Both Hitler and Trump rose on tsunami of lies, fear and anti-free speech platforms. It isn’t too late to stop history from coming full circle.
Deportation raids are happening en masse across the country. Refugees have been turned away at the border, echoing a shameful past when Holocaust refugees were refused entry to the United States in 1939. The ACLU is defending infamous white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos, even though Holocaust survivors have said hate speech is a precursor to genocide. Xenophobia and racism are being written into executive orders signed by the United States President. People are afraid that the new administration is laying the groundwork for a second coming of Adolf Hitler.
When President Donald Trump declared his candidacy in 2015, the likelihood of a Trump presidency seemed far-fetched and comical. Dozens of articles were published arguing that no one should take Trump seriously. Similarly, Hitler was treated as a joke and his hateful rhetoric was explained away as just being a campaign technique.
The Huffington Post called Trump’s campaign a “sideshow” and moved coverage of him from the politics section to the entertainment section between July to December. In December 2015, I wrote my own analysis comparing Trump’s presidential campaign to Adolf Hitler’s power grab and warned against treating his campaign as a joke.
Lies, Damned Lies and Dictators
Lying about support and rigging elections is nothing new. It’s a tactic that authoritarian regimes have adopted throughout history. Dictators almost always come as a surprise, and in modern history have frequently been democratically elected. The Nazi Party won 37 percent of the German vote in July 1932. Support fell slightly, and in November of that year, they won 33 percent. It didn’t take long until the Nazis reported having 98.9 percent of the German population on their side.
Dictators are ushered into office through elections. Kim Jong-un, the ruler of North Korea, is clearly a brutal dictator — but state media says that Kim Jong-un was democratically elected with unanimous support. Closer to American politics, Vladimir Putin is the dictator of Russia. Russia holds regular elections, but Putin remains in power and reportedly won more than 60 percent of the vote. He was first elected Prime Minister in 1999, then served as President for 8 years before going back to the role of Prime Minister for the next six years. Since 2012, he has, again, been President of the Russian Federation.
President Trump lost the general election by nearly three million votes, but won the electoral college. Trump has repeated extremist conspiracy theories that those three million votes were illegal. His camp also exaggerated his electoral win, saying it was a “landslide.”
Racism Isn’t a Deal-breaker
President Trump’s win was bolstered by white Americans who don’t consider xenophobia and racism important enough to be deal-breakers. In the early days of his campaign, Trump made disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants, calling them rapists and murderers. Shortly after, in Boston, Massachusetts, two white men viciously beat a man just because he was Latino. When they were taken in police custody, the pair unabashedly said that Trump had “inspired” them. Many Trump supporters insist they are not racist and cite other reasons to explain their votes.
Ian Kershaw, a British historian and leading expert on Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler, wrote in 2008, “Though Hitler’s anti-Semitic paranoia was not shared by the vast bulk of the population, it plainly did not weigh heavily enough in the scales on the negative side to outweigh the positive attributes that the majority saw in him.” There were supporters of Adolf Hitler who were against the Nazi regime, but they didn’t stop the Holocaust and their support of him made them complicit and those who resisted were forced to either conform or perish. The unity that Hitler insisted upon, and grabbed power with, did not provide space for dissident voices who wouldn’t support the slogan “Hitler for Germany — all of Germany for Hitler.”
In 2015, Vanity Fair revived a 1990 profile on Trump by Marie Brenner. In the original article, Brenner made the comparison and revealed accusations that Trump kept a copy of Hitler’s speeches, My New Order, by his bed. Trump didn’t cop to reading the book, but did say a friend gave him a copy of Mein Kampf. The article also states that someone who worked for the Trump organization would go to Trump’s office, “[click] his heels and [say], ‘Heil Hitler,’ possibly as a family joke.”
Trump told journalist George Stephanopoulos that he doesn’t care that he’s being compared to Hitler. Less than a year later, in March 2016, he backtracked on that comment while on ABC’s show Good Morning America, saying that he “didn’t know about the Hitler comparison” and that he “hadn’t heard that.” Trump again feigned ignorance on the topic by telling Matt Lauer, “I think it’s ridiculous, I mean we’re having such a great time … I didn’t know it was a problem … I’m surprised to hear it.”
There are only two explanations for his frequent flip-flopping. Either he’s a liar who is well aware of Hitler comparisons. Or he has memory problems so severe he isn’t fit to be Commander in Chief, despite bizarre claims Trump has made about having “the world’s greatest memory, [and that it is] one thing everyone agrees on.”
Trump, Hitler and the Press
President Donald Trump has a problem with the free press, which he lumps together as “the media.” He keeps trying to make “the opposition party” a synonym for “the media.” Objectivity is of no importance to him. Trump wanted to run for president in 2012, and called Obama an illegal citizen, fostered the birther movement, and called for the execution of black men falsely convicted of a crime in Central Park. Despite his repeated attempts to affect the democratic process in with conspiracy theories and lies, the continued denial of Trump’s authoritarianism runs deep.
One of the most frequent things Trump loves to tweet is that the New York Times is failing. The obsession with the New York Times is ridiculous, but it is also not “unpresidented” — I mean, unprecedented. Hitler was no fan of journalism. When Mein Kampf was published, one critical review really riled him up. He reacted by suing the writer. It was an early sign of Hitler’s contempt of criticism. Hitler’s first attempt at a coup involved trashing the office of the Munich Post. He called the Munich Post “the poison kitchen” and said they were lying and slandering him. Sound familiar?
When Hitler outlawed all political parties besides the Nazi Party, hundreds of newspapers were shuttered because they were supported by political parties. Nazis used physical and economic force to gain control of the remaining German papers. The publications that weren’t taken over by the Nazis stayed in business by normalizing Hitler and abiding by strict censorship rules.
Hitler used the threat of terrorism and capitalized on fear to justify complete clampdown on civil liberties. He also promised to not engage in foreign military aggression but later made reasons to do so anyway. Hitler outlawed the opposition — and Trump’s rhetoric about illegal votes and voter fraud is an attempt to control elections through voter suppression. Both Hitler and Trump rose on tsunami of lies, fear and anti-free speech platforms. It isn’t too late to stop history from coming full circle.