For some days, I have been reading articles that raise concern about the Trump administration staging its own version of a “Reichstag Fire”. This was an incident early in the rise of Hitler to absolute power, in 1933. Hitler’s Cabinet had issued “temporary” restrictions on the press and political marches, campaigning, etc., claiming a national security emergency. In other words, it basically suspended some of the rights we take for granted under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This happened on February 4, 1933. On February 27, 1933, arsonists set fire to the Reichstag, the German parliament building. Hitler’s coalition government, the Nazis and the German Nationalist People’s Party, blamed the fire on the Communists and used it as leverage to get President von Hindenburg to issue another, more far-reaching decree “for the protection of the People and the State.” According to the United States Holocaust Museum:
Popularly known as the Reichstag Fire Decree, the regulations suspended the right to assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and other constitutional protections, including all restraints on police investigations.
Justified on the false premise that the Communists were planning an uprising to overthrow the state, the Reichstag Fire Decree permitted the regime to arrest and incarcerate political opponents without specific charge, dissolve political organizations, and to suppress publications. It also gave the central government the authority to overrule state and local laws and overthrow state and local governments.
When people now refer to a modern “Reichstag Fire”, they mean some kind of staged national crisis, which is claimed to justify sweeping restrictions on the liberty rights of free private citizens and others, in the name of national security. An example that was NOT staged was the terrorist attack launched on 9/11. That was real, but it was seized upon by the Bush administration, especially Vice-President Dick Cheney, to justify the Patriot Act and the invasion of Iraq as well as Afghanistan. It was also used to quash any dissent or criticism of the Bush administration by labeling that as “unpatriotic” and insisting on the title of “wartime President” for George W. Bush.
9/11 was real and was not staged by the U.S. government. I am not a conspiracy theorist. However, I too have wondered if we are soon to witness a staged “crisis” that Bannon and others in the Trump White House will seize upon to justify sweeping restrictions on personal liberty. I am afraid many of our fellow Americans might fall for that.
And then it hit me. What if Trump HIMSELF is the “staged national crisis”? I have been bewildered at the acquiescence of Republicans in Congress as revelation after revelation of Trump aides’ dealings with Russia unfold, as detailed in the great Belly of the Beast blog. I am stunned that the recent resignation of Michael Flynn — the National Security Adviser — because of illicit communications with Russia, after and probably before the election, has not resulted in bipartisan cries for an independent investigation. Instead, we have Jason Chaffetz calling on the House Oversight Committee to investigate the leaks that brought out the truth, and we have Rand Paul shrugging and saying it would be a waste of time for Republicans to investigate other Republicans, and it would hamper their conservative legislative agenda.
Okay, I get that the Republicans want to rush that agenda through as quickly as possible. But I and many others see the last four weeks of chaos and conflict, confrontations with the federal courts, round-ups of immigrants, ridiculous interactions with other heads of state, rampant conflicts of interest, threatened mobilization of the National Guard, as a national crisis. Many concerned citizens are now clamoring for a full investigation; many others are clamoring for steps toward the impeachment of Donald Trump. But where does that leave us?
It leaves us with Mike Pence as President. And Mike Pence has a radical reactionary agenda. While Trump bloviates and makes a spectacle of himself and the White House, Pence is quietly racking up executive orders and legislative actions designed to undo not just what was achieved under President Obama, but also under President Clinton. The clear goal is to roll back two decades of progressive activity that has reined in the enormous corporate power that now seems to fuel the GOP together with fundamentalist religion.
I am starting to wonder if the real game in town is to get Democrats and others so distracted and riled up about Trump, that we 1) forget what’s happening in Congress; and 2) ultimately demand Trump’s impeachment, resulting in 3) a Pence Presidency. Think about it. The American people will have demanded the removal of Trump, to avert or resolve what are rightly seen as constitutional crises — and Pence steps in as the white knight, unsullied by the shenanigans of his running mate.
Think about it. It CAN happen here.