It’s usually a lazy comparison, let’s be honest.
Ever since the dust thrown up by the 3.4 million tons of bombs that fell through the skies during WWII settled, Adolf Hitler has been something of a go to metaphor. Whenever a dictator enthroned himself in a backwater nation-slum, he was the new Hitler. Whenever a political opponent embarked upon a foreign adventure we drew broom handle mustaches on their image.
We decried the Saddams and the Bushs. Heaped scorn on the Blairs and the Gaddafis. We mentally photoshopped fascist memorabilia into the backdrops of those we disliked. We warned of fourth Reichs to come, and how notions of American exceptionalism dangerously mirrored Nazi Herrenvolk posturing. Adolf Hitler’s life is such an open book, so well investigated, that comparisons are easily made.
It was all bit silly really.
And then Charlottesville happened.
The Art Of The Dealbreaker
We should have realized that we’d let loose a snake in our midst.
Demagogues had slithered into the public consciousness before of course but they were always weak anemic creatures; objects of ridicule for the most part. We knew them. The Xenophobic yesterday’s men spouting half-confused precepts of social Darwinism. We watched them as they clutched a Bible in reed-thin hands. With patience, we listened to their white knuckle proclamations on the evils of a society that was hopelessly, painfully dissimilar to the world of their youth,
We laughed at them. We rolled as penisless soccer-mom Mike — now Vice President — Pence openly delegitimized the 4.1 percent of adult Americans who identify as LGBT. As the Pat Robertson’s of the world spread vile messages to crowds of believers gulping oxygen through their mouths, we brushed it off. This is America after all. What happens on the sidelines stays on the sidelines no?
And then Charlottesville happened.
Wasn’t the U.S. was safe from such nonsense? A nation in possession of a triptych of zenithal, moments; 1776, 1861, 1941. What American would fail to grasp the significance of such dates? American history is convoluted, contradictory, perhaps even a little mad but in one area and one area alone it has remained consistent; its proud fight against tyranny. There can be no truer polar opposite to American values than fascism. It is the distillation of everything that Americans should hate.
Leaders came and leaders went but all were constrained by the practicalities of Realpolitik. All signed on to an unspoken list of societal niceties. Politics was governed not only by what was said but by what must never be said; support for fringe lunacy was redacted from national consciousness by way of demographic realities. Politicians clung to the center on most issues for fear of offending key blocks of voters.
Then along came President Donald Trump. With his crassness and his ambiguity. With his in your face candor and inexcusable boorishness. His willingness to pander to anyone myopic enough to vote for him reaped great rewards. Enthusiastic support from White supremacists — when it came — was hardly surprising.
And suddenly, the Hitler comparisons seemed less frivolous.
Then Rose The Seed Of Chaos
The two men have much in common.
Both suffer from character flaws buried so deeply in their subconscious that it would take a bulldozer to dig them out. Both suffer from the delusion that they — and they alone– can fix that which they perceive to be broken. Sure, Trump is no more a drug addled anti-Semite hell-bent on world domination than Hitler was a real estate mogul with a penchant for Slavic trophy wives, but such observations are necessarily limiting. The specifics of their circumstances matter less than the route delusions they share.
It’s easy to forget amidst the horrors of the Holocaust that Hitler was a politician once.
Not a particularly good one mind.
In 1923, he attempted to overthrow the Weimar Republic by seizing control of Munich in a botched Coup d’état that landed him in prison for the better part of nine months. Unperturbed by a setback that would have seen most political careers bomb like a Galaxy Note 7 on a hot day, Hitler merely changed tack.
On May 4, 1924, his party won 24 seats in the Reichstag only to lose more than half of them seven months later. The fascists struggled to keep their heads above water, barely managing to stay in double digits but in September 1929, just ten days before the Wall Street crash, they won 104 seats. Such numbers were insufficient to grant him control of a German parliament that operates in much the same way as its British counterpart.
He was forced to cut deals with other political parties.
