Here is the relevance of Weimar. Trump has shown a daunting disregard or ignorance of the Constitution and of law. Regarding the use of torture, he has said that the military must follow his orders — even if they are illegal. More recently, he declared that flag-burning should be a crime and that flag burners be punished by “perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail.” The remark was one of his off-the-cuff inanities — since 1989, flag-burning has been protected political speech, and citizenship, we’d like to think, is forever. The tweet — so few words, so much meaning — spoke to Trump’s abysmal lack of knowledge but, more important, contained an emotional truth. Trump despises dissent and often reacts emotionally to setbacks or challenges.
Now, ask yourself what might happen if there were a huge terrorist incident on American soil. Might this man of little knowledge and no restraint attempt to suspend civil liberties? (After all, even Abraham Lincoln did.) His instinctive reaction to flag-burning was all wrong. In addition, he holds the Nixonian view that the law is what he says it is. The courts have time and time again ruled otherwise.
Yet, I wonder if a compliant Congress and an even more compliant American people would balk at giving Trump any emergency power he seeks. His election was a stunner — an eruption of anger and resentment that is putting an epochally unqualified man in the White House. So great was the urge to trash the status quo that Trump’s lying, bragging, cheating, insulting and breathtaking ignorance did not disqualify him. Indeed, his very unsuitableness for the presidency immensely credentialed him. He is loved by many because he is loathed by others.
Already Trump has brought the Republican Party to heel with even his most vociferous critics — Mitt Romney, for instance — willing to discuss a Cabinet post. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan speaks of Trump as if he’s just had a chat with Ben Franklin — some good ideas, and let bygones be bygones — but this passivity is actually good. Trump needs to be surrounded by political adults. Sooner or later, someone’s going to have to throw a pitcher of cold water in his face. (Watch the hair!)
I have too much faith in America and its institutions to think that Weimar is the future. It is, however, a warning, not something that shouldn’t be discussed, but something that should be mulled. The differences between Weimar Germany and contemporary America are significant but so, increasingly, are the similarities.