Trump's inauguration speech had unsettling echoes of 1930s Germany. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc)
Trump’s inauguration speech had unsettling echoes of 1930s Germany. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

Donald Trump’s inaugural speech, like the candidate himself, was a chain of falsehoods, saber-rattling and scary Neofascist uber-nationalism. But it could be difficult to follow because so much of it seemed stolen from the mass politics of the 1930s in central and southern Europe. So here is a plain English translation of some key passages.

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning because today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.

You may be confused, as an English speaker. Trump, a billionaire real estate developer and serial grifter who founded a phony university that defrauded thousands, has appointed a cabinet of billionaires and multi-millionaires, the wealthiest and most elite cabinet in American history, which even includes the CEO of petroleum giant Exxon-Mobil.

How, you might ask, can he represent this coup by the super-rich as ‘giving’ power ‘back to’ ‘the people’? The people wouldn’t even be allowed on the grounds of the gated communities where Trump’s officials live.

The confusion arises from thinking in English instead of 1930s German.“Das Volk” or the people was a mystical conception for the German far right. It comprised the German people as an organic whole, uniting great landlord and lowly peasant. The great German corporations, too, were said to be expressions of “the people” (Hence the German automobile company Volkswagen, now led by perfectly nice people but not so much in the 1930s). The phrase comes into focus if you understand “the people” as “white Protestants and some lately admitted ethnic Catholics” who are united across social class (though of course led by their billionaire betters), and who stand in contrast to the cosmopolitans, the mixed-race people, infiltrating minorities, the socialists and others bent on diluting “the people” and subverting its prosperity and power by kowtowing to foreigners.

Trump also used the typical 1930s diction of the traitor within:

“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”

The traitors to das Volk, the people, are the intellectuals and persons with an international outlook, and socialists secretly working for an international cabal, and the peacemakers and diplomats– who were seen as weak and feckless. There are also religious and ethnic groups who polluted the integrity of the bodily fluids of the White body politic; for Trump these especially include Mexican-Americans and Muslims, though some people around him think that high-placed liberal Democratic Jews are manipulating the Fed against American interests. Obama was one of these infiltrators, the faux American born in Kenya who is secretly a Muslim or maybe a Muslim-Communist. These treasonous bureaucrats and artists and thinkers and soft businessmen ultimately make a pretty penny and gain social prestige and power by betraying the helpless Volk and reducing them to weakness and poverty. They may even be in the pay of foreign Powers.

The Volk are helpless before these traitors unless the natural leaders within the White community take charge and reestablish the mystical union between working class whites and corporate whites. The policy? Economic protectionism and monopoly capital inside one country. The enemy? International competitors like Chinese firms.

“But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”

The United States has 5% of the world’s population. But its gross domestic product (GDP), at $18.5 trillion, is 22.5% of the GDP of the entire world in nominal terms! The US economy is the largest in the world and is substantially larger than that of its nearest competitor, China (at $11.5 trillion), which, however, has about 4 times as many people as the United States. That is, on a per person basis, Chinese are positively poverty-stricken compared to Americans. Trump has taken the most flourishing economy in the world, which admittedly has large internal inequalities, and made it an economic graveyard by his gloomy rhetoric. (He in fact intends to increase the inequalities). Only by proclaiming a crisis and obscuring the US success story and US prosperity can he hope to convince das Volk that they need a great leader to restore them to their previous glory. Note that abandoned factories are highlighted here, mostly caused by mechanization and robotification of labor so that the big corporations don’t need as many American workers. The actual blight on the landscape of oil spills and mercury dumps and coal-fired plants– the pollution caused by corporate malfeasance– is not mentioned, since, of course, the corporations are The People.

Crime, too, has dramatically fallen in the United States in the past 20 years, but Trump wants people to believe the opposite. Again, only if there is a crisis of brown and black crime will das Volk be willing to surrender their rights to the Great White Trump.

A chart shows declining U.S. crime rates

By the way, those gangs he alleges are laying waste to our cities? He isn’t talking about skinheads or white supremacists or neo-Nazis. They, of course, are an essential part of das Volk, perhaps even the shock troops of The People.

Likewise, US education is not the vast wasteland Trump depicts. The US ranks in the middle of industrialized countries on math and reading. But much of the shortfall is because of the lack of funding for schools in poor districts (since local schools are funded by local taxes, the school system reflects America’s vast class and racial inequalities). Trump’s idea of fixing these schools is not to pump Federal money into the poorer districts to even the playing field but to privatize the school system so that the poor can’t even afford schooling at all. That is the kind of thing Betsy DeVos, who wants to use the government to indoctrinate children into extremist forms of Christianity, promotes.

