You can’t win by comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler.
President Obama took some serious heat from the morning news commentators last Sunday. On CNN’s State of the Union show with Jake Tapper, Obama’s statements at the Economic Club of Chicago on Tuesday, December 5, drew some negative reactions. Amanda Carpenter accused President Obama of “intellectual laziness,” while other guests attempted to backpedal the message. Van Jones sounded out later in the day, noting that this is not just an American problem, and he clarified that Obama was calling out global right-wing populist movements to “sound a global alarm.”
So what outrageous statements did our former president make? Discussing our fragile “garden of democracy,” President Obama warned against taking for granted the institutions we have built. He noted that the combination of globalization, technological innovation, and economic uncertainty has culminated in a collision of cultures, and our quest for security has resulted in tribalism and assertion of our superiority. Ultimately, Obama referenced the high culture present in 1920s/1930s Vienna. He stated that people believed democracy “would continue into perpetuity. And then 60 million people died. And an entire world was plunged into chaos. So you’ve got to pay attention – and vote!” Noting that democracy is reversible, Obama warned against complacency and advocated “being engaged, paying attention, and speaking out.”
Is there a legitimate risk of the Trump presidency degenerating into a totalitarian dictatorship? Are correlations to Nazi Germany valid? Republicans claim blasphemy at any comparison between Trump and Hitler, and Democrats do not want to appear too extreme or diminish their integrity by acknowledging any connection. Nevertheless, parallels are undeniable.
Aside from their shared narcissism, penchant for revenge, and mastery of communication and branding, Hitler and Trump have widely different personal styles. Hitler married late, and Trump married often. Hitler was a vegetarian, and Trump is a fast food fiend. Hitler served in the military, and Trump dodged service. Hitler rose through the ranks, and Trump parlayed a million dollar loan from his father into a multimillion/billion dollar empire. While Hitler wanted to take over the world, Trump’s modest goal is for American (and Russian) oligarchs to secure global wealth at the expense of the proletariat. Despite some significant differences between these men, the similarities between the Trump and Hitler regimes are markedly similar and should not be ignored or dismissed.
Ten Similarities Between the Trump and Hitler Regimes
1. Amount of Staunch Support
In both Nazi Germany and contemporary America, about 35% of the population demonstrated loyal support for Hitler and Trump. In 1932, at the peak of their popularity, 37% of Germans voted for the NSDAP aka the Nazi party. According to the most recent Gallup pole (12/3/17), President Trump’s approval rate is at 35%. Many people are surprised to learn that the majority of Germans did not support Adolf Hitler. Despite the prominent optics and disproportionate media coverage, the majority of Americans do not support Donald Trump.
2. Demographics of Support
Both Hitler and Trump drew their support from working class and rural individuals. The polarization of Weimar Germany followed urban versus rural demographic lines. In Germany’s multiparty political system, the urban population generally supported the socialist and communist parties, while rural voters got behind the NSDAP aka the National Socialist German Workers’ Party aka the Nazi Party. Similarly, the United States is divided between the so-called “coastal elites” and residents of the more conservative heartland.
3. Racist Ideology
Targeting minority groups elicits support from both Hitler and Trump’s traditionally-minded core of supporters. In Germany, Jews were an easy and visible target. In the United States, every decade our population becomes more diverse, and each new group becomes the target of xenophobic rage. The Irish, Southern Europeans, Eastern European Jews, and Asians have all taken big hits. Native Americans and African Americans have faced perpetual discrimination. Since the 1980s, Latinos – particularly Mexicans and Salvadorans – have been heavily targeted, and since 9/11, Muslim-Americans have been demonized. The plan is to prevent social class awareness by elevating the core supporters above a manufactured underclass.
There is also a connection between racist ideology and demographic support. Immigrants generally settle in urban areas. Thus, urban populations have more exposure to people from diverse cultures. Jews are generally urban dwellers. In Germany, many people in rural areas had little to no exposure to Jewish Germans; this predisposed them to believe the negative propaganda disseminated by the Nazi regime. Similarly, many Americans in rural communities have never met a Muslim, and thus, they are more apt to believe manufactured threats such as the imposition of Sharia law in American society. Lacking interaction with Americans of diverse cultures, many small-town Americans are fearful of the change that comes with new ideas and differing cultural traditions.
4. Dependence on Big Lies
Hitler notoriously advocated the telling of big lies, which, as he proclaimed, are much more believable than the little white lies all people are capable of spreading. Donald Trump has taken dishonesty to an epic level. From the size of his inauguration crowd to the millions of people he claimed illegally voted in the 2016 election to his current mega-lie that the Republican tax plan was devised to benefit the middle class. In his book, The Art of the Deal, Trump extols the virtue of “truthful hyperbole,”stating that “it’s an innocent form of exaggeration, and a very effective form of promotion.” According to PolitiFact, 70% of Trump’s statements during the campaign were false. Sadly, Americans have become numb to his lies; it is the new normal.
5. Attack on the Press
Upon coming to power in 1933, the Nazis seized printing presses and controlled the message entirely. Trump’s attack on the press is shocking and disturbing. He seems determined to destroy our First Amendment freedom of the press. However, Trump is not our first president to attack the press; John Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 expanded treason to include any writing that was deemed to be false, scandalous, and malicious. In modern times, Donald Trump has taken his anti-press dialog to a frightening place. Allegations of “fake news” and references to “the failing New York Times,” are near-daily utterances from Trump and company. Although direct suppression of the press has not yet occurred, it is surely not beyond the range of possibilities under Trump.
