“Dead Reckoning: the process of calculating one’s position, especially at sea, by estimating the direction and distance travelled rather than by using landmarks or astronomical observations”.
It was a warm summers suburban night. The deserted streets reminded me that the French would get up early for work the next day. They also hinted to the fact that tourists, like me, didn’t come here. I was out of place. I was trespassing!
The couple of French youth, hanging around with their motorcycles, didn’t seem to mind and left me well alone. I wasn’t going to stay around for them to change their minds.
The fluorescent orange of artificial lights inundated the large avenues I was sticking to. The sky was still a shade away from true dark blue, broken only by the black shapes of birds in the midst of pre-nightly courting. I was navigating the outskirts of Dijon, France, aided by a tablet street map, when I came upon a closed gate.
Beyond the gate was a deep corridor, lined with trees and periodically and partially segmented by walls that could have supported a gate similar to the one I was at, but didn’t. The gate itself seemed old and solid yet without signs of age or wear. Through the dark beyond the fence it was hard to see any details clearly. Which made the five white-painted wooden stakes at the far end of the corridor, ostensibly standing two meters apart, stand out even more. In the dimming light they reflected all the surrounding light almost like the paint was still fresh or even glowing. As clean as the avenues of Dijon seemed I suddenly noticed that this place even seemed cleaner. There was an aura of sacredness and it almost felt as if it was a sanctuary of some sorts or some kind of holy ground, … which it was, … as I realised:
A plaque near the entrance of this gate-that-never-opened explained that the place was chosen by the German army as a place of execution and that they had killed 126 people there. These had been arrested, imprisoned and periodically put on trucks or marched off to a place nearby. Then they were taken away from the others, five by five, brought to the end of the corridor, blindfolded and very loosely tied to one of the stakes. Probably before each stake four or five infantrymen would have been lined up. Probably the rifle they had used would have been a bolt-action single shot type. The bullets would have been dispensed on ‘per-shot-basis’ so the shooters would not be able to hide the fact that they didn’t shoot yet also wouldn’t have ammunition to use against officers if they broke and went berserk. It had happened before. When multiple executions were planned the emphasis was on speed, doing away with ‘niceties’ as blindfolds and the pinning of indicators on the heart. After all if the four bullets to the chest were not instantly fatal the firing officer was obliged to put one through the head of each victim anyway.
Some of those executed had welcomed death, having been severely tortured in order to give up the names of others. Most though were just tremendously scared, too scared to risk a desperate attempt at escape and likely an even more painful death following that. In any case, “Deutsche grundligkeit”, German efficiency, didn’t allow for many escape opportunities in the first place.
This is not just some stale tale of history. When you arrive at N47°19’38.1″ E5°04’17.4″ you actually find this hole in time that takes you back to 1944. What you find there is absurd. Germans killing French citizens like they are livestock for slaughter. The same Germany and France that today jointly pillar the E.U., which the third, Great-Britain, is now about to ‘brexit’. But then you realise, the idea that this was going to happen was probably as absurd in 1930 at it is today in 2016. Which makes me wonder about what ‘absurdities’ are in front of us all the way to 2044. When we navigate through time, can we only use Dead Reckoning?
Dead Reckoning means you base your position on your last know position and estimate your speed and direction. With that in mind our historically current position is very similar to the situation of the 1930’s with a deep financial crisis resulting in global depression and increased tensions both intra-national as international. The question remains, ‘what direction will we take from here and with what speed will we go?’
I can only speculate that it is this disparity that lies beneath the phenomenon that has become known as Trumpism. It is not purely an American thing though, as also ‘Brexit’ has been identified as a Trumpian-metastasis. Broad segments of a population that mix distain for so called ‘mainstream politics’ and immigrants and who vote in ways that are explicitly meant to disrupt established political structures. In the U.K. it was the European project that took the brunt, in the U.S. it was the Republican Party. There it remains to be seen if not the entire country will fall as well.
