Donald Trump, Halloween Hitler
This primary season has seen no lack of comparisons between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler. They are are frivolous and unhelpful.
For starters, The Donald is the proverbial man without a plan, while Der Fuhrer, from Lebensraum to Final Solution, never left home without one. To dress the candidate up as a Halloween Hitler is a mere distraction.
Mark Riebling's Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler is a timely book about the Hitler era. Perhaps ironically, it offers valuable insight into what underlies our present election season, and what it may take to survive the institutional breakdown many view as a genuine possibility.
Church of Spies is the story of a plot against Hitler forged in breathless secrecy -- from the chiaroscuro of church crypts, to the hive offices of the Reich -- by a network run by the pontiff himself. In it we meet Helmuth von Molotke, a German intelligence officer, whose experience in occupied France catalyzed his resistance, and eventual role as an architect in the plot to assassinate Hitler.
For Moltke, Riebling writes, "the fight against Hitler was not mainly military or political, but meta-ethical...resistance to tyranny hinged on 'how the image of man can be replanted in the breasts of our countrymen.'"
These few words bear the book's most important lesson for our political moment.
In the eclipse of Marx's "hitherto existing society," comes dawning awareness that there will be a struggle not of classes, but causes -- competing claims to what human beings are, can, or should be. In brief, there are two categories of truth-claim: theist and atheist.
From each come ideological mutations: from theism, the kind of theocratic maximalism found in ISIS; from atheism, the virulent anti-theism of Nazism.
What often goes unnoticed is that these apparent opposites share something that makes them closer to each other than either to its "parent" -- a gene which, in the Judeo-Christian view, warps to something alarmingly less than the human person. The examples of ISIS and Nazism are extremes on the continuum of imposed misery, but there are many stops in between.
The anti-theism fashionable in the West rejects religion's influence on the present, and would turn rejection into a hermeneutical lens on the past -- as it were, to read religion out of history. A distorted past misshapes its present, setting the stage for a future in which the individual is primed for a change in political status, from citizen to franchised agent of the state.
Hitler, with Stalin, viewed institutional Christianity as the chief obstacle to their plans. When the Reich struck in Poland, one of its first targets was the Catholic Church. And yet, in the wake of its destruction as a state, a nurtured sense of common identity enabled the Polish nation to endure.
The sustaining claim at the heart of the Polish example comes at the beginning of the Judeo-Christian story: Everyone enters the world in the image and likeness of the Creator. This intrinsic dignity, and exalted possibility, is a claim of transcendent origin.
Blindness to history, and its distortion, also makes harder the duty to, cultivate the spiritual qualities needed to fight, or even recognize the threat.
Donald Trump may not be Hitler, but tyranny is alive and well. It comes in many forms, arriving by stealth as well as blitzkrieg. Should the foundations of the American system ever be overwhelmed, replanting the image of the human person would be our task.