subscribe: Posts | Comments      Facebook      Email Steve

Trump panders to “the street,” in nazi fashion



“Das is für die Gasse.” “That is for the street.” So said Ignaz Seipel, the Chancellor of Austria in the 1920s, about the anti-semitism his Christian Social Party preached. Seipel, a Catholic priest, argued that his objection to Jews was due to their socialist, or “Bolshevist,” inclinations, rather than their religion. But when he spoke of the “decomposing influence” Jews had upon Austrian society, other ears—including Hitler’s, in nearby Munich—heard the dog-whistle of Jew hatred that led directly to the extermination camps.

Why the word “Gasse”? It means, literally, “street,” but even in the 1920s was a slang term connoting the masses, who were generally under-educated and resentful of their déclassé status, much in the same way as today’s Republican white nationalists. “Die Gasse” had been taught to hate Jews for years by radical rightists. Granted that the more intelligent among them understood that antisemitism was mere “socialism for fools,” meaning that it was easy for rightwing politicians to stir up Jew hatred among disaffected bourgeois elements and clericals, in order to be elected to high office. They knew it was hokum; they disseminated the lie anyway.

Conservative demogogues always have resorted to baiting. Without an “enemy,” the right would cease to exist. In today’s Republican Party, the object of scorn is no longer Jews (although, as we witnessed at Charlottesville, the far right still indulges in nazi-style antisemitism). Instead the enemy now is Muslims, Mexicans, Blacks, liberals, the media, gays, Hollywood, “globalists” (and there are many Jews among the latter five groups). When Donald Trump, an educated man (Wharton School of Economics), rails against these, he is of course speaking to his “base,” red state denizens, but, from a politico-historical perspective, they are identical to “die Gasse.” Trump tells them things he, and those around him, knows are lies, but he also knows that “the street” believes him, and so he says them ever more strongly. That this is unscrupulously cynical is beside the point. It works.

Trump is doing something no Western leader has done since Hitler, or has done as well: as the historian A.J.P. Taylor wrote, “The unique quality of Hitler was the gift of translating commonplace thoughts into action.” Where others had spoken of “doing something” about the Jewish problem, Hitler’s “terrifying literalism” actually acted. In Donald Trump’s case, his Republican Party for years has talked about shutting down the Mexican border, of ending the Affordable Care Act, of eliminating Medicare and Medicaid, of lowering taxes on the rich, of outlawing same-sex marriage, of loosening environmental protections, of breaching the separation of church and state, of tightening voting laws, of ending trade deals, of appointing rightwing judges, and so on and so forth. But Republican leaders have done little to follow through on these promises to “die Gasse,” because they understood that the promises were little more than rhetorical devices to get elected, and could not seriously be fulfilled.

Until now. In Trump, we have a president who not only talks to “die Gasse,” he does (or tries to do) what he says—which is exactly what the street likes about him. Not that they are concerned with the particulars. As Taylor points out, “Not many Germans really cared passionately and persistently whether Germany again dominated Europe. But they talked as if they did. Hitler took them at their word.”

In the same way, tea party-Breitbart-Christian conservative Republicans don’t really care about things like Mexican immigration, or food stamps, or carbon emissions, or gay marriage, or NAFTA, or sharia, or nuclear proliferation, or any of the other Republican grievances. They may tell pollsters they do, and they may occasionally think about them and be generally upset by them when they do. But they have no serious understanding of them; and, left alone, they would prefer to live their lives normally, working their jobs, raising their children, associating with their friends, enjoying their sports, going to their churches, sleeping and having sex. But the Republican Party never leaves them alone: its strategy is to constantly provoke and infuriate them, reminding them at every opportunity how justified is their anger, how threatened they are by their enemies, who are trying to take away their happiness and security, and that of their children. Trump takes these people of the street at their word, and they at his. That is the ugly sentiment fueling “die Gasse”; stoking it is the one thing Trump, like Hitler before him, knows how to do better than anyone.

Leave a Reply


Recent Comments

Recent Posts