Hitler drew popular support from his violation of the Treaty of Versailles, including his building up of the military and his remilitarization of the Rhineland, not the mention the Anschluss, the Sudetenland, the invasion of Poland, and WWII in general. Donald Trump has surrounded himself with military advisors at the highest level. Hell-bent on provoking our enemies (and friends), Trump insults world leaders, seemingly baiting them into making a first strike. As a candidate, Trump advocated expanding the use of torture and dropping nukes on adversaries, and he claims to know more than our generals. He campaigned against American involvement in foreign wars, but during his brief tenure as president, Trump has pushed us closer to conflict with Iran, Syria, Niger, and North Korea. Finally, under the leadership of Trump appointee Rex Tillerson, the State Department has been displaced by the Department of Defense. Ultimately, the world is a much less secure place with Donald Trump in charge.
7. Inciting Violence
Nazi Party violence is infamous. In his rise to power, Hitler depended on the SA aka the Brown Shirts aka the Storm Troopers to terrorize civilians. Hitler’s arrest after the Beer Hall Putsch bought him time to author Mein Kampf – his manifesto. The elite force known as the SS notoriously carried out the Holocaust, which remains the quintessential example of genocide. During the campaign, Donald Trump encouraged supporters to beat up protesters, exclaiming “get ‘em out of here.” He promised to pay the legal fees for supporters who roughed up the opposition and “joked” about encouraging police brutality. Trump’s tacit support of neo-Nazis at the march in Charlottesville demonstrates where his heart truly is.
8. Authoritarian Ambition Coupled with a Cult of Personality
Fascism is not built in a day. When Hitler combined the offices of Chancellor and President following the death of Paul von Hindenburg, he became a full-fledged dictator. Hitler then suspended elections and political parties. One step at a time, Hitler nicked away at democratic institutions while on his mission to install his fascist state apparatus. According to the December 9, 2017, New York Times article “Trump’s Way: Inside Trump’s Hour-By-Hour Battle for Self Preservation,” Donald Trump had an “unrealistic expectation” of the power that came with the office of the presidency. It seems that Mr. Trump anticipated that he would be “ruling by fiat, exacting tribute and cutting back-room deals.” The article revealed that Trump is frequently in a state of rage concerning his impotence as president, yelling out orders to aides and members of Congress. Clearly, Trump is beyond frustrated with the limitations placed on the office of the presidency as defined by the Constitution. In addition to Joseph Stalin, Hitler and Trump are the best examples of the Cult of Personality. Others might want to lump FDR and Bernie Sanders into the mix, thanks to their loyal followers and astute messaging, and If Beyoncé was politically motivated, she would potentially be a great candidate.
9. Outreach to the Masses
Both men depended on rallies and propaganda to gin up the masses. Hitler’s rallies were infamous. The movie Triumph of the Will documents the fervor and mania present in both the Fuhrer and his supporters. Unlike any politician in modern times, Donald Trump holds regular rallies to invigorate his followers and further alienate his opponents. Joseph Goebbels – Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda – controlled the message of demonizing the Jews and elevating the Nazi doctrine to the point of Total War. Everyone in Trump’s White House is on the propaganda bandwagon. From “alternative facts” Kellyanne Conway to Press Secretaries extraordinaire Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders to Grim Reaper Steve Bannon, there appears to be no limits on political lies and spin. Of course the worst offender is Trump himself. In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, it would be remiss to not acknowledge Trump’s oratory skills and marketing acumen. Although his detractors cannot fathom his populist attraction, dissertations are being written on the appeal of Donald Trump. As he boasted, Trump could shoot people on 5th Avenue and still not lose support. No matter how outrageously he speaks, tweets, or behaves, his followers either applaud or rationalize his deplorable actions.
10. Support from Establishment Politicians
Adolf Hitler was invited to join the Weimar government by president and military hero Paul von Hindenburg and other members of the German National People’s Party who thought they could control him. Similarly, rather than utilizing the electoral collage the way our forefathers intended in the Constitution, the Republican Party handed over the nuclear codes. In an effort to push forward their economic and social agenda, this band of sellouts has disgraced our nation and placed our democracy in jeopardy.
According to Godwin’s Law – a term coined in 1990 by American lawyer Mike Godwin – given time, every argument will eventually degenerate to the point of one member of the opposing party calling out his nemesis as a Nazi. Although conventional wisdom warns against making this dicey comparison, it is equally foolish to ignore the correlations between the Hitler and Trump regimes.
Are we set to experience a repeat of the 1930s? Not exactly. Trump has obviously not silenced the press, eliminated (read killed) his opposition, or initiated genocide. His atrocities to date include promoting environmental degradation, encouraging manipulation of the economy to further advance the 1%, weakening our democratic institutions by installing secretaries like Betsy De Vos, Rick Perry, and Ryan Zinke (individuals determined to destroy the agencies they oversee), race-baiting to create an atmosphere of ethnic hostility, and installing ultra-right-wing justices like Neil Gorsuch to ensure conservative policies for decades to come.
We are still in the early day of Trump, and the future is uncertain. Thus, it is prudent to heed President Obama’s advise by “being engaged, paying attention, and speaking out.” History will only repeat itself if we allow it. We must never let our guard down, and we must not normalize the reckless behaviors of Donald Trump.