A second aspect of the interwar period with all too many similarities to our current situation is the waning of the Weimar Republic.
Paul von Hindenburg – elected president of Germany in 1925 – was endowed by the Weimar Constitution with various emergency powers to defend German democracy should it be in dire peril.
Instead of defending it Hindenburg became its gravedigger – using these powers first to destroy democratic norms and then to ally with the Nazis to replace parliamentary government with authoritarian rule.
Hindenburg began using his emergency powers in 1930 – appointing a sequence of chancellors who ruled by decree rather than through parliamentary majorities – which had become increasingly impossible to obtain as a result of the Great Depression and the hyperpolarization of German politics.
Because an ever-shrinking base of support for traditional conservatism made it impossible to carry out their authoritarian revision of the constitution – Hindenburg and the old right ultimately made their deal with Hitler and installed him as chancellor.
Thinking that they could ultimately control Hitler while enjoying the benefits of his popular support – the conservatives were initially gratified by the fulfillment of their agenda: intensified rearmament – the outlawing of the Communist Party – the suspension first of freedom of speech – the press and assembly and then of parliamentary government itself – a purge of the civil service and the abolition of independent labor unions.
Needless to say the Nazis then proceeded far beyond the goals they shared with their conservative allies – who were powerless to hinder them in any significant way.
If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy it is Mitch McConnell.
He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could.
As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar – congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms – allowing McConnell to trample them even more.
Nowhere is this vicious circle clearer than in the obliteration of traditional precedents concerning judicial appointments.
Systematic obstruction of nominations in Obama’s first term provoked Democrats to scrap the filibuster for all but Supreme Court nominations.
Then McConnell’s unprecedented blocking of the Merrick Garland nomination required him in turn to scrap the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations in order to complete the ‘steal’ of Antonin Scalia’s seat and confirm Neil Gorsuch.
The extreme politicization of the judicial nomination process is once again on display in the current Kavanaugh hearings.