Comparisons to Hitler are tired. And they are used so much in contemporary American politics that the reducto ad Hitlerium argument actually has a name, Godwin’s Law. Most of us agree that unless you have spearheaded a genocidal campaign that ends in the deaths of millions and the forced subjugation of Europe, you’re not Hitler.
Unless you kinda are.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Adolf?
Hitler had to become HITLER, the poster child for evil and political oppression the world has promised will never happen again. From his days as a corporal during World War I, after a failed career as an artist, Hitler nursed an illogical antisemitism and helped form the basic political platforms of the nascent National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party. Capitalizing on the fears of the populace, taking advantage of an always vacillating economy, and clearly identifying an enemy with vague promises of making Germany Great Again, Hitler and the Nazis managed to win seats in the Reichstag over the course of a couple elections, catapulting Hitler into the limelight and resulting in his appointment as Chancellor to Hindenburg’s presidency. His unreadable book Mein Kampf clearly set forth his plans, and was required reading for all of Germany. Much like the Bible, the book sat in homes untouched. Often people say that there was no way to know in 1933 what 1943 would look like; hogwash. One can almost imagine Hitler saying, if asked about his plans for Germany, “Buy my book.” Trump’s equivalent, set forth in all of his books, is “truthful hyperbole.” Essentially, if you make the claim big enough, the exaggeration is not really a lie because somewhere, under all the fatty bluster, is a kernel of truth clinging to itself for dear life. (Shameless plug, buy the books my mom and I wrote on Hitler and World War II; they have all the best words.)
But a despot cannot rise to power without some significant manner of support. Sure, political executions and control of the military are key–and Hitler did that in spades–but there has to be buy-in, at least early on, from the people. There has to be the notion that some sort of revolution is happening in which those frequently disenfranchised are being empowered, and that they are given carte blanche to deal with their enemies.
Dateline, Paris. 1938. Low-level functionary Ernst vom Rath is assassinated by a Polish Jewish teenager born in Germany, Herschel Grynszpan, who has been living in exile. Upon learning that his entire family had been turned away from the Polish border as they tried to escape the Nazis and convinced that the execution of a German diplomat would bring worldwide attention to the plight of the Jews in Germany, Grynszpan forms and carries out his plot. Vom Rath lingers for a few days, and dies on November 9, the 15th anniversary of the Munich Beer Hall Putsch.
Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels seized upon the opportunity. He had successfully led the efforts to purge Jews from public life. The death of vom Rath led Goebbels to ask Hitler if he could unleash the SA upon the innocent German people. Hitler agreed. From Goebbels’ diary:
In the afternoon the death of the German diplomat vom Rath is announced. That’s good…I go to the Party reception in the old Rathaus. Terrific activity. I brief Hitler on the affair. He decides: allow the demonstrations to go on. Withdraw the police. The Jews should feel the people’s fury. That’s right. I issue appropriate instructions to the police and party. Then I give a brief speech on the subject to the Party’s leadership. Thunderous applause. Everyone dashed to the telephone. Now the people will act.
What Goebbels set forth as the “action of the people” was actually a coordinated, deliberate, and violent action perpetrated by the Nazi paramilitary wing, and resulted in the deaths of at least 91 Jews, the arrest of over 30,000, and the destruction of Jewish businesses, synagogues, hospitals, schools, and apartments across Germany and Austria. The night of terror has become known as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass. Any doubts about the Nazi plans were dashed on that night.
Remember, though, the leadership claimed that they had no responsibility, that it was the actions of the German Volk rising up and making Germany great again.
Appearing on CNN on March 17, Trump said, “I think you’d have riots. I think you’d have riots. I’m representing a tremendous many, many millions of people.” When pressed about the word “riot,” der Fooler retorted, “It’s not riot as in a negative thing like what we’ve seen in the past, it’s the fact that you have a large amount of people that will be very unhappy. I don’t think they would sit there and resort, in fact I know they would not resort to violence, I know they would not do it. However, they would make sure their voices are heard, that they can’t be ignored.”
Set aside the fact that there is absolute hypocrisy in Trump’s denunciation of the Black Lives Matter movement for their protests and uprisings. Do we really think that Trump is not calling for violence if he does not get his way?
Words. They mean things. And while it is getting tiring to hear comparisons of Trump to Hitler almost every day, as someone who knows a great deal about the Nazi rise to power and the propaganda methods utilized by Goebbels, it is chilling to me the direction that Trump is taking his rallies and his message. While I never want to play the role of prophet or prognosticator, I fear that someone will die at a Trump rally. I fear that his armed and angry supporters will take to the streets and target mosques, minority owned businesses, the homeless, and anyone who does not raise their right hand and pledge to vote for Trump. Trump claiming that he will not lead the riots seems about as credible as Goebbels claiming Kristallnacht was the spontaneous actions of the people. Trump will continue to act like he is innocent and above the fray, all the while sending not-so-coded messages to his followers. Why, just today three people in Milwaukee were killed for the crime of not speaking English.
Stay tuned, y’all. This is not going to be fun.