“THOSE WHO FAIL TO LEARN FROM HISTORY ARE CONDEMNED TO REPEAT IT”
– Winston Churchill in 1948 before the House of Commons [paraphrase of an earlier quote from philosopher George Santayana]
I was a real nerd in the ninth grade. One of the shortest and scrawniest kids in the class, I was no match for Gary Moore and Brian VandeBogard whose testosterone spurt had long since kicked in to help these taller tormentors build mature physiques with well-developed muscles. Their modus operandi was to come up behind me and deliver a zinger punch to the top of my head. Not only were they menacing to me (it was not known back then that each hit could have caused a dangerous concussion), it just plain hurt and felt humiliating.
It went on for a while. I waited for my opportunity. It came one day when the science teacher was late to class, as was his wont. In front of the whole class I came up to Moore’s desk intoning “I’ll have less and less of Moore and Moore” and delivered the same sort of sucker punch to the top of his head. A few seconds later when the science teacher arrived the class was in hubbub. There would be no further harassment, not in gym or any other class, nor in the halls.
That day I learned how to deal with bullies. If my form of social embarrassment
hadn’t succeeded I would have gone on to fight them. Either would have whipped my butt, but I knew then and I know now that you cannot run away from bullies.
If you act afraid of them they just get worse. You must confront them, even if it requires taking a risk.
And so I come to the question of impeachment of Donald Trump, a bully if ever there were one. At Oberlin College I majored in history, specializing in German history; my seminar paper explored the election of 1932, Hitler’s tactics that year and how he garnered the support that he did. The parallels between the Trump Administration and the early years of Hitler’s Third Reich are uncannily similar. The horrors of Nazism did not unfold all at once. It would be almost six years between Hitler’s ascension to power and Kristallnacht. Like Trump, Hitler never received a majority of the votes. In fact, his popularity in 1932 and 1933 was declining (just as voters administered Trump’s party a real defeat in the 2018 elections). Yet, with the complicit accommodation of the German right wing that believed they could control him, Hitler was able to consolidate his power. First they were unwilling, and later they were unable to stop him. If that sounds like the latter-day Republican Party, it should. And as time went on, Hitler emboldened his tactics, continually ratcheting up the ante until he did the unthinkable. Trump’s doubling down response to criticism is reminiscent. If you’d like further particulars I’m sure Don Smallidge would be willing to circulate my class notes that I shared with him from Professor Robert Neil’s Modern German history class in the late sixties.
Like climate change, Trump is a ticking time bomb. Like Hitler in 1933-1936 as he
consolidated power, Trump is systematically demolishing core functions of
government, from the foreign service and labor and education departments to our national parks, packing one of the last remaining holdouts against his absolute rule, the federal courts, with right-wing ideologues, verbally harassing and pressuring another one, the Federal Reserve, and unleashing ICE agents, his counterpart to the Nazi SS. As he ups the ante of intimidation against those he opposes, his playbook is right out of Hitler and Goebbels. They marginalized Jews and communists; he marginalizes people of color and immigrants. The longer his power goes unchecked, the more damage he does, the more dangerous the social and the real climate becomes for us all.
For this reason alone Democrats must institute impeachment proceedings NOW. Bullies must be confronted with any available tactic. History has shown from the two most recent impeachments that the process of hearing and considering evidence of high crimes or misdemeanors, in and of itself, and regardless of the outcome, will preoccupy Trump, hinder his agenda, limit his ability to do further damage, and render him relatively ineffectual (just as it did Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton).
I am mindful of the argument put forth by Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and others that Democrats in the House were elected to pass legislation addressing such social needs as health care, social security, voting and election security, climate change, declining infrastructure. Pelosi, you’ve made your point. Your charges have passed some excellent bills only to have them stonewalled by mortician Mitch McConnell in the Senate where legislation goes to die. As long as Trump is in the White House and his Republican lackeys control the Senate, almost no significant House initiatives will ever become law. Democrats can try to legislate from now till Kingdom Come under these circumstances, and nothing will change. The voters get it. Do you? Time to move on to address new challenges. The elephant in the room (no pun intended) is impeachment. Yes, it is inconvenient, divisive and potentially risky. But it is specious to argue that passing more futile phantom legislation should take precedence over Congress’ constitutional duty to impeach.
Given the Republicans’ proven success at voter suppression and gerrymandering in many key states, the handicap of an electoral college that gave Trump 30 states and 74 more electoral votes than Clinton even though she had a 2.09% advantage in the popular vote, with Trump’s popularity polling now well into the 40s, is it wise to stand pat and put all your faith at one last shot in the 2020 election? Which is more risky? To continue to dither while the elephant grows stronger and does more damage or to take the available opportunity now potentially to bring him down or at least damage him severely?
