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin said, “The scope and scale of this investigation in these cases are really unprecedented, not only in FBI history but probably DOJ history.”
So far, federal prosecutors say they’ve charged approximately 234 people for their alleged roles in the riot and opened over 400 investigations into possible criminals. [CBS News]
According to Sherwin, “almost all” of the 234 people charged for the Capitol riots are charged with “significant federal felonies” carrying penalties of at least five years in prison.
In a remarkable coincidence, exactly 234 people were also charged for their involvement in riots during Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017. In the end, exactly one was convicted on a felony charge. He served four months.
Group guilt, conspiracy theories, and blood libel
A central myth for the Nazis was the “stab in the back,” the claim that Germany’s defeat in World War I and all its subsequent problems were due to treason from within, especially by Jews.
The myth was false, but crucially, it exploited real facts to exert a hold on the public. The leaders of the 1919 Communist uprisings in Germany, like the Spartacist uprising in Berlin and the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic, were substantially Jewish, which Nazis exploited to promote the idea of a “Jewist plot” to lost World War I. For the Nazis, it was never enough to oppose Communism. The party routinely blasted the concept of “Judeo-Bolshevism,” conveniently merging its most-hated ideology with a scapegoat ethnic group.
From this, it’s easy to draw a parallel to the endless witch hunt for “white supremacy” in every sector of American life. Jim Crow was real, and for a century after the Civil War racism was a very real part of American law and American society.
By now, though, “institutional racism” is little more than a conspiracy theory. Laws at all levels of government prohibit racial discrimination against blacks, often with severe penalties for doing so. Admissions at thousands of American schools expressly give favorable treatment to non-whites. Federal contracting gives favorable treatment to minority-owned firms.
Yet as set-asides and preferences pile up, the level of grievance only goes greater. Now, The New York Times promotes the 1619 Project, whose creator Nikole Hannah-Jones asserts that “anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.” Books with titles like White Fragility, Whitelash, and White Rage shovel the blame for America’s challenges on the one racial group it has become acceptable to attack with impunity.
Over time, the ability to criticize whites as a group has transformed into more openly hateful and racist rhetoric. Last summer, The New York Times published a piece by columnist Charles Blow, which tarred white women as “instruments of terror,” collectively sharing guilt for torture and mass murder.
“There are too many noosed necks, charred bodies, and drowned souls for them to deny knowing precisely what they are doing,” Blow wrote (emphasis ours).
Rhetoric on white Americans frequently veers into the outright dehumanizing. For instance, in late January, Middlebury College hosted a virtual event titled “Middlebury’s Opportunity to Facilitate the Demilitarization of White Bodies.” The description of the event says that “in order to make any progress toward establishing and sustaining a genuinely representative democracy in the United States, Whiteness must be demilitarized so that bodies designated as ‘White’ might become human.”
Shortly after the Capitol riot, The Washington Post published an opinion column explaining that even non-white people could be guilty of “whiteness,” because in fact being white simply means being evil:
Multiracial whiteness reflects an understanding of whiteness as a political color and not simply a racial identity — a discriminatory worldview in which feelings of freedom and belonging are produced through the persecution and dehumanization of others. [WaPo]
Cynical hunts for internal enemies
“Reichstag Fire” has become an idiom for a reason. Shortly after Hitler became chancellor in 1933, a Dutch Communist set fire to the Reichstag building. The fire was so conveniently-timed that ever since, historians have speculated it may have been a false flag. Whether the incident was planned or merely lucky, it was a boon to the Nazis. Party leaders instantly warned that, far from being an isolated episode, the fire was the first strike of a planned nationwide Communist uprising. The first official account of the fire, released within hours, said in part:
The burning of the Reichstag was intended to be the signal for a bloody uprising and civil war. Large-scale pillaging in Berlin was planned for as early as four o’clock in the morning on Tuesday. It has been determined that starting today throughout Germany acts of terrorism were to begin against prominent individuals, against private property, against the lives and safety of the peaceful population, and general civil war was to be unleashed. … Communist newspapers, magazines, leaflets, and posters are banned for four months throughout Prussia. [Hitler, by Joachim Fest]
Within days, the Reichstag Fire decree suspended basic civil liberties and enabled the mass arrest of Communists or other political enemies. A shrill hunt for “insurrectionists” was crucial to the long-term Nazi seizure of power.
So of course, it’s worth noting just how much panic America has seen over “insurrectionists” and “sedition” thanks to the Capitol riot.
In the hours and days after the Capitol riot, the press and big tech used the moment opportunistically, not to address a real threat, but to crush enemies. Parler was labeled a tool of insurrection and “hate speech,” and taken offline. President Trump was banned from Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, and was even cut off from his campaign email list. Countless supporters of the president were caught up in a social media purge as well.