I could go on analyzing Trump’s lies and his Neofascist code words. But you get the picture. He and his billionaire cabinet are the natural leaders of the white Volk of Amerika, so much so that they are The People. Unlike the racialists of the 1930s, he will allow some individuals from the minorities along for the ride if they are ideologically aligned with the real Americans. He is going to kick out the cosmopolitan, half-breed traitors in the name of America First (not being a historian of the United States, it was only about a decade ago that I discovered how ugly this seemingly admirable phrase is). And he is going to run down all of America’s beauty and achievements and causes for pride so as to pull the wool over the eyes of The People and get them to back him in a new, authoritarian coup government for the United States– one where de facto most of the Bill of Rights are abolished except for the Second Amendment.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Democracy Now! “Cornel West on Donald Trump: This is What Neo-Fascism Looks Like”

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East(Simon and Schuster), will officially be published July 1st. He is also the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (both Palgrave Macmillan). He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

© 2016 Juan Cole

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  1. Norman Pagett says:

    In 2011 I forecast the rise of a fascist president by 2016 or 2020.
    the drumbeat grows, just as I’ve been saying it would.

    These are the first steps towards dictatorship, denying truth to the masses, it has happened before.
    The millions who were fed the lie about “making America great again” wanted to believe.
    Why wouldn’t they? They have nothing else to believe in.

    Trump has now gathered his sycophants around him, all prepared to admire the emperors clothes, just as every aspiring dictator has done throughout history. Hardline generals are being hired because fascism demands it.

    Why? Because when millions find they’ve been duped, and there is no utopia, and the economy crashes there is going to be serious civil unrest and disorder. Only the police/military will maintain order, and violently. Their predisposition to lethal violence is already endemic within their heirarchy.
    The promises to “make America great again” cannot possibly be fulfilled, because America’s “greatness” was born out of (cheap) oil coal and gas. That is no longer available,

    But control of the media will assert that everything as it should be, that “victories” are being won in the face of adversity. The biography on the .gov page reads as if it was written by and for Korean Kim:

    Those promises are among the biggest lies, and when the people who believed those lies find out that America is not going to be made great again, all hell is going to break loose
    That’s all gone, and taken employment with it. There will be no return of millions of jobs, the industries and resources that sustained them no longer exist Our problems lie in the fact that we have spent the last 200 years consuming the planet’s resources to create a delusion of infinite wealth, at least in the developed industrial part of the world, and everyone is demanding that it should continue, and sees no reason why not.

    The global economy cannot provide any more, we’ve milked the Earth dry.
    But everyone has come to expect and demand more. This book explains why there isn’t going to be any more,

    Telling voters that resources are unlimited is a blatant lie.. The new El Supremo has stated that there’s 400 years supply of coal left in the USA. But the gullible want to believe it, just as all investors in Ponzi schemes cannot accept that they’ve lost everything. They too want to believe.

    The result of these lies will ultimately be civil disorder

    Civil disorder will inevitably need military intervention, with any head of state being forced to introduce martial law. The appointment of hardline generals indicates that there is already any awareness of this.
    With the economy in a tailspin all hell is going to break loose with everyone seeking to blame everyone except themselves, and backing up their opinions at gunpoint.
    welcome to the (dis) United states of America, especially as it devolves into 5 or 6 disparate regions, and military intervention to prevent it.
    But the constitution couldn’t allow this to happen. Could it?

    Civil unrest on a massive scale would bring about a military dictatorship very rapidly.
    So how might this happen?
    Ten easy stages:
    1. A president is elected on the promise of eternal greatness.
    2. Those promises remain unfulfilled.
    3. The economy continues into its tailspin.
    4. The disillusioned majority faces acute privation.
    5. The nation begins to violently disintegrate into disparate regions.
    6. A state of emergency is declared.
    7. The military sides with the existing government (they have no choice)
    8. Civil war breaks out (2023?) as US regions demand autonomy.
    9. Martial law is declared
    10. You have a fascist (or more likely theo-fascist) dictatorship. Permanently.
    The military will have no option but to fall in behind such a fascist government, they will have no choice. (hence hiring generals )
    The military rank and file will fall in behind whoever pays their wages.

    And you thought our prime danger lay in climate change.

  2. Mirza Yawar Baig says:

    The big question is what the real American public will do. Will they allow 1930s to repeat? Or will they stop the fascist juggernaut in its tracks. History always writes the post script. Let us see what that will be. The reality which Trump and Trumpians need to keep in mind is that the world they are looking at is not the world of the 1930s. And there lie the jokers in the pack. At any rate, it looks like some very interesting times ahead…even if like the Chinese curse – May you have an interesting life.

  3. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Trump’s speech might have striking similarities with neonazi speeches. While this may not be surprising, the media response is surprising to some extent. Trump supporters ‘ cherished’ historic moments while the activists reacted with caution and alertness. On the whole, the daupys of 1930s Germany once again occupied the centre- stage

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