January 7, 2016 at 8:30 am, by Carl

Well, already the hysteria has begun about President Obama’s recent “executive orders” regarding guns.  I know many of my friends on the right clearly think this is an attack on the 2nd Amendment.  It is not…at least as I read what the President said.   In the end, he simply strengthened an aspect of how, when and where guns are sold.


To me, there are several steps we should take as a nation about guns, no differently than we have taken over the years with automobiles.  I know….as a Libertarian leaning person, I should want less rules, but I am actually fine with things like anti-lock brakes or seat belts being required.  Certainly, I am fine with rules about who gets to operate a car.  I am aware in the gun issue, there’s more depth to these main ideas, but so often the 2nd Amendment gets used improperly to stop reasonable ideas about taking some steps that aren’t onerous.


However, the real issue isn’t in what the President did (or really, what he didn’t do…such as try to strip guns from citizens, close down the 2nd Amendment, threaten to somehow enter people’s homes or some other dictatorial act).  The real issue is the worry precedent of his actions.  Of course, he is not the first President to use executive actions, but his are the first (to me) to come so close to being simply decreed legislative laws.


Note what I am saying and what I am not saying.  I am not saying that I necessarily feel worried about President Obama, about any supposed reach for power.  I mean, he could surprise me and go overboard in some manner as the year progresses on, but so far I don’t see that in him.  However, a lesson from history is that often far worse leaders come along moving through the loophole of a previous decision made.


To understand this, the best, or most ominous case in point here would be what happened to Germany in the 1930s.  And no…don’t run off in hysteria that I have proclaimed anyone to be “Hitler.”  I haven’t and won’t.  For sure, President Obama is not “Hitler” in this story.  Instead, he is more likely to be Franz von Papen.




In the early 1930s, as Germany reeled from the disaster of the terrible Treaty of Versailles, combined with the economic crisis of the Great Depression, the nation was in chaos as various forces fought for control of the future.  Election after election failed to produce any clear winner or leader, and armed groups roamed the streets.  These paramilitary groups could not be controlled by the nation, and both the left (the Communists) and the right (the Fascists) struggled for control.  In 1932, one more election took place that ultimately placed Papen in the role of Chancellor.


In the German system, there was an elected President, but that person would appoint a Chancellor who really did more of the leadership work that we associate with our own USA President.  The Chancellor was sort of a blend between our President and the English Prime Minister.  Papen had been appointed by the German President, famed WW 1 General Paul von Hindenburg, who had won the 1932 election in a tighter-than-expected race against Adolf Hitler (who famously noted that he did not want to be President as the Chancellor really held the power).  Papen had been named Chancellor by Hindenburg mostly because as a centrist Papen was assumed to be a figurehead, but also as a WW 1 veteran, that Hitler would be willing to support him.  That didn’t happen.


Thus, by the hot summer months of 1932, near-open war had convulsed Germany as the political groups, and their supporters, continued to rage for control.  So, in July, Papen evoked Article 48 of the German constitution.  This basically suspended the Constitution in a time of crisis, giving the Chancellor executive power to decree as he saw fit.  Papen wasn’t the first to do this.  It had actually be used prior, from its inception when the Constitution had been written in 1919 as part of the conclusion of the world war, bringing a new German Republic (famously known for the city where the document had been written, Weimar) into being.  In fact, the first leader of the old Weimar Republic, Friedrich Ebert had used it during his years of leadership in the 1920s.


But realize that it wasn’t only used in a time of a near-war situation that Papen faced.  Ebert had used it during an economic crisis in 1923.  Another Chancellor had used it strip newspapers of the freedom of the press.  In fact, in 1930, Hindenburg had allowed his then-Chancellor Heinrich Bruning to use Article 48 when he simply could not get a bill for economic reform passed by the Reichstag (like our Congress).  The Reichstag was divided, argumentative and stuck.  The bill could not get passed.  Bruning got frustrated.  Sound familiar?


None of those instances were really too troubling, though stripping the papers of freedom of the press should have sounded some warning bells.  Much like President Obama, the decision to use executive power seemed like a good decision, and probably many Germans in the 1930s were saying “about time someone did something” just like many Americans are this week.  But, the damage was done.  The worrying precedent had been set.


Just six months later, in 1933, Hitler and his political party had shocked many and won the majority in the Reichstag during the latest election in January.  As he had hoped, Hitler was appointed Chancellor.  Now, someone who would not care if he drifted far past restraint was at the helm with the same tool that Papen, Ebert and others had provided him.  All he needed was the opportunity….and that would come one month later with the famed “Reichstag Building Fire.”  Using it to defend the nation against a supposed attack by the Communist Party, Hitler would thus evoke Article 48.  He would proclaim the ability to protect the nation through steps that “must not be dependent on legal considerations.”


Do you see it?  Our worry isn’t what President Obama has done in the details.  The worry is that some future President, whether elected in 2016 or 2028, would also decide to move past a stalled Congress.  And, unlike what President Obama did (or the other Presidents before him), this future President could move further as Hitler did.  His executive action under article 48 suspended all civil liberties including free speech and freedom of the press.  He would outlaw the Communist Party, arresting thousands of leaders nationwide, essentially stripping any concept of habeus corpus from Germany.   Through this means, Hitler would then eventually press forward with what was called the Enabling Act which confirmed him as dictator.


It’s a scary prospect.  I do feel badly for President Obama.  I get his frustration.  In fact, many times I have been asked what I would do to fix the country.  In the end, as far gone as I feel we are, I end up admitting that to do most of what I would want to do, I would need to take on some dictatorial powers.  Of course, I end up adding with a smile, I’d be a “benevolent dictator.”  Yet, more seriously, I say further that the tragedy of where we are is that one has to become the evil you are trying to avoid to try and fix the problems.  In other words, even if I were some benevolent dictator and let’s say everyone loved what I did for the country…the damage would be done because, as we see in the Roman story after Octavian, no one can assure that the future dictators would be wise or benevolent (as Nero and Caligula both demonstrate).  Or maybe they will just be poor leaders, as James I was after Elizabeth I in England or Louis XV & XVI were in France after Louis XIV.


I wish President Obama had not issued his executive order for this, for immigration, or for the myriad other things that he has done.  Now that he has done so, don’t be surprised when a future President Sanders or President Trump or President Clinton or President Cruz does the same…and perhaps in directions or on topics you disagree with.  We may not like how slow things take in a very divided Congress, or that groups can lobby effectively to stop certain legislation…but it is exactly the way we have built our Republic to PROTECT US from actions like President Obama’s.