What German history tells us about the current American climate

  • Reverend Edward Landers helped found the Covenant Association.

“History doesn’t repeat itself”, as Mark Twain would have said, “but it rhymes a lot”.

Consider the current state of our nation in relation to Germany after WWI.

At that time, Germany rebuilt and rebounded. A Weimer Republic was born with a constitution and parliament emphasizing virtues such as work, economy, and loyalty to German tradition and culture. But, like nationalism, anti-Semitism has also taken root.

Life was not perfect, but for many Germans it seemed good. A thriving economy with expanding trade and falling unemployment has produced wealth and jobs. A cultural renaissance in cinema, theater, music and art has developed. Democracy seemed stable. Prosperity seemed endless. Some have said it was a golden age.

The era of wellness has tragically changed

FILE - This file photo from February 20, 1939 shows New York City Mounted Police forming a line outside Madison Square Garden to control a crowd that filled the streets where the German American Bund was holding a rally.  he pro-Hitler rally that took place 80 years ago this week at Madison Square Garden in New York is the subject of a short documentary that is up for an Oscar this Sunday, February 24, 2019. The film directed by Marshall Curry is called

Suddenly, in 1929, world markets collapsed, sending shockwaves across the country. American bank loans have collapsed. Instability and inflation reigned. Savings and pensions had no value. Only a third of the nation was fully occupied.

Dark feelings emerged. The lingering humiliation in the face of defeat and resentment over the Treaty of Versailles have escalated. The loss of a meaningful job and a stable family life caused unrest. Bitterness began to erode public support for institutions. Suspicions of government flourished. Democracy has faltered.

The longing for a lost way of life has stoked the emotions and desires of a demoralized working class and a traditionally conservative Evangelical State Church. Everyone longed for clarity and the assurance of a strong authority to restore order.

Extremist politics and internal strife between parties dominated parliament. Building a stable coalition to govern was impossible. The public, worried and perplexed, feared the social consequences.

The apparent incompetence of the ruling political parties has led some to channel their interest in Adolf Hitler. They thought maybe he was someone dominant and powerful who would be a game-changer and speak for the forgotten. Change was in the air – a void waiting to be filled.

The public was actively courted after the national election of 1932. Flags, marching band, electrifying rallies, beating oratory, worshiping crowds, microphones waving at every turn, Hitler and the party were on the ascendancy. An unemployed person said: “Here is someone who cares about us, shares our emotions, promises jobs and makes us feel special.” Another said: “We could feel the connection of racial purity, the rightness of being a true German. As the Führer said, no Jew, immigrant or unwanted person should be a citizen and share our rights.

The Germans tried to separate their political and private life

Many were puzzled, worried, unsure of developments, wondering what action to take. Others, carried away by a sea of ​​triumphant emotion, rode the wave ahead. The changes have been swift and relentless. The leader and the party were one, totally united on message and policy. Loyal and disciplined followers moved forward at the same pace.

No dissent was tolerated. Party purists and malleable incompetents have received key government appointments. The court system has been rigged to obtain preferred verdicts. The media have been demeaned, attacked and overwhelmed. In its place, a propaganda apparatus has promoted the illusion of reasonableness and fanned the flames of fear, prejudice and racial hatred. The openly politicized Evangelical State Church has linked itself to the new regime.

Reverend Ed Landers

Yet for many Germans privacy and political reality remained separate. The apparent normalcy allowed some to be complacent and ignore what was happening to the nation and its cherished standards and values.

Surely it was a different time and place, but we can’t ignore the rhyme of the story here. The checks and balances of an informed and responsible public are essential to a thriving democracy.

This is no time for complacency, America. History shows this very clearly.

Reverend Edward Landers helped found the Covenant Association, a Nashville-wide interfaith association involving 13 faiths and faith groups.