Fascism.. 1930s Europe today?! Yes, Julia Baird reluctantly asked whether we are seeing fascism today, to which Stan Grant responded, ‘..there are analogies to what you see in say, 1930s Europe.’ (The Drum, June The 3rd),
I had drawn similar comparisons, but I dismissed them as sensitivities of a Holocaust survivor. Still, others have made similar comparisons.
For instance, Rosenfeld (Cambridge University Press Dec 2019) noted that some scholars have ‘..contended that Trump’s ascent bears a worrisome resemblance to interwar European fascism, especially the National Socialist movement of Adolf Hitler.’ Similarly, Haaretz(26thFeb 2020) opined, ‘Donald Trump is not Hitler, but his words and actions encourage and embolden those who yearn for an Adolf of their own.’
Germany in the 1930s, when Hitler gained power, had experienced a lost war, humiliation, the Great Depression, unstable government, and widespread starvation. The country was ripe for a Messiah or a Napoleon.
Circumstances in America may not have been as dire at the time when Trump came to power, but the US had lost the Vietnam War, and could not win the Afghan and Iraqi Wars. Government became polarised and dysfunctional, to the extent that The Atlantic (Nov 2019) warned of lessons from the American Civil War as the ‘ties that bind us are fraying at alarming speed’.
Increasing inequality added to demoralization. According to Forbes rankings, there are currently 630 billionaires in the US. At the same time, many underprivileged, often black or coloured Americans cannot afford health care, and 50% of children live under the poverty level.
Underprivileged America, with its strong evangelical movement, has also been ready for a Messiah or a strong leader.
As a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, I tried to explore the power that Hitler and Trump exhibited, especially as that power was mental, fascinating, and for so many, inveigling.
Both have been considered to be mentally dysfunctional. Hitler had been labelled as delusional, psychopathic, narcissistic, sadistic, and paranoid. Endorsed by 350 psychiatrists, Trump was considered to be brittle, cruel, vindictive, delusional and irrational. Hiss mental state ‘could lead to catastrophic outcomes’ (The Independent, 4thDec 2019).
The problem is that none of these diagnoses are sufficient, nor do they capture the essence of the men. And if millions adhere to these men’s perspectives, by definition they cannot be abnormal.
In 1938 the American journalist H.R. Knickerbocker asked the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung, what constituted Hitler’s power. Jung answered, ‘Hitler is the mirror of every German’s unconscious…He is the loudspeaker which magnifies the inaudible whispers of the German soul..Hitler’s power is not political. It is magic.’
Hitler believed that Providence, an inner voice guided him. Jung believed that it was his ‘own unconscious, into which the German people have projected their own selves.’ Trump believes that his superior instincts guide him. When he says to those who think that he is unstable, ‘I am a very stable genius,’ he means that his instincts are his genius, and he communicates with the instincts of his followers.
Recently neuroscience has found the instinctive, unconscious, non-verbal, mind to be located in the right hemisphere of the brain. Normally this hemisphere is in harmonious balance with the verbal, logical, conscious mind. However, in stressful situations they disconnect, and the right, magical, emotional, desirous, hemisphere dominates. The strange power between leader and the masses lies in right hemisphere-to right hemisphere communications, and the mass religious-like handing over of right hemispheres to the leader.
In that hemisphere logic and reality are distorted to desires. The leaders rant and lie, but the followers, as if hypnotised only hear the power and promises, ‘Deutschland über alles.’ (‘Germany above all.’) and ‘We’ll make America (you) great again.’
The game is deadly because it doesn’t have words or logic. Logic is seen as conspiracy. For the leaders to lose is inconceivable because somewhere in their lives they have learned that powerlessness is death, and that only respect and adoration is life.
What to do? Point out the truth, especially that such leaders only care for themselves. Trump withheld corona virus lockdown because it opposed his opportunities to harangue to crowds and he would have had to submit to a superior force. This cost his followers’ lives.
Next, be ready for an election stunt such as declaration of an emergency (like Hitler did) if Trump sees that he will lose.
But most important in the long run, Americans, and others threatened with fascism, must respect the despairing people who are liable to follow false prophets. They must deal with the gross inequalities that threaten their survival.
Paul Valent is a retired psychiatrist and writer. His latest book is ‘Heart of Violence; Why People Harm Each Other’.