Eighty years ago, British PM Neville Chamberlain went to Munich for a summit meeting with Adolf Hitler, to save the world from a military cataclysm. At the time, Hitler’s scientists were already working hard to unlock the destructive force of the atom. His „rocket men” were busy designing the first prototypes of the pilotless delivery vehicles that would pummel London a few years later, killing thousands of civilians. By 1938 Hitler had built himself a mighty army, navy and air force. He had already published his testament, outlining his disdain for democratic rule, and his animus towards anyone who was not part of his ‘Master Race’. Jews were fleeing for their lives, from Germany and Hungary, Europeans were fearful, and desperate for peace. Many still remembered the horrors of WWI that killed millions and had ended less than 20 years earlier.
Chamberlain was convinced that he could make a deal with Hitler. He thought he had the touch, the feel, for pacifying the power-hungry, racist dictator. He went to Munich to secure “peace with honour for our times”, and came home clutching a piece of paper that was a recipe for a disaster.
In a private communication with his beloved sister Hilda, Chamberlain was ebullient about his encounter with the Nazi dictator. He described Hitler as a thoughtful and wise leader, who loved his countrymen, and wanted only the best for the people of Europe:
I had a very friendly and pleasant talk with him at one in the morning. At the end I pulled out the declaration which I had prepared beforehand and asked if he would sign it. Hitler said Yes, I will certainly sign it. When shall we do it? “Now”, came his reply. We went at once to the writing table and put our signatures to the two copies which I had brought back with me.” Publicly, these were the words he used to describe the biggest affinity fraud of the 20th century, the one that ended taking the lives of 100 million people by the time it was over seven years later: „Here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine. We regard the agreement signed last night, as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.
According to historians Frederik Logevall and Kenneth Osgood, the granting of legitimacy, and virtue to Hitler was a case of catastrophic shortsightedness. They conclude: “Those presidents who challenged the ‘tyranny of Munich’ have often achieved policy breakthroughs and those who had cited Munich as a principle of U.S. foreign policy had often led the nation into its “most enduring tragedies” (see here).
The similarity between Donald Trump’s gushing endorsements of Kim Jung-un and Vladimir Putin this past weekend is vintage appeasement. Trump’s crass disdain for the suffering millions, who live under rule-of-law violating regimes, in North Korea, Russia, Syria, China, Turkey, Hungary, and his bullying of the people of Canada („I’ll make Canadians pay for the words of their PM”) is not fake news, but harsh reality. It’s identical to how Chamberlain threw the people of Czechoslovakia, Eastern Europe, and the democratic resistance in all of those countries under the bus in 1938, thereby emboldening the fascists to double down on their opponents everywhere. Kristallnacht, the first step to the massacre of the Jews, was launched in November 1938 by Hitler, even before the ink had dried on the Munich ‘peace’ document.
The summit in Singapore is remarkably similar to how Hitler suckered Chamberlain and led the European democracies to the gates of Hell. Trump’s public support for petty tyrants throughout the world, and his scorn for his democratic allies, who are now fighting for survival in dozens of places, and especially in Europe, is a stunning development, because the threat to justice, the rule of law and sustainable economic development is inside the gates of the most powerful member of the Western world.
Ultimately one has to ask: why is Trump doing this? Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman’s answer, unfortunately, will not do. Donald Trump and his bullies have not lost their minds but are using them according to their own logic. They are fully at home on a playing field that rejects fair play, where strong-arm tactics and the use of deceptive language dominate. This is why Trump is tougher on Trudeau than on Putin, why he shall never confront China, and will sacrifice the entire Western Alliance if he’s allowed to do so and realign America with the authoritarian tide sweeping across the world. He is non-ideological. He uses the language of the evangelists, strictly for tactical purposes, to get out of the traffic jam on his way to his bank or to a Stormy Daniel. He will not back regime change in the direction of Western liberal values, because that is counter to his interests. He’ll offer a protective umbrella to any fly-by-night authoritarian wannabee, because they are the “tough cookies” he understands, they are the ones he can wheel and deal with in the same way he wheeled and dealed with the sharks in the New York real estate market, intimidating his suppliers, not paying his bills, ripping off anyone he could along the way. Grab’em by the pussy and see ya latter alligator.
It’s time Republicans realised that their leader is a far bigger threat to free markets and democratic governance than Putin. Trump is Putin’s, Kim’s, Assad’s, Orbán’s ace in the hole. (The latter is already practicing his handshake for his upcoming visit to the White House.) America and the world reached a crossroad in Singapore. It is last call for the defenders of justice, the rule of law and those who want to save the planet from the wrecking crew that looks upon fact-based political discourse, fair-trade and sustainable economic development, as a sick joke.
About András Göllner
András. B. Göllner, PhD, is a political economist and an Emeritus Associate Professor at Concordia University, Montreal. He is the author of three books, numerous scholarly articles and a frequent speaker at international conferences on his area of expertise. He served as a strategic communications advisor for various democratically elected governments over the past twenty years, in Hungary and elsewhere. His latest book, Words Without Frontiers: The Language of the Transition from Democracy to Autocracy, is forthcoming shortly.