Perception In Politics Works Until It Doesn’t

Sixty million war dead, German cities in smoking ruins and one crazy, “I can do it all,” dictator made stone cold by suicide in 1945 was the result of a public perception of strength built upon the sand of bluster, stupidity, arrogance, half truths and compete fabrications.

Nature has wired those without a passion for history, reality and truth — basically those weak on intellect — to be suckers for perceived strength. It comes down to that odd adage everyone loves a winner, or at least those they see as strong winners. We all go for this hardwired impulse at times, especially when it comes to sports. But at least in sports national disaster is not an underlying threat.

It’s fascinating to watch old films of the German dictator firing up the party faithful in light of how our current president works his supporters. There is one particular rally where Hitler mocks a long list of western democracies that oppose German aggression. As he sarcastically and deliberately ticks off the names of individual countries, implying that they are helpless to appose German intentions, the laughter in the hall builds to a roaring crescendo, precisely as Trump’s arrogant name calling of his opponents fires up his enthusiastic backers.

Hitler’s generals tried to tell him that it would be at least 1944 before Germany dared risk a general war. The navy was nothing but submarines and a few pocket battleships, and the army and air force were just beginning to take shape.

But like Trump, Hitler was erratic and impatient. He knew more than his generals. They said don’t march into the Rhineland. He did, however, order troops into the Rhineland and nothing bad happened. Then he ordered the occupation of a part of Czechoslovakia in March 15, 1939. Next he joined with Russia, with whom he had recently concluded a non-aggression pact, to invade Poland on September 1, 1939.

Two days later the Brits declared war on Germany, but again nothing of substance bad happened, confirming Hitler’s prediction that all would go well. Then in May 1940 Hitler pushed his generals into invading Western Europe. German panzer divisions tore though the Low Countries and France, and within a mere few weeks the German victory was complete. Hitler’s perception of invincible strength seemed vindicated. His aggression had proven right, and so going forward it was impossible for his generals to oppose him. It was like Trump mowing down Republican challengers and then lucking out in the general election. His electoral blitzkrieg made party opposition impotent.

But it in point of fact with Hitler it was all a mirage. The generals were right. Even thought it was true that the Germany military spear had a super high tech point, the main shaft was basically little changed from World War One, with standard German divisions still dependent on tens of thousands of horse for mobility. Moreover it was the failure of the western democracies to act decisively far more that Hitler’s genius that was working in the Nazi leader’s favor.

When Hitler declared war on the United States and some said that was a mistake, Hitler scoffed at the idea that America posed a serious threat. It was a mongrel country incapable of hard fighting, he bellowed. This of course was ridiculous seeing as it was America’s entry into World War One in 1917 that tipped the scales in favor of Germany’s defeat. Again such blatantly false and blustery sounding statements are echoed every day by Trump.

And then as Trump is so prone to do, Hitler turned against his ally Russia. That treacherous move combined with the industrial might of America proved Hitler’s perception of strength to be a falsehood, with Hitler and the Nazi Party ending up in the dumpster of history.

As with Hitler there will be events that seem to confirm Trump’s brilliance and to confirm his perception his strength. Yes, Trump is something of a genius when it comes to leading the lambs to slaughter and convincing some folks that he and only he has the answer to America’s needs. But these types of egocentric jerks never come through in the end, but they do cause much grief before it all comes crashing down — when perception can no longer keep up with reality.

Jim Ridgway, Jr. military writer — author of the American Civil War classic, “Apprentice Killers: The War of Lincoln and Davis.” Christmas gift, yes!

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