The weekly German newsmagazine, Der Spiegel, recently dubbed the current Republican presidential frontrunner "the most dangerous man in the world." I can't think of another country with a better pedigree for making a determination like that. The highly regarded, world-class publication stated, "Donald Trump is the leader of a new, hate-filled authoritarian movement. Nothing would be more harmful to the idea of the West and world peace than if he were to be elected president. George W. Bush's America would seem like a place of logic and reason in comparison."
If the Germans remember where such movements inexorably lead, it seems as if many Americans, comfortably removed by over half a century and an entire ocean, have either forgotten, ignored, or simply don't care about history. They don't fear the beast turning on them because they imagine that their shield of allegiance protects them. But who is to say, if the GOP's nightmare candidate actually wins the election, where his spiteful gaze might turn next. Where will they hide if Mr. Trump suddenly decides he doesn't much care for blue collars anymore?
Stanley Kramer made a film in 1961 called "Judgment at Nuremberg" that still reverberates with prophetic moments. The movie was a dramatic reenactment of the Nazi war crimes trials held in the German city after the Second World War. Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) was a brilliant jurist, now overcome with guilt and remorse for what happened in his country. ("I knew what they were and I walked with them.") After watching his attorney, Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell), mercilessly browbeat a terrified witness (Judy Garland) about her relationship with a Jew who was murdered in a Nazi concentration camp, Janning, suddenly arising from his silence, asks Rolfe, "Are we going to do this all over again?"
After he is sentenced to prison, Janning attempts to express his remorse to Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy), the chief justice at the war crimes trial. Referring to the millions of innocent dead, he begs Haywood to understand that "he never thought it would come to that." In one of the films most resonating moments, Judge Heywood replies, "Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent."
There is an exchange earlier in the movie that is every bit as potent in a much more subtle way. It is a simple, late evening conversation between Haywood and the two servants who work in the house where the judge is living during the trials. The pair, a man and his wife, profess to have been completely ignorant of what was going on in their country during the Hitler years. Assuming an air of wounded innocence, they ask Haywood how he could even pose such a terrible question.
Haywood's question is more pointedly addressed by Janning during his testimony at the trial: "My counsel would have you believe we were not aware of the concentration camps. Not aware? Where were we? Where were we when Hitler began shrieking his hate in Reichstag? Where were we when our neighbors were being dragged out in the middle of the night to Dachau? Where were we when every village in Germany had a railroad terminal where cattle cars were filled with children being carried out to their extermination! Where were we when they cried out in the night to us. Were we deaf, dumb, blind?"
If we choose to believe that these circumstances could not reoccur in the country that Irving Berlin rhapsodized about in "God Bless America," we do so at our own peril. Is it overwrought to even consider such a notion? I sincerely hope so, but ignoring the possibility is getting increasingly difficult when you watch the rabid crowds that mindlessly cheer Donald Trump's hate-filled, vulgar rants and hear serious people speculate that he really has a chance at winning the presidency.
Trump claims that he is going to assume a more presidential demeanor once he secures the nomination, as if it is all just a series of poses and charades that he has to assume to get what he wants. If nothing else, Trump is a masterful con man, whether he is bilking kids out of money they paid out for an education or grudgingly admitting that maybe as president he won't sanction war crimes after all. Bernie Madoff could take notes.
It makes you wonder if, a few years from now, some people might retreat into offended silence if someone asks if they ever supported him. That is, of course, assuming there is anyone left who is courageous enough to ask the question.
Alden Graves is a regular Banner columnist.