When Donald Trump was sworn in as president at the start of last year, many predicted that he would be a less explosive presence in the White House than he had been during the campaign. They hoped that he would be restrained by the permanent political and bureaucratic establishment in Washington and argued that radicals in power turn into compliant conservatives and seek to preserve the status quo.
At about this time, a friend sent me a clipping of a New York Times editorial dated 31 January 1933, with the title “Germany Ventures”. The writer recognised that there were qualms at the appointment as the head of the German government of a man who “has openly scorned it” and threatened to destroy it. But the editorial is reassuringly confident that this would not happen, citing many reasons such as the opposition of his cabinet colleagues who would oppose him “if he sought to translate the wild and whirling words of his campaign speeches into political action”.
Other limitations on the new leader’s power also suggested that nothing much would change: German finances were in strong and conservative hands; attempts to establish a dictatorship would provoke a general strike; German foreign policy would be unchanged; and President Paul von Hindenburg could unmake the new chancellor just as quickly as he had made him.