History Repeats Itself

One of the most disconcerting realizations triggered by the election of Donald Trump and the various rages of MAGA Republicans has been my realization that there are many more haters in the American public than I had ever imagined. If survey results and academic research are to be believed, these fearful and angry people comprise some 25-30% of our “body politic”–and they are coming for the rest of us: Blacks, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ+ folks…anyone who isn’t a White Christian. 

Not a majority, thankfully, but a substantial and incredibly dangerous minority–made infinitely more dangerous by anti-democratic political mechanisms (gerrymandering, the Electoral College, the filibuster) that allow them to exercise far more power than they would be entitled to on the basis of raw numbers.

The New York Times recently ran an essay by Michelle Goldberg tracing differences between the Christian Nationalism favored by Trump and his supporters, and the version being developed by Ron DeSantis.

As she noted,

The issue isn’t whether the next Republican presidential candidate is going to be a Christian nationalist, meaning someone who rejects the separation of church and state and treats Christianity as the foundation of American identity and law. That’s a foregone conclusion in a party whose state lawmakers are falling over themselves to pass book bans, abortion prohibitions, anti-trans laws, and, in Texas, bills authorizing school prayer and the posting of the Ten Commandments in classrooms.

Goldberg reported on the recent ReAwaken America Tour, “a Christian nationalist roadshow co-founded by the former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.” Two of the speakers on that tour were jettisoned when the tour arrived in Miami because of negative publicity over their praise of Hitler, although they remain on the group’s website.

Unsurprisingly, Trump called in to offer his unrestrained support.

Goldberg notes that DeSantis is “fluent in the language of the religious right, and strives to check all its policy boxes”. 

Put on the full armor of God. Stand firm against the left’s schemes,” he said at the Christian Hillsdale College last year, substituting the “left’s schemes” for the “devil’s schemes” of Ephesians 6:11. In addition to the abortion ban and his war on “woke” education, he will almost certainly sign a recently passed bill intended to keep trans people from using their preferred bathrooms in government buildings, including schools.

As Goldberg notes, the question is whether rank-and-file religious conservatives care more about consistency or charisma. “DeSantis treats Christianity as a moral code he’d like to impose on the rest of us, Trump treats it as an elevated status that should come with special perks.”

Both are terrifying–and both are eerily reminiscent of the significant pro-Nazi movement in the United States during the interval between the first and second World Wars. Most of us today are unaware of just how robust that movement was–it became considerably less fashionable once we entered the Second World War (although some American corporations that traded with Germany continued to do so even after declarations of war).

I was certainly unaware of the extent of American pro-Nazi sympathy.

In 1933,  Rudolf Hess, then deputy führer of Germany, authorized formation an official American branch of the Nazi Party, to be known as the Friends of New Germany in the U.S. Although based in New York, it had a strong presence in Chicago, and it was openly pro-Nazi. According to historians, members stormed the German-language newspaper New Yorker Staats-Zeitung and demanded that the paper publish articles sympathetic to Nazis.

The German American Bund formed in 1935 and lasted until America formally entered World War II. Its goal was a united America under Nazi ideology. It was anti-communist and anti-Semitic. Taking inspiration from Hitler Youth, the Bund had a youth division–  members “took German lessons, received instructions on how to salute the swastika, and learned to sing the ‘Horst Wessel Lied’ and other Nazi songs.”

The Bund continued to justify and glorify Hitler and his movements in Europe during the outbreak of World War II. After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Bund leaders released a statement demanding that America stay neutral in the ensuing conflict, and expressed sympathy for Germany’s war effort. The Bund reasoned that this support for the German war effort was not disloyal to the United States, as German-Americans would “continue to fight for a Gentile America free of all atheistic Jewish Marxist elements.”

The Bund didn’t disband until the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

It’s impossible to read today’s news without seeing the parallels–and concluding that the pro-Nazi sentiments that led to the Friends of New Germany and the German-American Bund have simply remained underground until encouraged to emerge by the MAGA movement and its would-be fuhrers. 

We can only hope that it won’t take another World War to defeat them.