Wednesday, September 28, 2016

There are parallels, but the comparison can go too far: Hitler and Trump

There are parallels, but the comparison can go too far:  Hitler and Trump

The New York Times published a book review of a new biography of Adolf Hitler by Volker Ullrich.[1]   A number of news organizations are suggesting that the reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, structured the review to provide a not-so-subtle comparison between Hitler and Donald Trump.[2]  Before I was a lawyer, money manager, or artist I was a serious student of Nazism and the Holocaust, so I’ve read more than a few biographies of Hitler.  I don’t think Ms. Kakutani had to be thinking at all about Donald Trump in writing her review as it follows a very established body of scholarship on social, economic, and political conditions in the Weimar Republic, as well as Hitler’s political tactics and personality in advance of his rise to the Chancellorship of Germany in 1933.

I count myself as one of those who is deeply troubled by the possibility that Donald Trump could become President of the United States because I think he is unfit for the job.  I also think that conditions in Germany in the 1920s and those in the United States in the 2010s both lend themselves to the political rise of demagogues.   Like Germans in the 1920s, today many Americans feel that their economic and social standards are being jeopardized.  Hitler played on those fears, and Trump is following a similar script.  Hitler’s rise was fueled in part because the political and economic elites underestimated him.  Clearly, our elites also miscalculated Trump’s appeal and strength.  Hitler had a deeply narcissistic personality, and Trump seems to share some of those traits.

Having outlined suggested the parallels between Hitler’s rise and Trump’s campaign, I think it is wrong to compare Hitler to Trump.    First of all, there are also lots of differences.  The Weimar Republic had far more serious economic and social problems than those of present-day America.  Germany’s democracy was still in its infancy in the 1920s and had much deeper ideological splits that we have today.  I know our rifts seem alarmingly wide, but they are not close to the strife and violence of German politics in the 1920s.  In addition, Hitler and Trump brought very different experiences and circumstances to their political careers. 

In addition, I think that the direct comparison between Hitler and Trump is dangerous because it blinds us to our real issues and challenges.  If we equate Trump to Hitler we run the risk of becoming so emotional that we can’t repair the growing economic rifts and racial and ethnic prejudices that are dividing this country.  America needs to repudiate Donald Trump, not because he’s another Adolf Hitler, but because he is Donald Trump.

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