History Lessons: Attention Must be Paid

Vanity Fair cover 1933 July Despondent Sam Illustration by Paolo Garretto

We need to take a hard look at history. A Vanity Fair cover from July 1933 showing a despondent Uncle Sam seated on the Western hemisphere with storm clouds above can serve as a somber harbinger for our own times. Illustration by Paolo Garretto

History has never seemed more relevant.

After a week of unspeakable tragedies both here and abroad, the weight of history hangs heavy as the Republicans nominate Donald J Trump as their candidate for president.

Historians are speaking out as never before.

A dozen distinguished  historians from David McCullough to  Ken Burns have bonded together to create a Facebook page called Historians on Donald Trump, dedicated to educating the voters on the disturbing threat trump poses to American democracy.

Historian Robert Caro called Trump a “demagogue” who appeals to the ugliest parts of human nature.

“History tells us we shouldn’t underestimate him,” Caro said. “History is full of demagogues and sometimes rise to the very heights of power by appealing to things that are unfortunately a part of human nature: racism, which I think is a part of human nature no matter how hard we try, and excessive virulent patriotism that goes by the name xenophobia.”

Joining them are Historians Against Trump, a group of  history professors, museum professionals, public historians  and scholars who are concerned about the ominous precedents for Trump’s candidacy. In a published open letter they wrote: “The lessons of history compel us to speak out against a movement rooted in fear and authoritarianism.”

They are all  urging us to take a hard look at history.

I didn’t need the urging

History surrounds me on a daily basis. Literally and figuratively.

Vanity Fair Covers 1933

The Depression era discrepancy between “the haves” and “have not’s” is illustrated in this Vanity Fair cover “Fat Cat and Hobo” from October 1933. The Vanity Fair of May 1933 (R) illustrates an unpredictable Washington DC , optimistic one minute, foreboding and disastrous the next. Illustration Vladimir Bobritsky

The flotsam and jetsam from over the past hundred years, the  vintage advertising, articles, newspapers, booklets and illustrations that permeated the American Twentieth century mass media play in an endless loop through my mind, cluttering it like so many teetering stacks of  vintage magazines and books that clutter my art studio.

In my constant field of vision, are a series of framed vintage Vanity Fair magazine covers from 1933 that powerfully illustrate that most tumultuous year, a year that would have far reaching global consequences. and offer a somber forewarning to our own troubled times.

Many are illustrated by Italian artist Paolo Garretto arguably one of the great European illustrators of his time, his graphic covers expose the unsettling climate of the 1930’s including Hitler’s rise to power.

These compelling images of that unsettling time  serve  as a cautionary tale.

Vanity Fair cover Dec 1933 Illustration Paolo Grarreto

The cover of Vanity Fair December 1933. Figures representing U.S. Italy, France and England “tangle’ over Hitler. Illustration Paolo Garreto

As I listened to  a speech in Cincinnati a few weeks ago, a rambling  Trump maniacally defending the use of the Star of David in his anti Clinton image,  it was clear he was  pandering to his racist anti-Semitic supporters. As  I looked up at the vintage Vanity Fair covers that hang directly in front of my computer, I felt a chill.

An expert demagogue whipping discontented  working class voters into a frenzy, stoking racial resentment and exaggerated threats, giving the disenfranchised a bogeyman to blame misrepresenting the facts and exploiting economic insecurities.

Sound familiar?

Vanity Fair Covers 1932 Fascism Hitler Mussolini

Back to Back Fascism. Vanity Fair Covers (L) Hitler November 1932 illustration Paolo Garretto (R) Mussolini October 1932 illustration Miguel Covarrubias. Images Courtesy Vanity Fair

The use of ethnic stereotypes,the exploitation of fear of foreigners, and the concerns about national decline  is an ugly stew of propaganda straight from  a fascist recipes book .

It’s a recipe for disaster.

But confused and angry voters can take the bait.


In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Rachel Maddow said  that she has been studying Adolph Hitler in the first few months of his tenure as German chancellor:

“Over the past year I’ve been reading a lot about what it was like when Hitler first became chancellor. I am gravitating toward moments in history for subliminal reference in terms of cultures that have unexpectedly veered into dark places, because I think that’s possibly where we are.”