More aggressive maneuvers are already in the works. The FBI sought, and received, banking information on ordinary Americans, looking to make as many arrests as possible. The Biden administration is mulling a new domestic terrorism law, which would supplement the already vast surveillance powers of the Patriot Act and the censorship powers of left-controlled big tech. General Stanley McChrystal, former commander in Afghanistan, compared supporters of the president to Al Qaeda. Former CIA station chief Robert Grenier used the pages of the New York Times to demands an Iraq-style counterinsurgency against domestic political foes:
If popular anger has crested, left in its wake is a bitter, simmering restiveness, one that will provide a nurturing environment for the worst among us — the extremists who seek a social apocalypse. Their numbers may be relatively small, but even a small slice of a nation of over three hundred million is substantial. Without a program of effective national action, they and their new adherents are capable of producing endemic political violence of a sort not seen in this country since Reconstruction.
The challenge facing us now is one of counterinsurgency. Though one may recoil at the thought, it provides the most useful template for action, which must consist of three elements. [NYT]
Just like the Reichstag Fire reaction, the over-the-top response to the Capitol Riot is built on myths. Claims of an insurrection, for instance, were built almost entirely on the claim that Trump supporters brutally murdered Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick. Now, thanks to reporting by Revolver it is clear that claim, reported as fact almost everywhere in the days after the riot, was false.
A purge in the universities
Nazi Germany recognized the enormous power wielded by the university system, and one of the party’s chief goals was to make higher education totally ideologically subservient to the party. In the spring of 1933, the party passed the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, which barred Jews and Communists from working as college professors (among other jobs).
Of course, American colleges have leaned to the left for longer than anyone has been alive. But it’s not widely realized how much more left-wing American colleges have become over the past 30 years.
When the Carnegie Foundation conducted its faculty survey in 1999, it found that a mere 12% of professors were conservatives, down from 27% in 1969. Using a different dataset from the Higher Education Research Institute, political scientist Samuel Abrams discovered a similar decline. Overall, Abrams estimated that the ratio of liberal to conservative professors has increased by about 350% since 1984, even though there was no equivalent change among the American public or college students. [National Affairs]
In entire fields, right-of-center academics have nearly ceased to exist. In sociology, Democrats outnumber Republican 42-to-1. It’s easy to be dismissive of this tilt, but domination of the universities matters. Like it or not, almost every member of the American elite passes through the universities, giving them a powerful role in ideologically shaping our leaders. Universities shape which ideas are considered acceptable to think, and now they are entirely subservient to a single political faction.
A fragile constitution
The Nazis did not run on being a “conservative” party. They did not promise to protect the German constitution, or restore the old monarchical one from before the Great War. The Nazis promised (and delivered) enormous change to Germany’s laws and basic system of government.
They were able to do that because the Weimar constitutional order was weak. The Weimar constitution guaranteed freedom of speech, of association, of religion, and so forth. But constitutional rights and democratic systems only survive when elites treat them as legitimate, and sustain them instead of ignoring them in the pursuit of power. In Weimar Germany, that didn’t happen. Thanks to the calamities of Versailles and the Great Depression, democracy enjoyed feeble support in Germany, and there was instead large-scale support for both radical right-wing parties (of which the Nazis were only one) and Communist revolutionaries. With the passage of the Enabling Act in 1933, the Weimar constitution became an irrelevant dead letter.
In America, liberty has survived so long precisely because the Constitution and its norms have enjoyed so much prestige, including from elites. Even during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln held a democratic election. Even with total domination of the federal government, FDR failed to pack the Supreme Court.
President Biden has launched a Supreme Court commission whose purpose is to recommend “reforms” for the institution. For millions of leftists, only one reform will be enough: Packing the Court to achieve a new, preferably permanent, far-left majority.
Several liberal advocacy groups have joined together to promote four court-related priorities: the addition of Supreme Court seats; expansion of lower courts; term limits on justices; and new ethics rules for the high court.…“Incrementalism isn’t going to fly this time,” Brett Edkins, political director of Stand Up America, said Friday. “The scale of the problem is huge. The Democrats have a narrow window of opportunity to repair it.” [CNN]
Of course, packing the Supreme Court would do nothing to “repair” it. It would eradicate it. The explicit purpose would be to transform the Court from a meaningful constitutional entity into a rubberstamp for left-wing policies. With the Court nullified, the left could move on to priorities like sharper censorship laws and major gun control without the slightest concern these laws will be struck down. Even if Republicans later won an election and reclaimed power, the Court would not recover. Its status would be fatally compromised. It would not longer be seen as a separate, co-equal branch of government, but as a political hurdle that a legislative majority could shove aside at any time. America would be perpetually more vulnerable to single-party tyranny. And of course, that’s exactly the point.
But look on the bright side. America isn’t exactly like Weimar Germany. For instance, America hasn’t gone through a period of catastrophic hyperinflation due to economic mismanagement.
But hey, almost a quarter of all U.S. dollars in circulation were created last year. So there’s still a chance!