Mann Des Volkes
Indeed, Hitler owed much of his success to the fact that his enemies so severely underestimated him. Upon winning 18.3 percent of the popular vote in 1930, one British Newspaper decried him as being:
“Dramatic, violent and shallow… a lightweight; not a man, but a megaphone.”
By 1933, that same megaphone, propped up by financially powerful nationalists had set himself up as a dictator. He had cut deals with people who thought they could leverage his inexperience to their own advantage. Fatuous, unblinking enablers looked on as Hitler quietly climbed the greasy pole, pausing only to unruffle his trousers and stress his own magnificence. Casting himself as a man of the people, he hypnotized the masses with pernicious lies. A Messianic personality of gargantuan proportions; one that would save Germany from the corruption of the professional politician.
That was all it took. He complained that Foreign nations were damaging German trade, promised to create jobs and derided those countries that ‘hated’ Germany. He jumped at shadows, clawed at imaginary slights and everywhere he looked he saw insult and opportunity. But he never won an election. Not outright.
Even with his best result, he lost the popular vote.
Männer der Leute
Back in May of 2016, after Donald Trump had secured the Republican nominations the airwaves were filled with the laments of pundits knocking back Mea Culpa like rotund children slurping lemonade at a family picnic.
Even as early results came in, those of us who knew deep down that Trump was going to win were being ridiculed. He defied expectations for the simple reason that the expectation — that political agency is subordinate to a set of unspoken rules– was rejected by large numbers of the electorate.
Fiscal transparency? Etiquette? The ability to parse one’s words? Trump possesses none of these traits. Political wisdom spoke to those claiming to possess it. Reince Priebus begged Trump to drop out over his hot-mike pussy grabbing comments. And why not? With over half the electorate in possession of said sexual organ and close to 100 percent of them agreeing that they prefer it not to be grabbed, the idea that his bid was DOI made perfect sense.
But while Billy Bush got fired for his role in the torrid affair, Trump marched on with unapologetic indifference. GOP enablers shrugged and marched right alongside him. They could use Trump’s inexperience they whispered to one another. He was to be the vehicle that rubber stamped legislation he had neither the intellect nor the inclination to fully comprehend.
Carrot And The Schtick
Though separated by geography and time both political outsiders defied expectations to become the leader of a powerful nation. An alliance between big business and overtly racist thugs was greeted with as much enthusiasm in 2016 as it was in 1932. As Chancellor, Hitler mixed with the very same Hoi polloi who had refused to shake his hand prior to his moment of victory. Mitt Romney demonstrated the same lust for power, dining with Trump as he dangled the carrot of high office before a man who had repeatedly denounced him as a fraud.
One wonders how someone so spineless could keep himself from sliding off the leather chair.
In both cases, principles proved to be subordinate to crass opportunism. In both cases, the distasteful qualities of men who were unfit to govern were sidelined in favor of an all too blatant power grab. It was all part of the great game. It was business as usual set against the background of the anything but usual. Trump’s style was just an act we were told; his bully boy routine was mere shtick.
They said much the same thing of Hitler.
He Who Reigns Within Himself
The political philosophy that festered at the heart of the German Fascist state known — somewhat unimaginatively — as Hitlerism was, according to Nicolaus Fairweather and extension of his:
“Rabid nationalism, his violent opposition to Socialism and Communism, his undisguised hatred of the Jews.”
Furthermore, even Hitler’s distrust of democratic government and parliamentary institutions were:
“… Based upon his tribal sense of leadership. “
An attempt to link Trump to the same philosophical framework would require no small amount of contortion. Certainly, Trump is no Anti-Semite. And whilst Hitler’s distrust of democratic institutions led to their utter destruction, suggestions that Trump might also attempt to take control of the apparatus of government are absurd.
The day he attempted to do so would be his last day in office.
And yet, the other descriptors do indeed seem to fit.
More or less.
Overt hatred of Jews was replaced with the vilification of Mexicans. The specter of the Red Menace, with visions of an evil empire of Muslims. His ultra-nationalist credentials formed the linchpin of his entire campaign and as for socialism… Well, he equates that with the political establishment in situ. Upon taking office Trump immediately set about the task of neutering some 62 agencies and programs ranging from community learning centers to low-income energy assistance programs.
