Election 2016

Is Donald Trump Getting His Cues from Hitler? How the GOP Leader Is Following the Führer's Recipe

From bedside reading to the 2016 campaign trail.

Donald Trump is an apparent fan of Adolf Hitler’s speeches. 

That stunning but not entirely surprising revelation comes from his ex-wife Ivana, who told Vanity Fair in a 1990 interview that “from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed.” The magazine said Trump confirmed he got it from a film industry friend, Marty Davis. “I thought he would find it interesting,” Davis said. “I am his friend, but I’m not Jewish.”  

Adolf Hitler’s My New Order is not just any book. It came after Hitler’s two-volume Mein Kampf (German for My Struggle), and was published in 1925 and 1926 before the Nazi rise to national power and World War II. It is not just a collection of excerpts from speeches Hitler made between 1918 and 1941; it is profusely indexed and filled with details about the speeches’ impact on the media and political establishment.

The American literary magazine Kirkus Review, founded in 1933, puts it this way: “Paralleling actual quotations from Hitler’s own utterances, he [the editor of the English edition] includes corresponding data showing the effect on the world press, and his own commentary relating the statements to doctrines previously presented in Mein Kampf… Section after section follows pattern-background, speech, press.”

Ivana Trump told Vanity Fair that her ex-husband occasionally read it, which supports the rest of the magazine's profile of a tycoon who loved to live in the public eye and manipulate media coverage. Trump, after confirming he had the book, later told the reporter, “If I had these speeches, and I am not saying that I do, I would never read them.”

Nobody can know what Trump reads or does not read—or if he even reads. But it appears that one way or another, much of the content in My New Order about how Hitler says propaganda works, and how he structures his speaking style, and how Hitler targets the lowest-common denominator as his intended audience, has seeped into Trump: the way he speaks, argues, rages and responds in public. This goes beyond what has been reported in the New York Times, which analyzed 95,000 words from five months of speeches and concluded that Trump shares a style with the 20th century's biggest demagogues. 

Trump’s speeches are filled with simplistic racist attacks, first against Mexicans and more recently Muslims. He belittles and insults his competitors for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He attacks Democrats’ political “correctness” as weak. He mocks women and disabled people. He threatens to obliterate the enemies he names. He doesn’t care about facts or inconsistencies, and plays to his followers’ fears and prejudices.

All of these tactics, from the repetitive style of his speeches, to believing whatever he says is true, to his excessive and unrivaled view in his leadership, are modeled by Hitler in My New Order, according to a psychological profile of the book in the September 2013 issue of the scholarly journal, Psychiatric Quarterly. “The elements of a delusional system are there,” it states. “This is not simply to say that the man is mad and so has plunged the world into chaos; but it is to say that there is overwhelming evidence in 19 years of his speeches that Hitler himself firmly believes many of his most absurd declarations, including some which are contradictory.”

What is really stunning—whether or not he carefully read My New Order—is that Trump is channeling the very tenets about how propaganda works laid out by Hitler in his books. In addition to the collection of speeches and their impact, Mein Kampf has a chapter on the hows and whys of political propaganda. Look at these six excerpts from Ralph Manheim’s 1943 translation that have been put into a “Teachers Guide To The Holocaust” produced by the University of South Florida. Hitler wrote:

  • “The function of propaganda does not lie in the scientific training of the individual, but in calling the masses’ attention to certain facts, processes, necessities, etc., whose significance is thus for the first time placed within their field of vision.”
  • “All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be.”
  • “The more modest its intellectual ballast, the more exclusively it takes into consideration the emotions of the masses, the more effective it will be. And this is the best proof of the soundness or unsoundness of a propaganda campaign, and not success pleasing a few scholars or young aesthetes.”
  • "Once understood how necessary it is for propaganda to be adjusted to the broad mass, the following rule results: It is a mistake to make propaganda many-sided, like scientific instruction, for instance.”
  • “In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.”
  • “The function of propaganda is, for example, not to weigh and ponder the rights of different people, but exclusively to emphasize the one right which it has set out to argue for. Its task is not to make an objective study of the truth… its task is to serve our own right, always and unflinchingly.”

Who Are Trump’s Followers?

