So, tomorrow is Election Day in the United States. And anyone who lived in any nation that deals at all with the United States has heard lots and lots about this election. Yes, I caught discussions about it on Canadian news, British news, Russian news, and even Chinese news (and I only ever watch the business news on that last one, because there’s really nothing else on at 4:00 am). And one of the repeated themes from Hilary Clinton supports is that if Trump is elected there is a real risk that he will turn the United States into a dictatorship, along the lines of Hitler in Nazi Germany, riding at least semi-popular support and racial scapegoats to a complete dictatorship. And much of that came before he stated that he’d get Clinton arrested and wouldn’t say that he would accept the results of the election.
I’m not claiming that any of that is an actual risk, mostly because a) I don’t think Trump really wants that b) even if I’m wrong, there are more than enough safeguards in place in the American system to prevent it and c) it would only work if Trump had a political party that would go along with that to work with … and he doesn’t. What I do want to talk about is a key important point that those who fear tyrannies keep ignoring, which is that it’s not only the purported allies of those who take power that end up being complicit — even unintentionally — in the dictatorship taking power.
Dictators and tyrants taking power where popular support — ie elections — is a major component of the coup always has to involve a significant percentage of the populace siding with them, at least at first. Laurence Olivier — yes, that Laurence Olivier — narrated in “The World at War” that many people believed that Hitler needed the extremists to gain power, and that once he was secure he would get them under control, not realizing that Hitler was actually as if not more extreme than those they feared. But, then, if it wasn’t the extreme views that got him support, what did? Hitler played on existing animosities towards the Jews, certainly, which gave the people a scapegoat, but he couldn’t have done that if the German people hadn’t felt a need for a scapegoat. And in addition to finding them someone to blame, he also talked about lifting them from the struggle they found themselves in, giving them jobs and food, and as again noted in “The World at War” at least giving the appearance of equality, that rich and poor were encouraged to come together and eat the same meals, and work together. A lot of the Nazi success came from them at least being seen to be attempting to solve real problems … and winning successes that had real, tangible results, like retaking Alsace-Lorraine, which was more important as a symbol of Hitler standing up to the major powers and winning than it was as a territory for Germany to hold.
So, in addition to those who allied with Hitler at various times to give him power, the government in power that Hitler overcame was also complicit, for allowing those problems to exist mostly unaddressed. While it can be argued that the economy in Germany, for example, was already recovering before Hitler and Hitler merely took credit for it, Hitler clearly took advantage of issues and sentiments among the people that the current governments weren’t addressing to the satisfaction of the people. It would be reasonable to posit that one of those was the loss of face and power that came from not only Germany losing WWI, but also the terms of the treaty that some might say crippled Germany. The government was blamed for signing it — even if they had little choice — and blamed for not doing anything about it afterwards, and when Hitler claimed that he would do something about it and actually succeeded, he suddenly became the man who was listening to what the people wanted and doing something about it … unlike those he opposed.
The Democrats in the United States seem, to me, to be in this position. They crow about winning the White House twice in a row, and blame dirty tactics — like redrawing electoral districts — for their loses in Congress. Certainly, that does have an impact, but that always strikes as more grumbling that the other side cheats better than they do … especially given how they take an explicit pro-immigration stance — especially towards non-white immigrants — while crowing that the shifting demographics away from the population being mostly white means that in the future they’ll win more elections, because blacks and Hispanics, for example, vote Democrat more. And yet, for the most part they win their support not by promoting policies they support — many of these are socially conservative, for example — but instead by appealing to the fear that the Republicans will be terrible for their specific grouping. In no way do they really give them what they want. This election cycle, they had a mini-revolt with Sanders from their own liberal and progressive supporters who wanted them to act more progressive and less conservative. And in the primaries, or even after, did the Democrats change their policies to incorporate more of what Sanders was saying and thus to appeal to these voters? It doesn’t seem like it to me.
Even this campaign reveals these sorts of cracks. How much of the rhetoric from the Clinton campaign is talking about how the Democrats are going to do wonderful things? How much of the messages from Clinton supporters is about how great she is? And, to contrast, how much of it is nothing more than rhetoric about how bad Trump is and that everyone needs to come out to vote to stop Trump? The more positive messages — like “Make America Great Again” — are coming from Trump. His whole strategy is essentially that they are all corrupt and are killing the country, and he’s going to lock them up and fix everything.
So, in my admittedly shallow view, in order to prevent tyrannies you actually need to listen to the people and try to do what they want you to do … or, at least, explain to them why that’s a bad idea. Telling them that they’re bad people for what they feel are valid concerns and ignoring their actual concerns leaves discontentment, and discontentment is something that can be exploited … and if that discontentment is aimed at your party, it’s not going to be you that exploits it. If you leave yourself vulnerable to a surge of popular discontentment, don’t be surprised when someone you don’t like exploits it. Instead, listen to the people, don’t dictate to the people. Or else you risking having a real dictator in power.