There is a common sci-fi trope that if time travel became possible the first thing any sane person should do is travel back in time to the early 1930s and kill Adolf Hitler. This would stop the rise of the Nazi Party and prevent the holocaust and World War II.
But it wouldn’t. All it would have done is delay what happened by a few years.
I’ve often wondered why a nation such as Germany would allow the rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler. Surely they would look at what was happening to their laws, their country, their government and hold a hand up to say ‘STOP!’? Pre war Germany was a democracy: Free elections, government for the people by the people. So why did they allow it to go so wrong? The answer is that they didn’t. They elected a leader who took advantage of the fact that there were underlying societal issues that a lot of people wanted solving:
- government corruption
- high taxes.
The National Socialist German Workers’ Party came along and put forward a candidate who had solutions for these issues — an Austrian painter named Adolf.
He was willing to stand up and give a voice to the things that other politicians wouldn’t.
He would stop immigration. He would drain the government swamp. He would cut taxes. He would make Germany great again. This was balm to the ears of a large number of Germans wanting solutions to their (real and perceived) problems.
So they voted for him.
Once the party was in power they were able to enact laws and make changes to fulfil their campaign promises. The ‘Immigration Problem’ became the Jewish problem and the solution became… well, we know the solution.
Laws were changed. Power was transferred and centralised and ‘The Final Solution’ was enacted.
In the meantime Hitler was helped by the support and connivance of traditional conservative nationalists who believed that they could control him and his party. Through the use of emergency presidential decrees, and a change in the Constitution which allowed the Cabinet to rule by direct decree, bypassing general oversight, the Nazis had soon established a one-party state.
By then the democracy had become a dictatorship. But ‘the people’ didn’t mind because their problems were being solved. The National Socialist German Workers’ Party was meeting their campaign promises.
But Hitler wasn’t the problem. The Nazis were the problem. The right-wing extremists were the problem. Hitler was just a figurehead.
Sure, he was a powerful, evil man. But he didn’t have enough power by himself to become a dictator. He was enabled by a party that supported his aims, and a populace with enough right wing supporters to vote him in. Supporters who knew that their views were unpopular when spoken aloud, but who had been emboldened by the rhetoric he was spouting.
If the general population of Germany had not had enough people who agreed with the thoughts Hitler was putting forward via the Nazi Party he wouldn’t have been elected. If the Nazi Party itself wasn’t aligned with ideas of solving some hard right societal ‘problems’ they wouldn’t have enabled the large majority of the German population to allow such a party to rise to power. If the propaganda machine run by Goebbels and his team hadn’t pushed forward the narrative that they did the government would never have been able to centralise power and turn a democracy into a dictatorship.
But all this happened. It happened under the noses of the German population. By the time people realised what was really happening things had gone too far and it was too late to do anything. Germany was at war with pretty much the rest of Europe and — as the saying goes — the rest is history.
But I reiterate that Hitler was not the problem.
Living through the age of Trump has highlighted one major truth; We are seeing a very familiar situation with the current administration as we were when the Nazi Party came to power in Germany. We are seeing a leader stoking the fires of hatred using immigration as a weapon ‘We will build a wall on the Mexican border and we will make Mexico pay for it’ We are seeing a government trying to ban specific religious groups from travelling into the country. We are seeing an administration that is talking about draining the Washington swamp and clearing out the red tape they are causing. Gutting the EPA. Installing unqualified people to run major government departments. Even openly sabotaging the election through false claims about mail-in voting and hobbling the US Postal Service.
Individually each one of these things is something that might have been permitted if a left-wing party was in power — especially if they held the correct balance of power in the Senate. But to have so many things go by without anybody trying to stop them is plainly an issue.
Except it isn’t an issue. The left-wing politicians and media people are crying foul but nobody is doing anything about it. In the meantime executive orders are being issued, voting rights are being taken away, white supremacists and conspiracy theory supporters are being backed by the President and all the while the people who support Trump and the GOP are allowing this to happen because ‘he hates the same people we do’. They’re even pushing for a second term in the next elections on a platform of no policies. They are literally saying ‘our platform is to support whatever President Trump wants to do’. Fighting back from within the party will inevitably result in GOP members losing their elected positions — something which is unthinkable for the likes of Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Susan Collins. So they support the revered leader and push the country further and further down the path towards fascism and dictatorship. This is exactly what happened in 1930’s Germany when the party supported the changes the leader proposed knowing it was taking the country down that path.
This is how Hitler came to be a dictator.
So why would killing Hitler not solve the problem? For the same reason that a time traveller going back to the 1980s and killing a young New York real estate developer would not solve the problem. Both Trump and Hitler are figureheads and the visible face of an underlying problem. Killing the figureheads will not remove the problem.
Trump identified a widespread sentiment regarding foreigners and corruption that he latched on to as a platform. He didn’t create the platform. He didn’t suddenly decide that immigration was a problem the USA needed to solve. He was a racist from the get-go so immigration was something he was preordained to rail against. This is the man who took out full page adverts in New York newspapers advocating the return of the death penalty if the Central Park Five — all African Americans — were found guilty. This is the man who railed against both Barack Obama and Kamala Harris when they stood for political leadership by casting doubt on their nationality — the so-called birtherism row.
But he wasn’t the only racist in the United States Of America.
It was, therefore, natural that he should put immigration or, to be more precise, stopping people of colour from entering the country. He talked about building a border wall but only in Mexico. He wasn’t bothered about immigrants coming across the Northern border from Canada. Why? Because they’re white. He also wasn’t bothered about actually stopping illegal immigration coming in through sea and airports. Why? Because that doesn’t play as well in a sound bite as ‘Build The Wall’.
But all of this means nothing if he’s preaching to an empty church. If there wasn’t a ready-made audience of Americans who identify with the causes he espouses and rally (often literally) to him whenever he starts spouting this rhetoric he would have been laughed off the GOP platform.
But there wasn’t. There was a large number of (usually white, usually evangelical, usually middle American) people who saw him as a kindred spirit. Someone who — as mentioned earlier — ‘hates the same people I do’. They put him into power and they are benefiting from the rule breaking, the executive orders, and the campaign rhetoric he is spouting.
It’s difficult to watch old footage of Hitler at the rallies he used to hold and not compare them to rallies held by Trump in some of the US heartland states. Rallies where he exposed numerous people to a deadly virus that took the lives of a number of them including a famed African-American political leader in the shape of Herman Cain.
Right now the US is in the middle of a situation which parallels that of Nazi Germany in the early 1930s. They have elected a leader who is solving the problems that other leaders would not touch. But in order to solve those problems he has had to upturn the norms of government.
How long before these norms of government involve constitutional changes and installing himself as supreme leader? If he needs any tips on how to do that he has political ‘friends’ in other dictatorships who know the way.