November 5, 2018

JOEL KOTKIN: Lurching To A New Weimar.

America seems to be heading inexorably toward a Weimar moment, a slide toward political polarization from which it could be increasingly difficult to return. Weimar — that brief, brilliant and tragic German republic of the 1920s — was replaced by Hitler’s murderous regime in 1933.

Like Weimar, our politics are increasingly defined by violence, whether the Pittsburgh massacre, the mass mailing of bomb-laden parcels, dueling mobilizations on the border, the shooting of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise or, less lethally, the antics by unhinged partisans such as Maxine Waters. Respect for the basic folkways of a functional republic is vanishing, damaged by the angry narcissism of both President Trump and his often-hysterical media enemies. . . .

Trump was elected legally, but from the beginning his opponents — including senior member of the Democratic Party — devalued his election and threatened his impeachment. By claiming to be the “resistance,” as opposed to the loyal opposition, they have set in play a tit-for-tat political war game that is becoming all too real.

In a democracy, norms of transcending partisanship matter. It was the refusal of the various parties in Germany, notes City University of New York historian Eric Weitz, to express faith in free speech and democratic norms that undermined that country’s democracy. In Weimar Germany, he notes, lack of faith in liberal principles infected many, if not most, of the top aristocrats, intellectuals, clergy, bureaucrats and industrialists — most eventually welcomed the authoritarian Nazis. “Democracy,” Weitz notes, “needs democratic convictions and a democratic culture.”

Indeed.

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