Few Americans have distinguished themselves in the aftermath of the election as has David Frum, the erstwhile Dubya speechwriter who’s become a post-partisan truth-teller, history professor and, perhaps, self-designated mourner. It seems all his education, employment and life experience prepared him for this moment which he clearly hoped would never arrive.
The nation’s best-case scenario is a cast of brand-name robber barons fully strip struggling Americans, eventually redirecting the nation’s teeming anger at a foreign enemy (real or imagined) after the check bounces. The worst case is that 240 years of American democracy ends ignominiously, World War II and the Cold War lost retroactively, with a Berlusconi who aspires to be a Mussolini now destabilizing any institutions than can counter his whims with laws or reason.
Trump is aided by wingnuts and political opportunists of all manner, who go along with him to get something out of him. Does anyone think Steve Bannon or Mitch McConnell care more for the Constitution than they do for power? It’s the perfect storm, and a deathly chill comes at us sideways.
In his latest Atlantic piece, Frum writes wisely of today’s shocking assassination of Russian diplomat Andrey G. Karlov in Ankara, arguing that political killings aren’t motivations for war but rather justifications. Putin and Erdogan may not militarize the moment, but Trump might not pass on such a future opportunity.
Assassinations provide opportunities and occasions for wars; they do not cause them.
Consider an even grimmer example.
The murderer of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey has been described in some reports as motivated by rage against Russian atrocities in Syria. His act may summon to memory the example of Herschel Grynszan, a young Jew who tried to avenge the sufferings of his family at Nazi hands by killing a German diplomat in Paris on November 7, 1938. Hitler seized upon the killing as his excuse for the rampage we know as Kristallnacht.
Yet when a Jewish student killed the leader of the Swiss Nazi party in February 1936, Hitler did nothing. Germany had secured the 1936 Olympic games before Hitler’s rise to power, and there was much agitation that year to rescind the award to protest Nazi anti-Semitism. Determined to maintain domestic quiet, Hitler let the death of Wilhelm Gustloff vanish into historical obscurity. (His killer, originally from Croatia, survived the Second World War in a Swiss prison.)
Even Hitler used outrages for his own ends, rather than being motivated by them.
Will today’s crime spark conflict between Putin’s Russia and Erdogan’s Turkey? Only if those two authoritarian rulers want trouble.•
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