On Monday, The New York Times published an opinion piece that likened President Trump’s criticism of the election results and the consequent reaction by his supporters to the prelude to the rise of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Jochen Bitner, co-head of the debate section for the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, writes, “the campaign should be seen as what it is: an attempt to elevate ‘They stole it’ to the level of legend, perhaps seeding for the future social polarization and division on a scale America has never seen.”
Bitner begins his column by asserting:
It may well be that Germans have a special inclination to panic at specters from the past, and I admit that this alarmism annoys me at times. Yet watching President Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign since Election Day, I can’t help but see a parallel to one of the most dreadful episodes from Germany’s history.
From there, Bitner delineates how after World War I, many Germans believed Germany had not truly lost the war, but instead bought into the “Dolchstosslegende, or stab-in-the-back myth.”
“Its core claim was that Imperial Germany never lost World War I,” he explains. “Defeat, its proponents said, was declared but not warranted. It was a conspiracy, a con, a capitulation — a grave betrayal that forever stained the nation. That the claim was palpably false didn’t matter. Among a sizable number of Germans, it stirred resentment, humiliation and anger. And the one figure who knew best how to exploit their frustration was Adolf Hitler.”
“Don’t get me wrong: This is not about comparing Mr. Trump to Hitler, which would be absurd,” Bitner underscores. “But the Dolchstosslegende provides a warning.”
Bitner continues, “Newspapers and postcards depicted German soldiers being stabbed in the back by either evil figures carrying the red flag of socialism or grossly caricatured Jews.” The myth was “at the heart of Nazi propaganda, and instrumental in justifying violence against opponents,” writes Bitner.
Bitner then segues to the comparison between Nazi Germany and the United States today, placing the blame for what might eventuate squarely on Trump supporters:
Germany’s first democracy fell. Without a basic consensus built on a shared reality, society split into groups of ardent, uncompromising partisans. And in an atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia, the notion that dissenters were threats to the nation steadily took hold.
Alarmingly, that seems to be exactly what is happening in the United States today. According to the Pew Research Center, 89 percent of Trump supporters believe that a Joe Biden presidency would do “lasting harm to the U.S.,” while 90 percent of Biden supporters think the reverse.
Bitner expressed alarm that Trump supporters are turning away from Twitter, which he describes as “largely unmoderated,” stating “[f]ilter bubbles are turning into filter networks.”
After noting that “a staggering 88 percent of Trump voters believe that the election result is illegitimate,” Bitner concludes with a dire warning: “It took another war and decades of reappraisal for the Dolchstosslegende to be exposed as a disastrous, fatal fallacy. If it has any worth today, it is in the lessons it can teach other nations. First among them: Beware the beginnings.”
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