If that’s not an opposition to socialism, then what is?
Chaos Judge The Strife
The vapid, parallels between their political instincts are so obvious that they are easy to dismiss it out of hand. Though both men exhibit the same obsessions when it comes to delivering speeches to their base (and only to their base,) notions of symmetry are relegated to the status of mere coincidence. Yet the contempt they have for those to whom they owe their power is also, identical. And it just so happens that the way they choose to run their respective offices shares much of the same characteristics as well.
Take for example this excerpt:
“He was known for heavily critiquing those who reported to him and became angry and frustrated with mistakes. He did not trust others. Without establishing a two-way relationship, he could not, and would not, rely on the opinions of others, resorting to his instincts and opinions.”
The passage in question can be identified as being about Hitler mostly via its use of the past tense. But clearly, it could just easily apply to Trump, a man who underplays and ignores the characteristics of his followers. A man for whom the characteristics of the party and the political context surrounding his leadership are of negligible importance.
Unity through division is no mere accident. It was there by design in Nazi Germany and it’s there by design in Trump’s White House.
The ‘coincidental’ comparatives just keep on mounting up.
Leader Of The Crap
Hitler’s leadership principles (Führerprinzip) dictated that:
“Ultimate authority rested with him and extended downward. At each level, the superior was to give the orders, the subordinates to follow them to the letter.”
Such rigid control was evident almost from the moment Trump took office when beleaguered then Press Secretary Sean Spicer berated journalists who questioned the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd.
For Hitler, power struggles within his own administration were a source of strength. By playing factions off from one another he made himself something of an indispensable arbitrator, a modern-day Solomon. Hitler scorned those who displeased him prompting the recipients of his ire to redouble their efforts to regain his confidence. Those that had outlived their purpose such as Ernst Rohm — the Reince Priebus of Nazi Germany — were brutally removed.
Those who remained were forced to endure his pointed insults.
So why aren't the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2017
Trump might complete the circle by getting the U.S. embroiled in a war that it cannot win.
Or he might not. It’s hard to say at this point.
He certainly enjoys the rhetoric of war and if any president of the post-Cold War world is liable to spark another global conflict it’s Trump. But the danger he represents is not that he returns us to the politics of the 1930s but that his legacy might outlast his own brief tenure.
To be clear, he’s no carbon copy. To insist otherwise would do too much justice to the haphazard, incompetent and amateurish rise to power that Trump has forced us all to live through. He is at best a parody of the German dictator, a sad, lonely facsimile of a messiah whose return is to be celebrated by only a few distorted souls.
Lacking both the charisma and intelligence of Adolf Hitler, Trump inspires Neo Nazis in lieu of a more compelling option. Their campaign, long bereft of true leadership, was relegated to the fringes of political society. They skulked in garages printing off threatening literature bereft of moral certitude and lacking intellectual clarity. They gathered in huts and fields and soothed societal angst by way of a never-ending echo chamber of ahistorical bullshit and theological misreading.
The world moved on. We became more, not less tolerant.
Their race war never materialized.
And then came Trump. A man with the resources to buy his way into the White House. His base was diverse, yet bound together in one absolute. A coalition of the disaffected, of the disenchanted. A cease-fire between the embittered and those who had felt the sharp sting of Neoliberal indifference. He offered them a choice, more of the same or something different. How could American Nazis resist? They had rejected the mainstream decades ago and here was a man prepared to flirt with their bigotry, perhaps even legitimize it.
Which is why he was reluctant to distance himself from the far right in the first place. Why he was happy to meet with European fascists and place known Nazi sympathizers such as Sebastian Gorka high in his council.
And it’s why he refused to condemn the racial violence in Charlotteville.
For Trump, winning is the most important thing. He was more than happy to get the White nationalist vote and what’s more, he’s worked hard to ensure that he has kept them in his corner. To keep them loyal to him no matter how felt privately about their ideology. To take their hatred and bigotry and forge it into a new political identity.
And what could be more Hitler than that?