Hal Sundin column: Only a coincidence?
As I See It
Lying awake and wondering what to write about in my next column, I was struck by some similarities between the economic and political conditions in the U.S. today and those in pre-Hitler Germany after World War I.
After the SCOTUS decision in the Citizens United Case gave corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts to the campaigns of candidates who would support their interests, I compared it to Germany after the establishment of the Weimar Republic in 1918 following the end of WW I.
Consider the crushing financial burden of Germany’s war debt and the massive reparations imposed by the Allied Powers in the Treaty of Versailles (U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, our representative at Versailles, pleaded against the reparations, but it fell on deaf ears), and our spiraling national debt that we seem unable to pay down; and the resulting stress they place on our respective economic and political systems.
In both the Weimar Republic and the current U.S. there was (is) an aspiring dictator lurking in the wings, waiting for an opportunity to take over.
As war debts and reparations drained its coffers, making it unable to pay its debts, Germany ordered a workers strike, shutting down coal mines and steel mills, and the economy tanked. The Weimar government simply printed more money, further devaluing the German Mark, and inflation exploded.
In late 1923, the League of Nations asked U.S. banker Charles Dawes to help with Germany’s reparations and inflation, and conditions improved. Social Democrat Party Leader Friedrich Elbert wanted a constitutional monarchy, but with a communist uprising gaining strength was forced to accept a statement by a fellow party member proclaiming a German Republic. He also urged the Allied Powers not to cripple the young republic with reparation demands.
The Great Depression of 1929 created a surge in unemployment, and from 1930 on President Paul von Hindenburg used emergency powers and appointed Adolph Hitler Chancellor. The Reichstag fire at the end of March 1933 (of suspicious origins) played into Hitler’s hands, which he then used to exceed parliamentary controls and thwart constitutional government and civil liberties.
We now come to the current strained and strange economic and political conditions in our own country, potentially an even greater threat to our democracy than the Civil War.
In the U.S., young people are frustrated by the rapid inflation in real estate prices, which is a double-edged sword. It is driving rents up, making it impossible to save enough money to keep up with the rising cost of housing. Add inflation, stealing the value of any savings they may have been able to accumulate, and the situation is even more bleak. And who pays the taxes that hopefully keep our government afloat? The attitude of the wealthy is, “who, me pay taxes?” That’s for the little people. There are so many of them.
The wealthy now avoid paying their fair share of the cost of supporting our democracy by putting their investments in foreign countries, thereby avoiding being taxed at U.S. tax rates.
I believe the greatest threat to our democracy is Donald Trump and those who support him. Throughout our history, we have faced many crises, but this is the first time there is a significant movement to replace our democracy with a dictatorship. His motives are obvious from his baseless claim that the 2020 election was “stolen” and his attempts to get governors in states where Biden’s victory margin was not large to “find” enough votes to allow Trump to steal the election. He even had a hand in staging an insurrection attempting to block the certification of Biden as the truly-elected president.
Thomas Jefferson declared that the success of a democracy depends on a well-informed electorate, not a vociferous mob of followers of a demagogue, as happened in Germany.
It is a disturbing fact that many of Trump’s supporters are getting their information from rogue sources like Facebook, Fox News, QAnon and Twitter. They are not seeking the truth — they are just looking for comments that reinforce their misguided prejudices. “I heard it on the internet, so it must be true.”
Donald Trump is a perfect example. He touted hydroxychloroquine and chlorine as protection from the coronavirus (they destroy only germs, not viruses). Then, when he came down with flu symptoms, he consulted doctors and took a high-priced anti-flu medication. Talk about hypocrisy! Not all Republicans are anti-vaxxers, but most anti-vaxxers are Republicans, despite an extremely high death rate among those who have not been inoculated. What are they thinking?
“As I See It” appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at email@example.com.
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