Donald Trump, in the peroration of a prepared speech to CPAC:
We are Americans, and the future belongs to us.
Trump may have been careless, but for Bannon, a trollish dog-whistle fits better. This song from Cabaret is pretty famous:
From the starting-point of 1932 the future did not work out too well for 12-year-old Hitlerjugend enthusiasts like the blond boy soloist. Membership became compulsory from 1936, and you can’t infer from membership that Josef Ratzinger or GÃ¼nter Grass were true believers. Grass has admitted he was, and applied for the U-Boat service at 17. Luckily for him, Grass was turned down, and had (like the boy in the photo below) to make do with a slightly less risky SS Panzer division, where he was lucky again to be merely wounded.
The next 10 years went pretty well for the Nazi cause – but they were followed by three years of unmitigated disaster and slaughter for Germans. One under-recognized reason for the complete reversal in German political culture after 1945 was the very high and selective death toll among convinced Nazis. They tended to volunteer for high-risk services like the Luftwaffe, the U-Boats, and front-line Waffen SS units. Of the 41,900 serving German submariners in WWII, 28,000 died: almost exactly two-thirds. The 12th SS â€œHitlerjugendâ€ Panzer Division arrived in Normandy in June 1944 with 20,540 men, soon commanded by the fanatical and ruthless Kurt Meyer. On August 22, at the end of the Normandy battle, his division was down to 300 men.Â SS units didn’t generate many POWs, especially on the Eastern front.
The Nazi gamble on world domination was of course crazy from the outset. At least Donald Trump can look back at several historical moments of true American hegemony: 1919, 1945, and 1991. These partly reflected American economic and technical strength, but also and to a considerable extent the collapse of its adversaries and the exhaustion of its allies. Murphy’s Law struck everybody else, a stroke of geopolitical luck.Â 2017 is peacetime. There is nothing in sight to prevent the inevitable relative decline of the USA. China and India are much more populous, much poorer, and therefore growing faster.
Since 1945, and indeed before (as at Bretton Woods), American statesmen have sought to embed American values and interests in the world institutional order. It has been the only rational strategy for an outnumbered imperialist. Trump and Bannon despise this order and are are doing their worst to sabotage it by macho posturing, waving the bloody flag, and beating the tin drum of nationalism. The result is certain to accelerate, rather than delay, the inevitable readjustment.
The future won’t be American. It can still be a world in which Americans can be safe, respected and prosperous. The chances of this happy ending are shrinking ever day Trump stays in power.