Could we slide into the abyss like Germany in 1933?

The article below, Could we slide into the abyss like Germany in 1933?, is posted with permission by Jim Nelson.

The article is not fearmongering. In fact, recently in Portland, the President sent federal agents, some in unmarked uniforms and unmarked vehicles taking protesters off the street to unknown locations without any accountability and journalists have been targeted.

Neither the mayors or governors of Oregon or Washington requested Federal assistance. "Gov. Kate Brown made the announcement in a statement Wednesday and described the federal officers as 'an occupying force' that has 'refused accountability and brought strife to our community...' Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler have repeatedly condemned the federal presence as Trump, Wolf and U.S. Attorney General William Barr have said the officers must stay until violent clashes at the courthouse stop." Trump has threatened use of federal officers in other Democratic states.

Here are some articles highlighting particulars in Seattle and Portland, which concern many people on a democracy level, feeling that it might be a test case for implementation in the upcoming election or Trump's responses afterward.

Trump politically targets cities like Portland, Seattle, stoking fears of new conflagration  - "Trump’s deployment of federal agents in Portland and other cities comes as his foundering reelection campaign increasingly shifts toward a 'law and order' theme. The crackdown, in cities whose elected leaders don’t want federal agents, has been promoted by Trump in nakedly partisan terms."

Appeals court temporarily halts protections for journalists, legal observers in Portland

OSP troopers have been deputized by the federal government. Here's what that means -  authorizing troopers to charge protesters under federal law, "What it does mean is it’s an attempt by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute more of the crimes they see occurring." Conviction of felonies removes a person's right to vote.

Protesters in Multiple States Are Facing Felony Charges, Including Terrorism - "Prosecutors and lawmakers in several states have responded to mass protests against police brutality by charging demonstrators with committing felonies, including terrorism charges. The trend of criminalizing protest has been on the uptick since the 2016 protests against the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock, during and after which numerous states upped charges for protests “near critical infrastructure” as felonies."


Could we slide into the abyss like Germany in 1933?


Will Donald Trump leave office if he loses the election? Many are wondering how he might bend the law to stay in the White House. The president frequently inveighs against "voter fraud" and says his opponents will steal the election with fraudulent mail-in ballots. Further, he refuses to say if he will accept election results.

Matters are so serious that a bipartisan think tank of 100-plus current and former senior government and campaign leaders conducted matrix games on what could go haywire between the Nov. 3 election and the Jan. 20 inauguration. The Transitions Integrity Project concluded that there is “a high degree of likelihood that November’s elections will be marked by a chaotic legal and political landscape.” You can read the report at

Trump has at his fingertips secret emergency powers called Presidential Emergency Action Documents (PEADs). They are, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, “executive orders, proclamations, and messages to Congress that are prepared in anticipation of a range of emergency scenarios….” They only require Trump’s signature.

They were created during the Eisenhower era in case of a Soviet nuclear attack. Over time they have been expanded. PEADs are, as a government document describes them, intended “to implement extraordinary presidential authority in response to extraordinary situations.”

  • What powers do PEADs provide?
  • Detention of dangerous persons
  • Suspension of habeas corpus
  • Martial law
  • Search and seizure of persons and property
  • Declaration of war
  • Censorship

There’s plenty of reasons to think Trump might declare a national emergency and invoke these powers. There’s the ongoing COVID pandemic. Most likely, however, a post-election political crisis would be the excuse. Civil unrest after a hotly contested election could be the trigger he seeks. He did not hesitate to deploy federal agents to suppress protests in Portland and threatened to do the same elsewhere. Things could get ugly.

While there are legal scholars who believe PEADs are unconstitutional, that remains to be seen. Therefore, it is important that “we the people,” as the Constitution states, speak out about these potential dangers. Unless we do, we could easily slide into the abyss that befell Germany in the 1930’s. The similarities are hauntingly similar.

  • Arrest of enemies of the state
  • Suspension of habeas corpus
  • Censorship
  • No right of assembly
  • Search, seizure, and confiscation of property

The rest, as we say, is history. Could something like that happen here? We like to think our democratic traditions would prevent us from collapsing like Germany. While history does not always repeat itself, it offers insights into the dangers that societies face. An unstable president with unlimited power are ingredients that have poisoned democracies before.

As the philosopher George Santayana warned, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Stephen Brehe  James C. Nelson

The Very Rev. Stephen Brehe is the retired dean of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Helena.
Jim Nelson is a retired justice of the Montana Supreme Court.

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