Is History Rhyming?
“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”
Now, more than ever, Mark Twain’s observation is becoming prescient.
Strains on the American spirit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer riots, and a contested election in 2020 have spilled over into 2021. The events of January 6th., just one week ago, have sent a chill throughout America.
After President Trump’s rally, during the ratification of the electoral college votes for President-elect Biden, protestors stormed the United States Capitol to ransack and destroy. Let’s be clear, individuals who riot, especially those who attack symbols of our democracy, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
In the riot’s wake, and in this hyper-partisan atmosphere, there are now those on the left who are quick to point out historical similarities between the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazis), and what individuals on the right-end of the American political spectrum possess. They espouse examples that focuses on the Munich Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, where Adolph Hitler attempted a coup to overthrow the democratic Weimar republic of Germany. Or Kristallnacht in 1938, where SA Brownshirts began the Pogroms of Jews in Germany. They are wrong. These events miss the mark on what we are now witnessing here in America.
The event that best encapsulates what we are experiencing is the Reichstag fire of 1933. This event paved the way for Hitler to become dictator of Germany.
On January 30, 1933, Hitler, having been democratically elected, was sworn in as Chancellor to head a coalition government (but not a majority). With Paul von Hindenburg as President, and the real power in Germany, the belief was that Hitler could be managed. However, the Reichstag fire changed the dynamics of politics in Germany, and the arc of history.
On the night of February 27, 1933, one month after Hitler’s election, a fire broke out and destroyed the Reichstag (German Parliament). The Nazi party used this fire as a pretext to claim the communists were plotting against the new German government. This provided Hitler the excuse to push through parliament the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State (aka Reichstag Fire Decree).
The Reichstag Fire Decree suspended civil liberties in Germany, including habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right of free association and public assembly, and the secrecy of the post and telephone, and banned publications not considered “friendly” to the Nazi cause.
These restrictions allowed the Nazis to gain a majority coalition in the following election (March 5th). Parliament then passed the Enabling Act, the partner piece of legislation to the Reichstag Fire Decree. This act assigned all legislative power to Hitler and his ministers. After the death of President Hindenburg in 1934, a new law was passed that combined the offices of president and chancellor, and gave Hitler dictatorial powers. The rest, as they say, “is history.”
Today, after the assault on the US Capitol, we see eerie similarities between the past and the present happening in our own country. Twitter has banned President Trump, and over 70,000 additional accounts – stating that they (Twitter) need to identify “potential harmful tweets.” Google and Apple have suspended the “App” sale for Parler (a conservative internet platform). While Amazon has suspended Parler from its web-server. Destroying the company’s business model by denying access to customers.
Although Twitter, Amazon, and Facebook are private companies, they have taken advantage of 47 U.S. Code § 230, which provides immunity for website publishers. Protection against lawsuits means that these providers shall not edit, or act as publisher, for content crossing their platforms by another information content provider. Yet, these companies are now circumnavigating the law. They are editing, publishing and prohibiting speech they deem “not popular.”
This is a slippery slope, and the wrong tact to take. The first amendment does not identify free speech as popular speech. It protects unpopular speech as well. Yet, these companies are now deciding who is right, and who is wrong, in the cyber-town square.
What’s next? The polarization of the body politic, already white-hot, is gaining momentum. Today, with the riot as pretext, there is a “hue and cry” for retribution. With a second impeachment against President Trump occurring in congress, the demand for senators, and representatives to resign, and the shaming of people on the right to shut up and be silent, the threat to our democracy is real. The acts of Apple, Google, YouTube, and Twitter to edit, or censor content, should give one pause to the direction American politics is heading.
There is a story, often told, that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
With the current state of affairs that now exist prior to President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s inauguration, let us hope our republic, and our citizens, understand that history need not rhyme any more than it already has.
James Feldkamp, Lead consultant for CTP on intelligence and counter-terrorism, is a retired Naval Office, and former FBI special agent focusing on international terrorism. Feldkamp has instructed as an adjunct professor at multiple universities where he teaches courses in domestic and international terrorism. He has authored/edited a university textbook through Cognella Academic Publishing on the “Theory and Politics of Terrorism.”