Trump, Clinton, and Weimar Germany

2-format43Comparisons with Hitler’s rise in the Weimar Republic have been ubiquitous during the recent nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential election (see, for example, Eric Weitz‘s piece for TabletJeffrey Herf has offered the best analysis of these historical comparisons).
Recently, Jill Stein, the US Green Party’s presumptive nominee, made a different sort of link to Weimar times: she suggested that it was known “for a long time ever since Nazi Germany” that putting someone like Clinton in the White House would only “fan the flames of this right-wing extremism” embodied by Trump. While it was not quite clear what she meant with this comment, it caused some outrage. The New York Magazine interpreted it as a call on Bernie supporters and other progressives not to support Hillary, and argued that this was the wrong conclusion to draw from Weimar times: “Because the Communists would not support any center-left government coalition, it was impossible to form a parliamentary majority without the Nazis. So whatever lessons about left-wing political strategy we should draw from the Nazi era, ‘withhold votes from the mainstream party that is the only viable alternative to the far right’ is definitely not one of them.”

It is true that the KPD collaborated with the Nazi Party during the Weimar Republic, namely during the 1931 referendum for the dissolution of the Prussian parliament and the 1932 strike at the Berlin Transport Company (BVG), which contributed to the undermining of Weimar’s political system. However, this comparison falls flat, if only because the KPD was definitively not a group of misguided progressives naively supporting a fascist party.

However, considering that she talked about the impact of neoliberal economic policy in the sentence before, it is more likely that Jill Stein meant that a continuation of these policies (in the person of Clinton) would lead to a further boost to neo-fascism. This argument would be harder to dismiss: the economic crisis of the 1930s and Brüning’s austerity policies certainly played a role in Hitler’s rise.

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