Law and Politics

Lessons of the Reichstag Fire for Today’s Presidential Election

June 21, 2016
By Larry Cary

Larry Cary

Some people say Donald Trump won’t be so bad if elected because he won’t keep the promises he made during his primary campaign to build a wall with Mexico, round up 11,000,000 undocumented workers and their families for deportation, halt all Muslim immigration, and require the 2.5 million Muslim-Americans living in this country to register and be subjected to intrusive government scrutiny.

I think these people are wrong. Donald Trump will try to do exactly what he has said he will do and his behavior the last few weeks proves it. Not only did Trump show that in his heart he is a racist, (even Paul Ryan – no bleeding-heart liberal – called his remarks about a U. S. judge of Mexican heritage “textbook racism”) but his behavior following the Orlando mass shooting by an American born Muslim shows just how eager he is to exploit such tragedies to whip up fear and anti-Muslim sentiment to achieve his agenda of winning the Presidency and the power that goes with it.

Not only did Trump imply that President Obama somehow was behind the Orlando attack, but he directly lied to the American people by claiming that the attacker was Afghan born – he was actually born and raised in Queens, NY. Trump claimed that Orlando proved that he was right about the Muslims and that unless we acted to shut down our borders and deny them access, “we’re not going to have our country anymore. There will be nothing, absolutely nothing, left.”

Trump’s exploitation of Orlando to push his agenda is reminiscent of how Adolph Hitler used the Reichstag fire, the burning down of Germany’s parliament building, to push his agenda a few weeks after he gained power through a democratic election. Hitler was sworn in as the German Chancellor on January 30, 1933. On February 27 the Reichstag was burned down. Some say that members of the Nazis Party actually started the fire, but an unemployed bricklayer who recently emigrated from Holland was arrested for the crime and he supposedly

Instead of blaming this single person for the crime, Hitler blamed the fire on the communists – which at the time was a mass party in Germany with 17 percent of the seats in the Reichstag. Hitler claimed that the communists were trying to destroy Germany, that they were at fault for starting the fire, and that the German people would be safe only if they voted for the Nazi Party in the March elections for parliament.

A state of emergency was declared, and the day after the fire, the Reichstag Fire Decree was issued which suspended most civil liberties in Germany, including habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right of free association and public assembly, and the
secrecy of the post and telephone. In other words, a police state was created. While the communist leaders who were arrested were later tried and found not guilty of starting the fire, things had gotten too far along and the acquittals had no effect on restoring democracy in

Following the panic created by Hitler about the communists supposedly trying to overthrow the government, the Nazi share of the vote in the March parliamentary election increased significantly. Of note, Trump also gained support in the polls after announcing that radical Islam was responsible for the shooting and that all Muslims needed to be stopped from entering the United States. He told people that if they wanted to be safe, don’t vote for Hillary Clinton. As President, Trump says he would immediately suspend immigration because “we cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer.”

I expect that Trump will continue his campaign of whipping up fear of all Muslims, both foreign and domestic, because, just like Hitler, he knows this will likely improve his chances at the polls. Indeed, over the weekend, Trump again called for racial profiling of Muslims,
including citizens, who are legally here in the United States. “I think profiling is something that we’re going to have to start thinking about as a country,” Trump told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

In response to Trump’s wild accusations about radical Islam and the President somehow being behind the Orlando attack, President Obama went on television to ask the existential question that needs to be answered in this election about Trump’s racist calls for excluding, profiling and rounding up millions of people. The President asked “where will it stop.” One can ask the Jews of Germany where it stopped; those that survived. Before history gives us the answer to the question of where it stopped here in the United States, we have an election in November which gives the American people the ability to stop it before it starts. This election, like the 1933 election in Germany, may be significant beyond anybody’s ability to actually imagine.

*Larry Cary is a labor lawyer representing unions and workers. Information about his firm, Cary Kane LLP, can be found at


June 20, 2016

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