Imagine the following:
A terrorist attack.
A new leader with a penchant for race baiting and berating the “liberal” press calls for immediate authority to clamp down on “enemies to freedom.”
He blames his opponents for “weak, enabling policies,” and vows to eradicate lawlessness through extreme authoritarian executive orders most citizens are now willing to accept out of fear.
They agree we need to support his “war of terror,” and any criticisms are dubbed “treasonous.”
His poll numbers spike.
He handily wins re-election.
In February 27, 1933, German police arrested Dutch construction worker Marinus van der Lubbe and charged him with arson after a suspicious fire broke out at the Reichstag, the German parliament building.
The man who would in a month be elected German chancellor, Adolf Hitler, declared to former chancellor Franz von Papen:
“This is a God-given signal. If this fire, as I believe, is the work of the Communists, then we must crush out this murderous pest with an iron fist.”
Hours later, President Paul von Hindenburg invoked Article 48, and the German cabinet drew up the “Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the People and State,” abolishing freedom of speech, assembly, privacy, the press; legalized phone tapping and communication interception; and suspended autonomy of federated states like Bavaria.
4,000 people were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured that night.
In Reichstag elections three months before, the Communist party won 17 percent of the vote. In the March elections a month after the attack, the people elected 81 Communist deputies, most of whom were subsequently detained, ceding their seats to Nazi party members.
The Enabling Act followed, handing all legislative power to Hitler and his cabinet.
President Hindenburg died in August 1934, allowing Hitler an opportunity to consolidate the powers of president and chancellor.
The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
So, why the history lesson?
Because we might be headed for our own “Reichstag fire.”
We’ve had them before.
The sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor in 1898 that started the Spanish-American War; the Gulf of Tonkin attack in 1964 that resulted in President Lyndon Johnson retaliating against the North Vietnamese; the worst attacks on American soil–September 11, 2001.
Our government, like most, has been known to exploit crises to serve its own agenda.
Although not as extreme as Germany’s example, September 11 resulted in former president Bush’s poll numbers spiking, permitting him much of the fear-induced legerdemain necessary to invade Iraq (which had no hand in the terror attack) he had been planning since before he was a candidate.
This matters because we have a president now who is craven enough to do anything for approval and to enact his extreme agenda.
It’s just a matter of time before we are hit again in some fashion, from a full-on terror attack like 9/11 (God forbid) to a sophisticated cyber assault we can conveniently blame on North Korea.
Paul Waldman wrote in The Week a month after Donald Trump took office:
“While we have been remarkably safe from terrorism since September 11 — fewer than 100 of us killed by jihadi terrorists over those 15 years — such attacks do happen from time to time. And when the first one of Trump’s presidency occurs, he will probably move quickly to take advantage of it.”
Waldman goes on to say:
“What precisely might Trump do? We know that unlike President Obama, he won’t try to calm people down or remind them of how safe we are. He’ll do exactly the opposite: ramp up people’s fear and anger, using the attack (now matter how minor it might have been) as justification for a range of policy moves. He said during the campaign that he wanted to put mosques under surveillance; that could be just the start of a range of harsh actions directed at American Muslims. More restrictions on travel and immigration would be almost guaranteed. He might well order mass deportations. And given his regular, personal attacks on judges that don’t rule as he’d like, there’s a genuine question of whether he’d obey lawful court orders that restrained him in a situation where he felt he had the advantage.”
Trump already hinted at this when he excoriated London mayor Sadiq Kahn after the London bridge attack in June.
In a statement, Kahn expressed to the citizens of London:
“Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days. There’s no reason to be alarmed.”
Donald Trump took to Twitter (or course) with:
“At least seven dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!'”
Imagine that happened here.
What might Trump tweet? What knee-jerk policies might he push to enact?
Deporting suspected combatants and dissidents?
Imprisoning political opponents?
Shutting down the press?
Dropping a nuke?
He’s already threatened to “take a strong look” at libel laws.
And we know how he feels about having a “bigger button.”
If Democrats take back control of Congress in November (as it’s looking as though they might), they will likely pursue impeachment proceedings.
Plus there’s special council Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation sure to produce myriad more bombshells.
But Trump’s not concerned.
A recent report from The Washington Post states:
“In private conversations, Trump has told advisers that he doesn’t think the 2018 election has to be as bad as others are predicting. He has referenced the 2002 midterms, when George W. Bush and Republicans fared better after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, these people said.”
Trump actually invoked September 11 to suggest a similar attack on U.S. soil might yield the desired political outcome.
Matthew Yglesias wrote in Vox:
“If the president and his top staff are not so concerned with democracy but purely political power, that’s a terrifying proposition. And given Trump’s willingness to put his own interests before democratic norms — from keeping his business interests, to firing his FBI director to protect a friend — the absurd idea feels almost plausible.
“If Trump thinks a terrorist attack would serve his political interests — either through a blind rally ‘round the flag effect or by specifically validating anti-immigrant demagoguery or what have you — how hard is he really working to keep the country safe?”
I really hope I’m wrong.
But I’m not the first to propose this theory.
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