WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2016 – The remarkable candidacy of Donald Trump is one for the record books. He’s dominated the Internet and the airwaves like no other candidate in the race. He’s done it without spending much money. He speaks off the cuff, without teleprompters, without a script, and packs every venue he visits.
He says things that should be political poison, ignoring political correctness, good manners and even basic standards of civilized discourse, and his audience loves it. There’s nothing pre-packaged, refined, wonkish or bland about Donald Trump, and all other candidates who look upon him despair.
And so, his opponents ask, who does he think he is? Hitler?
Trump has been accused of fascism from the first days of his campaign. The drumbeat is steady and monotonous. In July, a pair of media ethicists wrote, “Can Trump win? It seems unlikely, especially after this weekend. Of course that is what the media said about a funny-looking spewer of hate with an odd mustache who was dismissed as an awful public speaker and not a serious candidate in Germany in the 1930s.”
More recently, Pulitzer Prize-winner Leonard Pitts has taken to reiterating the Trump-is-Hitler meme in multiple columns, albeit with trepidation and regret. “So yes, ordinarily I loathe such comparisons. Yet I’m here to make one. Because, as more than one observer has noted, the parallels between the rise of Adolf Hitler and that of Donald Trump have become too neon to ignore.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer cleverly made the comparison on its cover without using the word “Hitler,” with the headline, “The New Furor.” London’s Daily Telegraph has made a game of the comparison. “So how dissimilar is Mr Trump’s rhetoric to that of the Nazi dictator? We’ve created a quiz to see if you can tell who said what: Donald Trump or Adolf Hitler.”
Trump isn’t the first American politician to be compared to Hitler. President Obama has often been compared to Hitler and Stalin, as were Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. It’s no surprise that President Nixon was compared to Hitler, but so was President Kennedy.
It’s likely that Hillary has been compared to Hitler, though a more likely comparison is to Lady Macbeth. When we want to discredit the other side’s policies, we often invoke Hitler, death camps, the Holocaust and all things Nazi. Abortion is a holocaust, Obama’s 2008 campaign rallies were reminiscent of Nazi spectacles, Republican policies are a holocaust against children, and our consumption of eggs comes at the cost of a chicken holocaust (you can thank PETA for that one).
It’s true that some paranoid people really do have enemies, and it’s also true that there are incipient Hitlers frolicking on playgrounds and in school boards, and running homeowner associations even as you read this. Certainly someone in this world deserves to be compared to Hitler, though until that someone sets up death camps and starts exterminating people, we should be careful about making the comparison.
Being Hitler is like being special, and to paraphrase the Incredibles, if everyone is Hitler, no one is Hitler.
The name “Hitler” is losing its power to shock and disgust us. I’ve heard teachers compared to Hitler and a particularly stern coach called a “Hitler.” “Nazi” has gone the same way. A kindly, elderly teacher acquaintance is proud to be called a “grammar Nazi,” and my son once responded to my request that he clean his room with a crisp, “jawohl, mein Fuhrer!”
PETA’s chicken holocaust diminishes the horror of the real Holocaust, and these endless comparisons to Hitler turn the man and his party into mere examples of bad governance and unfair policy-making.
Enough. Trump is no Hitler. There are several reasons for that. First, America is no Germany and Congress is no Reichstag. If Trump wins, even if a little Hitler dwells in his heart, he’ll find Congress and the courts as big a stumbling block as Obama has and as Bush did before him.
Second, Trump himself just doesn’t seem to have any ideological fire burning within him. He is much more an opportunist than an ideologue. If the American people don’t want to put illegal immigrants and Muslims in concentration camps, Trump won’t try to talk them into it. Businessman that he is, he’ll find out what they do want and try to give it to them.
Donald Trump is neither conservative nor liberal, fascist nor libertarian. He’s changed political parties five times, he had Hillary Clinton sit on the front row at one of his weddings, he’s come out in favor of legalized late-trimester abortions and gays in the military, he’s opposed raising taxes. He’s all over the political map, exactly what one expects to see from a man with no ideology.
If Trump goes to Washington, he won’t go as the triumphant leader of a political movement, but as a storm. He might blow himself out, he might sweep away the acrid fumes of Washington politics, he might leave devastation in his wake. The spectacle will be less Leni Reifenstahl and more Weather Channel.
The prospect is both terrifying and exciting, but it would be overly dramatic and portentous to say that it will be a second coming of the Third Reich. It won’t.
It’s also worth recalling that at this time eight years ago, Hillary was a shoo-in for her party’s nomination and the likely next president of the United States. We got Obama instead. Not one vote has yet been cast, and when push comes to shove, Americans may not be ready for the terrifying excitement of a Trump presidency.
A much more likely outcome is another four years of Wall Street in bed with the new administration, no bold measures to fix anything. We will probably get the fascism of the status quo. True fascism allows nothing new under the political sun, and nothing new is what we can really expect.