Along with thousands of others, I thought it absolutely laughable when “the Donald” announced his run for the Republican nomination for the Presidency. At the time, I thought the man a buffoon and, frankly, I believe many thinking Republicans (yes! there are still many of those in our midst!) shared—and share—that view. But now I have to admit that his poll numbers are downright scary. How on earth can so many people be taken in by rhetoric that offers almost nothing in the way of specifics, by tirades that feed into people’s prejudices and fears; by such blatant appeals to all that is worst in the human condition? What do those numbers say about us as a nation?
I keep wondering if ordinary German people in the late 1920s and early ‘30s found themselves simply shaking their heads in disbelief at what “that man” was saying? Then, too, a demagogue was taking advantage of people’s discontent to advance himself through a sort of personality cult.
However, the German population’s being so duped is more understandable than what we see in some parts of the American electorate today. Germans were in the midst of perhaps the worst suffering of any nation during the Great Depression—when it often literally took a wheelbarrow of Deutschmarks to feed the family on a given day. And who knew what it would take on the next day? The jobless rate was astronomical. The nation had just come through a disappointing (to say the least!) and ill-advised military venture. Veterans returning to their homes were having a rough time of it.
Then, along comes this Pied Piper promising that he alone knows how to deal with these problems, that he alone can “make Germany great again.” What’s more, in the minority Jews, he offers citizens a ready scapegoat on which to load their suffering, their uncertainties, their fears.
One cannot overlook the fact that America has just come through our worst economic situation since the Great Depression and that a good portion of our citizenry have not yet seen a full portion of the benefits of the on-going recovery. We, too, worry about our losses in a recent military venture and about how to help those trying to reestablish themselves at home. But, however ineptly at times, our system does seem to work. We are taking care of our own. Despite Trump’s rhetoric, we are not facing anarchy and chaos.
While I am not a Republican (how’d you guess?), I do cringe at what Trump and his ilk are doing to the Republican party, for I think they are undermining the very basis of the two-party system that has always served our nation so well. Not since the last days of the Vietnam War or the chaos of the Watergate period have we experienced such uncertainty in the body politic.
We survived those by letting the system work. We did not resort to elevating a demagogue as some sort of father/savior figure. Nor should we do so now.