Vanity Fair Nov. 1933 Paolo Garretto illustration

Cover Vanity Fair November 1933. Artist Paolo Garretto envisioned the globe as a bomb with a fuse waiting go off as diplomats stand at the top of the world seemingly oblivious.

1933 opened with Adolph  Hitler becoming chancellor of Germany.  The great theme of his speeches throughout the previous year was that “politicians had ruined the Reich.”

Some thought a Hitler government would be a farcical affair. The right had the illusion that Hitler was a lightweight, a ridiculous Austrian demagogue whose oratorical gifts they could exploit while “managing” to contain him.

Over the course of the one year these magazine covers appeared,  Hitler was elected as chancellor of Germany, the Reichstag’s Enabling Act was passed after the burning of the Reichstag, enabling police to bypass courts giving Hitler everything he needed to set up a totalitarian state making him dictator of Germany

This was quickly followed by massive Nazi Book burnings, legalized eugenic sterilization, boycotting of Jewish businesses, prohibition of trade  unions and forbidding all non Nazi political parties in Germany.

The very month FDR was telling a frightened nation we had nothing to fear but fear itself, Dachau the first Nazi concentration camp  opened.

It was a frightening time.

Out of the Disturbing Darkness

There are compelling reasons to feel grave concern today.

Pulitzer prize winner Ron Chernow, one of the historians on Historians on Donald Trump page remarked in a video :  “I have been deeply disturbed by the Trump campaign — more deeply disturbed than by any other presidential campaign in our history.

“We’ve all been horrified by the many shocking statements this man has made, but no less frightening have been the omissions,” he continued.

“I’m disturbed by the words missing from the Trump campaign: liberty and justice, freedom and tolerance,” he added. “The only historical movement that Trump alludes to is a shameful one: America First,” he said, referring to Trump’s foreign policy slogan, which shares its name with an anti-Semitic group from the 1940s.”

“Please, please, please folks don’t let it happen here,” Chernow pleaded.”

We have the power to stop it.




  1. Another wonderful post Sally. I find it amazing that the same people who were so fearful about Obama introducing hints of socialism into the country seemingly have no problem with Trump’s out-and-out fascist leanings. I hope enough people hear the pleas of Chernow and many, many others. Otherwise is our only solace going to be that the trains run on time?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make such an excellent point, about the terror of Obama’s alleged ‘socialism” yet the reality of a real life fascist doesn’t seem to register. There’s an excellent article in the New Yorker today that is a must read. The writer Tony Schwartz who ghostwrote The Art of the Deal believes Trump is a sociopath. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/25/donald-trumps-ghostwriter-tells-all

      And Trump is so incompetent, that despite mimicking Mussolini , I dont think he could even makes the trains run on time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • He could make them run on time…I mean, they’d be late, but late is a time!

        I’m still waiting on Obama’s socialist government. He’s got 4.5 or so months to make it happen. I also can’t help but feel that we’re all getting what we deserve with Trump being an actual candidate for president. All those people who said anyone can be president? Turns out they were right!


      • That’s a really great article Sally — thanks for sharing. The observation that “…Trump’s short attention span has left him with “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance” sums him up well.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on sixdegreesofstoogeration and commented:
    If Trumpy wins (and does stupid things), we Americans have nothing and nobody to blame but ourselves. Year after year, election after election, and what do we get? The same politician in wolf’s clothing. Sure, the style of the fur may change, but it’s the same damn wolf.

    Let’s not worry about whether Trumpy’s able to get elected (just yet.) Think about the changes that have already been made, even without Trumpy doing his stupid things.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another great post. This post reminded me that we just lost Elie Wiesel. I am sure he would be saddened to see history repeat itself as it seems to be. This decade has so much reminded me of the 1920s and this year in particular calls to mind 1968. Only the party in chaos is not the Democrats but the Republicans. Unfortunately, even if Trump loses, Trumpism probably will not go away.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sadly you are correct, Trumo simply tapped into a climate of discontent


  5. Pierre Lagacé

    I listened on the radio yesterday about who was President Duterte in the Phillipines before he was President.

    The rhetoric he used in his campaign sounds quite familiar.

    In the 1920s and 1930s there was a shift towards the right, then to the extreme right.
    We see it happening right now.

    What is it in our DNA that drives us to the edge of the abyss?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Henry Joseph

    Great covers! A treasure.


  7. Pingback: This Election Day Don’t Be a Sucker | Envisioning The American Dream

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: