The White Rose: Trump’s Authoritarianism

History, its documentation and placement in libraries and archives, is often seen as something removed from the now, this moment, contemporary America and the world. Yes, by its very nature history is something separate from the workings of today—but only by definition. History is something more grand than the successes and failures of yesterday/yesteryear. Recorded history is a foundation; history shows us the cement under the modern monolith.

Our own history consists of an hour ago, last winter, “in my thirties…twenties…teens.” If we are in a fulfilled life currently, if we are an alcoholic currently, we can look at personal, pivotal moments where deeply important decisions were made. One who does not recognize their past is doomed to fall into a sequence of repetitious failures and hardship. But history is often written by the winners; likewise, personal history is subject to the justification of wrongdoing and mistakes. Though everyone can recognize this, there are those whom live in a world of defense mechanisms. To be human is to fail; however, to be human is to rise above failure—even if alone. Our history is a microcosm of world history.

***

I am often looking at the world and wondering if there is anything one person can do. It is easy to give up at this point, to sit it out, be a spectator on the sidelines. Does fighting back work? I look at the contemporary scene in Trump’s America, and I am fully tempted to revert to defense mechanisms: everything always works out, there are better people working on it, modern federal governing is too separated from my every day, for the most part people are good.

“What are we waiting for? Until one day the war is over and all nations point to us and say we accepted this government without resisting?” (Scholl, 30).

Popular portrayals of the Nazis have done a disservice to the general viewer. Movies I have viewed, Saving Private Ryan, Inglorious Bastards, Enemy at the Gate, Flags of Our Fathers, etc., all point towards a salvation found in the Allied Forces—the fire of pure evil doused by the justice of America, Great Britain, France, and Russia. I understand the reasoning. It is easier to accept the narrative that tyranny emerges from a vacuum, that one day there is peace, the next day there is a cause opposite ours worth fighting against with spirit and blood. This simply is not the case. Illiberal movements coming to power are often messy, requiring nuanced discussion. One redeeming quality about Nazi occupied Germany, one spark from Nazi steel on flint to find warmth in, are those whom resisted within.

***

The White Rose was student-founded resistance. A movement so powerful in its actions, it is necessary to preface its telling by positing a few notes. The White Rose does not end by achieving its goal—the fall of Nazism through peaceful resistance. Nazism fell, but not peacefully. I evoke the White Rose not to draw an equivalency to contemporary America. Resistance from the White Rose occurred when the Nazi machine was in motion; mindful participants of the White Rose knew well the consequences for dissidents. Hans and Sophie Scholl knew the price of mere opinion to be guillotine. Contemporary America has a narrowing space for opinion but it is there.

If the White Rose shows us nothing else, let it show us where the line is. More importantly, let the actions of Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, Professor Huber, Alexander Schmorell, Josef Söhngen, Harald Dohrn, et al, and what they resisted be the telltale sign it is time to organize and resist. The society in which these dissidents lived—the political policy, the everyday actions of regular citizens—shows the manipulation of the masses, shows the power of the hate-filled minority, shows the fear that literature/ideas evoke in the draconian ruler, and tells the student that freewill exists in the darkest hole. Hitler was not Hitler until he was given the room. The beating of the Nazi drum, heard by those in the White Rose, has echoed throughout human history. The ebb and flow of authoritarianism and liberalism is inevitable. Hear the echoes, whether a whisper or a deafening bang, and resist the drum’s cadence. There is a time when peaceful resistance is necessary and effective, and there is a time where peace is lost, ideas are met with violence, and defense of self-determinism must be expressed through violence.

***

2nd Leaflet of the White Rose: “[…] Jews, too, are human beings—no matter what position we take with respect to the Jewish question—and a crime of this dimension has been perpetrated against human beings” (78).

Dehumanization.

Parlance can shift in subtle ways. Using force against illegal aliens is an easier sell than using force against a Salvadorian known as Sara. Sara was guilty of the wrong identity; she was detained while receiving treatment at a hospital in Fort Worth, Texas (Rozsa). These are echoes from the past. To reiterate, the Nazi era and the Trump era are not to be defined as perfectly equal. It is a hard comparison to even mention in today’s climate. The comparison is often perceived as either undermining the loss of life and degree of severity of Nazi Germany, hyperbolizing Trump, his rhetoric, and his early executive actions, or both. However, are we to pull punches when underlining elements of totalitarianism can be found in both scenarios? The rise of Nazism can be directly linked to core principles driving Trump’s populist movement.

