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Weimar America? Germany 1933, United States 2016

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] V [/yt_dropcap]arious political science scholars have identified a striking resemblance between the Germany of the years before the rise of the Nazi Party (the years of the Weimar Republic) and the United States of today. The question has arisen: could what happened in Germany some 84 years ago happen now in the US?

That is to say, could America, with its democracy, checks and balances of government branches, liberalism, acceptance of diversity, championing of human rights, ever turn into a fascist state? An answer to that question was already hazarded by Lewis Sinclair in his 1935 satirical book titled It Can’t Happen Here. It is a sort of prophetic book where Sinclair makes the point that, given the right circumstances, authoritarian dictatorships and genocide can happen anywhere.

What are some of the parallels between the Weimar Republic and the US of 2016? The Weimar’s society was a culturally and socially progressive one with liberal attitudes prevalent everywhere, especially in Berlin. And it was democratic. But it was also a period of political gridlock, fragmentation and economic hardship. A vast majority of Germans, after the harsh conditions of the Treaty of Versailles felt disenchanted with capitalism and the so called “international order,” a preview of what would eventually arrive later: global capitalistic economics. So, from 1919 till 1933 the tensions between left and right erupted not only in parliamentary debates but quite often in violence in the streets.

The popular alternative to liberal capitalism, which was perceived as elitist and doing the interests of the rich and powerful took the form of communism and anarchism. It became the extreme left. This was bound to provoke a reaction and it did in the form of another alternative, and extreme fascist movement on the right, the National Socialist Party of Nazi Party so called. Those two factions went at each with enthusiasm and in short order, by the early 1930, had managed to turn democracy into an up-side-down dysfunctional system with a flawed electoral system which included the misguided logic that democracy was designed to destroy itself.

In such an atmosphere compromise and working coalitions, vital components of any democracy, became dirty words, a sign of weakness to be avoided at all cost. Intolerance and intimidation were the prevalent mood. The great bullies and intimidators proved to be the Nazis who working via the democratic system managed with only 33% of the votes of the 1932 election to reach a plurality in the German Reichstag. Hitler was voted in as Chancellor by the Bundestag (he won by one vote) and a few months later the Reichstag passed the Enabling Law, abolished democracy and ushered in the Third Reich. Hitler had the army swear allegiance to him and declared himself dictator for life. All done “democratically.” By the time the German people realized that in effect they had lost their freedom, it was too late.

It is uncanny, indeed, frightening, how parallel are the events in the US in 2016. The causes may be different but the symptoms are quite similar. As in Germany we have just come out of an economic recession. People at the lower scale of the economic pyramid are still angry that those who caused the economic crisis, the economic barons on Wall Street got away with it while the political establishment looked the other way. One of the candidates went around offering lectures to them at $300,000 each.

It does not take a genius to realize that the political system is dysfunctional and polarized and nothing gets done. Here again, this is quite similar to what happened in the Weimar republic.

In Weimar Germany one reason for the political fragmentation was because the electoral system allowed parties with minute percentages of the vote to win seats in the Reichstag. In the US, political parties controlling the state legislatures have gerrymandered districts so much that now there are only a handful of marginal districts.

A serious consequence of the gerrymander is that Republican candidates for Congress often appeal to the hard-right fringe to win elections. Democrats are just as guilty at gerrymandering, except they have not been nearly as effective in most states, meaning that Republican control of the House of Representatives seems all but assured for the foreseeable future.

Trump is the culmination of over 30 years of Republicans convincing many Americans that government is the enemy. Republicans have dismantled government programs and regulations in a self-fulfilling prophecy that reinforces the perception of government’s ineffectiveness. Now, to the horror of the Republican establishment, Donald Trump has seized their message and is channeling it with gusto, but with his own warped, authoritarian tinge. He openly talks about implementing torture, undermining freedom of speech and the press and behaving belligerently with other nation-states.

What is most disturbing is the search for scapegoats going on as we speak, and demonization of Muslims and Latinos which is ominously redolent of the Hitler’s rhetoric about Jews. This may not be Republican conservatism and clearly not all Republicans are racists and bigots or misogynists, but it surely points to a fascist mind-set.

Will a Trump presidency turn America into a fascist state? That remains to be seen, but one has the uneasy feeling that we have seen this movie before and it does not end well. I’d like to believe with Sinclair that it cannon happen here, but I remain skeptical like him. I’d like to think that the constitutional system does indeed have enough check and balances not to let that happen; that Congress would never allow an enabling legislation to force Muslims to wear badges or force the deportation of millions of Latinos; that the Supreme Court would exercise judicial review and the executive branch would respect any rulings from the court. But I don’t know. I do know, however, that America after 2016 will never be the same. I also know that not all change is for the better; sometimes it is for the worse, as with the Weimar Republic, and that quite often in history the best way to fool people is to change everything so that nothing changes as expressed by Tancredi in the famous novel of Giuseppe di Lampedusa The Leopard.

