History does not repeat itself, though events in the past take on similarities of future events. On Nov. 8, 1923, Adolf Hitler attempted the overthrow of the Bavarian State government in Germany, hoping that the rest of Germany would follow.
It was in some sense a test to see how far it would go, if it worked so much the better, if not, it would start a movement that would eventually bring down the Weimar Republic and a nascent democracy.
A decade later Germany was slipping into the abyss of tyranny and authoritarianism. For his actions during the putsch, Hitler was put in prison, yet the spark of a nationalistic movement fueled by hate, fear, and uncertainty had started a slow burning brushfire that would consume a nation ten years later.
On Jan. 6, 2021, a defeated yet defiant President, refusing to coincide and admit a political defeat, attempted a political coup by trying to influence a transfer of power to then President-elect Joe Biden. The attack on the Capitol, a sacred shrine to democracy in the United States, was another test by a wannabe despot to see whether America was ready for an authoritarian future. The attack failed, democracy held for the moment, as it did in Germany. Query: What will the America of 2031 look like?
In the world of politics a decade hence is a lifetime. The ebb and flow of ideas, the give and take of political dynamics, the flinty and naive will of the American people will shape what America will look like in 2031.
The political establishment of Germany in the 1920s brushed off this manic former enlisted man in the German army. He was a loud and at times a laughable dynamic on the fringes of society. Conventional wisdom was that certainly the German people would see and understand that his nationalist movement was a joke.
In the United States a similar series of events took place, that saw a loud and laughable person, living on the fringes of society, elected President in 2015. For four harrowing years that President began to destroy American democracy and set up a scenario whereby he would seize power.
Throughout his administration he was already declaring that he could only be defeated if the next election was rigged. This ranting became more strident as the 2020 election arrived, and it became a howl after he was clearly defeated in a free and fair election.
The “Big Lie” became a mantra gaining momentum over several weeks leading up to the attack on the Capitol. The “Big Lie” one year later is now the cornerstone of the Republican Party’s platform for regaining political power. Republicans of all ranks clearly think that the rightfully elected President stole the election.
Donald Trump, who wanted to remain in power, apparently plotted with other conspirators to seize the Capitol, prevent the certification of votes that elected Joe Biden President, declare martial law, and remain. The House commission is finding this to be the likely scenario.
Of course the vote was certified, Joe Biden was inaugurated the 46th President of the United States and America stumbled forward, weaker, fearful, and uncertain as a worldwide pandemic nibbled at the edges of society.
The former President continues to foment a return to power enabled by the Republican Party who has no interest in anything other than regaining power and never giving it up. This is their vision of America, a single all powerful party led by an authoritarian despot who will systematically disassemble our democratic Republic for his own personal and political gain.
Its hard to imagine how quickly this has happened in America. The German people in the early 1930’s felt the same. How could a stable democracy with a long a impressive history crumble so quickly into dust?
Will we be asking the same question 10 years from now? In this sense we need to learn from history and see that it can repeat itself in a general sense. The American people can and should stand up and not allow this Republic to fade into history, and grand experiment gone. It certainly worth working to preserve. The alternative is not acceptable. Thomas Jefferson stated, “The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”
David Crane is the Founding Chief Prosecutor of the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone; Founder, Global Accountability Network; Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Syracuse University College of Law. He lives in Maggie Valley.