By no means is Trumpism a Trump-invention. It is an opportunity Trump tries to exploit, combining it with a faked image of wealth and general reputation as ‘Enfant Terrible’. And while this undercurrent, despite its racist overtones, is not entirely unrelated to the movement that propelled President Obama ( Yes we can!) into office, Trump hasn’t nearly identified nor played it as well. Clearly when your name is ‘Trump’ it is ironic when you lack qualities as ‘modesty’, ’empathy’ or ‘restraint’. After all your name literally is de verb that means ‘to outclass’, ‘to upstage’ and not in a silent manner. But off course we know by now that this name is no coincidence since the name was an intentional modification from the original German “Drumpf”, which had become an embracement to Trump’s grandfather during the First World War. Perhaps ‘being an obnoxious German-style authoritarian’ is just another thing Trump inherited.
But obviously Trump’s so called ‘self-made fortunes’ are not the biggest lie of the Trump-campaign. The real lie is that ‘the working class has nothing because the immigrants and Washington took it all’ while in reality it is because 10% of the population own more than half of everything. While in reality it is because the 10% (people like Trump himself), the 1% (people Trump has heard of) and the 0.1% (people Trump couldn’t identify in a line-up to save his life) have taken more than their share of the cake. However it is not the working class that makes up the brunt of Trump supporters, it is the lower white middle class fearing to become working class (while dreaming of becoming as Trump-“rich” as their Leader).
It should thus not surprise that Trump’s only explicit agenda (apart from building a wall with his (too/two) small hands) is to cut taxes that will benefit the 1% most of all, while ignoring the 99%. The idea that the U.S. is a heart-attack or a 2nd amendment ‘solution’ removed from electing the least diplomatic, likely the least intelligent and definitely the least rational president to date is just plain old scary.
Some, somewhat familiar with history, have compared Trump to Hitler. It is unfair to do so. To start, the unofficial first rule of internet states that the first to invoke ‘Hitler’ has already lost the argument. Secondly, prior to becoming a heroin-addict, although a sociopath of just average intelligence himself, Hitler was with a wide margin more competent than Drumpf thus far has shown to be. Though he was not a particularly brilliant strategist, Hitler was still known to his staff to recite entire sections of military doctrine by heart. By contrast there is no evidence to suggest Trump has ever even read a book.
But off course to confuse the two is never-the-less excusable. They share the same ‘charismatic’ erratic way of using “insult as a strategy”, yelling incoherently and avoiding real substance or deploy a realistic plan of government all the while seducing the masses by blaming ethnic minorities for large scale economic misfortune.
Clearly it is absurd to think that, just because Trump gets elected, that we inevitably return to 1944. And yet it must be said that in 1938 it was equally absurd to think that Germany would attempt world-domination or design an ethnic-cleansing campaign on an industrial scale. After-all the latter was for many even a hard pill-of-reality to swallow after the war had ended.
Yet what started with Poland and racial segregation soon escalated to a two-front war (which could not be won quickly nor maintained for very long) and an extermination campaign rooted as much in economics as it was in ideology. Much like the ‘Third Reich’ a Trump Presidency would have its own set of [self-inflicted] challenges:
- Establishing credibility with foreign governments despite having undermined both nuclear peace and the NATO alliance while running as a candidate.
- Making good on the anti-immigrant promises without committing crimes against humanity or killing the economy.
- Staving of enormous debt while cutting corporate taxes (again) and excusing the 0.6% from paying death tax on their million-dollar-estates.
- Not alienating the voter-base by rapidly worsening their conditions.
- Not defaulting on the inevitably accumulating debt because of a surreal tax-policy.
- Explaining why a certain wall can’t be build after all (or would’nt work if it was).
- Navigating a international arena where the margin between intervention or non-action is razor thin, where allies are also enemies in some arena’s and your enemies hold leverage in others.
- Dealing with the fall-out of a less than squeeky clean business past.
- Staying sober.
- Writing a book ‘My Struggle’ and making it mandatory curriculum in high-school (oh .. wait).
- Delivering coherent state-of-the-union-adresses.