In conclusion, the silver lining here the statement by the founder of the Republican party Abraham Lincoln who proverbially said that “one can fool all the people some of the times, and some of the people all the times, but one cannot fool all the people all the times.”

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Americas

Trump’s New Wall? Mexico’s Southern Border

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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For much of modern history, Mexico defined itself in opposition to the United States. In recent years, the two countries stepped up cooperation on almost all relevant issues, and the two nations are now deeply intertwined politically, economically and culturally. This is bound to change. After months of ignoring Donald Trump’s provocations, López Obrador reacted rapidly to Trump’s shakedown and agreed to a number of resolutions of extraordinary scope and urgency: the new Mexican administration agreed to deploy the country’s federal police to its southern border to crack down on immigration; and opened the door to the controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy that would turn Mexico into a Third Safe Country in less than a month from now.

As stated in the agreement, Mexico would take in all the refugees that the US decides to send back to Mexico to await resolution of their asylum process. This could take years, given the substantial immigration backlog in American courts. The agreement goes further: Mexico is responsible for the provision of education, health care and employment for such refugees. This could easily lead to a serious humanitarian crisis that Mexican institutions will be unable to deal with.

This approach contradicts previous Mexican presidential vows for regional development and humanitarian relief rather than confrontation and enforcement. Conditions on the ground in Mexico are far harsher than the Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister, Marcelo Ebrard and the President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, would like to admit, and this is partly due to the current administration’s miscalculations: López Obrador has dramatically cut the budget for governmental agencies responsible for managing refugees and processing removals. Mexican border towns are also ill-equipped for handling transient migrant populations; and Mexico also faces other more systematic challenges, such as corruption and lack of rule of law enforcement. The new policy agreed with the American government is likely to result in a significant increase in claims filed for asylum in Mexico. Mexico’s immigration bureaucracies are utterly overwhelmed, and López Obrador’s misguided budget cuts have exacerbated their failings.

Mexico’s immigration policy is now bound by an immoral and unacceptable deal that will effectively turn Mexico into Trump’s border wall. The global system for the protection of refugees is based on the notion of shared responsibility among countries. It is very dangerous for the US to use Mexico as a pawn to set an example and ignore its international responsibility. This agreement also violates international law on refugees: Mexico is a life-threatening country for undocumented migrants. Human trafficking, recruitment for organised criminal organisations, abduction, extortion, sexual violence, and disappearances are some of the issues migrants face in Mexico. Finally, Mexico’s National Guard, the agency that will be in charge of monitoring the southern border, was created by López Obrador to tackle domestic crime. Its members have no training nor knowledge on immigration matters. It is an untested new military force that could end up creating more problems than the ones it is trying to solve.  Deploying agents to the border could also have a high political cost for the president.

The agreement with Trump gives López Obrador 45 days to show progress. If Mexico fails, Mexico will be forced to set in motion some version of Safe Third Country agreement, or face further tariff bullying from the US. This deal has been sold by the new Mexican administration as a victory over the US. More migrants, less money, extreme violence and a recalcitrant, unpredictable northern neighbour are the ingredients for a potential, impending refugee crisis, not a diplomatic victory.

Could Mexico have taken a different approach? Yes. Trump’s decision to impose tariffs would exacerbate the underlying causes of immigration in the region and do nothing to address it. His bullying to force Mexico to crack down on immigration was a cheap electoral ploy to mobilise its base with a view to winning the 2020 elections. This is nothing new. Trump is not seeking a solution; he is seeking a political gain. He built his first presidential campaign on an anti-Mexico and an anti-immigrant rhetoric. It worked in 2016, and he is planning to repeat the same formula.

The Mexican administration lack of knowledge on diplomatic matters, and their inability to play politics let a golden opportunity go. Using trade to bludgeon Mexico into compliance with an immigration crack down makes no sense: Mexico is not responsible for the increase in migratory flows. Central America’s poverty and violence trace back to American policies in the 1980s. Mexico is not responsible either for America’s famously dysfunctional immigration system. Trump’s economic threats against Mexico may not even have been legal: both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the newly agreed US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) require most trade between members to be tariff free.

Mexico could also have hit back with by levying tariffs that would have hurt swing-state voters, and in turn hurt Trump. This was the golden opportunity Mexico let slip from its hands. Mexico could have responded by hitting Trump where it hurts: Tariffs on American goods heading south. Mexico responded in a similar manner in June last year in response to the steel and aluminium tariffs. Mexico could have raised those tariffs each month in tandem with American levels.

This retaliation would have highlighted the gap between Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric and the underlying interdependence of the US and Mexico with stark consequences for the US presidential elections of 2020. Many of the biggest exporters to Mexico such as Arizona. Florida. California, Michigan and Illinois are swing states. New tariffs could have thrown Texas into recession and put its 38 electoral votes into play. It is all too late now, Mexico could have inadvertently helped Trump to get re-elected. Mexico has less than a month left to show some backbone and demand real American cooperation on the region’s shared challenges and rejecting Trump’s threats once and for all. The relationship between Mexico and the US could have been an example of cooperation under difficult conditions, but that would have required different American and Mexican presidents.

