But The Reason He Was Elected is the Same
One of the common themes throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, both through the primaries and into the general, was the oft-repeated “Trump as Hitler” trope. It was in vogue to try to make comparisons, especially in light of Trump’s Muslim-ban edict in June of 2015, his cozying up with the Alt Right whose antisemitism is a cornerstone of their belief system, and his blatant racist overtones. A Muslim registry, possible internment camps, calls of free press restrictions, the rise of fascism. Gotta be the 2nd coming of der Fuehrer, right?
Interestingly, Trump is really nothing like Adolf Hitler the man, the cult of personality or the fascist who destroyed a continent in the 1930s and 40s. The comparisons really fall flat, if you try to line up man to man. Moreover, as James Marshall Crotty points out here, comparing the two even casually is lazy political discourse. However, the sentiment upon which both drew to accumulate power, and to rise to the top of their responstive parties and ultimately, their country, is very much the same. In this series of posts, I will attempt to show how I believe that the U.S. fell for the same nationalist demagoguery for which German citizens fell in the early 30s. It’s less about the demagogue than it is about the electorate, and in the end, I believe, the answer will be the same:
When no one else is speaking for you, you’ll end up choosing the one who deems himself your savior.
The difference is this: Hitler was intentional about his path to “making Germany great again” fascism. Trump has no idea that that’s where his antics are leading him. His motivation is much, much different than that of Adolf Hitler. Let’s explore.
Hitler v. Trump, the basics.
You really couldn’t have two more distinctly different personalities than Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump.
- Hitler was, by all accounts, an introvert, awkward, shy, and a loner. Trump is gregarious, extroverted, and the life of the party, even if he has to finance the party itself in order to be that.
- Hitler was born poor, the son of a homemaker and a distant and abusive father who, as a local customs official eschewed any ovetures of young Adolf’s desire to be an artist and insisted he become a local politician as well. Trump, on the other hand, was born wealthy, the son of an already well known NY real estate developer. The only similarities we may find here is a son seeking the unrequited approval from his father that he would simply never get.
- Hitler served in the army in World War 1, a message runner who was wounded several times, once by gas attack which left him temporarily blinded, an event which informed his future desire to go into politics. Trump never stepped foot in uniform, instead preferring to use medical deferments to extricate himself from the Viet Nam draft, a tactic usually reserved for the well connected. (More about this point in this series)
- Hitler left the army determined to become an agent for change within his county following the war. By the time he was 25 he was already involved in a governmental coup (or “putch” as it’s called in Germany), was jailed, wrote his tome “Mein Kampf” about his vision of his Utopian Germany and European continent, all before 35. Trump, on the other hand spent his 20s, 30s, 40s, and so on, merely riding the wave of minor-celebrity that came with his wealth, ability to bait the local tabloids, and his ability to be a carnival barker.
- Hitler was obsessed with restoring Germany to greatness. Trump, I will argue, could care less.
To put this in more contemporary terms, Adolf Hitler is more Heath Ledger Joker, dark, angry, determined, ruthless. Donald Trump is Ceasar Romero Joker, just a cartoon giggling muppet with no real agenda.
Post WWI Germany
It is important to note that with the Treaty of Versailles signed in 1919 after World War I, Germany was HUMILIATED. Not only were they forced, by the treaty, to accept full guilt for the war but each of the victors took their enormous pound of flesh. France, Great Britain and the U.S. required billions in reparations, Germany’s geography was sliced up and parts were annexed in to neighboring countries, raw materials were seized, and so on.
And, among other post-war articles in the treaty, Germany was banned from having a military that exceeded 100,000 men. Paltry considering the millions that served in the German Army during the war and at best, a militia. The treaty was so punishing that it left Germany in shambles. Hyperinflation took over, the collapse of anything resembling a salient government ensued, there were food rations, lines, hunger, poverty, and ultimately, utter humiliation.
This left Hitler determined. Barely 6 months after the Treaty was signed, Hitler joined a fledgling new political party called the German Worker’s Party. This was the grassroots of what would become the Nazi Party.
Next: How Hitler used “Make Germany Great Again” as his path to Dictatorship.