With his red hair, uninformed and almost childlike responses Trump has a high clown-like air to him. This could seduce anti-Clinton people in thinking he is a harmless empty suit. However it can’t be stressed enough that even the ‘obnoxious Trump’ is a carefully rehearsed construction put forward in order to hide the calculated nature of his campaign. I’m not saying it is a perfect strategy or even a very good one, but it would be a mistake to think that there was no strategy. While it seems Trump is hurting himself with all the vitriol he is spouting, this is only partially true. We must allow for the possibility that even the stories of the discord within his campaign are fraudulent and serve to perpetuate the Trump-einzelgänger (‘Trump goes it alone’) imagery. In any case it has thus far succeeded in covering up for the fact that, experience-wise on Capitol Hill, Trump is a midget compared to Hillary. For all we know Trump has calculated that he would need tons of free publicity to outmatch Clinton in exposure. It is possible that in a couple of weeks we get to see an altogether different Trump. A rational,
intelligent white neighbour type, capable of seducing the middle-field. In business as in war, if you are strong, you must appear weak.
In 1932 Hitler was named chancellor basically on the coattails of moderate parties who wanted to stave of communism. They expected Hitler to be a one-days-fly that would hand back power after the communists had lost their momentum. No-one thought his vitriolic speeches were more than just words. Everyone underestimated the anti-political sentiment he would come to command and mould into a monolithic power-structure and dictatorship.
I am not a die-hard Hillary fan. Still, apart from the e-mail server thing which she handled like a true politician (deceitfully!), very little facts speak against her. Less educated, less experienced and less dedicated male candidates have been elected to office and re-elected. Also, there are worse things I can think of for the moment, than voting for a woman just because she is a woman. It is time to put the gender-ghost back into the bottle. Women are generally as competent as men are and we need to show future generations we were aware of his in 2016. Do we really need to wait until 2040 when some incompetent bimbo gets elected solely based on breast-size?
Hillary is a democrat with republican roots. That makes her a little less palatable to the far left which Obama and Sanders courted. This may reverb with the entire republican-centre that has been alienated by the Theeparty. In no way does this imply she is not far to the left of any republican president or candidate of the last two decades.
In contrast with Trump a Hillary-presidency could deal with real issues:
- Deal with the causes of Trumpism.
- Deal with the police shootings that are emblematic for the polarisation of the U.S. society.
- Avoid war without seeming weak yet avoid responding to gender-bias with hawkish tendencies.
- Climate Change
- The economy, stupid.
The incumbent President of the U.S. is a black democrat. This was a first in U.S. history! If Hillary is elected she will be the first woman in U.S. history. It will also have been since President Truman since a democrat followed another democratic president. Yet in that particular case the circumstances with Roosevelt who died in office were very different. If we are to look only at consecutive democratic wins from back-field we need to go back to the 15th president James Buchanan. Thus, in order to withhold the presidency from Donald Drumpf, a historical first must follow another historical first in parallel to a historical rarity. It is good that we are only betting on this with our lives, because I wouldn’t bet on it with my money!
History is made out of infinitesimal small changes whose consequences or direction is unclear when seen from up-close. Very rarely do we get to see the moment that the course of history is determined in one direction or another or where the trend seems less inevitable. That is why November, when it comes, is such a rare moment in history. Because in order to stave of the least democratic, the least self-composed and the most incompetent ‘leader of the free world’ history must follow up the first black president with a first female president who is of the incumbent party. A feat that would undoubtedly trump Margaret Thatcher (no pun intended). In November, either the republicans lose the elections, …or everyone does.
Like the frog that was slowly boiled to death the anti-Semitism from the leader of the ‘Third Reich’ didn’t chock anyone anymore the 100th time they heard it. The demand for ‘lebensraum’ seemed par for the course two years in. And yet, these were the ‘stops’ on the road to the Dijon execution corridor. I know, as a historian, I am supposed to tell you what is going to happen. But I can’t do that. There is no street-map to history. I can only tell you were we are and what our course and speed are. Everything else, I have to do by Dead Reckoning.