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Americas

Scandinavia Veers Left plus D-Day Reflections as Trump Storms Europe

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Mette Frederiksen of the five-party Social Democrat bloc won 91 of the 169 seats in the Danish parliament ending the rule of the right-wing Liberal Party group that had governed for 14 of the last 18 years.  The election issues centered on climate change, immigration and Denmark’s generous social welfare policies.  All parties favored tighter immigration rules thereby taking away the central issue dominating the far-right Democrat Freedom Party which has seen its support halved since the last election in 2015.

Ms Frederiksen promised more spending to bolster the much loved social welfare model and increased taxes on businesses and the wealthy.  A left wave is sweeping Scandinavia as Denmark becomes the third country, after Sweden and Finland, to move left within a year.  Mette Frederiksen will also be, at 41, the youngest prime minister Denmark has ever had.

Donald Trump has used the 75th anniversary of D-Day commemorations to garner positive publicity.  The supreme promoter has managed to tie it in with a “classy” (his oft-chosen word) state visit to the UK spending a day with royals.  It was also a farewell to the prime minister as her resignation is effective from June 7.  Add a D-Day remembrance ceremony at Portsmouth and he was off to his golf course in Ireland for a couple of days of relaxation disguised as a visit to the country for talks — he has little in common with the prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who is half-Indian and gay.

Onward to France where leaders gathered for ceremonies at several places.  It is easy to forget the extent of that carnage:  over 20,000 French civilians were killed in Normandy alone mostly from aerial bombing and artillery fire.  The Normandy American cemetery holds over 9600 soldiers.  All in all, France lost in the neighborhood of 390,000 civilian dead during the whole war.  Estimates of total deaths across the world range from 70 to 85 million or about 3 percent of the then global population (estimated at 2.3 billion).

Much has been written about conflict resolutions generally from a cold rational perspective.  Emotions like greed, fear and a sense of injustice when unresolved lead only in one direction.  There was a time when individual disputes were given the ultimate resolution through single combat.  Now legal rights and courts are available — not always perfect, not always fair, but neither are humans.

It does not take a genius to extrapolate such legal measures to nations and international courts … which already exist.  Just one problem:  the mighty simply ignore them.  So we wait, and we honor the dead of wars that in retrospect appear idiotic and insane.  Worse is the attempt to justify such insanity through times like the “good war”, a monstrous absurdity.

It usually takes a while.  Then we get leaders who have never seen the horror of war — some have assiduously avoided it — and the cycle starts again.

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Americas

To Impeach Or Not To Impeach? That Is The Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Robert Mueller let loose a thunderbolt midweek.  Donald Trump had not been charged, he said, because it was Department of Justice policy not to charge a sitting president.  Dumping the issue firmly into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lap, he reminded us of the purpose of the impeachment process.  According to Mueller there are ten instances where there are serious issues with the president obstructing justice adding that his report never concludes that Trump is innocent.

So here is a simple question:  If Mueller thought the president is not innocent but he did not charge him because of Justice Department policy, and he appears also to favor impeachment, then why in heaven’s name did he not simply state in his report that the preponderance of evidence indicated Trump was guilty?

Nancy Pelosi is wary of impeachment.  According to the rules, the House initiates it and when/if  it finds sufficient grounds, it forwards the case to the Senate for a formal trial.  The Senate at present is controlled by Republicans, who have been saying it’s time to move on, often adding that after two years of investigation and a 448-page report, what is the point of re-litigating the issue?  They have a point and again it leads to the question:  if Special Counsel Mueller thinks Trump is guilty as he now implies, why did he not actually say so?

Never one to miss any opportunity , Trump labels Mueller, highly conflicted, and blasts impeachment as ‘a dirty, filthy, disgusting word’,  He has also stopped Don McGahn, a special counsel at the White House from testifying before Congress invoking ‘executive privilege’ — a doctrine designed to keep private the president’s consultations with his advisors.  While not cited anywhere in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has held it to be ‘fundamental to the operation of government and inextricably rooted in the Separation of Powers under the Constitution.’  Separation of powers keeps apart the executive branch, the legislature and the judiciary, meaning each one cannot interfere with the other.

Nancy Pelosi is under increasing pressure from the young firebrands.  Rep Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has already expressed the view that it is time to open an impeachment inquiry against Trump given the obstruction of lawmakers’ oversight duty.

Speaker Pelosi is a long-time politician with political blood running through her veins — her father was Mayor of Baltimore and like herself also a US Representative.  To her the situation as is, is quite appealing.  Trump’s behavior fires up Democrats across the country and they respond by emptying their pockets to defeat the Republicans in 2020.  Democratic coffers benefit so why harm this golden goose — a bogeyman they have an excellent chance of defeating — also evident from the numbers lining up to contest the Democratic presidential primaries, currently at 24. 

Will Trump be impeached?  Time will tell but at present it sure doesn’t look likely.

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