How the Nazi invasion of France explains Donald Trump

If you want to understand what's happening to the Republican Party, look at the fall of France in 1940

Americans can looking to France's past for guidance.
(Image credit: Keystone/Getty Images)

With Donald Trump's victory in seven states on Super Tuesday, he looks poised to grab the Republican nomination. A lot of people are asking: Why? Some focus on the immediate context: the split Republican field or the primary calendar. Others focus on structural factors: the contempt for the interests of white working-class voters by the GOP establishment and the conservative movement. There are other explanations that focus on the coarsening of our culture — which made reality TV and politics indistinguishable — or the country's legacy of racism. But none of these explain what's really going on.

The best way to understand what Trump has done to the Republican Party might be to read a book from World War II. Every student of politics — every informed citizen — should become familiar with this work. French historian Marc Bloch's The Strange Defeat covers the fall of France in 1940. Bloch saw the month-long Nazi invasion of France and the Low Countries up close: He was a veteran of World War I and a military intelligence officer in the French army reserves who was mobilized during the war. After France's capitulation, Bloch was removed from his teaching job because he was a Jew. He dashed off this book in a fit of anger before joining the Resistance. The Gestapo executed Bloch in 1944, and the book was found and published after his death. It is called "the strange defeat" because, pound for pound and steel for steel, the French and German militaries were evenly matched, yet France's collapse was stunning, immediate, and thorough.

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Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry is a writer and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His writing has appeared at Forbes, The Atlantic, First Things, Commentary Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Federalist, Quartz, and other places. He lives in Paris with his beloved wife and daughter.