Alan Zendell, February 23, 2017
Google “Hitler and Trump”, and you’ll be shocked at the number of websites that come up. They by no means agree with each other, but it’s significant that so many diverse people thought to make the comparison. Even Harry Potter chimed in, as a Twitter war erupted between his creator, J. K. Rowling and the British interviewer, Piers Morgan (https://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2017/02/11/j-k-rowling-mocks-piers-morgan-for-refusing-to-compare-donald-trump-to-adolf-hitler/).
I did my own comparison shortly after Trump announced his candidacy for President. It seemed to me that he was running his campaign directly out of Hitler’s playbook, otherwise known as Mein Kampf. I imagined I had originated that notion, but Hitler biographer Ron Rosenbaum used it prominently in the weeks after Trump’s inauguration (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/adolf-hitler-donald-trump-mein-kampf-bluffed-way-to-power-nazi-leader-germany-fuhrer-us-president-a7568506.html).
That is not to suggest that Trump will govern like Hitler or that he aspires to the kind of atrocities Hitler’s Reich committed. That his tactics were similar is undeniable. We all saw the election campaign, and most of us on all sides were revolted by it. But employing similar tactics doesn’t imply having identical goals and ideologies. Only time will tell.
Scapegoating: Hitler demonized Jews throughout his career, labeling them pure evil. That view wasn’t original to him; it grew out of the neo-Darwinist ideas of two generations of antisemitic writers and philosophers who preceded him. He played on the frustration and fear of a population dealing with the aftermath of World War I, in which the rest of Europe brutally punished Germany. Hitler used Jews as the scapegoats for his ultra-nationalistic rants, accusing them of stabbing Germany in the back and causing their defeat, and his hyperbolic appeals to the unemployed and impoverished survivors brought him to power.
Trump began by demonizing whole nations and religious groups; unless you live in an alternate reality that’s a fact. I don’t believe Trump hates Muslims and Mexicans the way Hitler hated Jews, but the strongest weapon in his campaign was his appeal to fear and bigotry, with precisely the same kind of hyperbole that Hitler used so effectively.
The News Media: Hitler understood that to rise from an insignificant member of a fringe political party to national prominence he had to discredit the press. He did it within the law, using wealthy contributors to force opposition newspapers and radio stations into bankruptcy, until the Nazi Party controlled all the major news outlets.
Trump’s people coined the terms “alternate facts” and “fake news” to capitalize on the general disdain most Americans, myself included, felt for the media. Looking back on 2016, it’s almost surreal to imagine that a candidate could successfully label every opinion he didn’t like a lie, and convince a large portion of the electorate that every media outlet but one was part of a vast anti-Trump conspiracy. Is the United States entering a period of buyer’s remorse? The latest Quinnipiac Poll reported that Americans now believe the press more than they believe Trump by 52% to 37%. Only three out of every eight Americans believe he’s truthful after one month in office.
Consolidating Power: In 1923, Hitler was convicted of treason and spent nine months in prison for provoking a failed coup in Bavaria. After that, however, his rise to power was entirely lawful. Political bullying and threats by the growing Nazi Party, an extension of Hitler’s decade long politics of hate and fear, forced German President von Hindenburg to appoint him Chancellor (Prime Minister). Trump’s rise to power was also accomplished within the bounds of our legal structure, in a populist wave of masterfully orchestrated rage against the establishment.
My question is, what can we reasonably infer from the disturbing similarity of Trump’s tactics to those employed by Hitler? Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, made no secret during his years of extremist writings, that a strong executive powerful enough to neutralize all opposition would be best for the country. Does Trump believe that too?
Americans need to pay close attention to everything this administration does. No more burying your head in the sand because you’re so horrified about the outcome of the election. Passivity is the surest course to disaster.
There is no evidence that we’re headed toward autocracy, but there’s an essential lesson in Hitler’s actions as Chancellor. In 1933, political violence instigated by the Nazis escalated almost to the level of civil war. In an effort to maintain order, the Reichstag (parliament) passed the Enabling Act, which granted the Chancellor (Hitler) emergency powers to act without consulting the rest of the government. Those emergency powers were never rescinded, and most historians cite the passage of the Enabling Act as the pivotal event in Hitler’s rise to absolute power.
Could that happen here? My concern is that if any sort of terrorist attack were to occur on American soil, the Bannon/Trump administration would immediately react by asking Congress to grant Trump emergency powers for “the duration of the crisis”. That must never be allowed to happen. That is when millions of Americans must raise their voices in protest.