Constitutional duty to impeach? YES, indeed. Much has been made by the media of Mueller’s ineffectual moments in the Congressional hearing, including ridiculous claims that he disappointed Democrats by offering nothing significant to further the likelihood of impeachment. But as I looked more closely four things stood out.
- First, Mueller was understandably reluctant to testify. As a prosecutor he had no interest or desire in being put on the big political stage and he had made that abundantly clear in advance.
- Second, his age, 74. As a 73-year old, I sympathize. In that circumstance, I’d hesitate before answering, want to be sure I did not fall into any of the many traps prepared by either side, and be sparing and careful in my responses.
- Third, and most important, Mueller was a lifelong Republican. He clearly would have been ashamed and even appalled by the findings of his investigation and what they showed about how his party and its leader conducted themselves. Thus, his brief answers looked to me like ashamed admissions, yet his comparable eloquence and passion in addressing Russia’s interference in our elections, something Trump has ridiculed and refused to acknowledge, looked like something else: a clear and impassioned warning.
- Fourth, what Mueller did say is far more than enough to justify impeachment hearings.
In response to questioning by House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY): on obstruction of justice, “The finding indicates that the President was not exonerated for the act he allegedly committed.” In response to questioning by Ted Deutsch (D-Fla):
Deutsch: “You found evidence, as you lay out in your report, that the President wanted to fire you because you were investigating him for obstruction of justice. Isn’t that correct?”
Mueller: “That’s what it says in the report. Yes. And I stand by the report.”
In response to other questioning: “It would be ‘generally’ fair to say the President’s written answers to investigators’ questions were not entirely truthful or complete.” And “to call the President’s remarks about the stolen material (Wikileaks’ publication of Democratic emails) ‘problematic’ would be ‘an understatement.’ As Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Wisc) summed up, “Mueller gave us all the evidence necessary to hold the President accountable. Now it’s up to Congress to act.”
The evidence against Trump is no less damning than was that against Richard Nixon. What has changed over the last 55 years is that by Nazi-like tactics of intimidation and fear, Trump has immobilized any serious Republican opposition and rendered even many Democrats, especially the corporate mainstream, spineless. Where is the equivalent of Senator Robert Byrd, the unsung hero of Watergate, when we need him?
Why did I study German history in the late sixties when it was more hip to focus on Russia or China? Perhaps because my parents had never told me about the Holocaust. I was 11 years old when I first learned about it from my sixth grade teacher. Horrified and incredulous, I came home and confronted my parents, “Can this possibly be true?” And they said it was. Maybe they were simply motivated by a desire to shield me from unpleasant truths about the world for as long as possible as were many fifties parents. Or maybe there was a bit of guilt as both abandoned Judaism, my mother having quarreled with her orthodox Jewish father and become a communist in the 1930s. I can imagine just how horrified they were when Hitler and Stalin signed the Non-Aggression Pact in 1939 that made World War II inevitable. In any case I became pre-occupied with how could such an advanced and cultured country like Germany have committed such atrocities? and read both Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and Hitler’s Mein Kampf in Junior High. Age-old questions these, and yet I little dreamed in the late 1960s when I took Professor Neil’s class that they would ever become so relevant to my own country as they are now. As we in America flirt with re-enacting the same horrors as Germany, the enabling Republicans and spineless Democratic establishment in the role of the good Germans who looked the other way, I struggle with how we can yet turn back from this precipice.
Step 1 is to stop under-estimating the enemy. I said many times in our Saturday morning Waterville gatherings how smart Trump is. Maybe not smart in the intellectual sense of comprehending a complex issue, but street smart in the sense of knowing how to use fear and ridicule to manipulate people and get what he wants.
Step 2 is to call it what it is. Kudos to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for calling the ICE camps what they are: concentration camps. Far from disrespecting Jews with this comparison, she, though not Jewish, was actually being a good Jew, invoking the Jewish vow after experiencing the Holocaust of “Never Again!” In the face of heavy criticism of her, Jewish Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who understood exactly what she was doing, staunchly defended her. Kudos to all those calling out the fascists, racists, nativists and misogynists for what they are.
Step 3 is to stop running away from the bully and to confront him. Resist in any way you can. Take action. What did you do today to resist? I completed this piece and I contacted Congressman Jared Golden urging him to vote to open impeachment proceedings. Be brave. The alternative is unthinkable.
Step 4 is to think strategically and get ready to take more risks for what you believe. Consider what ifs and keep fallback options. We don’t know yet what the nature of these risks will be or where we are heading as a nation. There could be fascist dictatorship, more and larger foreign wars, civil war, secession, climate disasters, revolution, continued uneasy stand-off, or more likely, some combination of the above. For this the old Boy Scout model “Be Prepared” looks pretty good, even if the workings of that organization left much to be desired. What strange and scary times we live in! Maybe our first act of serious resistance should be to topple the Statue of Liberty until our country again believes and acts on what it stands for. Topple Trump or topple the Statue of Liberty; we can’t have it both ways!