Trump’s latest media-baiting, attention-grabbing gambit has been to call for a temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the country. Even though he’s been criticized by most of the GOP (except right-wing radio hosts), as well as Democrats and foreign leaders, his popularity among Republican primary voters has gone up. Bloomberg.com reports that his Muslim-ban idea is supported by two-thirds of likely GOP primary voters, based on a Tuesday poll. RealClearPolitics.com says he has support of 30.4 percent of GOP voters nationwide, when averaging the most recent polls. That is almost double the second place holder. Trump also leads in Iowa and New Hampshire, the polling-tracking website says.

All of this raises the question, who are these people who support Trump? Or put less delicately, who is buying his vicious propagandizing? Snapshots from various media and polling firms show these sections of the electorate are disaffected, tend to be Republican, are mostly but not entirely white, are not highly educated—and crucially, according to focus groups led by Frank Luntz, a top Republican pollster cited by the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal—they are incredibly loyal to Trump, supportive of his posturing and swipes, and completely unmoved by condemnations of their candidate.

In Thursday’s Post, Luntz is quoted as saying, “I’ve never seen anything like this. There is no sign of them leaving.” In Thursday’s Journal, he lists six features of Trump’s supporters: “They have a dim view of the U.S.,” “They hate President Barack Obama.” “They hate the media, too.” “They’re suspicious of Muslims.” “They are unswervingly loyal to Mr. Trump.” “They kind of like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.”

The Los Angeles Times, in a recent deconstruction of its polling data, finds that Trump supporters increase with age. Only 15 percent are aged 18 to 29; 53 percent are age 30 to 64; and 34 percent are 65 and older. Many of them did not state their race, but of those who did, only 31 percent said they were white, while 12 percent said they were black, and another 11 percent said Latino. And they span the economic spectrum: 28 percent said they made less than $50,000 a year. The same percent said they made from between $50,000 and $100,000. And 22 percent said they made more than $100,000. This data was from the November 25 poll.

The most detailed profile might be from RealClearPolitics.com, which homed in on the personalities of people who would be drawn to Trump’s fascist presence. His backers are not particularly ideological, but mostly in the Republican camp. Only “20 percent of his supporters describe themselves as 'liberal' or 'moderate.'" They’re also “a bit older, less educated and earn less than the average Republican. Slightly over half are women.”

On education, “One half of his voters have a high school education or less, compared to 19 percent with a college or post-graduate degree,” the website’s reporters said, adding that Trump appeals to a certain breed of southern Republican. “The Donald appears to have a special appeal to Texans: he took the highest proportion of support from Ted Cruz, then from Rick Perry,” the former governor who slammed Trump before withdrawing from the race. “Trumpism—a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense.”

The New York Times, when analyzing the content and style of the 95,000 words comprising all of Trump’s speeches in the five months between July and November, wrote his “pattern of elevating emotional appeals over rational ones is a rhetorical style that historians, psychologists and political scientists placed in the tradition of political figures like [Barry] Goldwater, George Wallace, Joseph McCarthy, Huey Long and Pat Buchanan, who used fiery language to try to win favor with struggling or scared Americans.”

They compare Trump to some of America’s worst demagogues. “Several historians watched Mr. Trump’s speeches last week, at the request of the Times, and observed techniques—like vilifying groups of people and stoking the insecurities of his audiences—that they associate with Wallace and McCarthy.”

But what the Times did not do is go far enough back in history or look at the purported reading material at Trump’s beside, where they would see the unnerving parallel with Adolph Hitler in his style, beliefs, delivery, egotism and intended audience. Trump did tell Vanity Fair’s reporter in 1990—before he tried to retract the statement—that he had been given Hitler’s My New Order by a friend, which Ivana said was kept by his bedside where he read it.  

As Trump's campaign for the presidency continues, one can only wonder if he’ll be propelled by a 21st-century American version of the “good Germans,” people who are seduced by Trump’s boasts, prejudice, blaming, war-mongering and authority. As Gustave Gilbert, the prison psychiatrist at the post-WWII Nuremburg War Crimes tribunal famously said, “The perpetrators showed no great deviation from the norm.”   

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).