Week Five: When is Trump’s Night of Long Knives?

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I’ve been wondering when Trump’s Night of Long Knives will take place. Who will he target to further consolidate power, tighten his inner kleptocratic circle, and what mythical message will it feed to his gullible followers, those aficionados of fake news?

I think it will quickly follow his inauguration on January 20. There are hints already. This week, The New York Times reported that Department of Energy employees were issued a 74-point questionnaire asking for the names of all employees and contractors who had attended conferences about climate change. The Times report suggests that Trump is sniffing out civil servants who do not publicly swallow his anti-climate change magic pill. In another report released this week, the damage Trump so cavalierly tweeted upon a young woman who mildly criticized him in public on the campaign trail in 2015 is a small indication of the devastation he can wage once he is in power. With Trump’s inauguration just weeks away, now seems like a good time to revisit the night Hitler cleaned house.

Hitler was paranoid and easily led. Sound familiar?

Ernst Röhm had been with Hitler since the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. He went on to form the SA—the thugs of the National Socialist Party. He had a brief falling out with Hitler, but by 1931, Röhm was back in the saddle as his chief of staff and once again in charge of the SA. By 1933, there were three million SA, and Röhm wanted to further swell its ranks by incorporating the German army under its brownshirted banner. This power-play alarmed Hitler’s main henchmen: Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and Gestapo and mastermind behind the Holocaust; Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s chosen successor; Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propagandist; and Reinhard Heydrich—let’s just call him a mass-murderer. No friend to the ambitious Röhm, this quartet of evil convinced Hitler that Röhm was planning a coup.

One year and five months after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, he embarked on a purge of his own party. On the night of June 29 and into the dawn of June 30, 1934, Hitler’s SS began rounding up perceived enemies in the SA. In total, at least 77 were killed, executed on trumped up charges of treason. Röhm was shot. Others weren’t so lucky. Many were bludgeoned to death. The SA was put under direct control of the army, all of whom had to make an oath of allegiance to the Führer. This marked the ascendancy of Himmler and his SS as the most feared and powerful group in Nazi Germany.

Publicly, the purge heightened Hitler’s popularity. Much was made of Röhm’s homosexuality, and he was reviled for it. It was also perceived as a strong-man move against the excesses of unsavoury elements of the party. Some historians (Eleanor-hancock) have argued that this helped cement Hitler’s image as being above the party—Hitler as saviour/celebrity.

Sound familiar?

(The cartoon, by David Low, was published in the July 3, 1934  issue of The Evening Standard.)

© 2016, Kate Barker. All rights reserved.

Week Four: How women are hated

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Today is December 6.

Two years ago, I posted this on Facebook:

25 years ago I was a 22 year old Queen’s undergrad writing an exam. About the time I got home, 14 women in Montreal were dead. I remember standing in that first freezing cold candlelit vigil the next night, with other women, friends from the local rape crisis centre and Queen’s women’s centre. Madman, the media said. Misogyny in action, we insisted. Don’t politicize this, we were told. Be quiet. Be respectful. Shut up. What has changed in 25 years? The body count keeps rising. We can never shut up.

Six months ago, Jo Cox was murdered by a neo-Nazi, as Soraya Chemaly points out today in a  Salon  piece about misogyny beating at the heart of white supremacist movements.

Two months ago, the story with the recording of Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women broke in the Washington Post.

Four weeks ago, as it became increasingly evident that Clinton was going to lose the election, I tweeted:

electionnight

 

Three days ago,  anti-Syrian refugee former immigration minister Chris Alexander was filmed smirking while a crowd chanted “Lock her up!” in reference to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

Yesterday, I read in the Toronto Star how  Elana Fric-Shamji, described as a brilliant physician, ended up dead in a suitcase—her surgeon husband arrested as the prime suspect.

We can never shut up.

© 2016, Kate Barker. All rights reserved.

Week One

Why now? Why me?

I’m a journalist and a historian. It is from this dual perspective that I write about what it means that Donald Trump is to be the next president of the United States. Historians typically shy away from analysing current events through a historic lens, or vice versa. The argument is sound—that you cannot apply the values and realties of today to a different time, that to do so taints the evidence you are trying to unearth. Historians call this “presentism,” and it is frowned upon. As a journalist, however, I am unashamedly presentist. I think we can view the past with the present without muddying the timeline. I believe that we need to make connections between the past and today in order to bring a depth to our understanding of current world events. I also see the study of history and journalism as twin disciplines, connected by the same core values—pursuing the truth and then telling those stories. And we need to tell them well. I look to the past to try to make sense of the present. I want to bring some historic context to what a Trump presidency means today. That is the challenge of Seeing Double. I also believe that the more witnesses and different perspectives there are to Trump, the better. I just hope I can add something useful to the conversation.

Kate Barker, November 12, 2016

Week One:  Significance of November 9 and treatment of the press:

That we woke up on November 9 to the dystopian reality of a Trump presidency is chillingly ironic. November 9 holds special significance in German history. It was on the ninth of November that Adolph Hitler tested his popular strength in the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923.

And later, it was on another November 9 in 1938, when, backed by the power of the racist Nuremberg laws, Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, instigated Kristallnacht. Named for the sound of breaking glass, it continued for two nights as Jewish homes, shops and synagogues were ransacked in waves of anti Semitic violence that erupted across Germany, Austria and the just-annexed Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia.

On the morning of November 9, 2016, I posted my fears to Facebook:

“This feels like the dawn of a brutal new world when I thought we were on the cusp of full equality at last. Instead of a strong, smart, compassionate woman at the helm, America has elected a sociopath. The American response to the worst refugee crisis since World War Two is defined by hatred. The spectacle is eerily and historically familiar—a charismatic celebrity on stage, reducing all complexity and nuance to over-simplified sound bites. Rabid nativism and misogyny dominates intellectualism and basic human decency. The ones to pay will be all of the Others—the scapegoats, the targets of this monstrous dumbing down of all things to one, terrible reality—American democracy now trembles on a knife edge.”

Like many others, I was overwhelmed by the events of the first few days. Nothing has assuaged those initial shell-shocked fears. Trump’s continued disdain towards the press is an alarming indicator that American democracy is in jeopardy.

On Thursday night, Trump tweeted about the many protests taking place across America:

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A few hours later, it had been re-messaged to this:

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This wasn’t even the first indication that Trump’s contempt for the press continues after the election. He also refused to allow a press pool aboard his plane when he went to meet with President Obama, something no other president in the modern era has done. In a 60 Minutes interview on Saturday, he defended his use of Twitter as a weapon against any media that ran “a bad story” about him. And then yesterday, he did just that with twin tweets:

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As usual, Trump is not correct. New York Times subscriptions are not down. According to a report in the Washington Post, print subscriptions are lower in this quarter from last year, but its 116,000 new digital-only subscriptions counter that. Mine is one of the them. Ditto the Post. Right now, I’m a grad student and a sessional instructor at a Canadian university. This means I don’t make much money. If I can do it, so can you. It’s time to support the news organizations that call Trump to account, and stop supporting those that legitimize him. (I don’t buy People Magazine, and won’t start now.)

Curtailing a free press has always been a top priority of any fascist state. Benito Mussolini banned public protests and shut down opposition newspapers in 1924. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, was immediately put in charge of all German newspapers in 1933. Under the Reich Press Law that took effect on October 4, 1933, Jewish journalists and editors were all fired. Any stories that appeared in print had to be “racially clean.” Under Francisco Franco’s 36-year reign, the Spanish press was heavily censored.

Assessing the status of a free press in America will be an ongoing focus of this blog.

 

© 2016, Kate Barker. All rights reserved.