Tomorrow We Get a Nero?

In April 1925, a German journalist wrote to a friend in England, “Today we vote for Zero. Tomorrow we get Nero.” When Germans voted to make a retired 77-year-old German Field Marshal named Paul von Hindenburg president of the Weimar Republic, many Germans like the aforementioned journalist feared the old war hero was a placebo for the republic’s deeper ills; at best a substitute Kaiser or a political “zero” who would be replaced by a dictator.

Four years into his presidential term, Hindenburg struggled to maintain the republic as it was in the throes of a severe economic depression. War debt and hyperinflation crushed the German economy. Political violence erupted as communists squared off against fascists in Germany’s largest cities. Criminality, prostitution, and drug abuse became widespread. In 1933, Hindenburg made Adolf Hitler chancellor of Germany.

Invoking images of the failed Weimar Republic is a harrowing prospect indeed. The parallels between Weimar Germany and Biden’s America may be instructive, however, especially given the poor prospects voters face to lead them out of this mess.

Let’s look at some of the similarities:

Criminality: America’s largest cities saw a 33 percent increase in homicides last year, a massive crime wave that continues into the present. Defunding the police, legitimizing criminal behavior by releasing convicted criminals into the population, and failing to punish new criminals, is producing a crime spree unparalleled in American history.

America’s borders are undefended. Americans of all ages are dying at record levels from fentanyl poisoning as the Mexican drug cartels work closely with Chinese transnational criminals to finance and distribute fentanyl, a drug that is now both cheaper and more widely available than cocaine and heroin.

Texas and large areas of the Southwest are overrun by masses of illegal migrants trafficked into the United States by criminal drug cartels. The flow of migrants through Mexican territory fuels countless criminal activities, including the illicit business of transporting migrants, along with those who rob, extort, and exploit them. Large sections of the American electorate feel less secure under the Biden Administration.

Political violence: The Antifa movement in the United States is a rather obvious analog to the Communist tactics during the Weimar Republic. Eventually, Communist aggression provoked opposing violence from fascist groups like the Brownshirts. Is it possible an opposing force of brownshirt equivalents could emerge to combat Antifa’s terrorism?

The growing potential for political violence is truly worrying.

There is plenty of data to show that Democrats and Republicans alike are inclined to justify violence as a way to achieve political goals. How much of the vandalism and looting in 140 cities across the United States in 2020, producing at least $1 to $2 billion of paid insurance claims, is a precursor to future political violence?

Economy: Inflation is soaring with the result that the prices of food, energy, and a host of consumer products are breaking household budgets across the United States. It would be wrong to suggest that an economic collapse is imminent, but it would be equally foolish to ignore these unsettling indicators, especially in terms of inflation. 

There is an estimated 34 percent more money in the U.S. system than there was 14 months ago. Inflation is real and it’s significant. At the same time, the U.S. debt-to-gross domestic product ratio rose during the first quarter of 2021 to 127 percent—a level that is substantially higher than the 77 percent tipping point recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

National defense: The light-speed collapse of Afghanistan has cast doubt upon the conduct of America’s senior military leaders in the minds of the public. General officers—once widely respected—are turning out to be creatures of the same broken political system in Washington, D.C. that voters increasingly loathe.

The Afghan debacle also raises questions about the supremacy of U.S. military power—the most expensive military establishment in the modern world. The weak performance in Afghanistan is disconcerting and reminiscent of Operation Eagle Claw,” President Jimmy Carter’s attempt in April 1980 to rescue 52 U.S. embassy staff members held captive in Tehran.

These points notwithstanding, America is still in better shape than Weimar Germany. Crime is rising as is inflation, but economic recovery post-pandemic appears to be gaining momentum.

The FBI recently released a report confirming that there was no attempt to overthrow the government in January as many on the Left contend. The admission bodes well for a potential de-escalation of tensions in the near term.

Further, America’s leaders are unpopular, but there is still great confidence that Washington has the tools in place to improve the economy and fix many of the nation’s structural problems in education, healthcare, and elsewhere. Still, at the center of the nation’s troubles is an entropic and soporific septuagenarian who seems to lack the awareness and, most importantly, the political support to put the country back on a positive trajectory.

Will these social disorders combine with economic hardship to produce a furious storm that overwhelms the Biden Administration like the one that overwhelmed Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic? In 1932, it was not just the destitute Germans who demanded action and a figure like Adolf Hitler to lead it. The popular German concept of law and order called, above all, for a greater commitment to the German nation symbolized by real unity of purpose embraced by all classes. Very few voters wanted the Communist Party to rule Germany.

Is Joe Biden a zero, an empty suit? Will Biden eventually be replaced by some new figure like the Roman Emperor Nero? Americans will know the answer when the gap between what Americans demand and what they get becomes intolerable. Then, as Crane Brinton warned in The Anatomy of Revolution, all things are possible.

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