One month after Adolf Hitler was sworn in as chancellor, the German Reichstag on Feb. 27, 1933, erupted in flames. The fire, believed to be Hermann Goring’s idea, became the pretext for the “Reichstag Fire Decree.” This decree allowed the Nazi Party to blame the fire on Communist terrorists and declare a state of emergency in order to eradicate them.
Historians consider this faux crisis a seminal moment in the establishment of Nazi Germany. The very phrase “Reichstag Fire” now connotes a staged event choreographed by a dictator and a political group intent on shaping its own agenda and destiny by seizing levers of power to marginalize or destroy their adversaries.
Americans are smelling smoke. We know there is a problem with immigration at the Southern border, though the numbers shrink every year. Everyone agrees that border security needs to be improved to manage immigration in a sensible, fair and humane manner.
But what was a thorny “policy matter” bungled by fractious politicians has now become a “humanitarian crisis” of Trump’s making: families separated, children placed in detention camps and cages, children dying from lack of proper medical treatment.
Our Reichstag Fire.
Trump’s “beautiful” thousand- mile, medieval wall would, the Washington Post recently estimated, take 10-16 years to build and require more than 10,000 workers. The untold billions would be paid for not with pesos by the Mexican government, but with dollars by American taxpayers. And what would we have at the end of it? A monument to human gullibility.
Trump has rejected bipartisan legislation to keep the government open, boasting instead that he would bravely own this government shutdown. Having unwisely painted himself into a corner, Trump now threatens to declare a national emergency, which he says he “absolutely can.”
Trump would effectively supersede, and render impotent, the legislative branch of government and the courts as well, if they side with him. This would be the death knell to our three separate, co-equal branches of government. Enter Trump the dictator.
We are stunned — daily — by Trump’s undisguised hostility toward our democratic allies while he hyperventilates adoringly in the company of tyrants like Putin, Duterte, Kim Jong-un and Erdogan. Recent best-selling books by Jon Meachum, Bob Woodward, David Frum, Madeleine Albright, Joshua Green, Neil Faulkner and others have all warned us about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies.
We should be frightened, especially since he is cornered. The Mueller report is imminent, and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani expects it to be “horrific.” Impeachment is a looming possibility. Trump’s border wall crisis and government shutdown are red herrings — diversionary tactics to mask his consciousness of guilt over his many misdeeds. When Shakespeare’s Macbeth felt the guilt for his heinous deeds, he became ever more desperate: “For mine own good all causes shall give way … Strange things I have in head, that will to hand,/Which must be acted ere they may be scanned.” So too Trump.
Our conflict today is for the heart and soul of this country. Many Americans for reasons understandable, and not so understandable, were persuaded by Trump that he alone was the answer to their grievances. Between 35 and 40 percent still feel this way, no matter how much evidence exists that he has obstructed justice, violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause, bribed former mistresses to secure a presidential victory, and — as the Manafort and Cohen cases are demonstrating — colluded with Russia.
Trump’s grip on his base will not change. But his grip on the Republican politicians remains problematic. Allegiance to Trump has made them unfaithful to their oath of office. The country now needs them to honor this oath and do their jobs. They must find the courage to thwart this narcissistic bully who has so intimidated them.
The call is not to surrender their conservative principles and convert to liberalism. It is a call to arms so that conservatives and liberals can continue their ongoing and necessary debate as a separate and co-equal branch of government.
We are not fighting the Luftwaffe over England, but this is the battle of our times. If MIA Republicans step forward to stop Trump’s authoritarian machinations, we should be able to say of them as Churchill said of the airmen who stopped Hitler at the Battle of Britain: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his allies need not fly Spitfires in deadly dogfights. All they have to do is “smell the smoke” and “support and defend the Constitution.”
William Shaw, of Pinehurst, is the author of “Fellowship of Dust: Retracing the WWII Journey of Sergeant Frank Shaw.”