The surreal part of living through the reign of King Donnie, First of His Name is that we have to ask ourselves civic questions that we really shouldn’t have to ask. Like: Can a president pardon himself for gross corruption involving Russian agents and criminals? And then in the wake of Charlottesville, there’s another question being asked that ought to be obvious: Are Nazis bad?
Well, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what you mean by “bad.”
The beautiful thing about the English language is that any given concept can be described with a number of words, and by the same token, several words can be interpreted in more than one way. As with “bad.” When we say Nazis are bad, does that mean that they are spiritually Evil? Yes.
Does that mean that they are wrong and should not be allied with? Yes.
But does “bad” mean that Nazis are bad in the sense of being bad at their jobs, in the sense that they won’t do what they say they will, or that they are outright incompetent?
Anybody who saw the original Star Trek will remember the episode where Captain Kirk went to look up John Gill, the history professor he studied under at the Academy, and found that the planet where Gill had gone to study had somehow turned into an analog of Nazi Germany. And when the Enterprise crew investigated, Kirk discovered to his horror that his professor was actually the Fuehrer of this Nazi regime. Once Kirk got to confront the professor, he asked why he would come up with such a horrible idea, and the old man said that Nazi Germany was the “most efficient state Earth ever knew.” And Spock concurred, saying: “Quite true, Captain. That tiny country, beaten, bankrupt, defeated; rose in a few years to stand only one step away from global domination.”
When the Nazis formed a parliamentary government in 1932, they spent the next two years consolidating power, especially after the death of the aged head of state Paul von Hindenburg. A primary goal of the Nazis, and of the establishment military who were not always on board with Hitler, was to re-arm the country so that it could become a major power again.
One major instrument in this program was a financial scheme based on a previous program of the Weimar Republic. Promissory notes were issued by the Society for Public Works through the Reichsbank and used for job creation and public building projects, similar to projects in both Fascist Italy and Franklin Roosevelt’s later New Deal. When the Nazis took over, this project was used by Economics Minister (and Reichsbank president) Hjalmar Schacht. As part of the public-works program, Schacht helped initiate the construction of the Autobahn network (which was expanded under post-Nazi governments) and also modified the promissory bills program, creating the limited liability company Metallurgische Forschungsgesellschaft or “MEFO” for short. Mefo bills served as notes of exchange convertible to Reichsmarks on demand. The MEFO company had no existence except as a balance sheet entity. In his postwar testimony at the Nuremberg trials, Schacht said that the device “enabled the Reichsbank to lend by a subterfuge to the Government what it normally or legally could not do”.
While Mefo bills did serve to address the government’s deficit problems, inherited from the Great Depression, it also served to allow the Nazi regime to fund re-armament programs, paying arms manufacturers with off-sheet funds that concealed a military buildup forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles.
This government spending, as in Italy and the US, did help pull Germany out of the Depression, but the Mefo bills had interest that would eventually come due. Furthermore, in order to satisfy the regime’s demand for imported materials, Schacht supervised the “New Plan” that operated “by various measures suspending the service on Germany’s foreign indebtedness, by freezing other claims of foreigners on Germany, by a stringent system of export controls and by eliminating foreign travel and other unessential foreign expenditures.” These imports and domestic product were in turn directed by the Ministry of Economics with production quotas, in particular scarce war materials, in preparation for the eventual wartime economy.
In the Star Trek parallel, Kirk asked Spock why John Gill would use Nazi Germany as a political model knowing the results, and Spock answered “Perhaps Gill felt that such a state, run benignly, could accomplish its efficiency without sadism.” That turned out not to be the case; in the episode Gill was secretly neutralized and drugged by an unscrupulous lieutenant who used propaganda to incite his nation toward a genocidal war. In the case of the real Nazis, Hitler’s whole agenda was predicated on race war and conquest of Europe, and any beneficial changes were simply instrumental to creating a better war machine for that purpose. The economic miracle was based on a financial shell game whose bill was coming due and which could only be paid by looting nearby countries.
Which is why ultimately there is no distinction between the moral and the practical. If one seeks the quick and easy path to power by alliance with Evil, that means you cut corners and you make mistakes. The bad guys cut corners in that they dispense with bourgeois luxuries like “individual rights” and “rule of law.” But a leadership that holds itself to no higher standards than their own whim is prone to ignore information that goes against its dogma (like, don’t pick fights with the entire planet at once) and they suffer in the long run.
But one could argue that in the short run, Germans weren’t aware that things would turn out the way they did. When Hitler took over, Germany was still fairly screwed. And over six years, it became an industrially strong military power again. If Hitler had left off after saying the Sudetenland was “my last territorial demand” his regime might have survived. Because up to that point, evil as the Nazis were, they hadn’t made too many administrative mistakes.