Core tenets, Trump’s stump speeches, Trump’s White House website, all point to issues of identity—specifically, “native” identity. Not actual Native-American, Latino, Black, LGBQT, POC, Muslim identity, but broad, big-tent, white identity. Trump’s message “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) explicitly says something about America has been lost, it implicitly suggests someone, some “other” took it. MAGA is a message of divergence from American founding principles, it is a rally cry to put American identity above the individual—begging the question of who defines terms. Who is making? What is American? What is great? What point in time does again denote?

The White House website admonishes: “Supporting law enforcement also means deporting illegal aliens with violent criminal records who have remained within our borders” (whitehouse.gov). Clever phrasing, how can one oppose deporting “illegal aliens”? How is it even a problem, the terms clearly show that these people are categorically not human. The problem: Trump has effectively tripled his federal police force, ICE enforces federal law and Trump has bypassed State sovereignty. These “criminals” are turning out more and more to be assimilated people like Sara.

To be completely clear, as a promoter of natural rights, I feel strongly about the free movement of peoples across arbitrary lines drawn in the sand. Critics of past presidential immigration policies where correct and worthy of civil debate; however, Trump’s policies and actions are unprecedented in their severity and scope. Institutionally, debates about immigration have revolved around economic issues. For the Trump Bandwagon, immigration debate revolves around identity, period, full stop. The largest Trump groups on social media take part in posting news articles about immigrants (I refuse to use illegal to describe a human being) being raided and detained by ICE. Though the racial slurs and dehumanizing comments are there in bulk, the troubling posts come from seemingly normal, non-bigoted people—middle age moms, pictured with family and pets etc.—parroting the milder talking points of the bandwagon: “the law is the law,” “don’t want deported, come here legally,” “I have no problem with legal immigration.” This is troubling because the support for the foundation of mass deportation is set this way.

The radical part of Trump’s coalition pushes the narrative of law and order. Those disenfranchised by the duopoly in Washington D.C. feel like part of a movement to restore law and order—a phrase inherently hard to debate. Law is not morality, though. Positivist law, laws founded by the State can be antithetical to rights borne from one’s humanity, one’s ability to reason and make determinations. A lot of these troubles are wrought from citizens instilling too much trust in the authority of State fiat. Encouragingly, there was half the country that opted out of this election, and half the voters that rejected Trump. There is room for revolt.

***

3rd Leaflet of the White Rose: “[There is need for] Sabotage in all publications, all newspapers, that are in pay of the “government” and that defend [Nazi] ideology and aide in disseminating the brown lie. […] Try to convince all your acquaintances, including those in the lower classes, of the senselessness of continuing, of the hopelessness of this war […].” (83).

The above leaflet was an act of treason. Sophie Scholl had overheard her bother Hans enquiring about a duplicating machine. She paid it little attention until the first leaflet was distributed and she had realized the connection. It is hard to imagine her anxiety when finding out her brother had signed his death warrant by delegitimizing Hitler and his regime. It is even harder to imagine being in her shoes and deciding to join Hans and the White Rose’s cause. Every stranger was effectively a potential spy for the Nazis—in fact the citizenry was urged to report on one another. The Scholls both recall catching glimpses of strangers and not knowing whether they were sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Sophie and Hans were both knowledgeable of the paranoia in 1940s Germany. Their father had been taken by the S.S. for little more than making a comment about Hitler, a comment overheard and reported by a neighbor. Surprisingly, he was cleared of the charge, a rare occurrence in Nazi Germany.

Paranoia in contemporary America is manifestly different—manifest nonetheless. The Great Leader Trump was paradoxically propelled in the election by the press and taken to task for lies and mistruths by the same press now. Continuous coverage of Trump rallies bypassed critique, and by being the only thing on television lent implicit legitimacy to his nationalistic, jingoistic, bigoted, paranoid rhetoric. Trump surfed a wave into the presidency by the coattails of “all press is good press.” And from the start, in fascist fashion, Trump and team began to relentlessly disparage the free press and those revealing the emperor to have no clothes.

