Comparisons of Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler are becoming more relevant as the president responds to further revelations of his priorities and his impeachment. Despite the protestations of some analysts who claim the contrast has no value, it is worth considering any historical antecedents that might give us insight into the current distressing political climate.
The two leaders’ tactics and personalities have been reported and analyzed over the last few years with fascinating similarities. For example; Trump’s first wife, Ivana, revealed he kept a collection of Hitler’s speeches at his bedside, and a respected Hitler biographer and scholar, Ron Rosenbaum, claims the president continues to use Mein Kamph as a playbook. Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and scapegoating certainly emulates the infamous German leader.
However, most of the Trump-Hitler comparisons have been made without consideration of how the facilitators of dangerous leaders are central to understanding any parallels.
As Washington’s climate becomes dramatically polarized, the behavior of Trump’s allies reflect an abhorrent historical pattern. Impending disaster looms as facts are dismissed and personal attacks are the only response of the president and his defenders. We relentlessly hear the details in daily news reports; outright lies and fabrications have become so prevalent there is a growing tolerance to the climate of dysfunction.
If we consider the larger picture, a blind and immoral political frenzy has seized the United States, similar in some ways to pre-war Nazi Germany. The rise of one of the most destructive dictators in world history was promoted and tolerated in a similar atmosphere.
There are, of course, some clear differences. Though within his base he has a small army of domestic neo-Nazis and some supporters in the military, the president is incapable of exercising the kind of brutal authority that Hitler used to gain full control. He has succeeded in putting refugees in camps, but Trump has not been able to round up his perceived enemies and have them silenced. His hostility towards the press has yielded some violence, though much to his frustration, media continues to report on his worst offenses. Although he intimidates witnesses and detractors, Trump has not succeeded in creating enough animosity towards any enemy to deter investigators or distract a majority of the public from his ridiculous behavior. He imagines being all-powerful, but the president will not have the Capitol burned as Hitler torched the Reichstag. Trump has so far failed in his ability to control the country with the efficiency of the German führer.
The degree of Trump’s success has been achieved only because of the leverage he has on political cronies. Trump is no Hitler, and his acolytes are at a loss, lacking a truly powerful leader. In their empty defense of the president, whether repeating Trump’s angry excuses or remaining silent, many members of the party of Lincoln feign their innocence in allowing the unfolding constitutional crisis. How they manage to do so in the face of articles of impeachment and very specific constitutional violations will be telling. But the overt posturing of those compromised by self-serving loyalty and blatant hypocrisy is a symptom of political cowardice, thus making any change in position unlikely.
The collaborators who claim they are behind the president are watching the bizarre show, waiting to see which direction the wind blows with the public to best protect their own interests. They are not fools, thus like the president, they willingly put personal interests before the country’s. What degree of insanity and illegality will be needed before they admit the president deserves removal from office?
Consider if both the Senate and the House were now controlled by Republicans, would there be any remnant of balance of power? And how much control would be granted to Mr. Trump? Perhaps Congress would tolerate a declaration of a national emergency that transferred all of their powers to the president’s cabinet. Could it happen here?
Hitler’s corporate and political supporters assisted in the collapse of Germany’s constitutional democracy in 1933, although a similar coup is very unlikely in the United States. Trump may have a narcissistic personality disorder and erupt with vitriolic diatribes like Hitler, but his minions have given their loyalty to a self-absorbed, self-incriminating president who is driving the country towards chaos. They have fallen for the tactics of a charlatan who commands the most powerful and menacing military force on the planet.
The president’s continuing egomaniacal diplomatic decisions have initiated distress among some in his party. However, Republican defenders have not dared to admit the obvious: Trump’s betrayal of US international interests and his illegal seizure of foreign affairs for personal gain are part of the same outrageous, subversive behavior, establishing without doubt that he is impeachable.
This bizarre and divisive epoch has exposed moral failings in government of the highest order. Investigations and judicial rulings must further unfold before there is any consensus on Trump’s legacy. Yet the empowerment granted by his protectors has already initiated a collapse of constitutional order and degradation of government.
We witness a repeating pattern that echoes through centuries: the enablers of ruinous tyrants light fires that eventually consume them. Some will recognize their catastrophic failures only in retrospect.
David Marks is an investigative reporter and veteran documentary filmmaker, having produced a number of films for PBS and the BBC, including Nazi Gold, questioning the neutrality of Switzerland in WWII.