And this is where the comparison to the modern day comes in. And even now, I generally find direct comparisons of Adolf Hitler to Donald Trump overheated. Although there was that one time in June 1941 when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, and then six months later said, “nobody told me that conquering Russia would be so complicated.”
Part of the problem in comparison is that as racist as America is, it was always more liberal and multiracial than Prussianized Germany, and thus the would-be Nazis of our time are still a product of the generally liberal culture they are doing their utmost to destroy. What do you call a Nazi with a Slavic wife, Jewish in-laws, and connections to Goldman-Sachs? A STUPID Nazi. What do you call a Nazi who sees his Leader with a Slavic wife, Jewish in-laws, and connections to Goldman-Sachs, and still thinks that guy is the savior of his race? A REALLY stupid Nazi.
One thing that ex-President Steve Bannon got right is when he gave that interview to The American Prospect and told their reporter that his focus more than foreign policy or even racism was what he called economic nationalism- the use of various devices and protectionist policies to strengthen the economy versus other nations like China. “The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.” Given how many Americans either actively support “alt-right” racism or just don’t care, the real danger of Trump’s election was there was a chance that Trump could have done just as well as Hitler – if in fact he had done just as well as Hitler. Most Germans didn’t really care about (or hate) Jews as much as they cared about getting their jobs and their country’s prestige back. The comparison of the Trump Administration to the Nazi regime would hold up better if the Leader of the movement had even Adolf Hitler’s level of emotional maturity and common sense.
Fortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Donald Trump, contrary to the apologist view of Nazism, is not efficient, but certainly is sadistic. The key is that the Nazis had enough regard for their own program that they could plan it out in advance with short notice and then implement it over a period of years. The Republican Party outside Trump may not be fascistic, but they did have both social and economic agendas that they had years to plan in advance anticipating a Republican president. As we have seen, they did not use that time wisely, and had no plan to replace Obamacare or enact the rest of the agenda. Their tax reform plans are probably more fleshed out than their healthcare plans, but given how much of them were based on a transfer of tax liabilities from the upper percentile to put the costs of healthcare on most customers’ deductibles, it’s doubtful that the “fiscal conservatives” will amount to much. And those guys in Congress are the serious and experienced politicians. As opposed to Mister “I’m Not A Billionaire, But I Play One On TV.”
It would take a while to go over exactly how much Donald Trump has failed his own program, assuming that he has one. So rather than print out every fuckup and self-inflicted wound that Trump has performed in just the last four weeks… just watch this.
Again, Bannon had at least the inkling of an idea to enact a useful “nationalist” policy with potential, but the real value is in the execution. It is generally considered that Steve Bannon was the architect of the Administration’s early “travel ban” on citizens of seven Muslim countries, but that order was unvetted, not examined by legal counsel, and so haphazardly put together that it was quickly shut down by lawyers and courts. And Bannon was the brains of the outfit. Trump’s blanket ban on transgender persons in the military seemed to have no backing other than a Twitter post, and the day afterward the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that the policy on who may serve will not change until the White House sends new rules and the Secretary of Defense issues new guidelines. In other words, “we are not enforcing this tweet until it is backed up by something legally coherent.” This is of a pattern with Trump being so mercurial, acting on the spur of the moment rather than any long-term plan, that it is easy for his maneuvers to get checked by rivals within the system – who actually know how the system works, and who fear that his bull-in-a-china-shop behavior will wreck the structure on which they all depend. It’s that much worse when the “smart” people in the White House and in the Republican Party are supposed to be on board with the reactionary plan and they fight amongst themselves. If Trump has one thing in common with Hitler, it’s his possibly deliberate method of controlling his underlings by pitting them against each other for his favor. The difference is that Hitler’s underlings were mostly loyal to both him and the ideology, and (at least in the short term) were competent.
It’s horrible enough that anybody could endorse Nazism when it works. What’s truly pathetic about the Trump Right is that they’re bad at being Nazis. If you put these schmucks in charge of invading Poland on September 1, 1939, the Polish Army would have hit Berlin by the 4th.
Of course even more pathetic than the weekend Nazis of the alt-right are the sensible cloth-coat Republicans who must now realize that their boy has enhanced their reputation the way Hitler enhanced German nationalism. I mean, if you sold your soul to the Devil for luxury and power, and you actually got it, you might tell yourself you got some short term benefit for your damnation. But if you sold your soul to kill Obamacare and build a wall on Mexico and your Devil turned out to be a whiny little punk who had to beg Mexico to pay for his idea, and then bullied more experienced Senators on Obamacare and ended up with that whole thing blowing up in his face- what have you gained? Now you’re eternally damned AND you look like a tool. That’s gotta sting.