Perhaps in an act of repentance for views-over-substance during the election cycle, the press has been on the frontline in taking Trump to task for positing “alternative facts.” The free press is ground on which not one inch can be given. Slandering like “fake news” from the tweets of Trump are steps to take away news coverage as legitimate truth to power. Control the narrative you control the perception, control the perception you control reality. This is not mere bickering or complaints of bad coverage, Trump’s administration actively barred the major news outlets—those covering and investigating Trump-Russia ties—from a private press meeting with Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Again, to an objective viewer this is troubling, but I actively follow the largest, most enthusiastic Trump groups on social media and they are nothing but elated over Trump’s treatment of the press. These Trumpets are not hard pressed to confirm their biases. Articles flooding these groups, articles covering terrorism, immigration, policy, Islam, and the like, are all obscure “news” sites, where sourcing is questionable at best. When the main news outlets make a mistake, there is almost instantaneous correction, whereas obscure online sites face no backlash. Mistakes are made, but emphasis needs to be placed on verifying the validity of information.

Trump’s right-hand man Steve Bannon—known white nationalist—was executive chair of Breitbart News, before getting cozy in the White House. The site propagates the Alt-right perspective and has elevated in status as a credible source for Trump news—its readership is large. Freedom of press means freedom for the site, I am not arguing for its suppression; I am emphasizing that readers think critically in the age of social media, and investigate media that came from Hitler’s personal propaganda machine and compare it too articles coming from Breitbart—there are eerie similarities of themes. Question the ethos, the writer is either speaking truth to power or justifying it.

***

“The prison guards reported: ‘They bore themselves with marvelous bravery. The whole prison was impressed by them. That is why we risked bringing them together once more—at the last moment before execution. If our actions had become known, the consequences for us would have been serious” (Scholl 62).

Mentioned previously, Nazism was not defeated by the White Rose. The Nazi machine had grown too powerful with too much momentum. The lack of peaceful, civic outcry had led to a regime of perverted ideology, to be combated with justifiable force from outside. However, the actions of the White Rose have reverberated through history. The execution of Sophie and Hans spread through Germany and the Russian front. The bravery in which Sophie and Hans showed in their final hours echoed through concentration camps giving immeasurable hope and restored inner resistance for the living. The account of the Nazi guards points to another kind of challenge.

History often tells of the most motivated: The White Rose motivated by love, justice, and morality, and the Nazis motivated by hate, identity, and power. But looking to the middle we find a huge group of people caught in the momentum, those looking to survive, those looking to apathetically turn a blind eye to not draw attention, and those going along to get along. The guards were completely in the wrong; however, in a moment of transcendence they saw the power of free will and self-determination in the Scholl siblings. Despite their evil going-along-to-get-along choice to side with Hitler, the guards in that moment dissented, rejected protocol and allowed the siblings to meet. That moment of humanity was precisely what was absent in the steps towards totalitarian rule. Let the echoes of authoritarian rule be heard, even if whispers in the moment.

In Trump’s America, I see the motivated sides. There are extremists on both sides. Motivated by extreme empathy, there are those that risk prosecution to harbor immigrants, those that punch neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer for parroting ethno-nationalism and the violence it would entail if realized, and those like the anarchists helping Syrian refugees find their way into Europe. Motivated by identity, jingoism, and hate, there are those putting positivist law above morality, white identity above humanity, and emotion above reason. There are well-meaning people in the middle, and it is a responsibility owed to humanity, to the White Rose, to every soul that risked life for liberty to draw them from a fire that consumes everything of beauty it touches.

Work Cited

“Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community.” The White House.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/law-enforcement-community

Rozsa, Matthew. “Brain tumor patient removed from hospital, detained by Immigration and

Customs Enforcement.” Salon. 23 February 2017.

http://www.salon.com/2017/02/23/brain-tumor-patient-removed-from-hospital-detained-by-immigration-and-customs-enforcement/

Scholl, Inge. The White Rose: Munich 1942-1943. Wesleyan University Press (1983). Print.

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