January 6 and February 6 Skip to content

January 6 and February 6

So here’s Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s warning to the Trump true believers: “You think this is going to be your strongman. But he’s not going to be your strongman. He’s going to be his own strongman.”

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It is the sixth day of a winter month.

An angry, far-right-wing mob, including antisemites, white supremacists, and fascists, has gathered near the nation’s capitol building.

They hate the country’s freely-elected, center-left government, which they claim is corrupt and communist. The unruly crowd seems ready to storm the capitol and attack lawmakers.

Violence erupts. The mob battles police; blood is spilled, but the insurrectionists are defeated.

Even so, the far right remains strong and determined.

::

So it went on Feb. 6, 1934, in Paris, France’s capital city.

“For historians of France, especially those of the interwar period, the insurrection in Washington was reminiscent of the events of 6 February 1934,” Chris Millington wrote in Tocqueville 21 online.

He added, “Eminent historian of France Robert O. Paxton compared the violence of January 2021 to that of February 1934, warning that Trump now deserved to be called a fascist for endorsing violence against democratic institutions.”

When my wife, Melinda, and I returned to Paris last month, we took in preparations for the Olympics, including grandstands near the Place de la Concorde, site of the 1936 uprising. A bridge over the Seine leads to the National Assembly (parliament) building.

The French far right of the 1930s looked to turn France into a homegrown variant of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

After the Germans conquered France in June, 1940, the far-right embraced the collaborationist Vichy regime, which willingly helped France’s Nazi occupiers round up French Jews for deportation to the extermination camps. Some young French rightists even volunteered for the Nazi army.

Trump, who idolizes Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and has vowed to expel thousands of Black and brown immigrants if he is reelected, is an existential threat to American democracy and world stability, a frightening prospect for most people in France and other democracies in Europe and around the world.

“When my colleague McKay Coppins visited four allied countries in Europe and spoke with European diplomats, government workers, and politicians, he observed ‘a sense of alarm bordering on panic at the prospect of Donald Trump’s reelection,’” Stephanie Bai wrote in The Atlantic.

Likewise, no European we spoke with wants him back in the White House.

But are alarm bells ringing as loudly on this side of the Atlantic?

“The heart of the Biden presidential campaign’s message is that democracy is at stake in the 2024 presidential election,” Juan Williams recently wrote in The Hill. But...Quinnipiac polling showed Americans rank the economy (28 percent) as their top concern, even as stocks, employment, and wages all perform strongly. Preserving democracy comes in second at 21 percent.”

Added Williams: “The point here is that Trump’s base — and beyond to some swing voters and young voters — remain indifferent to Biden’s message that political and economic stability are being put at risk by threats to democracy.”

He warned, “The Biden camp is right to raise the threat to democracy as its main message. Democracy is now approaching the point of breakdown because of Trump.”

Americans seem to be in three camps about Trump. Some see a second Trump term for the dire threat to American democracy that it represents. Others believe warnings about Trump turning the country into an authoritarian state are overblown or just Democratic campaign rhetoric.

But evidently many of his most ardent backers — from the union-despising, Social Darwinist super rich to white supremacist Christian nationalists — would welcome a Trump-headed authoritarian regime.

“Better Hitler that Blum,” French rightists said of late 1930s Prime Minister Léon Blum, a Socialist and a Jew. Some Trump supporters have worn “I’d rather be a Russian than Democrat” tee shirts.

Evidently, the MAGA faithful believe Trump will be their strongman and will turn the clock back to when only white lives mattered. Make that male, straight, Christian conservative white lives.

Memo to union members who support Trump: Your guy is a “right to work” fan who ran one of the most anti-union administrations in American history.

Back in power, Trump will lose no time going after organized labor with redoubled zeal.

No authoritarian ruler in history-far right or far left-has failed to suppress free and independent trade unions.

If Trump wins and the Republicans flip the Senate and hold the House, a flood of anti-labor legislation will follow, including a national RTW law.

Trump, too, will use his justice department to prosecute his critics, including union officials.

So here’s Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s warning to the Trump true believers: “You think this is going to be your strongman. But he’s not going to be your strongman. He’s going to be his own strongman.”

Once in power, the historian added on MSNBC, the strongman or whoever succeeds him is “going to do whatever he wants.”

When it dawns on the MAGA true believers that he really isn’t their guy, they will recognize their vulnerability to the whims of a strongman. Thus, they will become fearful at the prospect of even unwittingly making “a wrong move,” Snyder told Nicolle Wallace.

Strongmen are known for dealing roughly with enemies or erstwhile friends, who “make a wrong move.”

“Once you choose the strongman, there’s no way back,” Snyder said. “You burn that bridge behind you. It’s not a menu in a restaurant. You don’t get to make more choices. It’s done. Once you burn this bridge, you get this guy or whoever follows him, forever.”

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY

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