Saturday, February 25, 2017

Structural Difference Between US and 1930's Germany That Makes It Harder For Trump

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, I began to understand the differences between a centralized national government and one that split powers between the national government and the states.

In Thailand, everything was centralized in Bangkok.  There were provincial and local governments but they were controlled by Bangkok.  All government professional positions - in schools, hospitals, police departments, courts, etc. - were controlled by Bangkok.

This means if you run afoul of your employer in one province, you're screwed in every province.

If someone had issues  - i.e. disagreed with the actions of the headmaster of the school she was teaching at - they couldn't just go to another school district and apply for a job.  There was, essentially, just one school district, administered in Bangkok.  If you vocalized your disagreement and irritated your boss enough, you might find yourself transferred to a distant part of Thailand while your spouse, say a doctor in the hospital, was not transferred there (and couldn't get a job there without official sanction.)  An indirect, but very effective way of keeping employees in line.

My mother was 17 when she escaped Nazi Germany.   On more than one occasion told me that "the same thing could happen in the US," I have always wondered about that.

In Thailand I began to understand that the US structure, with powers divided between the states and federal government, would make it harder for an autocrat to seize control of the US.

Yes, local schools and police departments get federal funding, and Washington can threaten to withhold that funding.  But, a local police department is independent of the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies.  They can tell them to go to hell if they find an order distasteful or out of sync with local values.

So the other day when I heard the police chief of Santa Cruz declare their department would 
take a long hard look on whether to cooperate with Homeland Security in the future, I thought about this structural benefit of our government.

In Hitler's Germany, Berlin was similar to Bangkok.  All power was centralized there.  But here, the Santa Cruz police chief can tell Homeland Security to go to hell without losing his job.

As we figure out how to deal with the reality of most divisive and abusive president in American history, I can take some solace in this division of power between the feds and the states.


  1. This^ times uncounted multitudes. Figuring out and responding to this reality is the hard part but must be done if we are going to preserve our society. These are frightening times.

  2. Good post. We must find hope wherever we can. Every hour of need throws up a hero -- America will need millions in these dark hours. Trump and his cabal know this, thus his EO of last week:

    "In a country where police chiefs consider resisting arrest a hate crime punishable by ten years in prison and where state legislatures are considering immunity for those who run over protesters, the Trump administration has signaled that, actually, we are not tough enough on protesters and activists. As bad as this may be, however, it is this part of the executive order that is the most chilling:

    “Following that review … make recommendations to the President for legislation …. defining new crimes of violence and establishing new mandatory minimum sentences for existing crimes of violence against Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers, as well as for related crimes.”

    Tick, tick, tick.
    Still, there are good news stories every day and yours is one more.
    It is an extraordinary time to be living in, front row seats to see if a fledgling democracy can survive. I have to believe we have learned from history.

    1. Barbara, if suppressing the people were easy, the US would have won in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. If it comes to guerrilla warfare in the US, we've got the scientists and many of the info tech people on our side. Trump is used to giving corporate executive orders to sycophants whom he could fire at will. That does not include most of the American people. It also does not include enough Republican leaders whom he insulted in the campaign. They haven't forgotten, they're just waiting until the time is right.
      No, it won't be pretty. The longer it takes, the messier it will be. But Americans have taken the (relatively) good life of order and domestic peace and enough food and internet for granted and our understanding of where these come from has eroded. We are now getting a dose of what happens if we forget to recharge the democratic batteries. It's apparently a lesson we needed to learn. Thanks for your comments and the link. (I'm in San Francisco, so the many homeless here remind me that lots of people have not had that good life for a while, and the people just above homelessness were part of Trump's victory. They took this on through the Tea Party. We have to talk to them and all rediscover that we have in common is greater than what what divides us.)

    2. Heartening.
      But as for talking to Trump, The Annointed One's supporters who are smitten Christian-ists, good luck. I have much experience with them and there are simply no locks for our reasonable (fact-based) keys.

      As Voltaire said, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." Yes, it will be messy. But character develops in darkness: we are all going to be tested.

    3. Barbara, I'm not talking about using logic. I'm talking about connecting emotionally, as human beings who have families and all the issues that go with them. When you find that you have connections with other people and you understand how they got to their belief systems, you break down the artificial hostility that the Right has been creating. (And many on the left then aggravate.) See the Danish video on one way to do this at the bottom of this post.

    4. Yes, it is a wonderful video. But I don't think the hostility is artificial, and I've said for a very long time now that the mocking from the left is unhelpful -- just makes them dig in deeper.


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