History of the Reichstag fire and Trump’s wall shutdown

Photo: Nina Robinson

By Fighting Words Staff

On February 27, 1933, a fire that broke out in the German parliament building (Reichstag)  burned the structure to the ground. The next day, the Nazi Party and its right-wing coalition partners, who falsely claimed that the fire was set by the German Communist Party in a coup attempt, persuaded President Hindenburg to sign the infamous Decree for the Protection of the People and the State, otherwise known as the Reichstag Fire Decree.

Many historians argue that a Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) team actually set the fire to create a “false flag” emergency. In any case, they used the event to suppress their opposition.

This “national emergency act” suspended the right to free speech and a free press as well as the freedom of assembly. Thousands of members of the German Communist Party, which held 17 percent of the seats in the parliament, were arrested, including all its parliamentary members. The German Communist Party was outlawed and not allowed to participate in the March elections. This allowed the Nazi Party and its right-wing partners for the first time to win a majority of seats.

On March 23, 1933, the Nazi-controlled parliament passed the even more draconian Enabling Act, the Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich. This swept away all power from the German Parliament and gave it to the German Chancellor, the racist demagogue Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, who proclaimed himself “Fuhrer”, head of the regime behind the genocidal Holocaust and world war that killed 70 million people, including 45 million civilians.

Trump proclaims that he owns the shutdown

After facing a right-wing media scolding for being too soft on migrants and failure to build “the wall,” the current white supremacist demagogue-in-chief, Trump, announced December 11 at a meeting with Congresswoman Pelosi and Senator Schumer that he would not sign any budget continuing resolution that would keep open a large portion of the federal government unless it contained $5.7 billion for his border wall. When Congress failed to do Trump’s bidding, nine agencies were shut down on December 22, with 380,000 federal workers laid off and 420,000 more forced to work without pay.

Those who are forced to work without pay are not eligible to apply for unemployment. There is no guarantee that the furloughed workers will ever receive back pay. Tens of thousands of contractors who have lost their jobs will not be compensated for their lost pay.

Just to pour salt into the wound, billionaire Trump announced on December 29 a pay freeze on all federal civilian workers for 2019, negating the across the board 2.1 percent pay hike they were supposed to get in January. He also cancelled the locality pay increase that federal workers who live in regions with a higher cost of living are supposed to receive.

The federal government is one of the last remaining bastions of union labor and also one of the only remaining sources of jobs with decent pay and benefits for Black and other oppressed workers due to discrimination in the private sector, which means that these groups in particular are significantly affected by Trump’s actions.

The federal shutdown has not only robbed the livelihoods of these workers, who average around $50,000 a year, it has halted vital programs won through decades of hard won worker and community struggles.

The Food and Drug Agency has stopped inspections of meats, cheese, fish, fruit and vegetables, with experts expressing concern about food safety. The Environmental Protection Agency shutdown is preventing federal monitoring of water and air.

Transportation Security Administration workers, who are not being paid, have called in sick and have caused the shutdown in portions of airports in Miami, Houston and other locations. Monuments, museums and parks have been closed.

Native Tribe food and health programs have been defunded and shut down. The Women, Infant and Children program (WIC), which provides food for nine million people, is expected to run out of money at the end of January. Payments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to cover the rent for thousands of poor people have been frozen.

The shutdown is having a terrible “ripple effect” on millions of workers who depend on the spending by federal workers. In response, federal workers have been joined by unions and progressives across the country demanding an end to the shutdown.

Trump threatens to declare national emergency

In the midst of all the havoc he has caused to the livelihood of thousands of workers, poor people and their families, on January 4, Trump threatened to call migrants (who he labels as “murderers,” “rapists” and “child traffickers”) seeking refuge from U.S.-supported brutal regimes in Central America a “national emergency,” which would enable him to transfer money from disaster relief programs to pay for his wall. For example, he could use money designated for Puerto Rico hurricane relief, circumventing opposition in Congress and the majority of U.S. workers.

When the recent migrant caravan arrived at the U.S. border in late November, the Trump regime began the process they called “metering,” where only a tiny handful of asylum seekers were interviewed each day. Forced to live in unsheltered stadiums on the Mexican side of the border, and knowing that they are entitled by international and U.S. law to apply for refugee status at any point on the border, thousands of families have chosen to cross at dangerous desert locations.

Racist to the core and egged on by anti-immigrant white supremacist Steve Miller, Trump has waged a vicious war against migrants and refugees. He has torn children from their parents’ arms, placing them in freezing cages. His border control goons have destroyed water bottles left for migrants and tear gassed families. In December, two small children died while in the custody of the border patrol, without a word of regret from Boss Trump, who instead blamed their parents for trying to provide safety for their children.

Trump’s wall is specifically designed to force refugees to use border checkpoints, where they can be “metered” and prevented from applying for asylum.

Trump’s shutdown pits workers against against migrants

Since 1976, presidents have declared 58 “national emergencies,” nearly all designed to implement sanctions against countries targeted by imperialism, such as Sudan, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and, of course, North Korea. Many are still in effect.

Trump’s declaration would be new and dangerous. It would circumvent one of the three branches of U.S. bourgeois democratic rule, the U.S. Congress, and in so doing, also usurp Congress’s “power of the purse,” a democratic control of executive power. As more and more workers are harmed by his shutdown, and with his arch-racist base at his beck and call, there are already calls by right-wing politicians like Lindsey Graham for Trump to make this declaration. With the Democratic Party leadership constantly chiming in their support for “national security” instead of condemning his anti-migrants attacks, Trump is hoping over time that he will get what he wants.

By pitting federal workers and their supporters against refugees and migrants, the Trump regime hopes to stem the rising tide of outrage and opposition that his policies have sparked among the workers and oppressed, as well as the growing concern among Wall Street that he may be unable to protect their profits during the upcoming crisis.

Declaring the migrants’ righteous struggle for refuge to be a “national emergency” would provide Trump a terrible and far-reaching precedent, enhancing his power to wage more and more attacks on the oppressed and working people. This calls for a two-front struggle: stop the shutdown and stop Trump’s war against migrants and refugees!

We have to take action. This crisis is an attempt to take away gains won in decades of struggle. The working class and oppressed cannot rely on Democrats to defeat this problem electorally, and we can’t wait until 2020.

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