Comparisons between the Trump regime and Hitler’s Third Reich have become commonplace and invidious. While it is undeniable that there are similarities between their ideology and propaganda techniques (Lügenpresse = “Lying Press” = “Fake News”), it is rash to go further and declare an equivalence. The political philosopher Leo Strauss noticed and formulated the “Argumentum ad Hitlerum”, and described it as a cue that the argument has gone awry. Still, disturbing parallels remain disturbing. But it came as a surprise this morning that Boris Johnson, the current fanatically pro-Brexit British PM, has beaten Darth Realtor to the punch in the would-be autocrat contest.
Johnson has formally requested that the Queen suspend Parliament, which was scheduled to break the second week in September and re-convene on October 9. Johnson’s request was to extend the break until October 14, when the Queen will deliver the traditional “Queen’s Speech” laying out the government’s plans for the year. The Queen’s response to such requests is a formality — after all, she is head of state but not head of government — and it is expected she will comply, although Liberal Democratic MP Jo Swinson has requested that she break with tradition and refuse the request, which is a transparent attempt at an end-run around anti-Brexit factions in her party, Labor, and a significant amount of Tories as well.
It is also a transparent attempt at an end-run around democratic rule. By effectively strait-jacketing the anti-Brexit opposition, as well as those committed to Brexit but only with a “deal”, Johnson has made it very, very likely that he and his ultra-nationalist confreres will get their way, deal or no deal. (It is for this reason, the tendency of the nationalist right all over the world to subvert not only procedural norms but deliberative discourse, that I am chary of the notion that they are plumping for a kind of “illiberal democracy”, in the words or Viktor Orban. Shutting out the voices of opposition and stifling debate is at best “democracy for us, not you”, which is not democratic at all.)
It is important to see this ploy for what it is: a kind of low-key Reichstag incident. When the Reichstag fire was (allegedly) set by a Dutch Communist on February 27, 1933, four weeks after Hitler’s installation as Chancellor, Hitler asked President Paul Von Hindenburg to declare a state of emergency and suspend civil liberties. The Communist parliamentarians were arrested, transforming the Nazi plurality into a majority, thus consolidating their political power in the German Republic. The rest is capital-H History which, as Hegel mused, is a slaughter-bench.
Yes, Johnson’s tactic is dwarfed by Hitler’s in terms of political immensity. But “immensity” indicates a difference in degree, however vast, rather than kind. The motives — to seize power by clever and manipulative means — are eerily similar. And if anything should be learned by the world’s experience with nationalist despotism in general and Nazism in particular, is that these means must be resisted with steely determination. It may be presumptuous for a Yank like me to advise British royalty, but the Queen should break with tradition and tell Johnson to get lost. To do less would be to risk the fate of Von Hindenburg, who was second only to Hitler in making the Holocaust and world war possible.
But as a Yank I also have stake in what happens in Britain. Donald Trump is watching, and the United States also has its own Von Hindenburgs in Mitch McConnell and a Supreme Court where Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Thomas, and Alito sit waiting to do Trump’s bidding. Make no mistake, our own aspirational Führer is watching. The President may be a willful ignoramus, and is easily manipulated, but make no mistake: he has eyes in the back of his head, and will follow British events with keen interest. He is, like many sociopaths, very clever about advancing his own agenda. British citizens have a responsibility, as do American citizens, to make it clear that a commitment to Liberal Republican Democracy, however flawed and frail it may be at the moment, takes priority over the ideological fever-dreams of aspiring tyrants, and their reverence for the cult of wealth and power. Enough is enough. The citizens of Hong Kong and Puerto Rico have come to realize this and have done something about it. Time to follow their lead.